Southern California kitesurfing beaches

Dan Slater - 2010/7/17

Introduction

Kite surfing, also known as kite boarding is a fun and rapidly growing sport. Belmont Shores is the most popular kitesurfing beach in the Los Angeles area for all skill levels. Beginners should train at this beach only. Many of the beaches (Cabrillo, Seal, Sunset, Rat) are crowded multiuse beaches with small and limited launching and landing areas. At these beaches, you *must* have at least intermediate level kiting skills including the ability to water relaunch, stay upwind, and self rescue. Click here for basic information about how to kitesurf. Comments and suggestions are invited. (Click here for the main photo page)

Index

Southern California Kitesurfing Beaches
    Ventura -
    Will Rogers -
    Dockweiller Beach -
    Manhattan Beach - Intermediate
    Rat Beach (Torrance) - Intermediate
    Cabrillo - Very advanced only
    Belmont Shores - The most popular LA area kitesurfing beach, beginner through advanced.
    Seal Beach - Intermediate / advanced only
    Surfside - Intermediate / advanced - private gated beach
    Sunset Beach - Advanced only
    Bolsa Chica - Closed
    Huntington Beach - Advanced only
    Newport Beach -
    Mission Bay (San Diego) - Beginner
    Silver Strand (Coronado) - Intermediate

Weather
    Summer winds -
    Winter winds -
    Current Los Angeles weather conditions -

Southern California kitesurfing beaches

Listed here are some of the Socal kitesurfing beaches. This list is incomplete, particularily north of Rat Beach and in San Diego. Beach access rules and regulations often change so check with the lifeguards and local kiteboarders before setting up. Generally all others have right of way over kite surfers. From talking to lifeguards, it is apparent that restrictions will likely increase over time. More complete beach information is available from the Southern California Kiteboarding Association (SCKA.org) and the various local kiteboarding shops.

 Beach
 More info
 Needed skills
 GPS location
 Notes
 Ventura
 map, beachcam, info, bike



 Nicolas Canyon




 Leo Carillo




 Will Rogers
 map, beachcam, info, bike  waves

 Check with lifeguard before setting up
 Dockweiller Beach
 map, beachcam, info, bike  waves
N33 57.452 W118 27.126
 Check with lifeguard before setting up
 Manhattan Beach
 map, beachcam, info, bike  waves

 Check with lifeguard before setting up
 Rat Beach (Torrance)
 map, beachcam, info, bike  upwind, waves
 N33 48.527 W118 23.546
 Check with lifeguard before setting up (regulations)
 Cabrillo
 map, beachcam, info, bike
 expert only
 N33 42.592 W118 16.948  Windiest LA area, very gusty, rocks, crowds
 Belmont Shores
 map, beachcam, info, bike
 beginner
 N33 45.154 W118 08.094  Very popular beginner through advanced (regulations)
 Seal Beach
 map, beachcam, info, bike  upwind, waves
N33 44.549 W118 06.837
 Advanced only, limited beach launch / landing area
 Surfside
 map, beachcam, info, bike
 upwind, waves
N33 43.429 W118 04.753
 Very limited access - launch & land at North end, near the jetty
 Sunset Beach
 map, beachcam, info, bike  upwind, waves
N33 42.980 W118 04.330
 Advanced only (regulations) (group)
 Bolsa Chica
 map, beachcam, info, bike
 waves
---
 Closed -- offshore only, launching and landing prohibited
 Huntington Beach
 map, beachcam, info, bike
 waves
 N33 39.562 W118 00.480
 North of pier between towers 12 and 18 (regulations)
 Newport Beach
 map, beachcam, info, bike
 waves
 N33 36.233 W117 54.927
 North of pier, check with lifeguard before setting up
 Mission Bay (San Diego)
 map, beachcam, info, bike  beginner
N32 46.481 W117 13.042
 Fiesta Island, popular beginner area, weak winds
 Silver strand / Coronado
 map, beachcam, info, bike
 waves
 N32 37.495 W117 08.371
 Launch and land between towers 0 and 1 (regulations)

Definitions:
Beginner level - Initial learning through basic upwind skills
Intermediate level - Consistant and reliable upwind skills, self rescue and good kite control
Advanced level - Consistant and reliable kiting, jumping, waves
Expert - Can consistantly handle very difficult situations

The beaches

Ventura --

Will Rogers -- Check with the local kitesurfers and/or a lifeguard prior to setting up. Common sense should be applied here. More rules and regulations are likely here. More info: map, beachcam, kiting info, bike trail.

Dockweiller Beach -- Check with the local kitesurfers and/or a lifeguard prior to setting up. Common sense should be applied here. More info: map, beachcam, kiting info, bike trail.

Manhattan Beach -- Check with the local kitesurfers and/or a lifeguard prior to setting up. Common sense should be applied here. More info: map, beachcam, weather, kiting info, bike trail.

Rat Beach (Torrance) -- This beach is very scenic with the Palos Verdes Peninusla to the South. Most of the activity is between Rat Beach (RAT = right after Torrance) and Torrance Beach. Check with the local kitesurfers and/or a lifeguard prior to setting up. This is an intermediate / advanced level only beach since the limited launch access corridor requires the ability to kiteboard upwind back to your launch point. Local rules have been established. The access corridor is between the lifeguard towers "cliff" and "bluff". Once out, stay beyond the breaking waves. Winds generally tend to be weak here. The best winds generally occur in the late spring or early summer in the early afternoon. Use the beachcam to see what the local wind condtions are and to see if any kitesurfers are out. More info: map, beachcam, kiting info, more info, regulations, weather info, bike trail.

Cabrillo --  Cabrillo Beach is to the northwest of Belmont Shores and usually has the strongest winds in the LA area. It is a very advanced level only beach with large rocks, extreme gusts, lulls and crowds. Good: strong winds when other areas are shut down. Bad: dangerous area. More info: map, IKitesurf, beachcam, kiting info, more info, bike trail

Belmont Shores -- The most popular kitesurfing beach in the Los Angeles area is Belmont Shores, just east of Long Beach. This beach is large, sandy and suitable for beginners through advanced. Beginners should stay downwind, South of the Clairemont launch ramp. On a busy summer weekend, there can be as many as 80 kiteboarders on the water so it can become quite crowded. The number drops down to about 15-25 on a windy summer weekday. In June 2005, the Long Beach kitesurfing rules were updated with the life guards now more actively enforcing them. Don't go out on a crowded summer holiday weekend unless you can consistantly stay outside of the swim area marker buoys. Belmont usually has side onshore winds from the southwest and minimal waves due to an offshore breakwater. Typical kite sizes are 12 meter bow and 14 meter c-kites. Avoid the turbulent and gusty wind shadow area just downwind of the offshore oil island. Parking is free on the street but the parking lots have meters. You can buy an annual pass for the parking lot from the city for $120.The IKiteSurf wind meter is at the Belmont Pier and usually correlates fairly well with the local winds. Good: large sandy beach with no waves that is suitable for all skill levels. Bad: can become quite crowded in the summer, also watch out for sting rays. More info: map, IKitesurf, water quality, water quality 2, beachcam, kiting info, more info, official rules, lifeguards, bike trail

Belmont kitesurfing rule summary:
1. Don't fly a kite within 200 feet (2 kite line lengths) of the bike path.
2. Stay outside the swim area buoys unless launching or landing.
3. Yield to anyone else in the water as everyone in the water has right of way over kitesurfers.
4. Follow sailing rules: Leaving shore, starboard tack (right foot forward) and the downwind kiter have the right of way.
5. Beginner activity should be be South of Clairemont ramp and 200 feet (2 kite line lengths) away from others.
6. Do not sail within 500 feet of the boat channel
7. Don't kitesurf at any other Los Angeles area beach until you have intermediate skills, i.e., the ability to go upwind, self rescue, etc.
8. Shuffle your feet when in the water to avoid stingrays.

Seal Beach -- This beach is just Southeast of Belmont Shores with the San Gabriel River, a harbor channel and a jetty separating them. Seal Beach has similar, but often a bit stronger and later winds. The ocean kiteboarding area is much smaller than Belmont Shores, less than 1/4 of the size. The number of kitesurfers is also much less, on the order of a dozen on a summer weekend. Waves are still generally small unless there is a South swell, because of shielding from the Long Beach harbor. Be particularily careful about stringrays (shuffle your feet) as they like the warm water flowing out from the San Gabriel River. This is an intermediate / advanced level only beach since the limited launch access corridor absolutely requires the ability to kiteboard upwind back to your launch point. The access corridor is toward the Northwest end of the beach and is clearly marked by a pair of signs. Also do not kite within 200 feet of the pier or within 500 feet of the channel entrance. There is a very nice grass kite setup area next to the parking lot. You can self land your kite here in a wind shadow area behind the bushes and trees at the Southeast corner of the setup area. Unlike Belmont, you can kitesurf right up to the sand. Parking is $2 for two hours or $5 for all day. Good: nice grassy kite setup area, relatively uncrowded. Bad: small kiting area with the pier downwind if you crash, parking fees. More info: map, IKitesurf, weather, beachcam, kiting info, bike trail

Surfside -- This beach is 1.3 miles south east of Seal Beach, past the Naval Weapons station and has similar winds. There are waves, surf and beach restrictions. This is an intermediate / advanced level only beach with launch and landing at the extreme North end. Parking is free on the street South of Anderson street but the walk to the North end is 0.6 miles long. Launch and land at Sunset beach instead. Good: relatively uncrowded. Bad: difficult launch access. More info: map, IKitesurf, water quality, beachcam, kiting info, bike trail

Sunset Beach -- This beach is just Southeast and directly adjacent to Surfside providing a combined 1.8 miles of continous shoreline. Sunset Beach is advanced level only due to the surf, the small restricted beach launch corridor and local civic pressure against kiteboarding. Solid upwind skills and good kite control skills are absolutely mandatory. A recent beginner kiting accident here has made this beach particularily sensitive to inadequate kiteboarding skills. During the Summer (memorial day to labor day), launch and land only within the narrow beach corridor and kite after 2PM on weekdays and 3PM on weekends. The launch corridor location changes during the summer and is currently between 17th and 19th street. Earlier this year it was between Broadway and 11th street. After labor day, all of Sunset Beach is ok but stay at least 300 feet away from swimmers and surfers, etc. Parking is free on the street. Good: large open area without obstructions or local wind shadows. Bad: small launch corridor, parking can be quite difficult in the summer. More info: map, IKitesurf, water quality, beachcam, local group (weather, map), kiting info, regulations, bike trail

Bolsa Chica -- This beach is just south east of Sunset Beach and has similar winds. There are waves and surf. This beach was completely closed to kitesurfing and windsurfing in 2003. Kite and wind surfers are not allowed to launch or land anywhere on the beach and need to stay outside of the surf line at a minimum distance of 200 yards (600 feet) from shore. Tickets are given to those who violate the rules. More info: map, weather, water quality, beachcam, bike trail

Huntington Beach -- This beach is immediately Southeast of Bolsa Chica and has similar winds. It starts about 3 mile South of Sunset Beach. There are larger waves and surf. You need the ability to go upwind and ride in the shore break. Most intermediate riders launch and ride between lifeguard towers 12 and 18 the North of the pier with most setup near 14th street. Advanced riders are between towers 8 & 12. The Huntington Cliffs area has a small beach so launching and landing here is not recommended. Riding South of the pier is not permitted. The available Northern beach segment is about 2 miles long. Winds generally drop off fairly rapidly once South of Huntington Beach. Pay parking on PCH with free parking on the side streets. More info: map, weather, winds, waves, water quality, beachcam, regulations, bike trail

Newport Beach -- This beach is immediately Southeast of Huntington Beach. It is possible to kitesurf here although the winds tend to be weaker than at Huntington. Best is just north of 6th street but kiters are also found near the Santa Ana river. There are restrictions so check with a lifeguard first. More info: map, weather, water quality, beachcam, beachcam2, bike trail

Mission Bay (San Diego) -- Emerald Cove in Mission Bay is the most popular learning beach in the San Diego area. Winds are generally quite weak in the San Diego area, even weaker than Los Angeles. The winds pick up again, further to the South in Mexico. More info: map, IKitesurf, beachcam, info, (www.sandiegokiteboarding.com), bike trail

Silver Strand / Coronado (San Diego) -- Probably the best winds in the San Diego area but still weaker than Los Angeles. Use a 16 meter kite. Launch and land between lifeguard towers 0 and 1. More info: map, weather, beachcam, info, (www.sandiegokiteboarding.com), regulations, bike trail.

Weather

This section describes Southern California weather with an emphasis on Belmont Shores, Seal Beach, Sunset Beach and Huntington Beach. Many of these recommendations are from the local kiteboarders. Winds are the dominant weather condition affecting kite surfing. The winds should be side shore or side onshore and reasonably steady. A minimum wind speed of 12 mph and a maximum of 18 mph or less is recommended for initial learning. Wind speed can be readily estimated. White caps start to form at around 10 mph. If you can't see any whitecaps, it is probably not worth trying to kite surf. The sand at Belmont Shores starts blowing around 18 mph. You can feel the sand blowing against you when the winds are above 22 mph and blowing sand is visible inland at around 25-30 mph. The IKitesurf sensor reads about 3 MPH high when the winds are more westerly and is accurate for winds from the South West. This sensor is on the Belmont Pier. A free alternative to the IKitesurf sensor is Pier J. I have found a portable wind meter to be quite helpful in understanding winds and kites. Click here for details.

Winds are often a bit weaker near the shore and pickup several hundred yards offshore. Observing the whitecaps helps to show where the offshore winds are and are not. The offshore wind direction can be estimated by using the large anchored ships as wind vanes.There is a significant wind shadow with turbulence and strong lulls just downwind of the offshore oil island. Avoid this area. Winds at Belmont Shores are sometimes weaker at the South end of the beach due to the offshore oil platform wind shadow. Whitecaps can help to delinate the wind shadow areas. On the other hand, the winds still further South at Seal Beach, Surfside and Sunset Beach are often a couple of mph higher than Belmont. Winds are generally much weaker North of the Belmont Pier due to wind shadows. The strongest winds are at Cabrillo Beach on the tip of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Kiting here is dangerous and is for very advanced kiters only.

Summer winds -- Side onshore winds from the South West in the 10 to 20 mph range are fairly common at Belmont, Seal, Sunset and Huntington Beach during the summer, several days a week April through October. There will be occasional week long intervals of no winds, even more during the "June gloom" (overcast summer) days or during heat wave days. Typically the summer thermal winds start around 1-2 PM and continue to 5-6 PM, sometimes with a dip around 3 PM. The dip shows as a pair of peaks on wind plots and is sometimes called a camelback wind pattern. At these beaches, the summer thermal winds are generally side onshore from the South West, which is desirable for kiteboarding. The summer water temperature is usually around 65 to 70 degrees F.

The Summer winds are thermally produced when the air over warm land becomes warm and rises. The rising air pulls in cooler air from the ocean. Wind direction is generally from the Southwest. More westerly winds are blocked by Palos Verdes Peninsula. Good summer winds are more common and predictable than the winter winds.

The summer wind season is generally April through October, ie., the time period that is not daylight savings time. The strongest winds tend to be early in the season although more gusty - April & May. Winds tend to be poor during the "June gloom" / Catalina Eddy / Marine layer days which remain overcast most of the day. Winds are more likely if the marine layer burns off before 11AM. Much later and the thermal winds won't develop. A deep marine layer that goes far inland suggests poor winds. Winds usually pickup again between July and October although excessive local heating or the Catalina Eddy will often kill the winds. Too much inland heating on warm days produces a heat bubble that approaches the beach. Temperatures above 80 degrees F at the beach are an indicator of the wind killing heat bubble. On warm days, sometimes it is kiteable around noon before the heat bubble fully forms. The winds start to fade in September and are pretty much gone by mid October.

Predictors of good summer winds include: Clear skys, moderately warm temperatures, beach temperatures below 80 degrees F, high barometric pressure, lack of morning overcast and a rapid increase in winds around 1-2PM at Belmont. The winds tend to arrive first at either Cabrillo or Belmont, then Seal, Sunset and finally Huntington about an hour later. The winds at Seal and Sunset are often a few mph higher than Belmont.

Predictors of poor summer winds include: Very hot inland temperatures with beach temperatures above 80 degrees, Slow clearing Catalina eddy overcast (June gloom) that extends far inland, monsoonal weather (hot, humid, thunderstorms) and winds from other than the Southwest direction. A Southeast wind combined with an overcast is a Catalina eddy condition with weak winds that are less than about 10-12 mph.

Reliable winds that not likely to shutoff are needed for long downwinders. Good indicators of reliable winds include: a rapid increase in Belmont winds around 1 PM, solid winds at all sensors, early overcast clearing and moderate summer temperatures. Evidence of unreliable winds include: reversed smoke plume on the Torrance refinery, summer heat wave conditions, multiple locations with poor winds, wind direction from other than the Southwest. One useful predictor of wind reliability is the smoke from the Torrance oil refinery north of Long Beach. Winds are usually erratic and unreliable if the smoke is blowing toward the sea. The winds generally shut down at first at Belmont, then toward the Southeast (Seal, Surfside, and then Sunset). This often happens on very warm days. The smoke somewhat anticipates the Belmont winds so if the smoke reverses toward the ocean, stay closer to shore as the winds may rapidly disappear.

The winds were unusually gusty and strong in spring 2005. These strong and gusty winds were not typical of previous years. In July 2006, the winds have been quite erratic. Often the winds shut down completely within a few minutes to tens of minutes, sometimes stranding kitesurfers. In 2007 the winds were good in the spring but became less reliable in the early summer. The years 2007 and 2008 were fairly typical years. Summer winds in 2010 have not been as good as previous years.

Winter winds -- Good kitesurfing winds are relatively infrequent during the winter season. Better winds tend to be later in the winter season, when the weather patterns are moving through. The afternoon thermal winds disappear October through March. Kiting in the winter is occasionally possible in the clearing winds that are frequently found just after a storm blows through. These winds can be at any time of the day or night and are more gusty and unpredictable than the summer thermal winds. The strongest clearing winds tend to be early in the year between February and April and can reach 30+ mph. The water becomes colder (55-62 deg f) in the winter so a full wetsuit is recommended. Be aware that the water is often very polluted for 72 hours after a storm, particularily after the first major storm of the season. I learned that lesson when my twin tip board was covered with some type of green slime after I went kiteboarding in the clearing winds from the first big storm of the season! A friend of mine got sick from that slime.

Good winter winds frequently occur just prior to a storm passage or more commonly in the clearing winds just after a storm has passed through. These may be gusty though. The winds are often in the wrong direction (offshore, straight onshore, etc.), but the clearing winds are usually side onshore. Avoid the Santa Ana winds as these are offshore and gusty. Watch out for city runoff pollution bacteria in the water just after a storm passes through, particularily after the first storm of the season as the river beds are flushed.

Click here for another good description of local winds.

Current Los Angeles weather conditions

Los Angeles real time wind information information can be obtained on the internet. The two best sources are NOAA / NOS and IKiteSurf.

NOAA / NOS Los Angeles port data -- This web site is used by the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors to provide weather data to the large ships entering the harbor. There are many reports available on the NOAA / NOS web site of which the following are most useful for kite surfing:

Meteorological data map -- This display shows the current wind strength and direction at some of the NOAA / NOS harbor meteorological sensors. Look particularily at pier J. If the wind is good there, it probably is good at Cabrillo, Belmont Shores and Seal Beach. The wind should be at least 15 knots (purple arrow) with the arrow pointing roughly at the 1 to 2 oclock position (side onshore flow).

Pier F, J, S three day plot -- This plot shows a 3 day history of wind speed and wind direction at 3 different piers. The right side of the plot is what is happening right now, the left side is 3 days ago. The plot height is the wind speed and the arrows show the wind direction. Look particularily at pier J and compare with the previous days. The wind should be above 15 knots (purple arrow) with the arrow pointing roughly at 2 oclock (side onshore flow). If you have good winds here, you usually have good winds at Cabrillo, Belmont and Seal. This is probably the most useful of the NOAA / NOS displays.

Berth 60 three day plot -- This plot shows a 3 day history of wind speed and wind direction at Angel's Gate, water level (tide), water & air temperature and barometric pressure.

Queen's Gate composite -- This display shows the wind speeds and directions, water temperatures and tides over the last 18 hours at the southern harbor entrance.

Windonthewater.com -- (LA area) -- Nice realtime wind information using Google maps.

IKiteSurf -- This pay service (~$90/year) web site provides wind forecasts specifically for kite and wind surfing. The sensor data plots and map displays are quite useful. Their forecast accuracy is improving but is not always accurate. IKiteSurf also includes discussion groups and for sale listings.

Other useful weather related web sites include:
National Weather Service -- Extensive weather info (Los Angeles area forecast)
Personal weather station map -- A nice way to use google to find many personal weather stations (Belmont Shores) (Redondo Beach) (Point Vicente) (Seal Beach)
COAMPS -- A nice Southern California vector winds map updated at 3 hour intervals from the Navy station at Point Mugu
Watch the water -- LA county real time beach cameras and weather stations (Redondo Beach), (Cabrillo Beach)
Intellicast -- San Pedro wind forecast
Windfinder.com -- Southern California and world wide wind forecasts
Wind guru -- Cabrillo beach wind forecast
Weatherflow -- Local surface wind vectors
CANSAC -- Wind predictions (Surface 10m Wind Speed (SW Quadrant)) (reference)
Beaufort scale -- How to estimate wind speed (more)
Stormsurf.com -- Lots of good surf info including current winds (Los Angeles area)
Sunset Beach weather summary -- From the Sunset Beach group
Wavewatch.com -- Surfing info
Water quality -- LB / Belmont / Seal / HB map - Belmont listing - Long BeachLA County map - Water is often polluted after a winter rain

Additional weather info of more limited use:
California wind map -- Annual winds in California
WetSand.com -- Surf info including current winds
Usairnet.com -- Long Beach airport winds
Wind map -- Low resolution California wind vector map
Weather2mail.com -- Email weather and wind forecasts
Marks Ocean Links -- Many Southern California ocean links
California buoys -- Southern California buoy map
Northern California weather --

Other info:
Jim Corbett blog -- Local kiteboarding information

Acknowledgements: Special thanks to the local instructors Carter Thomas and Rudy from Kitewave.com for helpful discussions. The SCKA for organizing, supporting and promoting safe kitesurfing. Also thanks to Ron and Mike at Kite Surfari, Kirk, Tom and Tim from Captain Kirk's and the many friendly local kiteboarders.

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Copyright 2010 by Dan Slater, All rights reserved.