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Kite Boarding Scene Takes Off On Delta's Sherman Island

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Sherman Island in the Sacramento Delta will likely be swarmed with kite boarders this Labor Day Weekend. The delta breeze makes it a perfect spot for the niche watersport, and locals say they’re seeing a boom in boarders. 

Sherman Island sits just south of Rio Vista, nestled between the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. On hot summer days, the wind there whips like a powerful fan.

It’s what draws hundreds of people to a short stretch of beach that’s become famous for a new sport called kiteboarding.

But why this spot?

Don Ross runs the local kiteboarding club. He says the low-lying Sherman Island is home to a thermal wind force created by the cool air in the Bay and the hot air in the Sacramento Valley.

“The heat rises going up the mountain, and it pulls in that cold air from the San Francisco Bay, and it’s an awesome place because of these two confluensive elements coming together," says Ross.

Kiters say the island is one of the most consistently windy spots on the West Coast and maybe in the world.

Renee Macdougal and her husband are from Tahoe, but they spend winters kiting in Mexico and summers on Sherman Island. On a recent Wednesday, they watched the crescent - shaped kites fly high above the beach, fluttering in reds and yellows against a clear blue sky.

“They’re all wind people, following the wind,” says Macdougal.

On the water, athletes on small boards grip kite handles with white knuckles. The wind pulls them across Sherman Lake at 10 to 20 miles per hour.

Each kiter has a choice - stay low and skim the waves, or use the precious gusts as catapults for airborne tricks and turns.

Sonny Freeman is a ‘big air’ guy. He described his fondness for Sherman Island while peeling off his wetsuit.

“Nothing beats getting sprayed in the face with fresh water versus salt water," says Freeman. "It’s also 10 degrees warmer than the bay, which also helps you keep nice and warm during those longer sessions.”

Freeman’s campsite is one of about 50 in Sherman Island County Park’s gravel lot. It’s sort of a neighborhood - a place for boarders to while away hours with beers and banjos.

Camp manager Bob Chambers is a longtime windsurfer, but he says it’s the kiters that overstuff the parking lot on summer weekends. Windsurfing has been around since the 60s, but kiting is a lot newer - and a lot easier to learn.

“A lot of people are switching over from windsurfing to kiting. And then a lot of new kiters," says Chambers. "Our certified instructors that come out here, they’re busy all summer long.”

Don Ross and other kiteboarding advocates are hoping to get more parking and more launch ramps to keep up with the growing trend. But they’re still a fringe sport compared to more traditional delta activities like boating and fishing.

“We have a really great opportunity coming up in the next few years if the DWR will work with our local groups, to increase and enhance the area of Sherman Island as the world class kiting destination and windsurfing destination that it really is.”

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