Site Guide – Sand City Paragliding – Sand City, CA
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Site Guide – Sand City Paragliding – Sand City, CA

This past weekend I drove to Sand City, CA to pick up my new wing! I met up with the dealer, Jason Shapiro of Air Addict Paragliding, along with some of his students, and had a great time testing out the wing on the dunes. The soft sand and steady breezes at Sand City make it the perfect location for first flights, ridge soaring, and getting comfortable with new gear, as well as a great place for beginners and advanced pilots alike to work on those ever-important kiting skills!

The dunes at Sand City are an unregulated site, however, there are a few important things to be aware of here.  First, the dunes are located on private property.  The owner is very lenient with paraglider pilots and is happy to let us fly here as long as we are respectful to the environment.  It is requested that pilots try to walk only on the sand, avoid stepping on ice plants, and be wary of snowy plover nesting areas.

Secondly, there is state park land and a regulated launch site just a short ways north along the ridge line. It is a P3 site, therefore, I would suggest that any P3 or higher pilots sign in with the local club, The Coastal Condors, in order to have access to the entire ridge.  Click here for more info and online sign up!

For P1 and P2 pilots, or for anyone who doesn’t want to hassle with the club, you are still able to fly, but will need to stick close to the unregulated launches. There is ample room to play and soar here though, so definitely still makes for a fun day!

Location: Sand City is located along the central coast of California, on the south end of Monterey Bay.  From Highway 1 exit at Freemont Blvd and park on the street or in the large shopping center just off the highway.  The shopping center does have signs posted that say parking for customers only, but our large and very obvious group of pilots had no trouble leaving our cars there for the day.  However, do park here at your own risk.

Approach: The approach is a quick and easy hike from the shopping center, under the highway, and up onto the dunes.  It takes five or ten minutes maximum! You can approach the ridge from either the north or south.  From the South, you’ll walk around and then up onto a very steep dune.  From the north, it’s a flatter approach around the backside of a deep depression and an obvious gap in the ridge line. The first day I hiked out in flip flops, hoping I might get some barefoot dune soaring in, however, much of the area has glass, ice plant, and other ocean debris, so it’s a good idea to wear closed toed shoes and be prepared to get a little (or a lot!) of sand in there!

Launch: Sand City has a couple different launch options.  When you first hike in, you’ll definitely notice the deep depression in the sand, as well as the large swath of beach in front of it.  This flat span of beach splits the ridge into north and south parts and is a great space for kiting (just don’t get too close to the edge of the depression!).

On the south side, you’ll see a steep sandy slope up to the top of the ridge.  You can launch from a flat space atop this slope, or if you’re kiting up the hill, can easily launch from part way up in a nice wind.  On the north side of the gap, there are two flat, clear areas on top of the ridge that can be used to launch. They aren’t visible from the beach so I would recommend hiking up to the top and locating them first. It is also possible to kite up to these launches from either the side or front of the ridge, but be prepared for strong wind, venturi, and rotor that can definitely make your glider go a bit crazy!  This is when you need to be really careful not to get dragged all over the ice plants.

The best launch window at Sand City seems to be anywhere from early afternoon until evening. The best wind will be within a couple degrees of straight-in, and blowing from about 10-14mph.  If you’re looking at the water, a few scattered white caps are a good indicator that wind speed is good for soaring. Be careful to keep an eye on the water while flying though and be prepared to land if a lot of white caps move in, as this means the wind might be picking up to unsafe levels.

Flight:  Once you know the proper launch areas, Sand City is generally pretty straightforward in terms of flying.  This is a coastal, ridge soaring site only, with a steady breeze and fairly mellow conditions.  It can get crowded though, so make sure you follow proper right of way rules and be prepared for turbulence in the wake of fellow pilots. Watch out for scratching too low and getting your lines caught in the ice plant. It’s also a good idea, as mentioned above, to keep an eye on the white caps and land if conditions get too strong and you’re struggling to stay out front of the ridge.

Obstacles: Besides other pilots in the air, obstacles include the ice plants, the deep depression behind the kiting area, which would not be a fun place to fall into, and, of course, the water.  Everyone at Sand City should fly with a hook knife and be prepared to cut away your lines in case of a water landing.

Landing: Landing is where things can get tricky at Sand City.  Due to the state park rules, top landing along most of the ridge is prohibited.  Exceptions are the regulated launch areas to the north, for which you need to be a P3 pilot and signed in with the local club, or top landing right back on launch at the unregulated area.  I would avoid landing anywhere else atop the ridge, as rangers are known to ticket, and you risk trampling ice plant and plover nesting areas.  As long as you have sufficient clearance from the water, it is okay to land anywhere down on the beach. Just be aware that your relaunch options might be limited if you stray too far from designated areas, so you may face a bit of a hike or kite back through the sand!

Final Thoughts: All in all I think Sand City is a really fun site and definitely worth a visit.  Though experienced pilots might find the flying a bit limited, this is a great place for anyone who just wants to soar and have fun, and a particularly great site for everyone to come pay their kiting dues!

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