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The Sherman Island Kiteboarding Experience

Joe Ruscito kiteloops in the Sacramento River.

Words and Photos by Paul Lang

During the summer the city of San Francisco remains notoriously cool and shrouded in fog while less than 100 miles away Sacramento routinely reaches temperatures of more than 100° F.

This large temperature difference between the two cities, commonly more than 30° during the daytime, creates a large pressure gradient as the hot air in the Sacramento Valley rises and draws the cool Pacific Ocean air through the Golden Gate and over the part of California simply known as the Delta.

Roughly midway between the two cities lies Sherman Island, located at the point where the two great rivers of California, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, join together as they march onward towards the ocean.

Sherman Island ferry.

As the cool air is pulled inland from San Francisco, it’s channeled directly over Sherman Island by Mount Diablo on one side and the Montezuma Hills on the other. The temperature difference between the Bay Area and the hot inland valleys creates nearly ideal wind conditions for windsurfers and kiteboarders, routinely blowing from sunrise until after sunset and sometimes even all night long.

During the summertime, there is probably no location in North America that features more dependable wind. “When I came out here for the first time from the East Coast, I couldn’t even believe this place existed,” said Nate Lincoln from Edge Kiteboarding. “It was so under the radar and people didn’t know about it. The reality of this place is that it’s the windiest spot in North America. For the months of June, July, and August there isn’t any other place where you can just go and sit in that one place and ride every day. It’s just phenomenal here.”

The unique geographical features of Sherman Island make it an ideal location to receive a lot of wind, but there is a lot more to know about it other than the fact that it’s a windy place. Sherman Island is not just a kiteboarding spot, but is home to a very strong and passionate kiteboarding community.

It has a unique history and is not a spot where all kiteboarders can ride as the launch sites are small, crowded, and full of obstacles. I had been to Sherman Island a few times before heading up there for this story, but I had only shown up and ridden for the day. As I was to discover, the Sherman Island experience is completely different when you stay on the island for days at a time.

A seemingly contradictory aspect of Sherman Island is that it is both easy to access and remote at the same time. About an hour’s drive from either San Francisco or Sacramento, this spot does not take a lot of effort to get to, but once you are on the island, it’s difficult to imagine that large metropolitan areas are anywhere nearby. The nearest towns are Rio Vista, a small riverfront town, and Antioch, a larger town across the San Joaquin River.

Rio Vista’s most infamous attraction is Foster’s Bighorn Bar, the walls of which are covered with an extraordinary number of rare and unique mounted animal heads, including an elephant. Legend has it that when the elephant’s head was originally mounted on the wall, it was so heavy that it pulled the entire wall down.

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