(aka, ‘Albany Beach’ or ‘Dog beach’ or ‘The Albany Bulb’—It is technically part of McLaughlin Eastshore State Park)
2019 Construction notice.
The park is still under construction, however, and a few recent events have highlighted the need to update kiters on a few points:
1) Although kiters are using the sandy beach at the southern tip as the launch and landing site, this area will be the primary point of pedestrian access when the park is finished is should NOT be used to launch and land at that point. Local kiters and the SFBA worked with the EBRPD to develop a large 'Open Use' area at the south-eastern tip of the park for launching and landing.
2) Due to parking shortages in the Buchanan lot, some kiters are parking by Fleming Point, breaking through the fence and launching from the small beach there. One incident resulted in a confrontation with contractors, who were upset that kiters trespassed and then traversed the work area while heavy machinery was moving through the area. We spoke with the EBRPD rep they emphasized the need to remain clear of the site while the crew is working. Kiters and pedestrians can enter at Fleming Point, but please do not do so if any crew are on site.
BEST WIND METER:
April - October
Site 411 Contact: Andrew Sullivan
The site is generally known as ‘Racetrack’ due to it’s location directly behind the Golden Gate Fields horse racing track in Albany. Due to the hard work of the SFBA and others, kiting and other board sports are formally recognized activities at this beach. In order to ensure continued support for kiting and board sports at this location, however, it is imperative that you follow the safety guidelines outlined. If you have any questions not covered here, don’t hesitate to contact the site 411 listed above.
SKILL LEVEL: INTERMEDIATE+
Racetrack is a location for intermediate and advanced kiters only. It is NOT a beginner beach. Wind conditions can be unpredictable near the beach, as the cove can create many wind holes, and the small beach is bordered by rocks with razor-sharp barnacles that will slice any kites and feet they touch. Furthermore, a high level of skill to self-launch and land is required to kite here and you absolutely must be entirely comfortable with upwind kiting skills. It is also helpful to have very quick self-rescue skills, as a fallen kite in the cove often requires quick recovery to avoid lapping against the rocks.
Gilman: The site can be accessed from either the Albany/Buchanan Street exit or the Gilman Street exit off 580. Access to the beach is always open from the Gilman Street side but, during race hours, you’ll have to ask the parking attendant to waive your fee because you’re simply visiting the beach and not using their lot to attend races. Most often, they will let you in. When the racetrack is not in operation, simply drive north along the waterfront, up and over the clubhouse hill and down to the beach. Park near the beach but do not park in the middle of the lot and block the access that the truckers need to drop their trailers in the lot. Many people park their cars in the middle of the lot to self launch. This irks the racetrack security and truck drivers, as it blocks the routes of the trucks hauling hay. Please be aware of where you park and avoid blocking truck paths. No one wants a war with the racetrack, as the parking lot is their property and they can restrict access any time they please.
Buchanan: If entering via Buchanan, you’ll need to enter through the racetrack parking lot, drive through the lot and through the gate by the water and park next to the beach. The Buchanan gate is not always open, however. You can generally count on it being open Tuesday - Sunday during business hours and you might have to ask for free entrance to visit the beach or simply pay the $5-$1 (Sunday) parking fee (note: the Gilman entrance is $10).
The main launch area for Albany Beach is the Open Use Area designated above. The launch here has a number of hazards and requires advanced self-launch and landing skills, keen attention to fluctuations in wind and the ability to fly your kite with one hand. The Bay Trail has an 18” sand wall that you must step over when walking to and from the beach. You can also use the pedestrian access path from the parking lot, but this increases your chances of co-mingling with pedestrians. It’s always advisable to take a quick look at the water to check wind lines before launch: you don’t want to launch right before a lull hits the beach. There are a number of permanent self-launch assistants installed at the site to accommodate launching in various conditions. The most common method of self-launch and landing is by attaching a leash with carabiner clips to an anchor (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wslhh8Jr7Q).
There was special consideration made for kiters in the design of the beach and, under the right wind conditions and when pedestrians are not occupying the area, you can also launch and land on the southern tip of the beach.
During the construction of the Bay Trail, locals began launching from the beaches at Fleming point (you can see the old pier pylons extending from the point in the photo below). There are benefits and drawbacks to these locations: The wind-line is usually much cleaner at these points and you forego much of the upwind work to reach Albany Point, Brooks Channel and the Olympic Circle. The beaches are significantly smaller, however, and the beach to the north of Fleming point has a couple of obstacles that are buried under higher tides. While foiling from the beach to the south is fine, do not foil from the beach to the north. Bike traffic also comes down the hill from the clubhouse at high speeds, so keep your kite out of traffic lines when launching and landing and never launch and land in automotive traffic lines. During low tides, it is possible to launch and land from the southern beach. Otherwise, it’s best to launch and land further north, out of all traffic lines, and walk to and from the water. Note: traveling with your kite over concrete in shifty winds is extremely dangerous—be ready to release at all times.
Because ALL launch areas at this site require navigating hazards to reach the beach, we recommend you place your board on the beach before launching to simplify your trip to the water. The safety maxim ‘keep it low and go!’ DOES NOT apply here. The unsteady winds in the launch zone favor keeping your kite high and fly, feathering as needed. With the abundance of pedestrians and unpredictable sculptures on the beach, low lines and kites pose a risk. Because of the number of obstacles, pedestrians and swirling winds, it is critical to check and test releases, lines, launch leashes, etc. before launch.
WIND DIRECTION: ONSHORE
With the exception of storms, the wind is always onshore. While the wind tends to arrive from the SW, it is not uncommon to experience WSW, W, WNW and NW winds. Due to the wind shadows created by the Albany Bulb, NW winds are the most tricky to navigate. Some kiters will launch from the small beach by Fleming Point to south of Albany Beach in order to catch the wind-line and avoid the large holes near the Bulb.
There are rocks lining the coastline and these rocks have sharp barnacles on them. Your kite will likely rip upon contact and your feet will not fare well traversing them without booties. There is an old pier extending from Fleming Point to the south of Albany Beach. Be careful not to clip your lines on or drift into the pylons. While there are no known slightly submerged rocks or other obstacles offshore, a number of logs and driftwood make their way into the cove, so be aware of this potential hazard. Beach users often make tall structures out of driftwood, so this is another reason to keep your kite far from the beach and any potential for it to fall on the beach. Seaweed often settles right by the shore: dropping your lines in this will result in a long cleaning session.
Currents are not a concern in the cove, nor are they a major issue in the channel by Brooks island or near Marina Bay. If you plan to venture deep into the Olympic Circle, check tides (https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/noaatidepredictions.html?id=9414290&legacy=1) and carry a VHF marine radio (https://www.amazon.com/Standard-Horizon-HX150-Handheld-Marine/dp/B00AJVX5L6/ref=sr_1_17?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1540842206&sr=1-17&keywords=vhf+radio+marine). To request on-water assistance by VHF radio, use Channel 16 to report an incident to the Coast Guard.
TIDES: HIGH TIDES REDUCE THE ABILITY TO LAUNCH AND LAND ON THE BEACH
The size of the beach varies dramatically based on tides. At a low tide, it is possible to launch and land on the beach, although this is not recommended due to a large number of pedestrians, dogs, and children present at the beach. Racetrack is an ideal launch site for foils as the drop-off is close to the beach, enabling foilers to kite very close to shore even at low tide.
There is no fresh water at this site. Bathrooms are located at the turn-around on Buchanan.
ENVIRONMENTAL & HABITAT CONCERNS: YES
As mentioned, there are two areas considered sensitive habitats: the cove to the south of Racetrack between the Tom Bates sports facility and Cesar Chavez park (North Basin) and the cove to the north of the Bulb between the Bulb and Pt. Isabel (Albany Mudflats). Kiting in these areas will provoke complaints from the Sierra Club and Audubon Society.
If you launch or land on the beach, give priority to pedestrians;
Do not mow the lawn in front of the beach and complicate exit and entry for others;
Do not power-stroke your kite over the beach or near the beach. This is very intimidating for people on the beach. When there are people on the beach, body drag off shore to give plenty of clearance between your kite and the beach;
Do not launch or land your kite near non-kiters. Ask them to move for their own safety;
If you park in the racetrack lot, DO NOT block the passage of other cars or obstruct their trucking routes.
RIGHT OF WAY:
In general, the outgoing kiter has the right of way due to the unpredictability of shoreline winds. So yield the right of way to the kiter leaving the beach. Thereafter, standard right of way rules apply: the kiter on a starboard tack (right hand and shoulder forwards) has right of way. The kiter on a port tack (left hand and shoulder forwards) must yield right of way (get out the way, pass downwind). For two kiters on the same tack, the kiteboarder upwind must give way to the kitesurfer downwind.
The wind here is steady and strong throughout the season (MAY-OCT) and the views are unmatched -- you stare straight out at the golden gate when heading upwind. Racetrack is generally one of the best locations for late-season wind, with quality kiting common in late October. It's not very popular, so you're rarely worrying about all of the issues associated with crowds, and the complexities of launching and landing weed out beginners. Very easy access from I 80 and ample parking add to the allure. The sandy beach and muddy bottom make entrance into the water easy, while its the quick drop-off make it an excellent foiling spot. Once outside of the cove, you can make amazing runs between Marina Bay in Richmond and Royce Beach in Emeryville/Oakland. Racetrack essentially launches you into the middle of the Olympic Circle and gives you easy access to the fantastic wind near Brooks Island. At high tide, there is a section at the end of the Bulb that is an enclosed pool of flat water that is kiteable. It can be tricky to enter the pool, however, and only advanced kiters should attempt this. Booties are required, as you have to walk over rocks to enter.
There are often dogs and kids on the beach so you must be careful with your kite. I've seen a number of experienced kiters launch right off the beach and dive their kites perilously close to people on the shore. Neither cool nor safe. I've also seen a few people catch their lines on tall poles on the beach. In short, don’t launch and land on the beach and don’t power stroke new the beach. Launch and land in the parking lot and body drag far enough away from the beach so that you can release your kite without any concern that it will land on the beach.
Again, launching can be tricky. Most people (self) launch and land in the Open Area next to the Bay Trail and the wind can be a little squirrelly back there. I recommend a short self-launch leash so that if you lose control for some reason, you won’t be yanked into the air and body-slammed -- something I've seen many times. The swirling winds can also create wind holes that cause kites to fall from the sky only to the fully powered with the next gust. I have been dragged across the field towards the bollards more than once and I don’t wish that experience on anyone. So the general rule is to get into and out of the water as quickly as possible and don’t be afraid to pop your safety if anything feels unsafe.
I have seen a few cars with smashed windows and a number of regulars have had their cars broken into, so be careful about leaving valuables in the car. I have a safe in mine for cc, cash, etc. This applies to many sites, however, so it’s generally a good idea to have a secure place to store valuables in your car.
Don’t be ashamed to body drag out. It’s not only the safe thing to do, it’s often the best way to reach the wind-line. On more than one occasion, I’ve been the only one kiting in 18-20mph winds by Point Albany only because all of the others on the beach were too proud to body drag to the wind line;
Don’t get too close to the rocks on the northern edge of the cove. The wind can swirl near the shore and, if your kite falls, you’ll have to reel it in quickly to prevent it from hitting the rocks; Get out to Brooks channel and do the run to the sand bar at Brooks Island for flat water paradise. In a good SW-erly, you can kite down the southern edge of the island, make it around the western tip of the sand bar off Brooks and fly downwind for a mile of flat-water paradise! Beware, however, that you’re kiting in a shipping channel that has the occasional very large ship moving through;
Keep your kite high when sailing around the eastern side of Brooks Island and its many wind holes to enjoy the unmatched flat water behind the spit.
Tides and Currents (https://wolfweb.unr.edu/homepage/edc/tides/2017/)
Wind Patterns (http://wx.ikitesurf.com/map#37.898,-122.28,10,1)
Park District (http://www.ebparks.org/parks/eastshore)
Self Launch Video: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wslhh8Jr7Q)
General Safety (M)
VHF radio (https://www.amazon.com/Standard-Horizon-HX150-Handheld-Marine/dp/B00AJVX5L6/ref=sr_1_17?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1540842206&sr=1-17&keywords=vhf+radio+marine)
Closest Kite Stores:
There’s also an REI nearby: (https://www.rei.com/stores/berkeley.html)