Sand City/Marina is seven-mile coastal ridge, off of Highway 1, north of Monterey. The site offers a relatively consistent onshore flow, as the Monterey Bay funnels wind into the Salinas Valley. When the wind is “straight-in,” it is between 270° and 290°. This is an USHPA insured site, under an agreement with Marina State Beach.
An understanding of ridge
soaring and a thorough knowledge of ridge rules are essential.
You should also have your speed system engaged and be prepared to use it, if
necessary. Because the ridge is relatively low, the wind must be fairly strong
(~12-15 MPH for paragliders) to generate soarable lift. Excellent ground
handling skills and high wind launching and landing skills are required to
safely fly this site. However, with a consistent wind and soft sand, Sand
City can be a good place for a novice pilot to work on ground handling skills,
if you don't mind getting sand in your wing. Ask the locals for the best
place to practice.
You should get a site intro from a local pilot before launching. They can advise you on how to stay up, cross the gaps and avoid trouble spots. They can also tell you if the wind is sufficient or excessive.
Marina State Beach (Reservation Road) – This is a very flat (nearly sea level), dune launch, used primarily by hanglider pilots. All pilots must sign-in to launch and land at this site. The sign-in sheet at Reservation Road (for pilots flying either here or at the Lake Court paraglider launch) is located at the kiosk/signboard near the wind sock. If you launch from Lake Court, you still need to sign in here first. If you're flying at Sand City, you don't need to sign in (unless you plan to fly north and land at Lake Court). The kiosk has other info, including a map of how to get to Lake Court. You must be a rated USHGA member and, if you are a P2/H2, you are required to have a local instructor give you a site intro and sign you off before you fly here. You are also required to carry a sheath knife on your harness, in the event of a water landing, although a hook knife is currently considered acceptable for paraglider pilots.
Lake Court – This is a higher (~150’ MSL), walk-up launch, about a mile south of Marina State Beach and is a regulated USHGA site. USHGA membership, and signing in at Marina State Beach (see above), are required for flying here. Go inland on Reservation Road (Reservation Road turns right, but the name stays the same). After a short distance, turn Right on Lake Drive and make an immediate left jog. Follow Lake Dive to the end, where it becomes Lake Court. Park by the fence and walk up the dune path. The launch is the highest smooth area on the top and to the right. Lake Court can offer good soaring on a light, south day, but it can also be dangerous if the wind is too strong.
Sand City - The most popular paragliding launch five or six miles south of Lake Court, at Sand City. This site is unregulated, but you should sign in at Marina State Beach (see above), if you think you may fly north and land there.
Water Landings – There is
usually plenty of beach below the entire ridge, but sinking out is common, so
stay clear of the water as you land. Water
landings can be lethal. could
be pulled into the surf an instant. Always carry a hook knife on your
harness and be prepared to cut yourself out immediately, if you are being pulled
into the water. Forget about saving
Blow Backs - On high-wind days, stay low and out front (ready to apply your speed bar), to avoid being blown back over the ridge. You should land immediately if you are having trouble penetrating.
Scratching - On light to moderate days, pilots are often tempted to fly close to the terrain. This is a hazardous practice in any conditions.
Getting Dragged - Always wear a helmet when you’re hooked in and make sure that you can quickly disable your wing in high winds.
Debris – Unfortunately, there is a variety of natural and man-made debris on the beach and launches and the dunes are covered with ice plant. Although this is usually only a nuisance, and it can damage your wing, you should be especially careful that you don’t launch with twigs or other debris in your lines.
Snowy Plover HabitatThe Snowy Plover is a tiny shorebird, just over six inches long. Plovers nest and forage for food on sandy beaches. You'll see them along the water, finding small crustaceans and marine worms in the wet sand. Unfortunately for the plovers, people and pets can step on their nests, interrupt their foraging and threatening their fledglings.
The plover has been on the National Audubon
Society's Blue List of declining species, since the list began in 1972, and in
1997, it was listed as a U.S.
Endangered Species. In an attempt to protect the plovers, California
State Parks has erected metal fences, approximately three feet high and
20-30 feet from the base of the dunes, to protect their nesting area during the
spring and summer months. These fences, mostly in the northern half of the
Sand City/Marina ridge, are very hard to see from the air. Do not walk,
launch or land anywhere inside the fenced area. If you accidentally find
yourself in the fenced area, get out as soon as possible.
For more information about the snowy plover and its habitat, check out:Cornell University's Ornithology Website
Directions & Access
From Highway 1 South, the exit for Marina State Beach is Reservation Road (turn right to reach the parking lot). The exit for Sand City (approximately six miles south of Marina) is Fremont Boulevard. Take the Fremont Boulevard exit and go under the freeway. Park on the street or in the nearby shopping center. Walk back under the freeway and follow the railroad tracks north, briefly, and then head toward the ocean. The primary launch is at the north end of the flat area, about 100 yards north of the big dune. You can also launch off the dune, but it's often harder to get onto the main ridge (to the north) from there.
The launch is located here because it's private property, with access, but it's not the best spot to launch on the ridge. The ridge is very low at this launch (~50’ MSL) and there's a gap to the north of the launch that can be difficult to cross. If you sink out, you can use the "re-launch bowl," on the other side of the gap. You can't miss the bowl -- the sand at the bottom is carved into sculptures.
The Local "911" Emergency Numbers are 831.384.7575 (Marina) and 1-831-394-6811 (Sand City).
Wind Talker: 831.384.3184
Ultra Low Flight (Excellent video -techniques for flying low sand dunes, with 3D graphics to help explain complex airflow concepts)
Thanks to local pilot, Vicki Bolam, for much of the information contained in this site description. Photos are courtesy of Andy Stocker.
kim"at"flyzephyr"dot"com USHPA Advanced Paragliding
Instructor & Observer