The water is calling!
With mild surf and warm temperatures all year round, San Diego’s beaches, bays and lakes are the perfect place to practice your favorite water sport or try a new one.
The Wide World of Watersports
San Diego loves to play on the water. If someone’s figured out a new way to have fun on the water, you’ll find it here in San Diego. From Coronado to Carlsbad, surfriders have introduced kitesurfing, windsurfing, stand-up (aka SUP) surfing, step-off surfing and other creative variations into the lineup. Each of these disciplines takes its own special approach to wave-riding and requires its own specialized gear and the right San Diego location.
The starring attraction of the water sports scene is board surfing, however there are many other ways to mess around in the water. Sailing, scuba diving and kayaking are popular with locals and tourists alike and adrenaline junkies will love wakeboarding, kitesurfing, jet skiing, and water-powered jetpacking.
You can rent a ski boat or kitesurfing rig, however it is often worth calling ahead to check on proficiency requirements and other expectations. The same outfits that offer rentals typically offer guided tours or instruction for about the same as it would cost you to take the gear out on your own. Of course if you just want to get in the water, the simplest way to enjoy the surf requires no special equipment or training at all: try bodysurfing in the shallow white water of any San Diego beach break, or strap on your swim fins and test your mettle at the bodysurfing-only break known as Boomer’s Beach (next to La Jolla Cove).
Here are some of the exciting water sport activities that can be enjoyed on San Diego beaches and bays.
San Diego’s coastline provides a variety of surf conditions from beach, reef and point breaks to north, west and south swells, all appropriate for different times of year and weather conditions as well as rider experience levels. At its most basic, surfing means riding a board on the forward or deep face of a moving wave. For the more experienced, it can become an expression of personal style whether that means carving the wave and catching air on a shortboard or hanging ten off the nose of a longboard.
Bodyboarding implies that the surfer is riding the wave on their belly, in a prone position. But bodyboarders these days are hardly lying down on the job; a lot of them actually stand up. Able to take off deeper and ride in the more critical part of the wave, bodyboarders can claim more tube time than traditional surfers, and every day is overhead. Try bodyboarding for your first time in the Pacific Beach white water, or take it to the next level at a hollow shorebreak like Marine Street Beach in La Jolla.
The latest water sport craze is kitesurfing. For anyone yet to witness this exciting and colorful sport, it can be best described as a blend of wakeboarding and paragliding. Kiters strap into a short, double-ended board and clip their oversized kites to a harness. Unlike windsurfing that requires tacking and jibing, kiteboarders can harness the wind’s energy even if they’re racing dead into it. When it’s time to change direction, they simply tune their kite, turn their board and go where they please.
Kitesurfers thrive in the stormy, blown-out wind conditions that traditional surfers avoid. Instead of merely surfing the waves, kitesurfers use them as kickers to catch air. Similar to windsurfing, but with far more dramatic results, kitesurfers use oncoming waves to catch huge air and endless hang times, courtesy of the parachute-like kite’s lift power. It’s a lot more complicated than strapping a leash around your ankle and jumping out for a surf, however no more difficult than rigging a windsurfer or hobie cat. Pacific Beach and the Coronado Shores areas are popular kite sites, although beginners like to start out at places like Fiesta Island on the protected waters of the Bay.
Stand-up surfing requires a big floaty board and a long canoe-style paddle. SUP surfers sacrifice maneuverability in exchange for the advantage of catching waves earlier and riding them longer.
The advent of kitesurfing seems to be drawing more attention these days, however there are still a lot of wave junkies in San Diego out getting their fix on windsurfers and Hobie cats and other sail-driven craft. Because windsurfers demand a pretty stiff breeze to get cooking out in the surf, most of the windsurfing in San Diego tends to be done inside the bays on big rigs with big sails.
Traditional sailing is a serious matter in San Diego and there’s nothing more radical than a big, multi-million dollar racing sled slicing through the America’s Cup Harbor with her winches grinding and spinnaker straining.
JETPACKING, FLYBOARDING AND HOVERBOARDING
All three options give thrill-seekers the chance to realize their superhero dreams, flying high above the waters of Mission Bay or San Diego Harbor, powered by water propulsion jets. Depending upon the device you select, you can fly up to 30 feet in the air, skim across the water at speeds up to 30 mph, dive below the surface of the water, and even pull off the impossible: walking on water.
The jetpack is a bit quicker to learn as it requires very little strength to operate. The flyboard offers more freedom of movement, but demands a bit more muscle control. While the jetpack is better at spinning and skimming across the water, the flyboard is better at flips and dives. The hoverboard is basically like riding a snowboard on steroids; prior experience with surfing, snowboarding or wakeboarding is recommended.
The motor-minded can launch waverunners and jet skis at boat ramps and beaches throughout the county (check the local regulations), or rent them in places like Mission Bay and Oceanside Harbor. Once in awhile you’ll see waverunners out in the open ocean making long distance runs down the coast and lifeguards using them for water patrol along the beaches, however most of the activity takes place within the waters of San Diego’s bays.
Wave runners are relatively easy to use and control so it’s hard to resist pinning the throttle wide open on a flat stretch of open water, however a lot of beginners underestimate the power and the potential for accidents. Take it easy, respect the same Rules of the Road that all boaters are subject to, and have a blast.
Wakeboarding has been around long enough not to be new anymore, however athletes are still pushing the limits of the sport with bigger and bolder tricks. For those unfamiliar with the sport, wakeboards are short, rigid surfboards with footstraps on the deck. Wakeboarders tow behind a speedboat like a waterskier, however closer to the boat where they can ride and play endlessly on the small waves created by the boat’s wake.
Like waterskiing, wakeboarding is not a solo sport. You’ve got to have a boat to pull you and someone to drive it. Fortunately, there are outfits in San Diego that can supply both, along with lessons and gear if you so desire.
OTHER WATER PLAY
Though not extreme in the popular sense, there are a lot of other water sports that San Diegans take extremely seriously. There are crewing and outrigger canoe clubs, fishing tournaments and scuba diving societies, speedboat races and rough water swim meets. Stand-up paddling and kayaking are among the most popular of water sports for locals and visitors alike and can be enjoyed in the open ocean or inside the bay.
FUN AT WATER PARKS
San Diego is a water-loving town and in addition to 70 miles of beautiful coastline, the destination has built a handful of awesome water parks, providing fun alternatives to a beach day.
“Top Ways to Make a Splash in San Diego.”, San Diego, SanDiego.org.