Ocean Beach Ė Kellyís Cove Windsurfing Guide


First, what you WILL NOT find at Ocean Beach: sand spurs, man-o-wars, deer flies, turtle grass, red tide, shells, water spouts, box jellies, shallow water, prickly pears, skeeters, oyster bars, bulls, fickle winds, user fees, crab traps, sting rays, PCBs, gators, submerged debris, boat traffic, fishing line, cannonball jellies, lightning, no-see-ums, horseshoe crabs, stinging coral, spent syringes, high bacteria, rocks and rednecks on jet-skis. You're not in Kansas or even Crissy anymore.


What you will find: a clean sandy bottom, a broad sandy beach, expansive views of the Pacific, an adoring audience and consistent diurnal winds throughout the spring and summer with bigger blasts during the balance of the year.


Oh, and 2 more things: cold water and a chunky, unforgiving wave.


If youíre a regular Bay-Area sailor, the cold water is not a factor. But for most sailors, the OB wreckiní ball is. And for good reason: waves are overhead, thick, disorganized skool-bus-sized masses of energy exchange stacked several deep and happy to hasten entropy, including yours. Screw the pooch on your chicken jibe and its game over.


That said, there are a dozen or so local sailors who regularly risk rejection to exploit the adrenal-faculty-tickle this moving mogul course provides. And a few more who confine themselves to the relatively flat water between break and beach occasionally sneaking out to enjoy the rollers coming off the bar in the Potato Patch.


On the outside, the view is scenic with the Cliff House and Sutro Heights being your reference. Air and water surface conditions are much cleaner than the surf zone. Stay south of Seal Rock as the opportunities for a beach landing to the north are nil. Think waves pounding you and your fast diminishing gear against rock cliffs.


The Wave

The wave at Ocean Beach isnít epic. During a wind event, itís a junky, blown-out, sectiony, disorganized mess. Thatís why the surfers are at work. But consider every 8í tall breaking wall of water has at least one shoulder, which occasionally lasts more than a millisecond. So a hit can be gotten if youíre in the right place at the right time. This is purely a game of chance but can definitely increases the ante for those choosing this venue. A preview:



Ocean Beach has them. The you-can-die signs in the parking lot are there for a reason. OB has claimed both water and beach users.


On your board, currents are not much of a factor, but if you're broken down or separated from your gear, you are at risk of being moved some place you don't want to go, like out to sea, into the rocks or around the rocks into the Gate flow.


The channels (i.e. rip!) between Balboa and Fulton shift so don't expect them to always be in the same place. The rip is not visible from the beach although at times it appears the waves are a tad smaller in it. There is no hard fast rule. Best to go to OB on a day when the surfers are out and watch where they DON"T go. Pay attention to how they move up and down the beach and where they position themselves. This is usually a place where the currents are the least factor. Note how much paddling they are doing parallel to the beach. Better, ask the surfers about the current and where the rips are and which way things are moving. The currents generally run stronger in the winter months than summer. Kook-friendly Skokereport.com is a good source to gather recon pre-sesh.


If you're down in the break or outside and not going to sail back home, first get your bearing from Seal Rock or some fixed landmark to determine which way you are moving. If you're in the rip and being pushed out, work your way parallel to the beach and out of the rip. If you're just drifting up or down the beach, wave and wind energy will generally deliver you to the beach provided you don't traverse another rip.


Don't be passive though as voodoo runs deep in the currents at OB. In 2002, 10 experienced surfers were swept out of Kelly's and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard. More recently, a less experienced surfer had a very public and embarrassing Seal Rock moment. So swim! If you're not making progress, getting tired and cold, don't be afraid to signal for help.

3 mile long Ocean Beach provides a unique margin of safety rarely available in NorCal. In the event you break down and end up in the current conveyor belt, the walk-o-shame sure beats ending up on the rocks as can be the case at Waddell, Davenport , Scotts, Gazos, Pigeon et. al.

Some Bay area sailors routinely carry a VHF radio in their fanny packs. If you plan on sailing to the horizon or flirting with Seal Rock on a south day, this would be good insurance. Or at least carry your double-zip-locked-baggied non-ATT cell phone which will work near shore. Otherwise, sailing with a buddy is always good. Unlike other popular Bay Area venues like Crissy or 3rd/Coyote, you are relatively close to shore at OB. And given the number of people on the beach, you would likely be spotted if you broke down or were in distress. Extra flotation can really mitigate fatigue if you loose your gear and provides an added margin of safety.


One other thing, be mindful of the surge on big days. The high water mark can vary by 20-30 yards sweeping in unexpectedly and you off your feet.


Surviving The First Hit

Since most injuries in the break are the result of body challenging gear to a game of Newtonís poker, you have 2 choices. First, hit the eject button and try to get as far away from your gear as possible or second, hold on.


Hitting the eject button is counter-intuitive as the reptilian core is conditioned to hold on. And generally the core is right. But if you just launched a huge aerial gone terribly wrong or, your gear is directly between you and a 12í macker, you might want to consider this option. What you forfeit is the knowledge of where your gear is and being able to control it. You also still risk a strike as 12í mast or 8í board > 6í human. And youíre now a swimmer.


The other strategy is to put the death grip on the boom, pull it close and maintain triangulation between board and sail. For the average typically overhead wave this works pretty good. Ball up and hold the boom close as your shoulder can be damaged by mechanical advantage if extended.

Rinse Cycle

During the summer months when most of the wave is wind generated, the period is short. So once you go down and pop back up, you only have a few seconds to regroup before its game-on again. Thatís not enough time to position for a waterstart much less start so donít waste your time. Better to mitigate body and gear carnage by proper positioning. Swim to the tip of the mast, grab firmly, sink mast and yourself just before the wave breaks on top of you and prepare for acceleration. The good news is the break zone at Kellyís is rather thin and you will be pushed into the safe zone after only a few rinsings.


During the winter months the waves have more punch but with longer period so you have a few seconds more to restart.


Unique Features

Kellyís Cove is the tamest part of OB. Even a block to the south at VFW (Beach Chalet / Windmill), it can be noticeably bigger. And unlike Noriega or Taraval where the wave is much bigger and further out, the wave at Kellyís breaks close to shore and in relatively shallow water. At times it can be more organized than mid-beach, other times not.


Another Kellyís Cove phenomenon is a venturi effect caused by compression / funneling of the wind against the 200í tall Sutro Heights. Windspeeds between Cliff House and Balboa can be 20% greater than VFW.So keep this in mind when reaching starboard. Although there is more wind energy at Kellyís Cove there is also a shadow from Seal Rocks so be careful about the jibing in this area.


A note about the OB-KC.com wind sensor: Because it is situated next to Sutro Heights (a hill), prevailing winds are difficult to measure from N to NE because they are blocked by the hill. From NE to S the wind is coming over and down low scale buildings and the park so it's dirty but more accurate than N to NE. As it starts to shift to the south, it compresses against the hill and is dampened. Measured speeds in this quadrant are lower than the beach a hundred yards west. As the wind clocks from SW to NW the compression diminishes and venturi (funneling) effect increases becoming maximum at NW. From this direction measure speeds are higher than the beach. Ergo, apply the following corrections when the wind is in the 12-25 mph range:


N to NE (0 - 45 degrees): not accurate, ignore

NE to SE (45 to 135 degrees): Use ~gust speed as average speed

SE to SW (135 to 225 degrees): Add 4-6 mph to average speed. Also factor gusts. If they are high, add a couple more mph to average.

SW to W (225 to 270 degrees): Add 2-3 on the SW end and less as you approach W

W to NNW (270 to 345 degrees): Subtract 1-2 mph near W and 3-4 mph as you approach NNW.

For prevailing winds above 25 mph, scale up the correction factor.


Winter Sailing

Outside of the mid March-to-late-August wind season, the wind comes to OB in fits and spurts. But it is during these times when potentially the best conditions prevail as winds are more side shore. This occurs pre- and post- frontal passage. Winds initially are SE to SW while rain can be a factor. Reaches are straight out, through a fairly well shaped wave and jibes are easy on the outside swells. Rides are good up and down the line and nose-bleed jumps are possible especially on the last wave.After the front passes, winds clock from NW to NE but are best side to slightly side-off. Sutro Heights can shadow Kellyís Cove as the winds clock more east but at this point the winds would be off-shore and not recommended given Plan B, if you break down, is Indonesia. Also on a south day, but some distance between your lauch and Seal Rock as the current generally moves south to north during the winter months.


General Tips For Windsurfing Ocean Beach

The most common mistake made at OB is an undersized kit. Flotation is your buddy. If you normally sail an 85l board in the Bay or your local venue, consider another 10 liters for OB winds being equal. This because you really want to minimize the amount of time in the water. The additional flotation means more maneuverability and more leverage. It also puts you in a better place to handle the dirty air between waves. Donít go nuts with volume though. 135 liters is going to be too much in moderate winds. You can bump your sail size up a half meter as well but board volume is going to yield the greatest returns.


Also consider a slightly bigger / on-shore fin which is steeper (less raked) than a side-shore fin. This will offset the effects of the current, help you plane quicker, make it easier to stay up wind in marginal conditions and help you punch through the white walls should you wish to venture outside.



There is usually plenty of vacant space in the parking lot to rig. If you want to spare your boom asphalt-rash, you can rig on the beach although be sure to carry your board down first so you have something to anchor your sail to when you head back up for your wetsuit.



The water temperature at OB is consistently 50-55 degrees. Rarely it will climb to the upper 50ís but almost never drops below 48 degrees. Given the many thousand mile fetch of more 50 degree water, the air temperature is pretty consistent as well. Only during the summer when there is a cut-off low or a massive Great Basin high pressure do winds blow off-shore and air temps can actually break 60. Bottom line, you need a steamer Ė 4/3 or 5/3. Booties are optional depending on how good your circulation is. Fleece beanies donít work so well as they get knocked off during the rinse cycle. Surf caps and hoods are better if you feel you need to maintain head warmth. And a helmet is always a good idea especially when itís big or the winds are 25+. During the winter, the 50/50 rule can be challenged (below 50 degree air temperature / below 50 degree water temperature) whichis the break point for most. Adding a layer of micro-fleece under your 5/3 as well as booties + hood is a good hedge against hypothermia.


Comfort Stations

There are none. There are public restrooms at Judah and portable toilets in the Lands End parking lot.


Post-sesh Celebration

Within a 5 minute walk of Kelly’s Cove you can:

Imbibe handcrafted beers and down some protein bites at Beach / Park Chalet.

Grab a sandwich or the daily special at Freddy’s Deli.

Pick up your beach picnic supplies at the Safeway.

Snag a Latvian beer or exotic chocolate at Eurpora Express grocery.

Treat yourself to a gourmet meal or classic cocktail at the historic and the highly rated Cliff House.


If you want to venture a little further afield consider the 1 mile trek to the south (15 minute walk) is the Judah Street Outer Sunset business district. A sampling includes:

Java Beach Cafe

Other Avenues Grocery

Judalicious Juice Bar

Beach Burrito

Sea Breeze Cafe


Happy Windsurfing!