Driving along Highway 160 past Sherman Island Road en route to Antioch and the Bay Area, you can witness any number of extreme athletes riding on boards pulled by kites.
These thrill-seekers represent the growing popularity of the sport known as kite boarding or kite surfing.
Kite surfing enables a rider to be creative while airborne at heights upwards of 40 feet.
"It might be the next sport to hit it big," said Bruce "Sheldon" Spradley, owner of Sheldon Sails in Rio Vista.
A trip to Sherman or Brannan islands, on the San Joaquin River, on a windy afternoon confirms Spradley's assessment as the number of kite boarders is multiplying and challenging the established wind surfers at the two popular spots.
Many factors make kite boarding a hot ticket in the extreme sport community - starting with low maintenance, Spradley said.
Kite boards require significantly less wind then windsurfing and the sport also allows for bigger jumps and faster turns that make it a dream thrill ride, he said.
As a result, many wind surfers have traded in their sails for a kite.
Sheldon, known as the Delta Guru, said kite boarding is an easy transition for most water sports enthusiasts.
|Bruce "Sheldon" Spradley takes a flying leap with the
aid of a kite as he boards along the Delta. (Jennifer
"Wake boarders are suited for the smoothest transition in water sports," Spradley said. "The feel and control of the kite is like a wakeboard with the kite replacing the boat in the role of a dragger."
Kite boarding got its start in the mid 1980s with Cory Roesler, of Oregon, who developed a kite ski system used with water skis. Also during that time, brothers Dominique and Bruno Legaignoux, of France, were developing a fly-surfing system now known as the Wipika system.
Kite surfing entered the modern era about five years ago when Laird Hamilton gained national recognition on Hawaii's surf dominated North Shore.
The images of Hamilton floating airborne while attached to a kite instantly caught the imagination of the water-sport community, Spradley said.
Spradley opened Sheldon Sails in 1978, offering instructional classes on wind surfing. With more than 25 years of wind surfing under his belt, Spradley said kite surfing dominates his business.
Spradley, entering his seventh kite boarding season, offers lessons for beginners, intermediate and advanced kite surfers. Three lessons are offered.
The first class lasts two hours and costs $130. It teaches you how to fly a model kite. Once the course is completed, you put on a special lifejacket equipped with a waterproof two-way radio.
While Spradley offers an experienced voice on the other end of the radio, you embark on the "body drag" - being pulled lying stomach down while attached to the kite - on your first trip down the river.
During that time, Sheldon also talks you through a number of drills that teach control of the kite.
Lesson two begins with a quick overview of the fundamentals for $65 and lasts an hour. The second lesson is where you put your skills to the test on the board being pulled by the kite.
Your body gets a good workout on the water, Spradley said.
"Expect to be extremely exhausted afterwards," he said.
Sheldon Sails also offers advanced lessons which cover all the aspects of kite surfing and will help you embark into the advanced aspects of the sport.
Appointments are available by calling (707)-374-3053 or stopping by 154 N. Front St. in Rio Vista.
However, before jumping into the sport, make sure you are ready for rigorous and physical activity, Sheldon said.
"It isn't a sport for the faint-hearted," he said. "You also have to be extremely comfortable in the water."
The kites are constructed of nylon and resemble a parafoil shape. The kites come in an assortment of sizes, ranging from three square meters to 22 square meters.
While still learning the basics, beginners should travel downwind to master their skills before going upwind.
"It's a great sport because you can always learn something new no matter how long you've been doing it," Spradley said.
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