Best Winds: March to November, Locals ride year round
Closest Airport: Norfolk International Airport is located 1 1/2 hours from Kitty Hawk
Kite Size: Winds are primarily frontal so 8 to 16 meter kites is the norm
Cost Factor: $-$$ Renting a house with friends makes Hatteras very inexpensive
Local Shops and Schools: See full list at end of article
Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, is known around the world as the land of kiteboarding downwinders. Seventy miles of unlimited access to the water, both soundside and oceanside, allow riders to pick and choose their perfect-length run. The island bends over its length to create sideshore conditions in almost any wind direction. Combine the fact that it is far off the mainland, and you have the perfect recipe for steady, consistent winds for riding downwinders of any distance. We asked Hatteras icon Trip Foreman to share the goods on the locals’ favourite downwinders.
Downwinders are great for riders of any ability. Beginners benefit from riding downwind as it allows them to concentrate on basic kite and board skills without the worry—or fatigue—of constantly walking back upwind. Intermediates build confidence, steadily increasing their board speed and turns. Intermediates will also find their best jumping sessions happen when riding downwind. The secret to learning the waves, both jumping and waveriding? Downwind riding. Advanced riders really turn up the heat during downwinders with mind-altering speed, trenching turns and limitless jumping and waveriding.
No matter how you look at it, riding downwind is more fun and progresses your ability more quickly. Still not convinced? How many skiers or snowboarders do you see staying uphill?
The following is just a sampling of the downwind runs available in Cape Hatteras. These runs have been organized by location (soundside or oceanside) and ability level (green, blue or black—similar to mountain trails). Use these runs or make up your own. Just remember that all of those cars traveling upwind on Highway 12 are really just summertime chairlifts.
Cape Hatteras Kiteboarding Wind and Surf Forecast
GREEN RUNS: Your First Downwinders
Green downwinders are a great way to improve your ability level through extended riding and turning. Green runs allow the rider to see the beginning and end of the run from the starting point. Green runs have easy water access, no obstacles to navigate around on land (power lines) or water (piers), and have shallow water for easy self-rescue. Green runs have uncrowded launch and landing areas.
GREEN RUNS SOUNDSIDE
Vermont Hole to Park Street:
Vermont Hole is the sandy-road beach access just to the north of Canadian Hole (Haulover Day Use Area). This run works in south or southwest wind or you can reverse the path in north or northwest winds. Avoids crowded windsurf area at Canadian Hole. Nice shallow water the entire way. If you can’t make the finish line, you could walk the entire run.
1st Turnout to 2nd or 3rd Turnout:
This run is located north of Avon on the three soundside access roads. 1st Turnout is the first dirt road north of Avon. You can downwind to 2nd or 3rd Turnout depending on length of run desired. 2nd Turnout can also be used as an early get-out if needed. All three roads have front-wheel drive plus an easy walk, or four-wheel-drive access to the water. All three have easy walkouts to the highway if you break down or need to stop early. This run can be done in southwest winds, or can be reversed in north or northwest winds. South winds and northeast winds are blocked by land and can create unstable launches and landings. Proceed to the water immediately after launch for more consistent winds. Nice shallow water, with the exception of a narrow, rarely used navigation channel paralleling the beach 100 to 150 feet offshore. The rest is waist-to-chest-deep as long as you stay within 500 yards of shore.
D-Spot to Buxton Slick:
This is a nice run for north or northeast winds. Shallow water full length of the run with clean wind. Killer flatwater riding in the Buxton Slick behind low-lying grass islands. Keeps riders clear of Kite Point during busy northeast “pool parties.”
BLUE RUNS: Turn your speed and riding level up
Blue runs are longer, may have deeper water, or obstacles to navigate around. Due to their length, blue runs have early get-outs in case of fatigue or equipment failure. Longer runs allow the rider to turn up the volume on his or her riding, increasing board speed, turns and jumps. Blue runs also include riding in the ocean on the north and south side of the island. Blue ocean runs should be reserved for small-wave days to maximize your fun and success.
BLUE RUNS SOUNDSIDE
Kite Point to 1st Turnout:
This is the original Cape Hatteras downwinder, first completed in April 1998. Optimal conditions are southwest winds; can be run in reverse in north or northwest winds. Southwest winds normally increase over stretch of this run (windier at the finish), so rig accordingly. Early get-outs include Vermont Hole, Park Street and Avon Village. Obstacles include windsurfers at Canadian Hole, Park Street, Avon Village and Island Creek. Keep it close to shore, and you’re always close to an early get-out. This is a classic southwest Cape Hatteras downwinder for those ready for the length of ride. Be part of history by taking part in the original.
SDA (Salvo Day Use Area) to The Slick:
This run put Cape Hatteras on the worldwide flatwater map. Works best in southwest winds; can be reversed in north or northwest winds. Tons of points, islands, and coves to duck behind for ultimate glass. The grand finale is the honey hole of them all: The Slick is a boomerang-shaped island in front of REAL Kiteboarding and home to the REAL Slider Park. All of the good riding during this run is within 200 yards offshore, so keep this run close to the beach—no whale watches. Early get-outs include Hatteras Watersports and Wind Over Waves. Obstacles include jetskis and flags at Hatteras Watersports. Unstable wind at SDA; launch and leave immediately for best wind. You can finish your run farther downwind at Hatteras Island Sail Shop or KOA Campgrounds.
Kite Point to Frisco Woods:
This run works well in northeast or east (not southeast) winds. Can be reversed in west or west-northwest winds. Several chop-sheltering points along the way to exploit the butter. Early get-outs include Pilot House and The Sandbar restaurants (rocky shoreline and land; pack up before coming close), residential beaches along Buxton and Frisco, and Brigands Bay Point. Water obstacles include fishing nets, isolated buoys and pilings in the water.
Frisco Woods to Hatteras Turnout:
This is an untapped stretch of water you’ll likely have to yourselves. Beautiful scenery, waist-deep water and consistent winds. This run is optimal in northeast or east winds but can be reversed in a west or northwest wind. Early get-outs include Frisco residential beaches and Frisco Pier. Be aware of power lines near Hatteras Turnout; they are at a safe distance but need to be respected.
BLUE RUNS OCEANSIDE
Ferry Docks to Hatteras Turnout:
This is great summertime downwinder with warm water, winds and fun waves. The first day of a good southwest wind makes for easy waves in the waist-high range. As the wind persists, waves can grow to be well overhead. Works in southwest winds; can also be reversed in east winds. Straight west winds are a touch offshore and blocked by larger homes along the shoreline. Early get-outs include residential walkways over the dunes; you’ll see one every 200 yards. Proceed with caution around swimmers and surfers along this stretch; they have the right of way. You can recognize Hatteras Turnout from the ocean as you pass the last stretch of houses in Hatteras Village and exit back into the National Park land. There is a stretch of dune-building fences and the Turnout is at the east end of where these fences stop.
Ramp 30 to Ramp 34:
An epic ocean downwinder for north and northeast winds. This is a deserted stretch of coastline rarely used by fishermen, surfers, or swimmers, allowing riders to really cut loose. First few days of north or northeast winds can provide small to medium surf. This swell direction builds quickly, so get on it the first day of the blow if you want it small. The only obstacle to worry about is the random fisherman in the middle of nowhere looking for solitude. Can be reversed in a south wind (not southwest, as this will be offshore).
BLACK RUNS: LAND OF THE LOST MEETS
GRAVEYARD OF THE ATLANTIC
Black runs are for advanced to expert riders only. Black runs often lack early get-outs, require skilled navigation around obstacles and cover extended distances downwind. Make sure you are dialed on your green and blue runs before attempting black runs.
BLACK RUNS SOUNDSIDE
Planet of the Apes to The Slick:
This downwind run was featured in ACL’s Ten4 DVD. Southwest winds work best, although some have back-doored the entire run on north or northwest winds. Planet of the Apes easily takes the position of best flatwater run in the world. Features two key flatwater riding locations: Planet of the Apes and The Slick. Planet got its name due to the remote location and lack of easy egress if you break down or if the wind dies. Cutting back to the road from Planet is not recommended and has only been completed by one rider. If you break down at Planet, you need to walk the coastline back to the Planet launch or the SDA. The Planet launch can be crowded on windy weekends, so make sure to be courteous and fast off the beach. Double-check the wind direction and your lines before launching, as space is pretty tight. Like the shorter SDA-Slick run, all of the good riding is along the shoreline, so cancel the whale watches. Land at Hatteras Island Sail Shop, KOA or farther, if you dare.
Chimichanga House to Planet Launch:
This is a run that only a handful of riders have experienced, but one that is worth checking out. Works great in south, southwest, north or northwest winds. Be careful as the northwest may die over the course of this run. Grass bottom cuts the surface chop to a minimum even without land to block the waves. You’ll experience total solitude on this run, with no other riders, boaters, windsurfers, anything other than the friends you bring along with you. There are several additional turnout roads along the length of the run for an early get-out. Water obstacles include a few fishing nets, crab traps, buoys, etc.
The Black Zone: (Update-This downwinder is now illegal)
This is the last frontier of undiscovered flatwater riding. Hundreds of slicks exist between The Slick and New Inlet. Due to length of run and lack of get-outs, this run requires boat or PWC backup, or a seriously solid level of riding. Get in the water anywhere in Rodanthe, Waves or Salvo. Get out at the New Inlet.
BLACK RUNS OCEANSIDE
Ramp 34 to Buxton hotels:
A popular run with locals and visitors when the wind shouts from the north or northeast. Waves can range from waist-high on the smaller days to triple-overhead bombs during strong northeast blows or hurricane groundswells. Most popular during northeast winds can be back-doored during straight south winds (not southwest). Obstacles include Avon Fishing Pier, beach fishermen, surfers and swimmers. Give all an
extra-wide berth to avoid tangling in fishing lines, leashes, etc. Get out of the water and land your kite to the north of hotels to avoid strong updraft. Do not park in hotel parking lots.
Ranger Station to Ramp 23: (Update-This downwinder is now illegal)
This run is popular for northern crews basing out of Rodanthe, Waves or Salvo when the winds are north or northeast. Can be reversed in south or southeast winds. Early get-outs include S-Turns (advanced blue run due to shorter length) and Rodanthe Pier. Obstacles include beach fishermen, surfers, Rodanthe Pier, and swimmers. Give all plenty of extra space when passing. This stretch of coastline has a more northern exposure and receives powerful swell, both on the outside bars and also in the shorebreak.
Ferry Docks to Frisco Pier:
This legendary run takes riders along a cherished stretch known as the Southside. Works great in southwest, west-southwest, east or east-southeast. Waves tend to grow with strength and duration of the wind. Wave heights can range from knee-high to triple-overhead depending on wind strength, offshore storms, etc. Obstacles include beach fisherman, Frisco Pier, swimmers and surfers. Please give all plenty of space. Land just prior to Frisco Pier.
Frisco Airport to The Cove:
This secret nugget holds the goods in west, west-northwest or east, east-southeast, and southeast winds. When the wind is too offshore for the Ferry Dock downwinders, sliding down the coast bends the wind to more of a sideshore angle. The end of this run (either direction) finds wind more onshore, so make sure not to pin yourself on the beach near the end and miss the finish line. No early get-outs; make it to your four-wheel-drive truck or walk the rest of the run. Obstacles include beach fishermen, surfers, swimmers and strong currents near The Cove.
Shops and Schools
OceanAir Sports 252-995-5000 www.oceanairsports.com
REAL Kiteboarding 1-866-REAL-KITE realkiteboarding.com
Hatteras Island Sail Shop (252) 987-2292
Kiteboarding Hatteras (252) 995-5000
Kitty Hawk Kites 1-877-FLY-THIS
Fox Watersports (252) 995-4372
Where to Stay
Outer Beaches Realty 1-800-731-6808, outerbeaches.com
Midgett Realty 1-800-527-2903, midgettrealty.com
Hatteras Realty 1-800-428-8372, hatterasrealty.com
Surf or Sound Realty 1-800-237-1138, surforsound.com
Trip Forman is co-founder of REAL Kiteboarding in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. He has been kiteboarding in Cape Hatteras since 1998. For more information about Cape Hatteras, ride REAL’s website at realkiteboarding.com .