Words and photos By Rick Iossi
With over 1,350 miles of shoreline to choose from, Florida provides rich and varied kiteboarding for year-round riding. Everything from great waves, blue-water kiting, epic downwinders and a wide selection of butter to rip through, Florida’s got you covered. Bounded by the warm, fast-moving waters of the Gulf Stream to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west, the state of Florida is almost 450 miles long and 365 miles at its widest, tapering down to roughly 50 miles at its narrowest. If the wind is on, the riding experience can be epic, be it in the swells or ripping across glassy, sheltered waters.
In the Keys you can take your pick of launches that cover 1,500 square miles of warm, shallow water. Head up the Gulf Coast and explore countless sandbars scattered among many thinly populated areas. You could hit stretches of coast that perhaps have never been kited before. Ponce de Leon explored Florida seeking the Fountain of Youth. He was in the right place for it, just about five centuries too soon to rig up and rip. Today, no problem. Just add wind and grab all the windblown gusto the state has to offer.
There are launches rideable in winds from any direction in many parts of the state. Much of the east coast is rideable with winds from the north to east to south, while much of the west coast is rideable with winds from the north to west to soth. Typical “rideable” wind directions are identified in this guide for various launches.
Some of the stronger wind months, aside from hurricanes, often come with fronts in October through May. Cold fronts sweep across the entire state, bringing winds from one end to the other. Fronts can create rideable winds for hours to a week or more. From May to September thermal winds can set up afternoon riding sessions throughout the state. Thermal winds can be a bit lighter in speed but frequently rideable all the same. Be careful: thermals can sometimes build up to squalls sweeping out from inland, or suddenly shut off and even change to offshore winds around sunset.
Tropical systems can bring rideable conditions during the summer and fall, but they can also frequently bring violent squalls. Just because it’s blowing doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth going, so always check the forecasts, colour radar and real-time winds.
The riding season is year-round thanks in large part to the warm waters of the Florida current and Gulf Stream. Cold fronts can take the air temperature down to 50° and even into the 32°F range. The farther north you are, the lower the temperatures can go in a given frontal cycle. Winter water temperatures can vary from 10°C in the northern part of Florida to 20°C in the south. In the summer the whole state can get pretty warm; guys wear rash guards or just boardshorts. In the colder months, guys in the south may be in 3/2 wetsuits, while riders in the northern parts wear 5/3 or thicker. Booties make sense at many launches to avoid cuts. If in doubt, put them on.
Many riders spend a good deal of time on 12 to 16 m2 kites with the odd 7 to 9 m2 session in powerful winds. For lightwind conditions in the summer and between cold fronts, some kiters bring out gear in the 16 to 20 m2 range. The wider latitude of the new hybrid kites allows riders to cover a lot with 12 to 17 m2 kites, except when the stronger conditions pump through, dictating a smaller kite. Rider weight, board size and actual winds factor into kite size selection.
Where “restrictions apply” signs appear, there are guidelines, rules and/or laws in place governing kiteboarding. Check fksa.org and local sources for more information. Threats to access affect us all, residents and visitors alike. Access to ride is valuable; take care of it wherever you ride. Always research local conditions, precautions and talk to local riders before visiting an area. Use common sense and simple courtesy when you arrive. As a rule of thumb, don’t launch from most guarded beaches. Go beyond 100 yards from shore and stay there until time to come in. This includes buoyed swimming areas. Launch, land and ride ideally at least 100 feet from bystanders. Follow “rules of the road” with other kiters and water users, but if circumstances indicate, yield the right of way. Avoid crowds and complaints from others through courtesy and common sense.
Where to ride
Let’s take a tour of Florida, starting with the less frequented launches in the northwest. Only a few of the launches in each area are presented here. You’ll find additional sites on fksa.org.
The Panhandle has a variety of launches on the Gulf of Mexico to the south, with waves and chop and calmer conditions on sheltered water inside the barrier islands. The area is famous for vast white-sand beaches. The beaches can be lightly populated at times and crowded at others. It can be hot in the summer and freezing in the winter with strong cold fronts.
Okaloosa Area, Gulf Islands National Seashore
Rideable sandy shallows from most wind directions with some waves. Leave the park when closed and before the ranger is forced to ask you. Avoid bystanders and consider launching and landing from the shallows if the shore is crowded.
Panama City (Schooners Beach)
Rideable with west to southeast winds. Good downwinder launch or landing spot. Can be crowded on shore in the summer. Waves can range from one to 20 feet. Stay clear of other water users and bystanders on the beach. Bathroom and showers. Schooners is a good stop for food and drinks.
Shops and schools:
Emerald Coast Kiteboarding, Panama City Beach, emeraldcoastkiteboarding.com , 1-866-939-KITE
Sea & Sky, Fort Walton Beach, xlkites.com , 1-866-XLKITES
Liquid Surf and Sail, liquidsurfandsail.com, 1-888-818-9283
Tampa Bay Area
The Tampa Bay area has a variety of launches on the Gulf of Mexico with waves and quite a bit of butter inside some of the barrier islands. Crowding at launches will vary from light to heavy throughout the year. Tampa Bay is about a 2.5-hour drive southwest from Orlando.
Fort DeSoto (East Beach)
Rideable with northeast to west to southwest winds. Limited, crowded setup area on shore at times. Fairly calm water area with some shallows. Becomes very shallow at low tide. Campsites are available within the park.
Rideable with northwest to west to southwest winds. Stay at least 300 feet from the pier. There can also be strong currents in the area. Bathroom and showers.
Rideable with north to west to southwest winds. Calm to choppy water conditions with some shallows. Must be able to stay upwind to the north of the buoyed swim area, where no riding is allowed. Bathroom and showers.
Shops and schools:
Watersports West, Largo, watersportswest.com , 1-888-401-5080
Tampa Bay Kiteboarding, tampabaykiteboarding.com , (727) 798-2484
Southwest Florida has a variety of launches on the Gulf of Mexico with waves and chop, and flatwater inside some of the barrier islands. The beaches can be narrow and crowded, particularly during tourist season. Avoid crowds.
Sanibel Island Lighthouse
Rideable with winds from northwest to north to east to south to southwest. Beach is narrow and can be crowded at times. A $6 toll to get onto Sanibel Island in addition to parking fees. Beginner to advanced depending on crowding. Bathroom and showers. Check out the Island Cow on Sanibel for food and drinks.
Rideable with north to west to south winds. Beaches can be congested, particularly in tourist season. Beach may be narrow and setup area limited. Avoid crowds and stay well offshore after launch. Beginner to advanced depending on crowding. Think about Doc’s Beach House in northern Naples for food and drinks.
Rideable with north-northwest to west to south-southeast winds. Open-water riding area in Gulf, plus limited space within sheltered, shallow, calm water area. Do not ride in the first lagoon or the bird sanctuary. Long walk to riding area. Can be crowded with kiters in strong north to northwest frontal winds. Restrictions apply. Intermediate to advanced. Try out the Snook Inn for food and drinks after your session.
The Keys have hundreds of square miles of sheltered riding areas but very few beaches. What beaches exist are on private property, restricted and/or tight, technical launch areas. Alternate assisted launching and landing techniques in the shallows and boating to sandbars makes sense. Be careful of tidal currents and being drawn into or blown out of cuts by current. Kites going into bridges on the water can create hazardous conditions. In recent years, the Keys have the most consistent winds for the entire state. The air and water temperatures also lead the state, although wetsuits can be welcome in colder months.
Islamorada (Whale Harbor)
Rideable with east-northeast to east to south-southwest winds. Calm, shallow riding area. Some hard bottom and sandbars. Designated, regulated launch area. Restrictions apply. Should be able to ride upwind given proximity of channel. Intermediate to advanced.
Key West (Smathers Beach)
Rideable with east to south to west-southwest winds. Rare sand beach, sticky peat bottom near shore, some areas of hard bottom offshore. Can be crowded in season; watch out for the roadway and powerlines. Designated, regulated launch area. Restrictions apply. Sometimes a slider and kicker are put out. Beginner to advanced depending on crowding. Bathroom and showers. Checkout B.O.’s Fish Wagon for light fare, or for a special meal right on Duval Street hit the Grand Cafe, served up in style by chez Paul Menta of the Kitehouse.
Key West Flats
Rideable with winds from all directions. Must be reached by boats. Abundant shallow, calm water to butter conditions. Be careful when navigating among shallow sandbanks and grass beds. It is a bird sanctuary, so don’t annoy the birds or rangers. Beginner to advanced.
Shops and schools:
The Kitehouse, Key West, thekitehouse.com , (305) 294-8679
Seven Sports, Islamorada, sevensports.com , 1-877-YES-2-FLY
Otherside Boardsports , Islamorada, othersideboardsports.com , (305) 853-9728
Miami is the most populated area of the state, topping 2.25 million people. It is also a popular travel destination from Europe, Central and South America, and beyond. With so many people in a limited number of beaches, along with what may be the highest number of kiteboarders in the Southeast U.S., congestion and access issues arise. It is hoped that the Flats of Miami and the emergence of kiting sea taxis to these incredible riding grounds away from land will relieve the shoreside stress and introduce riders to a whole new world near this major metropolitan area
Rideable with north-northeast to east to south winds. Calm, shallow riding area with exposed sandbars at low tide. Breakers develop along the reef line about 300 yards offshore. Designated, regulated launch area. Riders must have IKO/PASA Level III certification, helmet, etc. Restrictions apply. A $6.50 tolls and entrance fee. Intermediate to advanced. Bathroom and showers. Sundays on the Bay is good for light fare as you head off the island.
Rideable with northeast to east to southwest winds with calm water. Launch and land in shallows away from shore. Posted sign lists launch rules. Jumping beyond white buoys. Sand and soft bottom in areas. A $4 parking fee. Restrictions apply. Intermediate to advanced. Bathroom and showers.
Flats of Miami
Rideable with winds from all directions. Must be reached by boat. Be careful navigating shallows and of damaging grass beds within this federal monument. Abundant shallow, calm water to butter conditions over about 100 square miles situated to the south of Miami, primarily over grass beds. Beginner to advanced.
Fort Lauderdale is also a popular tourist destination and populated area. There are access issues here as well. There are no sheltered riding areas to speak of, with all the riding happening in the ocean off narrow, often crowded beaches. Still, it is a happening spot with one of the oldest designated launches in the U.S.
South Fort Lauderdale (Beach Launch)
Rideable with north-northeast to east to south winds. Moderate waves. Use launch corridor and stay beyond 100 yards (outside swim area buoys) until time to come in. Sand bottom. Stay out of guarded beach areas. Designated, regulated launch area. Restrictions apply. Intermediate to advanced. Parking is $6. Bathroom and showers. Kiters sometimes hit the Treasure Trove near the beach.
Pompano Beach (NE 15 Street)
Rideable with north-northeast to east to south winds, chop inside sandbar, waves farther out. Scenic launch south of lighthouse. Use launch corridor and stay beyond 100 yards (outside swim area buoys) until time to come in. Sand bottom aside from reef offshore, which can be shallow at low tide. Watch out for inlet traffic. Sign is posted with launch rules. Designated, regulated launch area. Restrictions apply. Intermediate to advanced. Limited metered street parking. Bathroom and showers. Check out Aruba Beach Cafe on the beach for post-session fare.
Delray Beach (South Beach Launch)
Rideable with north-northeast to east to south winds. Launch, land and ride to at least 400 feet south of guarded beach area. Stay at least 100 yards offshore from guarded areas. Nice waveriding with stronger winds. Popular riding spot with sand bottom and near-shore bars. Also popular with surfers. Stay downwind or give adequate leeway. Restrictions apply. Beginner to advanced. Limited metered street parking. Bathroom and showers. Boston’s on the Beach is a nearby spot for drinks and food.
Jupiter Kiteboarding, the organizer of the annual Jupiter Kiteboarding Invasion, is based here. Beaches can become crowded, particularly during tourist season. Areas of exposed rock exist along the coast. Good spots for food and drinks are located on the south bank of Jupiter Inlet.
Rideable with north-northwest to east to south-southeast winds. Stay at least 100 yards north of fishing pier. Good waveriding in stronger winds. Sand bottom in area of launch. Tides can set up a strong current. Beginner to advanced. Limited street parking.
Fort Pierce (South Inlet Launch)
Rideable with north-northwest to east to south-southeast winds. Sheltered, calmer water south of south jetty in north to northeast winds and north of north jetty in southeast winds. Excellent waveriding in several breaker lines, particularly in strong north to northeast winds. Stay away from fishermen on jetties to avoid being hooked. Sand bottom. Beginner to advanced. Limited street parking. Riders can hit Archie’s Seabreeze Restaurant right next to the local kiteshop.
Shops and schools:
Miami Kiteboarding, miamikiteboarding.com , (305) 345-9974
Liquid Surf and Sail, liquidsurfandsail.com, 1-888-818-9283
Sky Banditz, skybanditz.com , (786) 290-4585
Water-Play, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, water-play.com , 1-866-860-6888/1-800-841-1225
Tiki Beach Kiteboarding, Fort Lauderdale (formerly kitesurfusa.com ), (954) 647-7228
Jupiter Kiteboarding, Jupiter, jupiterkiteboarding.com , 1-877-Fly-Surf
Treasure Coast Kiteboarding, tckiteboard.com , (772) 201-5351
Northeast Florida has wide areas of the Intracoastal Waterway, miles across, particularly around Cocoa Beach. This serves up excellent sheltered water with butter-flat conditions. Another great thing about this part of Florida is in the ocean. Waves start off the coast of Africa and wander clear across the Atlantic. The Bahamian plateau protects southeast Florida from these waves, but they make it all the way into shore here. It’s a waveriding paradise. You can drive along the shoreline in St. Augustine and you would swear you are in the Outer Banks of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina: rolling white-sand dunes, stands of sea oats, beach shacks, and not a lot of people. Northeast Florida can also get some of the stronger frontal winds.
Sebastian Inlet State Park
Rideable with north-northwest to west to south to southeast winds. In sheltered Intracoastal Waterway with minimal waves. Stay away from bystanders and cars. Consider doing assisted launches and landings from the shallows. Sand and rock bottom. A $5 entrance fee. Intermediate to advanced. Bathroom and showers. Grant’s Pub in Grant, Florida, is recommended for food and drinks.
Cocoa/Melbourne Beach Area
Ocean rideable with north-northeast to east to south-southeast winds. Primarily sand bottom with some rocky areas. Can develop nice swells here. Avoid guarded beaches, crowds, and stay at least 300 feet off the beach when riding. Area is about one hour to the east of Orlando. Inexpensive trolley is available for trips back upwind during downwinders in Cocoa Beach. Do not kite within five miles of Patrick Air Force Base, as it has been banned. Beginner to advanced. Bathroom and showers. Da Kine Diego’s is a good stop for food and drinks in Melbourne.
Melbourne (SR 192 Causeway)
Rideable with north to northwest winds for riders who can stay upwind. Offers smooth and glassy conditions from the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway. Intermediate to advanced. Sand and grass bed bottoms.
St. Augustine, Matanzas State Park
Rideable with winds from north-northwest to north to east to southeast. Free parking and beach vehicle access is available; watch out for high tide and soft sand if driving. Sand bottom with butter conditions near low tide in flats around inlet and good waves beyond in strong winds. Watch out for adverse tidal currents near inlet; avoid inlet a couple of hours after high tide until about an hour after low tide. Peak tidal currents are strong. Beginner to advanced. Check out Barnacle Bill’s Beachside for food and drinks.
Jacksonville (Huguenot Memorial Park)
Rideable with winds from north to east to south on the ocean, which can have excellent surf. In the sheltered “Pond,” wind is usable from all directions. Little room for launching on land at high tide around Pond. Becomes shallow with sticky clay bottom at low tide. Camping is available in the park. Sand bottom with butter conditions near low tide in flats around inlet and good waves beyond in strong winds. Watch out for adverse tidal currents near inlet. Also popular surfing spot: pass surfers downwind, or give them good leeway to windward. Beginner to advanced. Check out Captain’s Cay for chow.
Shops and schools:
Extreme Kites, St. Augustine, oceanextremesports.com , 1-866-790-SURF
Progressive Sports, Daytona, progressivesports.com , (386) 756-7564
Kitetricity Kiteboarding, Melbourne, kitetricity.com , (321) 795-7626