Somewhere on a Beach -Outer Banks Kiteboarding Trip

Sun, warm water, wind, fresh seafood, fun with family and friends, and a beautiful view. The 15-hour drive back to Michigan gave us lots of time to reminisce about the kiteboarding trip we took to the Outer Banks earlier this month.

Playing around in the shorebreak while waiting for wind. Salvo, NC

Matt reached out to me about going down to the Outer Banks for an Ocean Rodeo trip back in February. Ocean Rodeo has been putting on a week-long event in the Outer Banks for many years now where you can demo gear, barbecue, and hang out with other riders from all over North America. Unfortunately, I had a conflict with the week of the OR event and couldn’t make it down until the tail end of the event. We rented a house in Salvo, NC for the week after. I’ve got a couple of little kids who love to swim so we found a great house with a pool on the Oceanside and invited family to join us for the trip.

We left on Friday after work and took turns driving through the night. This was the way to go. We avoided Washington DC traffic and were able to make it to the Outer Banks by early morning. We arrived and grabbed a bite to eat at Art’s place, a cool little dive bar right across from the Ocean that serves breakfast fast, hot, and cheap. The cook at the bar was friendly and offered some suggestions of local beers to try while in North Carolina. After breakfast we stopped at the public beach to check out the ocean. We hoped to ride as much as possible on Saturday but at the current time there was only a light breeze. I caught up on some ZZZ’s on the beach while listening to the shore break and then we headed south to Rodanthe/Waves/Salvo.

We started are drive and soon left the restaurants and tourist traps behind as we hit Pea Island. Pea Island separates the commercial Nags head / Kitty Hawk area of the Outer Banks to the sleepy towns to the south. There is no kiteboarding allowed on Pea Island due to bird habitat but it’s a beautiful area and it’s still open for surfing.

Sunrise in Salvo, NC, Outer Banks

Check-in at our house in Salvo was 4:00 PM, and with no wind we had time to burn. We stopped at REAL kiteboarding shop, talked to the shop about riding spots, and I bought a hard-shell harness to see what all the buzz is about. It sounded like there was a possibility for a Southwest thermal around sunset. Enough to get our hopes up and start getting excited riding anyway.

My son attempting a cartwheel outside of REAL

We arrived at the house in Salvo a little early and the place blew away our expectations. The house was built in 2017, had a heated pool, hot tub, tiki bar, game room, and whole home sound system. The ocean view from the top deck was spectacular. We waited for the rest of our group to arrive and then unpacked and got settled in.

Walking back from the beach to the house we rented in Salvo

After dinner we spotted some kites in the air on the Pamlico Sound side of the island. Sunset was only an hour away and despite our tiredness and full stomachs we were excited to ride and quickly got our gear together. We headed to Salvo Day Use area.

Scoping out Salvo Day use area, Salvo, NC before the wind showed up

Salvo Day Use Area is a chill park midway through the Outer Banks on the Pamlico Sound side. There is a big grassy field and large parking lot. Amenities include a bathhouse with showers and pit toilets(surprisingly clean and odorless). The launch at Salvo is very small and when we pulled up kites lined the entire beach. It was big kite weather so I put up my 17M TS and Matt put up the 12M Flite. I had a shorty suit on but didn’t need it. The water was in the mid to high 70s with a similar air temp. There were lots of kiteboarders, most I’d ever seen, but it never felt crowded. At Salvo and on most of the Pamlico Sound coastline the water is waist deep for hundreds of feet offshore. We rode until sunset, grinning, knowing that the forecast for the week was calling for more wind and that there would be lots of possibilities for scoping riding spots on the island.

Saturday night we started plotting where to go on Sunday, which was shaping up to be the biggest southwest wind day of the week. We got a great map from REALwhich showed all the local kite spots. We decided to start out at Salvo Day Use area again and determine later if we’d go somewhere else or do a downwinder.

This map of Hatteras from REAL was REAL handy throughout the week

If you look up kiteboarding in the Outer Banks you are bound to find something about the “Planet of the Apes”. This is a grassy section of water that runs up along highway 12 between Avon and Salvo and roughly ends at Salvo Day Use. Downwinders through the Planet of the Apes is much talked about due to the flat sheltered water and unique experience of riding through pathways in the marsh. Evidently, the name “Planet of the Apes” is a derivative of the earlier name “Planet of the Snakes” due to the snakes that have been seen within the marshes along this route. Matt and I had our mind set on riding through this area for sure sometime during our visit to OBX.

We checked the weather Sunday morning and it was still looking good for a huge afternoon.  After debating where to go and whether we should do the Planet of the Apes Downwinder(POA) we eventually settled on Salvo Day Use again. We figured we could try riding up wind into the POA and get our feet wet before doing the downinder later in the week. POA is listed as an intermediate/expert spot because there are no good exit points along the downwinder. There is extremely thick brush between the water and land that is likely to tear up your gear and your body if you get stranded, not to mention “SNAKES!”

We got to the beach at 1 PM and it was jam-packed with kiteboarders and a handful of windsurfers. I launched the 9M OR Razor and Matt launched the 7M OR Roam. The wind felt good, the air and water was warm, and we were ready to ride. We tooled around the main bay for a while and then went up wind to the marshy areas. There were lots of small streams running through the marshes but it was hard to tell which if any of them had exits that went back to the Sound. Eventually, some other riders came and showed us a path. As we found out and despite what you see in videos there are really only a couple of these paths throughout the entire Planet of the Apes downwinder. Riding through these streams was an awesome experience. The water was very flat but there was still steady wind if you kept your kite high. The wind increased and we spent all afternoon kiting this area and boosting in the flat waters of the sound. I saw a few schools of stingrays but no snakes.

Earlier in the day we grabbed some fresh shrimp at a local market and planned to have surf and turf with the steaks that my in-laws brought. We had a great dinner on the top level of our house overlooking the Atlantic, having a few brews from NC, and reminiscing about the Planet of the Apes.

Monday was looking like a setup for a classic Noreaster which meant we’d get to test out the Ocean Side of Hatteras. I got up early and watched the sunrise on the Ocean over my fresh brewed coffee. The prevailing winds in Hatteras are southwest so with the northeast wind we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to kite right outside of our house on the Oceanside. The wind slowly increased throughout the morning, building to around 20 knots by mid-day.

Setting up on the beach outside our house in Salvo.

When we got to the beach with our gear the wind felt really good so I pumped my 10M and Matt his 9M. I took a tack and was staying upwind, but barely. The Ocean current was strong and the apparent wind was a lot less.  Now we understood why oceanside downwinders are so popular in OBX. You don’t have to fight the current on a downwinder. We would have packed up and launched on our own downwinder at Rodanthe pier but the forecast was for the wind to come down in the afternoon so we decided to put up some bigger kites and get as much good wind as we could. We had a great time on the OR Duke surfing the waves and Matt even saw a Dolphin.

Riding on the Oceanside of the Outer Banks

Later that evening we met up with the rest of our group for dinner in Duck which is on the northern side of the island. Duck has a more upscale residential feel to it than the rest of the Outer Banks that we had been to. We enjoyed watching the sunset over the sound while having seafood and a couple cold ones.

On Tuesday there was no wind in the forecast but the surf forecast looked good. Matt and I brought a couple of stand up paddle boards with us so we decided to give the waves a try. The shore break was really nasty all week in Salvo. It took a few mins to find a good opening to paddle out. Meanwhile beachgoers were stopping to watch to see if we were gonna get slammed! Once we got past the shore break there were some decent shoulder to over head high waves a couple hundred feet out. There was a little chop but it was better than I expected. By the end we were beat up but we did get a couple of nice rides out there before calling it a day. I’m glad we went out Tuesday because the waves only got bigger and nastier as the week went on. We talked to a local surfer who said that the waves had been unusually large that week.

There wasn’t any wind in the forecast until late in the week so I spent a lot of time hanging out by the pool with my family, eating seafood, and enjoying the nice weather. Just a great spot to be for a chill family vacation.

Unfortunately, the wind forecast kept getting worse by the day. Late in the week on Friday it was windy enough to try kiting with the big kites. While setting up on the shoreline I talked to a couple of Canadians who had been going to the Outer Banks for the last 10 years. They told me that this is the least amount of wind that they had seen in 10 years, just our luck! My Best TS is heavy kite and I was struggling to keep it in the air so I decided not to kite. Matt was on the 12M Flite and was able to get out for a while and practice jibes.

On Saturday we had to leave the Outer Banks, but we had one more kite session on our minds. Sunday was looking like a big Easterly wind and we were scheduled to be headed through Ohio around Lake Erie that day.

Luna Pier, Lake Erie

We were searching for local kite spots and ultimately we decided to check out Luna Pier and Sterling State Park. We stopped at Luna first. The wind was pretty onshore and the launch was a little sketchy. Neither one of us were very excited about kiting there so we went to Sterling based on a recommendation. When we got to Sterling it was more of the same and what a crazy view. A power plant directly to the south and a nuclear power plant to the north. The lake levels are at historic highs and to ride at Sterling we would have had to navigate our kites through some trees. The wind was onshore here too and not very strong. In the end, we just decided it wasn’t worth the effort for mediocre to poor conditions. I left this section of the Erie shoreline with a much greater appreciation for the kite spots that we have up and down the Lake Michigan coast.

Sterling State Park, Lake Erie. Most of these trees are in the water.

No, I don’t have an OBX bumper sticker on my car(yet), but I’m sold on what the Outer Banks has to offer for a great kiteboarding trip and family vacation. By the way, if you have kids, the ghost crab hunting at night is a blast. I look forward to going back. Next time, fingers crossed, with more wind!

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One comment

  • Great recap of the trip! It was a blast

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