The best places to go windsurfing and kiteboarding in the fall...
By Gina Bradley
By Gina Bradley
Thanksgiving at Long Beach
Photo by Danny Sitt
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Photo by Danny Sitt
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When summer ends and the days get shorter and cooler, panic sets in for windsurfers and kitesurfers. It is a common affliction in northern areas, as we watch with dismay as the jet stream dips south bringing in the cold Canadian air. We are forced to forget the glorious hot days of summer, the warm southern winds and late sunsets. The wind season is winding down, but it is not over. Fall sailing is great, the waters are usually warmer than in the spring and when there is wind, it is strong. The only downside to fall sailing and heading to a destination is that the winds can be fluky in this season and you may find a week of great wind, followed by a week of the doldrums. So, if you are going to take a trip in search of wind it is always best to go to a place that is easy to get to, less hassle once you are there and has plenty of other things to do, just in case you get a few days of no wind.
So where does one go during the fall and early winter months? If you ask around to fellow wind junkies, you will get lots of varying answers. So I picked four places that had to fit the criteria of: easy to get to, good winds, and lots of other things to do other than sailing.
New York City and Long Island, NY
This might come as a surprise to some, two hours driving from New York City, you can find some extremely challenging and exciting windsurfing and kite surfing spots. If you watch the weather maps, maybe even get a subscription to iwindsuf.com, you can pretty much get dialed in for long weekend or even a week. This area is better in early fall (late September through till October), as later in the season it can get really cold!
Where to go
In Long Island the best spots are Napeague Bay and its outer waters, Gardiners Bay. For more variety you can try Hecksher State Park (located in the middle of the island), or Peconic Bay. The Shinecock Inlet (also known as The Bowl) and Ditch Plains make for superb ocean sailing when the wind is side shore. Places closer to New York City are Plumb Beach (about 30 minutes) and Sandy Hook (in New Jersey).
The Long Island area has places to rent gear, but off-season you have to make the effort, meaning that you may have to pick up and drop off the gear from the shop and have a vehicle that can haul it. The two places on the East End are Hampton's Windsurfing: (631) 283-9463 and Main Beach: 516-647-0678. Hampton's Windsufing and Main Beach both have kite gear for sale and kite lessons available. There is also a local kitesurfing instructor, Skatoor, who supplies gear with all his lessons: 203-984-1097.
There is some really great single track mountain biking at Hither Hills State Park and in the Northwest Woods; maps can be found for the areas at all the local bike shops. The fishing season is great all fall and you can find boats in Montauk, Hampton Bays and Bay Shore. Golf on any of the state courses on Long Island is available and there is one right in Montauk called The Montauk Downs, rated one of America's top 50 public golf courses. There is always a wave for surfing at Ditch Plains in Montauk.
Maui is a Mecca for windsurfers and kitesurfers. When you drive around the island you often see cars loaded with gear valued more than the cars themselves! Professionals and amateur windsurfers and kitesurfers flock to this area year round, but early fall is a great time to go, since the winds tend to be strong and the waves are just building for winter. If you wait until late November and December the trade winds are less of a guaranteed, but you will still probably find yourself sailing at least half of your time there. Like all fall season spots, the winds on Maui can shut off for a week and then come back strong, but the great thing about Maui is that there is so much to do other than windsurfing on the island, so it takes the sting out of getting skunked. The trick with all the spots on Maui depends on the wave direction and size. If there are no waves then almost all of the sites are a bit easier. If there is a big swell, then check with locals about conditions and the best place to sail based on your level.
Where to sail
Maui is just epic all over but the popular spots are Kanaha, Spreckelsville and Ho'okipia and all throughout Kihei. Kiting is only allowed at this point at Kite Beach, just down from Kanaha. There may be other locations where it is allowed so check with your local shop.
Unless you are really attached to your gear, it is best to pack light and enjoy some of the newest gear of the season. Maui boasts the world's best and most comprehensive gear rentals and they are right to do so. It is the home to many of the board tests, so the shops keep abreast of new innovations and always have the latest gear at reasonable prices. There are so many great shops that you cannot go wrong in your selection. It is best to choose a shop with the brand of gear you want to try out, or test out a brand you don't normally use so you can see for yourself how your sailing is affected by different shapes and designs.
Maui offers so much to do from mountain bike tours and bike rides down Hana to just exploring the lush island. Surfing is always a great option on the leeward side and they have great instructors if you are just starting out. Maui also has great towns like Paia, Kehei and Lanai to explore.
Hatteras is the best bet if you live in North East and want to enjoy the varying conditions and simplicity of launches. Hatteras gets just about the same winds as the New York area, but you can sail or fly well into November and December as it is much further south. It is a windsurfing and kiting hotspot and should not be missed if you are an avid sailor or kiter. The great thing about this area is you can rent a house and sail right out your back door! Between the sound and the ocean, Hatteras can accommodate all levels of sailors and kiters in all types of winds and swells. If you pick the right day with a small swell and a side shore breeze, the ocean can be the perfect place to try wave sailing with your kite or on your windsurfer for the first time.
Where to sail
Canadian Hole is probably one of the most popular spots and worth checking out, but by far not the only one. On the ocean side there are plenty of places to get into wave sailing like The Cove, Ego Beach and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. You might also check out Nags Head, Hatteras Island, Rodanthe, Avon, and Frisco Woods. A four wheel drive vehicle is your best bet as it gives you ability to drive on the beaches and have even more options for launches.
If you are driving down (or up) to Hatteras you might as well load up your gear, although there are great shops for rentals from Nags Head to Hatteras. Search the web and you will find plenty of shops and you can call ahead to reserve gear. For kite boarding questions, lessons and gear, I recommend Realkiteboarding (1-800-realkite) as they have been around the longest and have the most competent school.
Hatteras has a lot do when the winds quiet down or your hands are just too raw to sail another day and you need a break. Hatteras has some of the best surfing and fishing on the East Coast. There are also golf courses to the north in Nags Head and one in Frisco. There is wakeboarding, sea kayaking and even horseback riding, all worth checking out.
Miami and the Keys, FL
Not always considered a windsurfing and kitesurfing destination, Florida has over 2,000 miles of coastline, which makes finding sandy beaches, easy launch sites and warm water year round a pretty good bet. Its sheer size of water access alone makes Florida appealing for those in search of wind. Unlike New York and Hatterass, Florida gets better wind later in the fall (around mid-November) as hurricane season winds down and the winter trade winds pick up. All of Florida is great for windsurfing, but I recommend Miami and the Florida Key as this area is easy to get to and offers plenty to do when the winds don't blow.
Where to Sail
In Miami, if the conditions are right, you can sail right at South Beach and fly your kite right there too. Another popular spot is Rickenbacker Beach just off the Rickenbacker causeway. Further down the causeway is Hobie Beach, a great bump and jump spot and even further down is a great site at Virgina Key Beach. In the Keys, the best spot is Islamorada on Windley Key.
If you are driving it is best to just take your own gear. There are plenty places to rent, but they may not be too happy to have you cart the gear away, so you will be subject to certain areas for sailing. However, there are a few places to rent gear in Miami. The most convenient is Sailboards Miami (305-361-SAIL) which is off the Rickenbaker Causeway on the South Side. They all have great gear and give great lessons. In the Keys on Islamorada there is Bump & Jump Windsurfing, but you should call ahead to check it out: 305-664-9447.
Miami the best place to get skunked. There is so much to do that one can take weeks to do it all! There is a full gambit of activities from taking in the scene at South Beach, to rollerblading along the beach walk, surfing if the waves come up, to exploring the different parts of the city. The Keys offer some of the best snorkeling and diving along the coast. Make sure you check out the John Penny Camp State Park, which is an underwater park.