Windsurfing Guide Sections:
- Where to go windsurfing
- Rentals and sales
- Windsurfing lessons
- Events and competitions
- How to Windsurf
While several of the Outer Banks' most popular sports seemingly flew onto the scene in the past decade or two, like kiteboarding or stand up paddle boarding (SUP), windsurfing has been drawing water sports lovers to the North Carolina coast for nearly fifty years. In essence, windsurfing can pride itself as being the Outer Bank's oldest, and one of its most beloved sound-based sports, and everyone from seasoned riders to windsurfing newcomers can catch an exceptional ride.
With some of the consistently best wind and water conditions on the East Coast, and miles of water to glide on, it's no wonder that windsurfers from around the world come to the Outer Banks to break out the sails, lean back, and enjoy the ride.
Where to Go Windsurfing
Basically, if you can find a public soundfront beach, or a vacation rental home with a grassy or sandy beach to launch from, you can windsurf on the Outer Banks. A number of popular windsurfing vacation home communities in Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, Avon and Frisco also border an intricate network of soundside canals that loop through the vacation homes and run into the sound, allowing windsurfers the ability to set up their gear and launch from their private dock, and within minutes be flying across the open sound water.
Many vacation rental companies, and even campgrounds like the soundfront Frisco Woods Campground, will note if a property or area has excellent water sports access. Look for soundfront or canalfront properties, and be sure and book early - waterfront vacation homes can fill up quickly, especially in the off-season and shoulder seasons, when water and wind based sports are at their peak.
In addition to private rental homes, windsurfers have their pick of a number of public soundfront beaches and accesses all along the Outer Banks.
The Historic Corolla Park in Corolla, adjacent to the Whalehead in Historic Corolla, offers acres of public soundfront area for windsurfers and kiteboarders to launch from. Open year-round, this area offers ideal access to the open miles of the Currituck Sound.
In the central Outer Banks, windsurfers can head to the waterfront borders of the Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve or the soundfront beaches of Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head for sandy beaches to launch from. Both locations are open year round, though it should be noted that the Jockey's Ridge State Park closes its gate to the soundfront areas of the park seasonally, from around 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. Both of these areas have become popular with windsurfers and kiteboarders alike over the past few years, particularly Jockey's Ridge. Have fun launching, but be sure and use caution for swimmers and splashing kids who might also be sharing the water.
One of the most popular stretches of the Outer Banks for windsurfers however, is Hatteras Island, particularly the world renowned Canadian Hole.
Canadian Hole - The Canadian Hole is a public soundfront beach in between the villages of Avon and Buxton that borders the Pamlico Sound. Located just south of where the island "hooks" and turns West towards the mainland, the Canadian Hole offers access to a veritable playground of open sound waters to explore, with many miles close enough to land in case a rider encounters trouble.
The amenities at Canadian Hole include plenty of parking, and seasonally open bathrooms and showers, as well as access to the ocean right across the beach. It should be noted that restroom and shower facilities at Canadian Hole close during the winter months, generally from Thanksgiving until March.
For windsurfers, however, the only amenity that matters is the wide sandy beach and ample elbow room for setting up and launching windsurfing rigs. In the shoulder season, it's not unusual to find dozens of windsurfers and kiteboarders hunkered down at the 'Hole, and gliding across the water at breezy speeds.
Some windsurfers in seek of a thrill will hit the Atlantic Ocean, particularly across from the Canadian Hole, and at the small nearby beach access just a mile north known locally as "Old Road." Be warned that windsurfing across the ocean is not for beginners, although for an advanced rider, it can certainly be a challenge and a lot of fun.
Other popular Hatteras Island launching points include the Salvo Day Use Area which is located north of Avon, and just a half mile or so south of Salvo. This area also features a wide grassy launching area, public restrooms, picnic area, and tons of parking. Windsurfers can also explore the network of sandy soundside trails that border NC Highway 12 between Avon and Salvo. Unpopulated and undiscovered, the majority of these sound accesses lead out to deserted sound beaches, ideal for exploring. Just be sure you bring your 4WD vehicle, as you'll need 4WD to navigate the dense deep sand tracks.
Frisco - In Frisco, the Frisco Woods Campground offers exceptional sound access as well as seasonal events. Not for the competitive, many of these events are simply celebrations and exhibitions of "Come as you are" windsurfing and kiteboarding, allowing riders to meet and mingle with their fellow water sports enthusiasts.
Ocracoke - Ocracoke Island has ample sound access points as well, although a number of windsurfers head to soundfront areas just north of the harbor, particularly around Springer's Point Nature Preserve. Here, windsurfers can enjoy excellent access to the Pamlico Sound, while watching all the boats and ferries pass by, but still be well out of their path. This area is also popular with kiteboarders, kayakers, and even jet skiers, so use caution when heading out to these waters.
Windsurfing Equipment Rentals and Sales
Windsurfers have plenty of options when it comes to equipment, from wetsuits to harnesses, rash guards to full rigs.
A number of national water sports chains, like REAL Kiteboarding and Kitty Hawk Kites, consider the Outer Banks to be their home base, and as such, both companies have shops in virtually all villages from Corolla to Ocracoke offering windsurfing and other water sports equipment.
Smaller businesses, like Ride Hatteras, Ocean Air Sports or Sail World, all located on Hatteras Island, also have plenty of equipment available for purchase or rent, as well as local experts on hand to help guide buyers on their selections.
Complete rigs can be a little pricey, and windsurfers on a budget often wait until the end of the season to make their major purchases. By Thanksgiving, many water sports suppliers and stores are offering deep discounts on the past year's equipment, and businesses that provide rentals or lessons may offer their gently used equipment for sale at even better prices.
A late October or November shopping trip is a good way to get the best deals, but be sure not to wait too long. After Thanksgiving, many smaller shops close their doors for the winter, and stay closed until spring.
Where to get Windsurfing Lessons
Windsurfing beginners have plenty of options when it comes to local windsurfing lessons. Because a number of windsurfing rentals, shops and lesson providers can be found all along the Outer Banks, from small locally owned companies to larger recognized businesses, there are plenty of options.
Lessons can be offered either privately or in small groups, and generally include all of the equipment that a windsurfer needs to get started. Students are encouraged to wear comfortable clothes for in and out of the water, and may want to bring along a rash guard or wetsuit in colder temperatures, unless provided by the instructor. (It's a good idea to ask ahead of time what other items will be needed.)
A typical lesson consists of an hour or so out of the water to review techniques, safety issues, and to get accustomed to handling the initially bulky equipment. Most lessons provide an out-of-the-water stimulator for new students, allowing them to get a sense of the maneuvers involved without the unpredictable wind and water conditions.
Then, it's off to the sound for a couple hours of putting your rigging, launching, and maneuvering lessons to practice. Many students find that after an afternoon of training, they are able to perform a basic glide across the water as well as launch and conduct turns, making a single windsurfing lesson an immensely gratifying experience. With an additional few days of training, windsurfers can also learn how to uphaul, sail away, pivot turn, Power Tack, and confidently sail up and down wind.
Before signing up, be sure and do your research. You'll want an instructor / lesson provider who is close to your area, and you'll want to gauge your skill level to select the right class for you. Many types of classes are offered, from complete beginner classes to advanced maneuver training sessions, so be sure the class you're interested in is both challenging but appropriate for your windsurfing knowledge and ability.
Lessons are available for most of the year, generally from March until November, and reservations are strongly recommended. With the popularity of water sports on the Outer Banks perpetually growing, it's smart to book early.
For Hatteras Island visitors, Ocean Air Sports not only offers a variety of lessons geared towards all skill levels as well as varying age groups, but also free seasonal clinics for windsurfers who want a quick opportunity to improve their skills.
Held in April, May and October, the Ocean Air Academy's weekly sessions include a Shortboard Jibe clinic, a Rigging clinic, and an Open Forum clinic covering any and all windsurfing topics that attendees bring to the table. The clinics begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Ocean Air shop in Avon, and last for approximately 30 minutes.
Windsurfing Events and Competitions
For windsurfers who want to mingle with fellow water sports lovers, or advanced windsurfers who want to compete with the best, the Outer Banks offers a variety of windsurfing events and competitions to bring riders from around the world together.
In April, windsurfers flock to the Frisco Woods WindFest. This almost 30 year annual event is a 3 day celebration of the sport, and kicks off at the Frisco Woods Campground with food, music, and a lot of camaraderie. The event, which is for windsurfers and kiteboarders of all skill levels, is a festival of wind and water sports clinics, grub and live music, with the intention of promoting windsurfing, kiteboarding and Stand Up Paddle Boarding. With all the activity and fun, even non-water sports enthusiasts are sure to have a great time, and the event is open to the public.
In the fall, the Hatteras Island Windfest commences. This 3 day festival takes place on the oceanside, and encourages advanced beginner and intermediate windsurfers to progress their abilities by taking to the ocean and testing their skills. Wavefest also encouraged advanced windsurfers to strut their stuff, and as a result, the vibe is incredibly fun and slightly competitive. Wavefest surely incorporates the best of freestyle and competitive windsurfing, featuring wave sailing, a wave clinic and a wave challenge competitive event with prizes during the festival.
The Annual Loop Fest is one of the Outer Banks' newest events, and celebrates the tricky task of performing a forward loop, aka, a controlled somersault or catapult. Not for beginners, the Annual Loop Fest both challenges windsurfers to master this skill, and showcases local and regional windsurfers who can perform it with ease.
Another grassroots and new-to-the-scene competition is the annual Wave Jam, held on Hatteras Island. As part of the National American Windsurfing Tour, the annual Wave Jam is held during the peak tropical wave season in the fall, and includes daily competition and action on the water, as well as nightly activities and gatherings throughout the event. For competitive Outer Banks windsurfers who want to go head to head against the best in the Atlantic Ocean waves, attending the Wave Jam is a must.
The beauty of Windsurfing on the Outer Banks is that virtually anyone can join in the fun. From the competitive to the casual, the experts to the newbies, windsurfing is wide open to anyone who wants ride the water. With an abundance of windsurfing lessons, shops, and rentals available on the Outer Banks, not to mention plenty of water to play in, it's no wonder that after nearly 40 years, Windsurfing is still one of the area's most beloved water sports.
How to Windsurf
Windsurfing is unique in the world of Outer Banks water sports in that riders can make it as easy or as difficult as they'd like. From simply gliding across the Roanoke, Currituck or Pamlico Sounds to flipping into aerial stunts and loops in wildly breezy weather, riders can determine the level of difficulty as soon as they climb aboard.
The standard windsurfing gear consists of a sail, up to about 18 ft. high, and a board, about 6 ft. - 15 ft. long, which is slightly wider and thicker than your standard surfboard, and typically has foot holds or straps to keep the rider buckled in. The sail is outfitted with a "boom," or a handle, that the rider grabs hold of and is attached to the complete windsurfing rig by a harness, allowing the rider to propel with the wind across the water.
The reason why the sport is so popular on the Outer Banks, and attracts windsurfers from all over the world, is because the area has the two main requirements for windsurfing in spades: wind and water.
Ideal wind conditions for windsurfing are between 15 and 25 mph, and on the Outer Banks, these wind speeds are just a typical spring or fall day.
Added to this is the fact the Outer Banks has a total of 5 sounds bordering the west sides of the barrier islands: the Currituck Sound, the Roanoke Sound, the Croatan Sound, the Albemarle Sound, and the Pamlico Sound. Each of these bodies of water are saltwater, miles and miles wide, and have the ideal depth levels for windsurfers. The Pamlico Sound in particular, which borders Hatteras and Ocracoke Island, has an average depth of about 5 feet close to shore, but expands more than 25 miles west towards the North Carolina mainland.
Because of these factors, windsurfers blow onto the Outer Banks every spring and fall like clockwork, filling the sound beaches and launching from the back of soundfront or canalfront vacation rental homes. Because the sport is accessible to both beginners and experts, and young and old alike, everyone is welcome on the water.