For more than 100 years, visitors to the Texas coast have enjoyed swimming in the waves of the Gulf of Mexico. Today, however, more and more people are choosing to skim along, flip over, and fly above those waves while kitesurfing.
It was a fine blustery day on historic Galveston Island, about 45 minutes south of Houston. A friend and I were sitting on the warm sands of East Beach, watching her boyfriend skim back and forth atop the water on his brand-new kiteboard. Clearly, doing that was more fun than sitting in sand, so when he came ashore we grilled him for details.
He explained that kiteboarding was like standing on a surfboard, holding a kite, and letting the wind drag you across flat water. Simple enough.
Kitesurfing, however, was using the wind to whip the board in and out of breaking waves, getting air so you can spin around and flip over. That—the spinning and the flipping—did not sound simple. However, he assured us that kitesurfing was one of the fastest-growing sports in the world, with more than 1.5 million enthusiastic fans, and he was confident we'd love it too. And what do you know? He was right.
The Upper Coast
A month later, after taking a two-day, 12-hour beginner's course, buying some good used equipment online, and a lot of “practice, practice, practice,” my friend and I took our boards to Surfside Beach, about 30 miles west of Galveston.
An experienced kitesurfing buddy told us that Surfside had “good sandbar-type wave quality, right and left wave directions, and a sandy bottom.” Assuming that was just kitesurfer-speak for “it's really fun,” I waded out into waist-deep water, crossed my fingers, got a good water start, and then fell over.
I should interject here that learning this sport is not easy, cheap, or painless, but everyone tells you to just keep at it. Sure enough, the first time I stood up on the board, stayed upwind, started gliding across the water—and did NOT fall over—I knew I was hooked. Zipping across the waves, the wind and spray hitting my face, I felt the strong pull of the sail and was giddy when I realized I knew exactly how to handle it.
After we'd more than exhausted ourselves at our new sport, we decided to find a good dinner spot. The Red Snapper, which looked crowded, was very old school, in a very good way inside. It had a full menu of grilled and fried seafood, the waitress called us “girls,” and every dinner came with salad and baked potato. When they brought the three-bowl “lazy Susan” with the potato fixin's, I knew I'd found my people
The Coastal Bend
Eventually, we became good enough to be invited on a trip to the “triple threat”—Corpus Christi, Mustang Island, and Port Aransas—which together have more than a dozen great launch sites. I opted for Corpus Christi Bay, the smoother water allowing for easy water starts and fast speed, but the “pros” headed for the beaches at Mustang Island and Port Aransas.
I got there later to see my friends out in the waves doing flips and turns reminiscent of a Cirque du Soleil performance. Feeling my “grrrrl power” kicking in, I paddled out to give those wild waves a try.
Thanks to Texas' steady coastal winds, and the fact that I stayed well clear of the far more adventurous surfers, I slowly worked the board into the path of an oncoming swell. Pulling my kite so I stayed upwind and carving the wave just right, I caught air and spun around, feeling like my heart was about to explode out the top of my head from excitement.
Yeah, this was fun. I did it again, and again, until I was doing some tricks and turns that I was pretty sure made me at least a semi-pro.
The Lower Coast
South Padre Island, at the southern tip of Texas, is just two miles long but has both beginning and expert launch sites. The North Flats are known for their large size and smooth water. Catching the wind there and racing across the flat surface, I found myself “flying” beside one of the island's big brown pelicans
I caught up with a group of more-experienced riders, and we went over to Isla Blanca Park, considered by many to be one of the best kitesurfing spots in North America.
Beginning kitesurfers-and just about everyone else—enjoy a day at the Texas City Levee. About midway between Houston and Galveston, the Levee offers easy access, consistent winds, and shallow water, which means when you fall over you can just stand up and try again. There's also a clean beach and a grassy area for spectators.