Kite surfer on Ocracoke. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Patty Huston-Holm

Wind is a constant on the Outer Banks and while it may scuttle the plans of kayakers or ferries, kite surfers relish a windy day.

At those times, motorists at a spot on the sound side of Hatteras Island called Canadian Hole will see dozens of multi-colored kites with people attached.

This informal name derives from seeing so many vehicles parked there with Canadian license plates. For kite surfers in the north, this spot is a mecca due to the warm water, shallow depths and the wind.  

On a smaller scale, beach goers will see the same just off the Ocracoke Island beaches – kiters skimming across the water, catching a wave to fly up in the air, or swerving into and out of the surf.

For these rush seekers, it’s all about the wind.

While residents and tourists not indulging in water sports might prefer a gentle breeze, kite surfers want more.

“It’s got to be over 15 miles per hour but not over 60,” said Keith Croghan, an islander who has instructed and kite surfed for 15 years. By contrast, although it is the captain’s decision, ferries often will not run when winds run 25 mph and higher.

These kites are made of Dacron, a strong polyester fiber that is designed to fly people. 

Kiting, or kite surfing or kite boarding, is not especially new.

A British man, Samuel Cody, is credited with the concept as he crossed the English Channel in a kite-driven, canvas boat in 1903. 

Dan Zapotok goes airborn. Photos by Patty Huston-Holm

Two brothers, Bruno and Dominique Legaignoux, from France took it another step in 1984 when they patented an inflatable kite design. Kites and wind have driven their riders in buggies on land and on tandem snow skis.  

The sport became a mainstream sport in Hawaii in 1998 and it will be judged as a racing event at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

As with many sports, learning kite surfing takes lots of time and equipment is expensive.

“The only way to learn safely is to complete a course (nine to 12 hours in three- to four-hour lessons),” Croghan said.  “The investment is worth it. You’ll have years of adrenalin, joy and vitality.”

Randal Mathews, the Hyde County commissioner for Ocracoke, an island resident of 40 years and a surfer for 50 years, agrees. 

“Kiteboarding makes windsurfing or surfing feel like you are dragging a bucket,” he said.  “The transition to kiteboarding was natural.”

Mathews and Croghan are among a group of island residents on a constant watch of wind patterns that are the main predictor for ideal kiting.

On a 30-mph Saturday in April, starting beachside off ramp 70, the two were joined by Dan Zapotok for several miles of carving water and aerials while hooked to harnesses connected to their kites.  

Keith Croghan. Photo by Patty Huston-Holm

“This is the kind of sport you can do all day,” Croghan said. “You are using your core, your glutes, your shoulders, but if you do it right, the kite does the work.”

Born on Michigan’s Mackinac Island, Croghan grew up flying kites. He was in his mid-20s when he realized a kite could fly him.

In addition to Ocracoke, he’s kited in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Mexico and across the Caribbean.

Kiting is less strenuous than surf boarding and cheaper than foiling (an electric board with a fin).

Water kiters use a single board and a kite. 

Wetsuits are optional and, for many, determined by the water temperature.

Equipment size depends on the wind. Smaller kites manage better on days of more wind and gusts.

 Beginners stay in and on top of the water. Advanced kiters do jumps, summersaults and other tricks.

To Mathews, kiting is about being with nature, “sharing space with birds” and “cracking open a beer with friends. It’s best if the wind blows southwest,” he said after a run.  “Today it was exhilarating.”

Ocracoke kite surfers. Photo: C. Leinbach
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