The Outer Banks feature some of the best downwinders in North America, and arguably, in the entire world. Riding through the marsh channels along the island is something all kiteboarders need to experience. For those that are unaware, a downwinder is when you drive to a spot where you kite downwind from one destination to another. It is truly one of the most unique aspects of kiteboarding as it allows you to access spots that you wouldn’t be able to on a motorized vehicle or other wind sport equipment. This post will cover one of my favorite downwinders and probably the most famous, “The Planet of the Apes”. Its landscape looks similar to the movie Planet of the Apes. And the kiteboarders jumping all over are reminiscent of apes jumping around a jungle.
Before we get into it, I just want to convey a few cautions before embarking on your first downwinder. Similar to skiing, kiteboarding downwinders have different difficulties. Planet would be more of a black diamond, while Salvo to KHK is more of a moderate level. Stay tuned, I’ll be covering the Salvo downwinder in my next blog! A downwinder is also best shared with your friends. You always want a friend with you to make sure nothing bad happens and you also need two cars to shuttle you back upwind.
Typically, the main thing that can happen during a downwinder is gear failure. Thus, you want to make sure you trust your bar, and that you don’t have leaks in your kite. If you are in the middle of Planet with a limp kite or a broken line, it can be a nightmarish experience. In that situation, you might have to swim a couple miles until you get back to the Salvo Day Use Area. This is rare, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind. Good dependable gear is essential.
My last caution is to keep your kite high when you are going through the channels. The wind gets gusty lower down and you may run the risk of dropping your kite in the marsh. This could potentially puncture many pinholes in your kite and make it difficult to relaunch.
Make sure that the downwinder is within your riding level
Have a friend with you
Keep your gear is in good shape
Keep your kite high to avoid dropping it in the marsh.
Planet of the Apes
The best wind for a Planet run is the predominant southwest wind. My favorite place to set off is at Mile Marker 46. There’s a pull-off on the sound side of the road where you can park and access a small beach. On a windy South West day, you will see plenty of cars parked right around that area. That’s the launch spot. From there, you will be able to access some of the best flatwater channels the island has to offer.
The first couple miles of the downwinder feature small bays with flat water that can be used as a good warm-up. Make sure to stick to the shore to enjoy all of these little nooks of the landscape. Not before long, you will get to the “planet slick”, which is the crème de la crème of flat-water riding. There lies an island named “No Ache Island.” It features a wide area with butter, flat water, plenty of space to land tricks and share the stoke with others. I typically stay in this area for a good hour to practice tricks since flat non-choppy water makes it much easier to progress.
Following No Ache Island, there are three butter-flat channels that will make you feel like you’re beating some speed records and you’ll carve through like you never have before. Some of the channels require the ability to ride straight downwind. There is a small jump within this area that you can gap fairly easily to ride out if you need to.
The last of the three channels is my favorite. It’s located right before reaching the Salvo Day Use Area. It is a long, straight channel that can be ridden all the way through until you can ride out into the Salvo Day Use Area. It lines up perfectly with a southwest wind and is ideal for catching good speed. Then I’d recommend enjoying the Salvo Day Use Area while you’re there. It is also a great spot for kiting with flat shallow water to improve on tricks.
I hope this helps to bring you out on some kite adventures that bring new dimensions to your kiting level. Downwinders are undeniably one of the best ways to enjoy the sport as you don’t need to upwind consistently. They allow for freedom to work on tricks and progress much faster without worrying about getting back to the same spot. Furthermore, being able to go on these “kite safari’s” are one of the best ways to experience the ecology of an area and to access hard to achieve areas. We hope to catch you on the water soon for some epic downwinders this summer!
If you’re looking to build your skills before you head out on your own, check out our kiteboarding lessons in Rodanthe, NC.