Downwinder is a kiteboarding term used to describe taking off from a launch upwind with a transport vehicle at the end of the journey downwind. – By Michael Montiel
As the Outer Banks winds picks up a group of giant, colorful kites bob up and down on the skyline. The “downwinders” are getting ready to catch a ride through the beauty of the Pamlico or Albemarle Sounds or the adventure of an ocean ride.
Downwinder is a kiteboarding term used to describe taking off from a launch upwind with a transport vehicle at the end of the journey downwind.
Because of the shallow waters of the wetlands and marshes of the sounds, a soundside downwinder covers coastal topography few land lovers and boaters get to see. The low impact and silent approach of a kite pulling a kiter through the water sets up some of the most beautiful flora and fauna interaction a sport enthusiast can experience. With a well planned trip kiters can find themselves traversing and jumping grass islands, marsh creeks, and cut the glasslike stillness of creeks and ponds that are protected from the 15+ mph winds needed to propel a kiteboarder. Passing sunken fishing boats, dodging duck blinds, and hot dogging for the soundside spectators is normal fare for the sound side downwind kiteboarder.
The equipment used for this type of downwinder is often a wakeboard style of kiteboard, referred to as a twin tip due to the small directional fins found on each end of the board placed for rider stability. Kites vary by styles and size according to rider ability level and wind velocity.
A downwinder in the ocean is a different adventure all together. The dynamic nature of the ocean with its currents, water chop, and waves all potentially moving in different directions present their own challenges. The reward is marrying the two sublimely beautiful experiences of sailing and surfing into the one truly amazing discipline of kite surfing.
With a side on approach of wind to the beach riders can launch their kites from the sand and traverse out and over the waves down wind in the ocean. Although ocean wave riding down winders are for the more advanced riders, the show and impressiveness of their skill levels never fails to impress.
Usually specialty surf boards with composite construction and foot straps are used to take on the rigors of hard hitting waves and the mogul like wave chop that occurs in the ocean when the wind exceeds 20mph. These boards have design specifications to take on the speed and pressure endured while being pulled along by a kite at speeds in excess of 30 mph.
Kites vary upon style, size, and performance, but once the balance of power, speed, and finesse is achieved ocean downwind sessions are the stuff dreams are made of. Throw in clear water, a few dolphins, and good waves you have just reached kiteboarding enlightenment.