Driven By The Wind
Embracing the power of the wind as they fly high off the coast of our barrier islands, kiteboarders have gravitated to the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Islands where a tight-knit community has taken root. By Alejandro Ferreyros. Photos by Steve Rosamilia and Scott Walton.
For centuries humans have sought to fly. From Icarus to the Wright brothers, the pursuit of a mastery of the skies has long driven both adrenaline and innovation. Here on Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms however, you can find men and women flying high on an almost daily basis, whenever the wind is in their favor.
Kiteboarding, a fusion of wakeboarding, windsurfing and surfing, is one of the hottest and fastest growing watersports around. The sport is exploding here in Charleston because, unlike most other places along the East Coast, you can ride the waters here no matter which way the wind is blowing. Days when it blows onshore, kiters will congregate on Sullivan’s Island and IOP, where flat water spots and wave riding is dominant. When the wind clocks around to an offshore direction, the Charleston Harbor will burst with colorful kites as kiters seek secret little sandbars that expose themselves at low tide, providing perfect flatwater without the hassle of currents.
“Whether you are a hero riding in front of tourists on the beach, jumping through the air in front of Charleston’s historic Battery, or enjoying a secluded flatwater session with friends at a secret harbor spot, there is something for every rider on just about every day of the year on the waters around this windy city,” kiter Kellen Smith says.
The roots of kiteboarding run deep in Charleston. Kiters have been “shredding” out here since the early ‘00s (the sport is about 20 years old, having started during the 1990s). With the only kiteboarding shop in Charleston being here on Middle Street, the kiteboarding community naturally congregates on our islands. Of course the flat waters at Sullivan’s Island legendary Station 28 1/2 and the rolling waves on IOP, which offer up some of the best conditions for kiteboarding in the area, help some. The combination has turned the sport into a way of life for lucky kiters who call these islands home.
The kiting community here is a close-knit one, as sharing in the same passion brings people of all ages and all backgrounds together.
“I’ve yet to experience the sense of community felt in the Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms kiteboarding scene in any other sport,” Daniel Ware says, who has been kiting on the islands since he was 16. “Everyone knows each other, and you’re always riding with friends.
Kiteboarding in Charleston exemplifies the true meaning of the sport, which is having fun and spreading the stoke.”
The community is essential to each kiter. As with any extreme sport, kiteboarding has its risks—having buddies nearby to lend a hand when something goes wrong is an integral part of the sport.
Shea Gibson, a local meteorologist and the “wind guru” for iKitesurf.com, runs a Facebook group for kiters to help with forecasting, share experiences, report lost and founds and keep the entire community updated on local, national, even international events in the kiting community.
“You’re never kiting alone on Sullivan’s Island,” Scott Hyland, owner of Sealand Adventure Sports, the kiteboarding shop on Middle Street, says. “The local kiters are a great group that look out for each other and others like a big, happy family.”
While known as an extreme sport, kiting can be attempted by any age or experience level, as long as you have the right equipment and a certified instructor. Anyone from age 10 to 80 can try their hand at flying above the ocean, powered by the wind—as long as you can swim, you can learn to kite.
“I look at kiteboarding on Sullivan’s as a privilege,” Hyland says. “I look forward to many more years of enjoying one of the best kite spots on the East Coast.”