Thought American windsurfing was all about Maui? Think again!

If you fancy a slightly different style summer holiday this year, taking on teh great American road trip could be the answer.

Join Josh Sampiero on a whistle stop tour around 15 of the best flat(ish) water windsurfing spots in the US:

This feature originally appeared in the 2013 Spring Summer edition of Boards magazine. To purchase this edition and subscribe for the latest one, click here.

50,000 miles. That’s a rough estimate of distance I’ve covered in search of wind over six years of road-trip windsurfing in the great big you-ess-of-A as the editor of the United States’ WINDSURFING magazine. Between the deep southeast of the Florida Keys to the continental USA’s Holy Land, the Columbia River Gorge, there’s plenty of wind to be found, if you know where to look – and you don’t even need a university-level understanding of meteorology, micro-climates, sea-breezes, or frontal passages to score them – just a beat-up pickup truck with a camper top, a small quiver of windsurfing gear, and plenty of Red Bull, because roads in America are long, baby. You think you’ve been storm chasing? Try driving from Oregon to California to score a swell, and then hopping onto 1,800 miles of Interstate-10 to catch up with a hurricane. Whilst multiple cross-country road trips in America might not be on your agenda anytime soon, take advantage of my hard-earned knowledge and have a look at these four US flat-water hotspots, and put ‘em on your list of places to sail before you die.

Cape Hatteras, NC

Cape Hatteras - Image credit Nate Appel

Most of the world doesn’t know Cape Hatteras exists – and if global warming raises the seas another three feet higher, it might not. A hundred mile long spit of sand extending out into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Hatteras is a wind mecca for East-Coasters from Quebec to Key West. My first visit to Cape Hatteras involved an all-night drive, three run-ins with police officers, and two broken masts – all in all, a roaring success. But you guys don’t want my tips on how to talk to Barney Fife – let’s talk about the windsurfing!

The barrier islands that form Cape Hatteras protect the Pamlico Sound, a mile-wide, waist-to-chest-deep flat water heaven, with the occasional tiny sandbars protruding up from the sound, blocking the wind chop and offering up freestylers water so flat a wakeboarder wouldn’t scoff at it. The prevailing southwesterly thermal breezes often ratchet up well into the 4.2 range, but more consistently, you’ll find yourself on a 5.2 – 5.7m sail and 100 litre board combo. If you’re not a flat water sailor, the ocean side provides plenty of fun but challenging conditions in real-world, waves, too – the knowledgeable wave sailor will take advantage of the island’s bends and curves to score side, side-off perfection almost any day it blows! Of course, while Cape Hattie serves up plenty of blasting days, any seasoned visitor will tell you the number one rule of Cape Hatteras: Bring everything from board shorts to a 5/4 semi-drysuit, and every board, sail, boom and mast you can pack. Of course, if you need to rent kit, there’s plenty of options on the island.

Now, I could spend the next twenty minutes telling you about all the awesome places to sail on Cape Hatteras, but instead I’m going to tell you how to do Cape Hatteras right. The best thing about Hatteras isn’t the wind – it’s the hot-tub equipped vacation-rental mansions that back right up to the water. So grab six to ten of your mates, and rent yourself a waterfront castle complete with storage for rigged sails – that’s right – sail right out of your backyard, rig once all week, and have a hot-tub to drink your favourite malted beverage in, après-sesh.

[part title="Canadian Hole"]

Canadian Hole

The aptly named Canadian Hole comes alive in spring when hundreds of cheap beer swilling Canucks come pouring over the border. (Just kidding, Canadians – we love cheap beer, too.) Best in SW sea breezes or frontal-driven NE winds (which are slightly offshore.) Watch out for the way-too-shallow sandbar immediately off the beach to you’re right. It’s pretty hard to miss…

Buxton Slick

Just down the street from Canadian Hole is the Buxton Slick, which comes alive for freestyle in west winds. You’ll need a short freestyle fin to really sail here, and you’re going to want to see 24+ out of the west. But when you score it, it’s popping and sliding galore.

Nag’s Head

In the northern part of the OBX (that’s short for “Outer Banks", and you’ll see it on stickers everywhere…) is Nag’s Head, where sea breezes funnel into a true gale-force (gale force) blow. If it’s light down at the Hole, check the sensors and see what’s happening up here.

Your House, Anywhere 


Vacation rental specialists like Hatteras Realty will set you up with a windsurfing-ready crash-pad, for much less than you might assume.

[part title="Corpus Christi and South Padre Island, Texas"]

Corpus Christi and South Padre Island, Texas

The mere mention of the (sometimes) great state of Texas is enough to conjure up any number of mental images: ten-gallon cowboy hats, oil rigs, the esteemed Bush family… And it’s true. You will see all those things if you go to Texas. (OK, you might not actually see a member of the Bush family, but I can damn sure guarantee you’ll meet someone who voted for ‘em!) But all of this is of little concern to you. You’re there for wind, and don’t worry, like many things in Texas, there’s plenty of it –when the rest of the country is shovelling snow out of the driveway, you’ll be shovelling sand onto your sail to keep it from blowing away.

Corpus Christi, a coastal city about a three to four hour drive from the oil megalopolis of Houston, is the midwest’s wintertime wind spot, with scores of wind junkies making the long drive down for plenty of flat water fun. Just south of that is South Padre Island – infamous for its wild MTV-style parties during Spring Break. Just out of (or still in) Uni and want to score incredible sailing while consuming more liquor than the human liver was meant to process? Head on down during pretty much any week in March, and have it – and let us know whether or not it’s possible to puke while gybing!

Bird Island Basin

Party-central, it ain’t – but the windsurfing’s awesome. This flat water paradise – sometimes referred to as “hero-gybe heaven" – is about thirty minutes outside of Corpus Christi proper. There’s camping right on the beach (we suggest getting an RV) and prevailing southeasterly winds blow side-offshore. Rent rigged kit right on the beach from World Winds windsurfing (www.worldwinds.net), and go do lay-down gybes and carving 360’s until your arms can’t move.

South Padre Island

Whilst a bit more a kite hotspot these days, there’s still plenty of wind, and plenty of partying. We recommend paying the $15 to join the SPI Windsurfing Association (spiwindsurfing.com) so you can launch at the North Flats – an exclusive beach privately leased just for windsports.

Corpus Christi Bay

Right in town on Corpus Christi Bay, Formula and slalom sailors train with regularity(is there a reason why formula starts with a cap and slalom does not?). Home to years of high-end windsurf racing, Corpus Christi Bay still offers incredible slalom conditions on a regular basis – frequent enough that PWA slalom pro Enes Yilmazer decided that’s where he wanted to go to college. We’d recommended (recommend) Oleander Point at Cole Park – and a beer at the Executive Surf Club when you’re done.

[part title="City Sailing: San Francisco Bay"]

City Sailing: San Francisco Bay

SoCal may be Surf City, USA, but if you’re looking for wind, the best of the west is clearly the Bay Area. From the tidal flow of the Rio Vista Delta in the East Bay, to gybing under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Area offers up every kind of windsurfing there is – right next to world-class dining and drinking in one of America’s hippest cities. While parking your giant windsurf-mobile in the crowded city streets won’t be easy, you’ll be pleased to know the Bay Area offers more fantastic windsurf launches that you can count on two hands and both feet.

So, what do you need to know about sailing the Bay Area? Even though it’s a bay, it’s got current, baby. Plenty of current. Enough to kick up overhead swell when the wind’s blowing against – or haul you out to the Pacific Ocean should a fickle wind decide to shut off for the day. It’s easy to track the flood (current coming in, with the wind) or ebb (preferable – going out, against the wind) but our advice? Find the saltiest looking local you can and get the goods on what’s happening that day at that particular spot. Each one has its particulars known no better than by the sailors that ride there, but here’s the gist on a few of the good ones.

3rd Avenue (Foster City)

A South Bay hotspot for sailors and kiters that offers great swell on an ebb tide out in the channel. Sometimes a little bit of a schlog out to the wind line, and you’ll be glad you have a rental car, because occasionally golf balls come flying over the fence of the driving range next door. Grab kit from Helm Watersports right at the launch – great for tacking on a day or two of sailing to a San Francisco business trip.

Berkeley 


This East Bay launch is home to the Cal Sailing Club, a rowdy group of windsurfers known for sailing till dark and drinking till it’s darker. You’ll find a welcoming crew, and often a bit of sunshine along with your helping of wind.

Formula blasting at Crissy Field

Crissy Field

Simply put, one of the most iconic places to windsurf in the world. Brave the channel currents and barge traffic for a few reaches under the Golden Gate Bridge – just make sure you hustle back to the beach before the wind dies and the fog rolls in. Every year there’s dozens upon dozens of windsurfers and kiters rescued at Crissy Field by the U.S. Coast Guard – don’t be one!

[part title="Nuke Alley: The Gorge, Oregon"] Nuke Alley: The Gorge, Oregon

There’s a little river between the states of Oregon and Washington. OK, a big river. That big river also happens to traverse the Cascade mountain range. And in a particular stretch of river – extending from about 30 miles east of the city of Portland, for a couple hundred miles – they get wind. Lots of wind. Real wind. Blow your wig off wind. Blow your rig off wind! There’s something to be said about a place when a 100 kilo fella like myself gets by with only a 4.7 and a 4.2. The Gorge blows like few other places on earth, and when it does, it is simply magical. It’s also got a great set-up for the travelling sailor. Fly into Portland airport, and a quick one-hour drive has (you?)in the town of Hood River, where you’ll have your choice of high-end rental kit from a selection of stores. While there’s only one rigged ‘n ready rental spot, the true beauty of the Gorge is exploring – each spot is unique and challenging.

Dale Cook boosting air at the Gorge.

In the rare case the wind doesn’t blow, worry not – grab a mountain bike, your hiking shoes, a kayak paddle or a SUP board, and explore everything the Gorge has to offer. It’s a place where three-sport days aren’t the exception – they’re the expectation. And as for the evenings – well, it’s a town of 6,000 people that happens to have six microbreweries and attached pubs. What do you think happens?

But when the wind does blow – be prepared for the upwind current, constant chop, and school-bus-sized swell on a true 3.7 days. (True 3.7 days happening with slightly more regularity than one might expect.) If you think you’ve got the cojones, try and join locals Dale Cook and Bruce Peterson in the 40/40 club – 40 feet high, 40 knots on the GPS. (Hey… you try and go 40 knots in two-foot micro-chop!)

The Event Site 


Right in Hood River proper. Rigged rentals on the beach. This is where the racers hang out. Accessible for intermediates and newbie sailors (Not first-time newbies.) Light current with small swell. Big grassy lawn for rigging and picnicking – it’s as much about the social scene as the sailing!

The Hatchery

Affectionately known as “Kodak Point" by those too scared to sail there. (We kid, we kid.) Big swell right off the point leads into buttery flat water on the inside, perfect for freestyle. Can get very crowded on a truly windy day. The natural rock ampitheatre on shore makes for perfect spectating – and shouting at your buddies who biff a trick. This is the go-to-spot for the best of the best freestylers in the US – keep an eye out for the likes of Tyson Poor or PWA competitor Bryan Metcalf-Perez.

The Wall

Drive east. Keep driving. Cross a bridge. Go through some orchards. Hit a dirt road. You’re probably just about there. The Wall doesn’t fire all the time – but when it does, the narrow width of the river kicks up big rolling swell that’s just perfect for sending it skyward. You’ll want to pack a lunch ‘cuz there ain’t much out there save for plenty of wind and current – but trust us, if it’s good, you’ll probably just want to camp out for the night so you can do it again tomorrow.

This feature originally appeared in the 2013 Spring Summer edition of Boards magazine. To purchase this edition and subscribe for the latest one, click here.