CLOSEST AIRPORT: Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, and Dunedin are located about 20 miles from the Tampa International Airport and accessible by rental car and other public transportation services.
BEST WIND MONTHS: November to April.
AVERAGE WIND: 12-20 knots, although the stronger cold fronts can produce the occasional 25-30 knot days.
BEST KNOWN FOR: The Sponge Docks, intercoastal and offshore fishing, and spearfishing ledges. As well as its proximity to Clearwater Beach, St. Pete Beach, Downtown Tampa, Ybor City and Busch Gardens.
Kiteboarding was introduced to me eight years ago during a windsurfing session in Tarpon Springs, Florida. There were only a handful of kiters at our local launch but before I knew it, a trainer kite and lessons had replaced my sails. It wasn't until my departure to college that I began to realize how ideal Tarpon Springs and Pinellas County is for the sport. A series of bayous and intercoastal waterways occupy the flat shallows of Tarpon Springs and its nearby towns. This presents anyone the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of kiting in the least stressful environment, specifically when rivaled with beach breaks and their inevitable deep water.
The local scene of kiters is comprised of a friendly group of people that are sometimes referred to as the “North County kiters”. I’ve come to the realization that this crowd is substantially smaller than the kiting population that occupies southern Pinellas County, and a less crowded area will always allow for a calmer learning experience. If one really seeks isolation, they may do so simply by motoring out to one of our sandy barrier islands, such as Anclote Key and Three Rooker – which are the most notorious amongst local kiters. An average day on either island consists of a handful of boaters, kites, music, sunshine, and beer. The warm weather, beautiful sunsets, pleasant locals, and affordable accommodations make Tarpon Springs idyllic for any kiteboarder.
– Downwinders: The Tampa Bay area has some of the most unique downwinders to offer. Large intercoastal waters, the Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico allows for 360 degrees of ride-able locations on any given wind direction. My local favorite is the run from Sunset Park in Tarpon Springs down to the puffy white sand along the Clearwater Beach. The journey begins on the inside of the intercostal with many spoil islands to explore along the way. The halfway point is reached once you approach Honeymoon Island, and is the queue to exit through the Pass into the Gulf of Mexico. From here, the downwinder continues until landing on Clearwater Beach, or further south to Indian Rocks or St. Pete Beach. This particular downwind stretch is best accomplished on a north or northwesterly wind.
– The Scene: Most tourists within northern Pinellas County tend to flock to the bars and restaurants along Clearwater Beach. The state parks seem less busy as a result, and a tight niche vibe exists among the local riders. For instance, it’s not uncommon to receive an invite into a fellow kiter’s RV for shots of Fireball and chili, a deadly combination.
When arriving to the area, it’s best to make yourself familiar by gaining information from a local kite shop, such as Watersports West. Shop attendant, Anthony Franchini, always seems to offer good advice, direct people towards organized downwinders, the best launches, or in touch with local instructors. Facebook may also be used as a social tool. Groups such as “Kite Jam” exist where people meet, make plans, and take part in organized events, such as their annual Santa Kite Jam.
– Sunset Park: Many of the kiteboarders in Tarpon Springs enjoy this launch regularly. It’s basically a long peninsula that protrudes into the intercoastal and people launch and land directly from the tip. The site offers bathrooms, showers, shelters, and grills for BBQ’s. Large areas of grass also make breaking down your equipment easy and sand free. Sunset Park is accessible by vehicle without a gate fee, and the park happens to have a large boat ramp. The water is ordinarily waist deep for hundreds of yards with almost zero boat traffic. The only time it’s not suggested to ride here is during any form of east wind, although; this offshore direction is ride-able at Three Rooker Island, which sits about a mile west of the Park. Other than east wind, this is a great location for beginner to advanced riders.
– Dunedin Causeway: Located 12 miles south of Sunset Park is the causeway that leads west towards Honeymoon Island State Park. The launch is considered best suitable for experienced riders due to a high traffic boat channel and nearby power lines. However, a scenic island, known as Caladesi, lies on the other side of the boat channel and makes this spot remarkable. Many enjoy the island for it’s beautiful aqua blue water and hard sandy bottom. A large sandbar dominates the front side of the island with a depth no more than three feet. Furthermore, the Gulf side of the island tends to produce textbook kickers that make for perfect ramps. My ideal session involves two hours along Caladesi before heading back to the causeway where I’ll land and pack up. There’s also a Frenchy’s Restaurant along the causeway, which is always a worthy pit stop for a cold beer and seafood before heading home.
– East Wind: Since the barrier islands are the best alternative for offshore wind, and not everyone has boat access, many locals will drive 45-minutes south to East Beach. This launch is located within the Fort DeSoto State Park and is very well known amongst locals and instructors. It’s arguably the busiest launch around, especially on weekends, due to the shallow water and giant grass beds for rigging and mingling. Fort DeSoto has helped produce some of the top riders in the industry, such as locals Billy Parker and Alex Fox. On any given day, you may find yourself riding amongst professionals and/or dodging kites from absolute beginners.
– Getting There: Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, and the surrounding Palm Harbor area is roughly 20 miles from the Tampa International Airport and about a 30-minute drive. Upon arriving, take Hillsborough Avenue west until it becomes Tampa Rd. This leads into Ozona that is the small town between Tarpon and Dunedin. North on Alternate 19 leads into Tarpon while south will take one towards Dunedin.
– Things To Do: Visitors can enjoy the museum exhibit, shops, and restaurants along the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks, which detail city’s Greek heritage. Tarpon was established off the sponge industry and viewers still watch as incoming boats port and empty their nets. Downtown Dunedin is also popular among tourists for it’s shops, bars, and nightlife.
– When To Go: The windy season is most prominent from November to April with a northwest wind as the predominant direction. Cold fronts are usually the producers of such wind and can often generate 3-4 solid days of breeze. The summer also has nice sea breezes to offer with the occasional tropical storm bringing heavy winds.
WHERE TO STAY
Tarpon Shores Inn and Quality Inn Suites are each located minutes away from Sunset Park with rooms starting at $75 a night. There are all types of places to stay however, such as the Hampton Innes and more upscale lodges depending on the budget.
WHERE TO EAT
Breakfast – George’s Breakfast has a great reputation with an affordable breakfast and fantastic customer service. Not to mention their lunch is great too, especially the BLT. Eco Bean in Tarpon and Serendipity Café in Dunedin are two breakfast hot spots as well.
Lunch – Mykonos has some of the best Greek food in Tarpon Springs with most of their entrees priced under $10. Dunedin Smoke House is a great homemade BBQ joint with a pulled pork sandwich on pretzel bread to die for.
Dinner – Mr. Souvlakis, Costas, and Hellas are all fantastic eateries near the Sponge Docks. There are many parking lots that offer $3 parking, although; it’s free at the Visitor’s Center. The Odyssey Boat Tour is also a must for the family. The cruise offers a dolphin adventure, island sight seeing, nature tours, and a sunset cruise.
Words By Sean Buell
Feature image (top): Rob Buell
To ride spots like these and more, visit www.kitesurfholidays.com