Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


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Wind-Powered Wow

Texas’ gusty Gulf Coast fuels your next vacation’s memory maker: kiteboarding. 

Growing up in the blustery West Texas oil patch, I cursed the wind.

The relentless wind wheezed through the gaps around our front door like an out-of-tune harmonica. Some rowdy days, the onslaught stirred up the dirt, turning the sky an apocalyptic reddish-brown.

As an adult, my relationship with the wind has been just as tumultuous. Unexpected gusts have blown me off my stand-up paddleboard, increased the misery on my bike rides and even dented my pickup with a runaway shopping cart.

The wind has not been my friend. However, I keep thinking about the saying, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

Wind, it’s time we make amends. 

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Matt Mares walks out to launch his kiteboard on Oso Bay.

Kiteboarders are intrepid souls who love the wind. They chase it, embrace it and ride it to the heavens.

I first saw the sport around Hood River, Oregon, 20 years ago. The colorful kites danced in the sky like a bouquet of tropical bird wings, pulling elated riders across the water and launching them high into the air.

While I was attracted to the sport, it seemed out of reach, more suited to the West Coast. I had no idea that a kiteboard scene had been growing along the Texas coast for decades.

The wind blows with great gusto on Texas beaches. Many days, trash receptacles along the dunes are stuffed with the contorted metal frames of vanquished pop-up canopies.

The good news? The wind that can disrupt your beach lounging also provides a lot of lift for a ride through the sky. Corpus Christi, Mustang Island and South Padre Island are the hotspots for Texas kiteboarding.

I will make friends with the wind. I set up a two-day lesson with 361KITE, a Corpus Christi kite shop. Tom Masterson, owner and head instructor, reminds me to bring a wetsuit.

I’m the crazy guy doing this in February. In the summer, you'll be much warmer. 

On lesson day, morning comes with a howl to our RV spot at Mustang Island State Park. From the rear windows of our trailer, the coastal grasses along the dunes sway nervously back and forth. I open the door. The wind is wailing.

“How much is too much?” I wonder. Then Tom texts me: No lesson today.

“We’ve got 30 mph gusts, going to increase as the day goes on,” Tom says when I call him. “That’s above our threshold for a first-time session.” I’m bummed yet relieved.

“Will folks ride in this wind?” I ask.

“Oh yeah!” Tom says. “You should go check it out. They’ll be going big today!”

I drive to the launch point on Oso Bay near Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and pull into a parking lot next to a grassy field. The wind hits me in the face like a sledgehammer. There are three kites strewn along the grass.

Lance Covington, a 20-year-old business major at nearby Texas A&M, is connected to one of those kites. It flutters in the wind. He pulls his lines taut to the eight-meter kite. Those lines connect to a harness around his waist, and that harness is connected to a control bar.

Lance gently tilts the bar to launch his kite. It pulls against his body as it ascends high above his head. He gives the bar a tug and his feet levitate off the ground. Someone runs up and hands Lance his board.

He leans against the force of the wind and sidesteps to the waters of Oso Bay. He sets the board in the shallow water, slips his feet in the straps and dips his kite to load it with wind. Lance pops up, leans on the edge of his board and careens into Oso Bay. He pulls on the control bar, flies high into the air and then lands back on the water with nary a splash.

Teresa Wolff is behind me, breaking down her gear after a session in the bay.

“He’s trying to break 19 meters,” she says. Lance has a GPS sensor on his board that reads how high he jumps. It connects to the Woo Sports app and tracks the distance, speed and altitude of his ride. Those numbers are posted on the app; kiteboarders try to break each other’s records. The current world record is 33.9 meters. That’s more than 111 feet high.

Teresa’s also an accomplished kiteboarder. She’s spent the last 35 years teaching art in international schools that cater to the children of diplomats. She has kiteboarded in Asia, the Arabian Peninsula and all over Africa. The 63-year-old recently retired to Corpus Christi — for the wind, of course.

“Other than Oman, I’ve not lived anywhere with such good wind as Corpus,” she tells me, smiling. “Wind, warmth and water.”

The wind is gusting at more than 40 mph. Like surfers chasing big waves, the kiteboarders come chasing big wind. The bay fills with kites zipping across the water. Some kiteboarders jump and twist in the air, doing fantastic tricks, while others simply cruise or “mow the lawn.” 

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Cecilia Goett cruises along Oso Bay on her board.

Cecilia Goett and her husband, Alberto Siller, jump out of their SUV. Alberto holds up a digital anemometer (wind speed meter) and walks towards the water. Satisfied with the readings, he gears up and hits the bay with his kite and board.

I settle down on a bench overlooking the water to take in the scene. Cecilia comes over and sits next to me. She tells me they moved here from Fairhope, Alabama, and are thrilled at how windy it is on the Texas Coastal Bend. The 26-year-old painter grew up in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico (near Cancún), where she learned to kiteboard along a colorful reef through crystal-clear water with beautiful fish, turtles, sea rays, dolphins and sharks.

There’s one kiteboarder on the bay who seems different from all the rest. It’s not just his red cap that stands out. It’s the way he engages the elements. He’s one with the wind and water. Maybe that’s why they call him “the master.”

Jeff Chilcoat is 58. Nobody on the bay rides with his style and ease. He’s been kiteboarding for 22 years, moving from Oklahoma to Corpus so he could ride all the time.

“I get like 150 days on the water,” he says, telling me his connection to the sport is spiritual. “If you do it right, it’s a symbiotic relationship. You get tapped into the power of the earth. It’s addicting.”

I get it! I’ve felt that vibe all day just from watching. I’m ready to tap the power of the earth. 

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Jeff Chilcoat catches some air on his kiteboard at Oso Bay.

My two-day lesson is consolidated into one long day because a cold front is scheduled to blow in, with temperatures dropping into the 40s and winds gusting to 40 mph. Tom spends two hours with me on land going over all the aspects of the kite and the various safety features.

I launch the kite while standing on firm ground to learn the physics of flight.

It’s simple. You turn the bar left and the kite goes left. You turn the bar right and it goes right. When you pull on the bar, it loads the kite with air and powers it up. You yank the bar, and the kite will pull you into the sky — fast.

We work like this until I get comfortable controlling the kite. Finally, we head for the water.

Cecilia is back, and this time she’s riding. She won’t see the vibrant reef, clear water or colorful fish of her native Cancún, but she’s got plenty of wind. She cuts through the bay with the finesse of an artist. She jumps and grabs the bottom of her board. She jumps again, flips until completely inverted, then pushes her board to the sky. Her long dark hair flows beneath her like a superhero’s cape.

This sport is so dynamic. I want to do what she’s doing, but not today. Standing on the shore, I get a very good idea of what these kites can do. I don’t feel like launching myself to downtown Corpus.

Tom fits me with a helmet that’s kitted out with a headset radio. I can talk to him and he can talk me through the steps for my first ride. He has me walk a pretty good distance out into the bay. It’s shallow the whole way.

Tom hangs back with all the gear till I get to the spot, then he launches the kite and board and rides out to me. As he makes a couple of close passes by me, I’m struck by the quiet of the craft. With each pass, he casually talks to me as the board whisks stealthily across the water.

Finally, he stops and moves the kite from his harness to mine. We work on body drags without the board, so I can get a feel for how the kite moves my body. When I get comfortable with that, it’s time to ride the wind.

While sitting in the water, I control the kite with one hand and hold the board with the other. I slide my feet into the board straps. Tom talks me through each step.

I bring the kite to the wind window at 12 o’clock, directly over my head. I sheet in (pull the bar) to gauge the wind power. Next, Tom instructs me to dip the kite to my right — roughly in the 2 o’clock position of the wind window. I pop up, but instinctively pull the bar. That powers up the kite and it yanks me out of the water.

“Let go! Let go!” Tom’s voice crackles over the radio.

I let go, the kite drops and I face-plant in the water.

We do this over and over for about an hour. I can feel how the wind wants to help me. It wants me to ride. It wants to be my friend. I’m so close.

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Tom Masterson fist-bumps Brandon Weaver at the end of their kiteboarding lesson.

I sit in the water with the board on my feet. I channel all the riders from yesterday. Their bliss is my inspiration.

“You have the 'start' procedure down,” Tom assures me over the radio. “Just go at your own pace.”

I raise the kite to 12 o’clock, sheet in and … wait. I breathe. I feel like a bull rider waiting for the chute to open.

I drop the kite to 2 o’clock and … I’m up! I’m riding across the water. We did it, wind!

Then things go wonky. I pull the bar and the kite obliges by pulling me faster.

“Let go! Let go!” Tom shouts over the radio. I oblige and face-plant into the bay.

Masterson wades over and gives me a fist-bump. I have a few more successful rides, but none of them last longer than 10 seconds.

Ten seconds is all I need to know that I want to do this forever. It is an amazing feeling to shake hands with the wind.

I have tapped the power of the earth. It is transformative, and I need more.

Wind, we’ve got to make up for some lost time.

Brandon Weaver is a Texas writer and adventurer.

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