Things to Do On the Water in Hampton Roads

vb surf sessions virginia beachIt occurred to me more than once: Every day, we make our way around the water, over the water and under the water. But how often do we get on the water? Think about it. The Atlantic Ocean, Chesapeake Bay and their assorted estuaries are so ingrained in our day-to-day lives, they can get taken for granted.

I’d lived here 15 years and probably could count on one hand how many times I’d gone to the beach. So, several suit sizes ago, I decided to get my feet wet. Big-time wet. I took sailing lessons, learned to surf (sort of), windsurfed (ditto), climbed into a kayak, strapped on water skis and fired up a jet ski, then wrote a series of articles about it.

Verdict? The solitude and POV a kayak affords held the most appeal, but sailing was an eye-opener, surfing—even on my knees—was a blast, windsurfing was hard work and water skiing and jet skiing were a smack-in-the-face rush.

Ready to dive in? Here are a dozen options to get started:


Big Blue Sailing Academybig blue sailing academy
Old Dominion University Sailing Center
4505 Powhatan Ave., Norfolk

The website doesn’t lie: “You may get wet from the waist down, more on occasion, but the water is warm.” I can vouch. When Mitch Brindley, ODU’s chipper head coach, taught me, I spilled my Flying J into the Elizabeth River the first night. After that, smooth sailing.
Cost: Adults, $275; children (10–16), $300

1525 Bayville St., Norfolk

Wayne Diviney set up at Willoughby Harbor Marina to get out on the water more often. And, says his wife, Karen, he had an inkling others had the same notion, including novices ready to weigh anchor. To that end, American Sailing Association 101 goes over the parts of the boat, how it works on the water, wind effects and, big emphasis, safety.
Cost: ASA 101, $495; Discover sails, start at $199

Norton’s Sailing School
97 Marina Dr., Deltaville

Do directions get easier? Turn right, Chesapeake Bay ahead. “It’s very quiet,” says Whitney Walton, sailing school coordinator at Norton’s. “It’s not like going on the ocean, where it’s all city waterfront. There’s more of a view.” Must be why Norton’s, in business on the Middle Peninsula for 65 years, touts the Bay as the best classroom around.
Cost: ASA 101, $495; ASA 101/103, $795


vb surf sessions virginia beachVB Surf Sessions
899 Vanderbilt Ave., Virginia Beach

Lessons begin on the beach—how to get on the board, proper positioning. Plus a course on “Surfer’s Knowledge”—safety and etiquette, meteorology and oceanography. VBSS has been working Croatan’s south beach, near Camp Pendleton, for five years. Some of its instructors are sponsored by the big surfing companies. And everyone, it seems, wants to surf.

Cost: Lessons, $99 individual, $65–$79 group; camps, $169–$269 

Seth Broudy School of Surf  
899 Vanderbilt Ave., Virginia Beach

When Seth Broudy talks about “sharing the stoke,” he means his love of surfing. It runs deep. He’s Beach born and bred and, until hurting his back, rode the pro circuit. These days, he’s stoked about giving back. Last year, Broudy helped a cancer patient cross surfing off her bucket list, and he works regularly with surf charities.
Cost: Lessons, $40–$100; camp, $295 ($95 one day)


Windsurfing Enthusiasts of Tidewater
Mill Creek, Fort Monroe, Hampton
757-846-1056, 757-226-9011

Growing up Down Under, Nick Datyner did his sailing in boats. Same when he moved to the States, until he took a Windsurfing Enthusiasts of Tidewater introductory course. Why switch? Boat storage isn’t cheap. “Windsurfing means I can get out on the water,” he says. “I can carry everything on the roof of my car.”
Cost: June 20 and 27, 11 a.m.–4 p.m., $40, ages 15 and up


southeast expeditions​SouthEast Expeditions
32218 Lankford Highway, Cape Charles

Some outfits are all about technique, says SouthEast’s Dave Burden. “Our primary goal is to get out into the amazing ecosystem that is the salt marshes of the Eastern Shore.” Burden’s instructors, all state-certified eco-tour guides, hold a quick how-to before heading into the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge. (Read about more things to do on Virginia’s Eastern Shore here.) “We explore the marsh in search of birds, crabs and peace of mind.” Speaking of the latter, SouthEast also runs a tour to Chatham Vineyards in Machipongo. (Learn more about the wine tours here.)
Cost: Refuge tour, $45; winery tour, $85

Waller Mill Park
901 Airport Rd., Williamsburg

Tim Jones, the Newport News parole officer who teaches kayaking at Waller Mill, is skilled at whitewater and coastal kayaking and has completed the 70-mile General Clinton Canoe Regatta in New York six times. Before heading out, Jones goes over the basics, like getting into a kayak. It’s harder than it sounds. Details: $65, $50 w/own kayak; park entrance, $2

Water Skiing

Tula Adventure Sports
2100 Marina Shores Dr., Virginia Beach 23451

“Tula” means balance in Sanskrit. It says so on the website. Isa Cohen is the one to help you find it. She started skiing when she was 7, has aced slalom and trick competitions on the East Coast and abroad, and has been taking aspirants onto Broad Bay for six years. The appeal? Simple. “It’s just a thrill, really, a great workout.” (Read about other fun workouts here.)

Cost: Lessons, $425 (three hours, up to six skiers); camp, $325 ($95 one day)

Jet Skiing

Rudee Inlet Jet Ski & Adventure Parasail
300 Winston Salem Ave., Virginia Beach

From the list of FAQs: Has anyone on a jet ski been attacked by a shark? No. If you see fins around you, they are friendly dolphins that enjoy flirting and catching waves with jet skiers. Phew, that means you can get to it, which is why folks ride jet skis. “It’s the rush. It’s like a snowmobile on water,” says owner David Parker. After getting some pointers, skiers are led out of Rudee Inlet and into the Atlantic, where they zip around a 1-square-mile stretch from 1st to 14th streets.
Cost: Rentals, $97–$137 (single rider), $107–$147 (up to three)

Stand-Up Paddle Boarding

beach eco tours virginia beachBeach Eco Tours
3233 Pacific Ave., Virginia Beach

Beach Eco serves up lots of extras on its tours out of First Landing State Park: ospreys and egrets, mussels and clams, a look at its Broad Bay oyster farm, maybe a dolphin sighting. The tours are beginner-friendly, with wide, stable boards that make getting under way a breeze. You can lie down like a surfer, kneel or stand. Ninety-nine percent take Option 3, says owner Mike Norment. “It’s like walking on water.” Once everyone finds their footing, some board yoga is worked in.
Cost: Lessons, $75–$100; tours, $40–$50

Black Dog Paddle
Great Bridge Lock Park
100 Lock Rd., Chesapeake

When Steve Eudy moved to Kentucky, he told himself if he ever returned to Hampton Roads, he’d never take its natural beauty for granted again. That’s why he’s on the water in Chesapeake and Jamestown Yacht Basin in Williamsburg teaching for Richmond-based Black Dog. “When you’re kayaking, you can’t see everything. The first time I stood up, I never sat down again.”
Cost: Group and individual lessons, $25–$100

Looking for more must-do summer activities in Hampton Roads? Check out our Summer Bucket List!

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