May/June 2008

May/June 2008

Sun, Surf & Soft Breezes

Opportunities to Play Outdoors Seem Endless on the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks are not islands. They are, in fact, gigantic sandbars—a dynamic and mutable testament to the beauty of nature. There is nothing else in the world quite like them, for at their furthest point from the mainland, they protrude farther into the ocean than any other barrier island chain in the world.
It is a stretch of beach that extends more than 100 miles north and south, and it is the sand that brings visitors here, for there is nothing so sublime as soft sand, warm sunshine and a day at the beach.

But the unique geography of OBX also creates other opportunities to experience the wind and waves in ways that very few other places offer. It isn’t just that the Outer Banks juts out into the sea, but it is the way in which it makes an abrupt 90-degree bend at the town of Buxton (the location of the Cape Hatteras Light). That geographic anomaly creates a recreational paradise.

Ray Gray grew up on the Outer Banks and has been surfing since 1965. He writes a regular column on the sport for a local publication and notes that if there are surfable waves anywhere along the North Carolina coast, there will be good surfing on the Outer Banks. “It’s so far out in the ocean,” he says. “There’s a bend in the shoreline at Nags Head and Hatteras Island.”

Yet, it is more than sand and surf that bring visitors here, for the same forces that brought Wilbur and Orville Wright to Kitty Hawk continue to bring the adventurous traveler to the Outer Banks. Constant wind makes the area one of the preeminent wind sport sites in the world. And that perfect bend in the shoreline also creates an ideal launch site for windsurfing and kiteboarding. There is always a place where the winds are blowing at just the right angle for any wind sport.

And there is another factor. The sounds—the wide, flat bodies of water separated from the Atlantic Ocean by those sandbars—are open, expansive, and not very deep. “It’s shallow,” Brian Klausen, general manager of Ocean Air in Avon, says. “You can be standing almost anywhere in the sounds. It makes learning a lot less daunting.”
For 30 years, the Outer Banks has been home to a thriving windsurfing community. Yet, within the past five or six years, the dominance of windsurfing is being challenged by kiteboarding (or kitesurfing).

Boasting the oldest and largest hang gliding school in the world, Kitty Hawk Kites in Nags Head has been teaching people to fly since 1973. The hang gliding school is located within the boundaries of Jockey’s Ridge State Park, and Jockey’s Ridge itself is either the second highest or highest sand dune on the East Coast—depending on the season and wind conditions.

The consistent winds and forgiving landing zones (sand) create an ideal learning environment. “It is something people always wished they could do,” says Bruce Weaver, manager of recreation for Kitty Hawk Kites. “They find themselves in a place where it seems safe, and in fact, it is the perfect place to do it.”
But not every activity on the Outer Banks requires wind or water. With grants from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau and funding from local governments, the Outer Banks boasts a series of interconnecting bike paths and wide highway shoulders that enable bicyclists to pedal from Currituck Beach Light to Bodie Island Light—a journey of 35 miles.

The Outer Banks is also a place of wooded glens and hidden pathways. Possessing some of the most unique maritime forests in the world, the protected environs of Kitty Hawk Woods and Nags Head Woods offer hikers rolling hills, hidden ponds and heavy forestation. Buxton Woods, further south on Hatteras Island, is the largest maritime forest remaining on the Carolina coast and is a place of pine- and oak-covered ridges descending to a maritime swamp forest and marshy wetlands.

There is far more to do on the Outer Banks than these activities—kayaking on the sounds, horseback riding, jet skiing and parasailing. And then, at the end of the day, or perhaps week, all that is left to do is take a big sigh, grab a towel and a good book and do nothing more than spend a day at the beach.




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For the rest of this article, see the May/June 2008 issue of Hampton Roads Magazine, currently available on newsstands.

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