Florida isn’t known for waves, especially on the West Central Coast. Still the waters around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge offer some of the best kitesurfing in the world, according to both locals and international transplants.
The shallow depth where the Gulf of Mexico meets Tampa Bay, provides an especially excellent environment for beginners to learn tricks, and a friendlier surface on the bodies’ joints due to the lack of waves.
“It’s freedom because we go with the flow of the wind,” says Rebecca Wilcox, a social media strategist at the University of South Florida, as she sips her coffee with sandy hands while heading back to her boyfriend’s Suburu. She’s satisfied that she's caught the wind early, just after sunrise.
By 8 a.m. a strong breeze of about 14 mph moves in while kitesurfers roll in at Skyway Bridge West. About a dozen kites rest onMelanie Cornish, an Elite Watersports team rider, kitebaords in St. Pete.
the shore, rattling in the wind. Gusts move up to 26 mph as dark clouds threaten.
"Mother nature is really cool," Melanie Cornish, an avid kiteboarder says.
Wilcox and her boyfriend Anthony Franchi, both in their late 20s, spend the day near the Skyway Bridge, St. Pete’s most popular spot for kiteboarding. They leave the water for a few hours only when the thunder starts.
“We play the game (especially this time of year) of hopping in and out in between storms,” Wilcox says.
Franchi, owner and kiteboard instructor at Kiteboarding St. Petersburg, is big on safety. He emphasizes being situationally aware, to not push it. If the sky turns blackish-gray, get out of the water.
“It’s a disaster to teach yourself,” Wilcox says.
Kiteboarding school runs at about $100 per hour. Franchi trains students to ride perpendicular to the wind with the right finesse and a soft touch, which sometimes makes it easier to teach women.
Barb Draves enters the scene in bright turquoise to try her hand at kiteboarding again. She hasn’t been kiteboarding in awhile. A decade ago she kitesurfed every chance she got. She’d sit at the beach, and wait for the wind.
“I was totally obsessed, then life got in the way, and now I’m back,” says Draves, now in her 50s. “I’m really excited. There are a lot more girls and a lot more people.”
St. Pete is land-water blessed for many kiteboarding options in varying winds from Fort Desoto East Beach and North Beach, Skyway Bridge West and East Launch, Lassing Park, to St. Pete Beach.
Kevin Castillo, a kiteboard instructor with Elite Watersports, has kitesurfed in the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean. North Beach in Fort DeSoto is his favorite spot in the world for kiteboarding due to the shallow flat water that makes it safer for doing tricks, and for the flexible wind directions.
“We just have one of those perfect spots when it comes to our environment,” Wilcox says. “There’s always a place to go regardless of which way the wind is going, it’s just the way that St. Petersburg is shaped that gives us that option.”
Rebecca Wilcox loves the mobility kiteboarding offers when traveling in Turks and Caicos.
Wilcox and Franchi love Turks and Caicos best for kiteboarding. There they explored an abandoned shipwreck by kiteboarding in
the wind miles offshore. The wind can take them to less explored spots.
“You can get to places you otherwise couldn’t get to,” Franchi says. “It’s quiet and super peaceful.”
Kiteboarding St. Pete is a second fave for them.
“It’s where I learned and where I met Anthony," Wilcox says. "It’s always a home spot for us to kiteboard."
Here are links to organizations mentioned in this 83 Degrees story: KiteboardingStPetersburg, and Elite Watersports