by Shannon Smits
When you think of kiteboarding destinations, Alabama is probably one of the last places on your list. Most folks would rather travel to Southern Florida if they’re going to travel that far south for a kiting vacation. My fiancé, Robert and I have lived on here Mobile Bay’s Eastern Shore for about five years and there is not another place quite like it. And when I say “here”, I mean everything within about a 50-70 mile radius. Even a weekend trip to Destin, FL is just under a two hour drive. There seems to be a community-wide saying, “You’re usually never more than about an hour’s drive to the perfect spot for the different wind directions.” This goes hand-in-hand with another perk of living here; Alabama and the Florida Panhandle have many unique landscapes including protected bays, groves, inlets, swamps and coastal water ways.
There are many kite spots that are a quick drive after work and never far from my home base. There is one spot in particular that stands out from the rest – our hidden gemstone, Dauphin Island. The locals call it Dauphin and is about a 40 minute drive south of Mobile, Alabama. As the island stretches out into the Gulf of Mexico, it is exposed to a more consistent gulf breeze with more frequent windy days than the rest of coastal Alabama.
Dauphin is small and easy to navigate, has beautiful pure white sandy beaches, plenty of room to spread out and set up, and is kite-able on nearly any wind direction
Our favorite kite spot on the Island is Pelican Bay located on the south side. It almost seems
that nature designed this bay with kitesurfing in mind. The near perfect inner peninsula has flat and shallow water allowing for all levels to ride: freestyle, free-ride, strapless, foil, and wing. What makes this peninsula so unique is its bathtub-like beach enclosure, which makes it an ideal playground for kiters seeking new heights, beginners, and light wind warriors. Kite across the peninsula and walk over a small strip of beach to venture into the gulf. This is a wavy spot which can challenge you with 6-7ft waves on a breezy day. Though as a word of caution, if the wind is kicking here from the east it can be slightly off shore.
Our best seasons for kiting in Alabama are spring, fall, and winter. The summers are beautiful, but have few windy days. Pelican Bay is perfect for anything with S in it, and SE is the predominant wind direction.
To get to Pelican Bay, follow signs to the island golf course and find parking next to a restaurant called Pirate’s Bar and Grill. Pirate’s is a two story, cylindrical building with windows all-around. It has a gorgeous view of the cove and is perfect for guests to watch the kite-surf entertainment.
The winters are frequented by weather fronts from the north, pushing the wind towards the north side of the island. Pelican Bay is not the place for north wind as it tends to be gusty coming over the island. Only a short, five minute drive to the west is the West End Park entrance that allows for spacious parking, kite set-up, and launching. The north wind season usually starts around November with winds getting chillier throughout the winter (think 40-50 degrees F!!). The water is a bit choppy and kitesurfing is not as thrilling as Pelican Bay, but it is one of the few places on the Southern Gulf Coast to kite a north wind.
Dauphin Island is gaining reputation for all kinds of outdoor activities and isn’t just for the locals anymore. Just writing this post makes me feel like I’m giving away our little paradise secret. The island has changed dramatically through the years with hurricanes and currents changing the island’s topography. Mom & pop shops and restaurants provide most of the island’s amenities during the peak summer
season making it as charming and laid back as can be. Fort Gaines, on the east end, is a historic site often visited by tourists. On the far west end is an eight mile beach conservation area of pure white sand littered with beautiful shells.
The island is pristine in beauty, yet offers a great place for outdoor activities such as fishing, kiteboarding, boating, and surfing. As kiteboarding is growing as a sport, Dauphin is becoming a place for kiters of all levels.
Kite sessions are often followed by dinner at Pirate’s where you can catch up and assess the day on the water. The feeling of driving home over the causeway at sunset, thoroughly exhausted, content, a little sun burned, yet still laughing about something someone said over dinner is a euphoric feeling I can hold on to forever. Dauphin Island has hosted some of our happiest kitesurfing moments.