Harnessing the Nantucket Winds

February 18, 2023

In the off season, the wind is something that frustrates me to be honest. Prior to moving out to Nantucket, I considered myself a “fair weather sister” when planning visits to my family living on the island in that I came to visit mainly during the peak summer season. The wind typically seems to blow harder on Fridays or Sundays when I might most like to travel on and off island, but again, that is when I am paying attention the most. I have found the feature of checking the wind option on the weather.com app or check windy.com for extra assurance.

Photo credit: Photo of John Nolan by Cherylyn Black


However, in truth, for some the wind could be one of this island’s greatest assets. I know islands such as the Caribbean island of Aruba are known for their winds as well that help soften the strong temperatures and Madaket can be great for strong winds and currents almost directly longitudinally above the Dominican Republic. However, while on Nantucket, the happy medium for where one might like to kitesurf most is in the inner harbor area out towards Polpis and Pocomo.


Nantucket is a favorite place for many and a wonderful landscape for outdoor activities. Beyond exploring the walking paths, many explore the beaches and enjoy a variety of water pastimes. One such activity that has some momentum is kitesurfing. Those who truly enjoy the sport of kitesurfing and learn to know more about the various wind levels learn to cope and embrace the strong forces.


Many unfamiliar might wonder, what is kitesurfing? As I was initially writing this, as a novice or a newbie to the subject, I had the question about kitesurfing versus kiteboarding, are they interchangeable or are there nuances. I came to discover that “kiteboarding” and “kitesurfing” are different names for the same sport. A standard definition states: “Kitesurfing harnesses the power of the wind through a large parachute type kite to propel a rider across the water on a small surfboard or a kiteboard (similar to a wakeboard). Although the name includes surfing, kitesurfing does not need waves, the wind is the only force needed to power you along.” In asking some folks who have been involved in the sport for a while, they’ve provided their own unique definitions.


John Nolan an avid kiteboarder, who has been kitesurfing in general for many years and on Nantucket in recent years, says, ”Kitesurfing is when someone goes out onto the open water with a surfboard while connected to a large over head kite through long strings and a waist harness and then actively begins to surf. Kitesurfing is kiteboarding, but using a surfboard instead of a kiteboard.”


He continues, “There is definitely a strong sense of a kiteboarding community at every beach I go to, Nantucket included. I do feel that there is an aspect of kiteboarding that brings its participants together, and that aspect of the sport is the launching and landing of the kite.


Having someone else launch and land your kite is the safest and most convenient way to come in from the beach or be on your way…. and it makes for a great foundation of a strong community feel.” Cecily Lough, a Cape Cod native and has been an avid kitesurfer as well, also, appreciates the kitesurfing community. She says, “However, unlike surfing, with kiting you can use the kite to go anywhere and it is all action all the time – which is the best aspect of kiting! No waiting for waves – you can just go to them, or if there are no waves, you can practice jumps or speed or new skills – there is always something to learn.”

Photo of Cecily Lough by George Riethof

Generally, compared to other water/wind-sports kiteboarding is relatively easy to learn. The learning curve compared to windsurfing is faster, and the kiteboarder will be more advanced after their first year. On average, it is generally stated that it takes between 6 and 12 hours of lessons on average to learn kitesurfing. Granted, take this with a grain of salt as everyone has a different learning curve. “Can beginners kitesurf? According to general online searches, “Beginners often get to grips with kite-flying and body-dragging through the water pretty quickly, but controlling the kite in all conditions, getting up on the board and staying upwind usually takes more time, patience and practice.” John Nolan, an instructor and local guide at Next Level Watersports, “Doesn’t think that folks should be intimidated by the adventure in that, I guess I would like the average person to know about kiteboarding is just how easy the sport is once you learn.” He goes on to explain that “although you can easily kitesurf without being an athletic person at all, kitesurfing can give you a very intense workout depending on wind and water conditions and on your riding style. It’s more a muscular than aerobic kind of workout, heavily exercising your core muscles and lower back, quads and calves.”

Cecily first became aware of and interested in kiteboarding after seeing people jump over some jetties during a storm on Nantucket! She also saw all the foil racers whipping around under the Golden Gate Bridge in SF in 2016, and that’s when she knew that she wanted to kitefoil. Cecily is touching on the topic of “kitefoiling” of which is yet another layer of this sports’ progression that I plan to research more on this topic at a later date. “The normal progression is kiteboard, then surfboard, then foil.”

Cecily advises that, “Kitesurfing needs a certain minimum level of wind blowing and in the right direction, so almost everywhere in the world you can kite, there is seasonality to it. On the Cape and the Islands, even though people come for the beaches in the summer, the better, more consistent wind starts around Labor Day. Since learning to kite, my favorite month on Nantucket is September when it is still sunny and warm, most people have left, and the winds pick up to a level where you can kite consistently, I’ve had some amazing days kiting and foiling here in the high summer months, but those are very rare compared to Sept and Oct when the wind blows more often. Of course, the better you get at foiling, the less and less wind you need to get out there and have an amazing time! It’s all about the low wind skills in the summer.”

“There is definitely a community aspect to kiting that I love”, comments Cecily. “Unlike surfing, with kiting you help launch and land your fellow kiteboarders in order to help keep everyone safe and ensure that the sport remains loved by the local (non-kiting) community. You often share local beloved launch spots, too. Once you learn to launch and land on your own, you still help out the beginners because it is both safer and because you were once one, too. I love this aspect of kiting compared to surfing. The amount of wind sports addicts is even smaller here on ACK, so it is easy to meet and talk to fellow Kiters, Wingers, and Windsurfers about how and where to get your wind “fix.” I look forward to welcoming even more people into the sport, there is plenty of room for everyone at Polpis Harbor and we can all help keep each other safe and spread the ‘stoke.’”

Cecily also wants folks to be aware that, “One aspect that non-kiters should know if they want to get into the sport is that similar to surfing, you can not kite ‘on-demand’ and need to respect the power of the wind and nature. If the wind is super strong or in the wrong direction and you only have a large 12M kite, don’t go out. Kites have a lot of power and nature can be unpredictable! (For that reason, it is worth having at least 2-3 different kite sizes in your quiver; smaller kites for high wind days, larger kites for low wind days) Alternatively, if the wind is forecasted to die and/or switching directions or it is getting dark, you may be up for a long, tedious, and potentially dangerous self rescue back to the beach floating on your upside down kite. This is the less bad of the two scenarios, but neither are great experiences. Don’t assume the Coast Guard will come rescue you.”

Photo of Cecily Lough by George Riethof


“It is a bit of an investment,” John says, ”For a beginner to be fully set up with new equipment, getting into kiteboarding would be about $2500, and just a little more for kitesurfing, maybe $2700”. In general, “How much is it to become a beginner kitesurf? One needs to consider investment in equipment and lessons, etc. Therefore, you can expect to spend more or less $400 to $800 USD on learning to kitesurf depending on how many hours you need. Some schools have a fixed rate for lessons and no matter how many lessons you take, the price stays the same.

John, when expressing his love for the sport, would appreciate being asked, “When did you know you were hooked on kiteboarding? That would’ve been the moment when I was able to feel the sense of freedom from leaving the beach and going far out into open water where once I was constrained to the beach and shoreline.” Cecily says, “In fact, I loved the community and culture of kiting so much I set up my life to be a global nomad, where I consult to start ups and work on my NFT advisory newsletter from wherever the wind blows, including Nantucket, SF, Mexico, and Maui.” Next time one is considering giving kitesurfing a try or when it is noticeably windy on Nantucket, one should check an app like iKitesurf for the level of wind gusts as recommended by John before heading out on the water.

Where to kitesurf on Nantucket:
Next Level Water Sports offers information, group tours and lessons and more information can be found on their Web site: www.nextlevelwatersports.com  PH: 508-680-3343

If feeling inspired this article is helpful in gaining more information for getting started in kite boarding: https://www.kitesurfist.com/can-anyone-learn-to-kitesurf/

Information on average amount of time to gain experience to feel like you’re getting the hang of kiteboarding: https://margaritakiteschool.com/how-long-it-takes-to-learn-kitesurf/

This is a helpful blog on more details about the sport of kiteboarding and it’s possible origins: https://www.ikointl.com/blog/complete-beginners-guide-know-everything-about-kitesurfing