Kitesurfers gravitate to Texas City Dike where wind and water are ideal
The Texas City Dike is one of the best places to enjoy kiteboarding — with a wakeboard, surfboard or hydrofoil. And the growing number of athletes who enjoy this sport flock to the 5.3-mile-long pier on Galveston Bay every day of the year to feel the wind lift them up and carry them away.
“Nothing but the wind,” said Phil Midler, owner of Houston Kiteboarding, 524 Ninth Ave. N., in Texas City. “It is just awesome.”
Midler has been kiteboarding and kitesurfing for the past 15 years. He was introduced to the sport while he was in the military in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, he said. At the time, kiteboarding was considered a fringe sport and not many people participated.
“I did it for about five minutes and I was hooked,” Midler said. “It was the coolest thing ever.”
He brought his enthusiasm with him to Texas when he left the service and set up a kitesurfing business in 2006. Hurricanes and floods caused him to move frequently, but for the past two years, his company, Houston Kiteboarding, has been “on high ground” in Texas City.
Because the sport was new, there was little training or certifications available. Midler began giving lessons, as well as selling and renting equipment. Meanwhile, the sport caught on.
There are several modes involving kites and the wind. Kiteboarding uses a small wakeboard, which can go left or right over water. Kitesurfing uses a regular size surfboard and only moves in one direction, which is forward. And the newest outlet — hydrofoiling – uses a small motor attached to the board to lift it up and move it faster.
Although the sport takes training and skill, most enthusiasts say it doesn’t require extraordinary strength. A harness, strapped at the waist and connected by ropes to the U-shaped kite, lessens the strain from a participant’s arms. The sport is popular with men and women.
Kite power is nothing new. Two hundred years ago, kites were used to propel carts. Small collapsible canvas boats powered by kites were used to cross the English Channel in 1903. But in the 1970s, with the development of the strong but lightweight Kevlar fabrics, more commercial enterprises began developing kites large enough to support the weight of people. Riding on surfboards or wakeboards while attached to the kite came afterward, and has developed internationally into a respectable sport. Kiteboarding has been approved to be part of the Olympics in 2024 — or maybe even in Tokyo in 2021.
The kites, which range in size and shape, are made from the same type of material as a sailboat’s spinnaker. They’re colorful and easily attract crowds on the ground, as the surfer glides over the water and into the air.
The Texas City Dike is a local favorite for several reasons, Midler said. First, it’s accessible year-round because of the mild winter along the upper Texas coast. It’s also easily accessible to a 2-square-mile area of water that’s waist-deep and poses little drowning threat, he said. Because the water is a bit opaque, no aquatic plants grow, allowing for the sandy bottom to be hard-packed. And, because of its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, the southeasterly winds are smooth and conducive for good rides, Midler said.
“It’s not gusty or turbulent, but windy every day,” Midler said. “It is a good place to learn. We are out there several days every week.”
Other seasoned windsurfers noted that it can be dangerous, too. But with proper instruction and assistance, it’s rather safe, they said.
Midler, 39, also has enjoyed the wind along the beaches in Galveston, starting at East Beach and surfing the entire length of the island in an hour’s time. In 2013, he held the Guinness Book of World Records title for the longest wind surf: more than 200 nautical miles from South Padre Island to Matagorda Bay.
That record was broken in 2015 by a Portuguese kitesurfer who traveled 536 nautical miles from Lisbon to Madeira in a non-stop journey.
One of the advantages of kitesurfing is that the air and the wind are free, Midler said.
“It is empowering, like you have superpowers — and the ability to fly even if the conditions are severe,” he said. “If the water is rough, just jump over the waves.”
And although it’s a solo sport, it isn’t recommended to do it alone. Help is needed sometimes for launching or landing and there’s a camaraderie in the windsurfing community. But before anyone lifts off, lessons are essential to learn to handle the kite, the board and the ropes, Midler said.
Interestingly, Midler’s average “student” is a 50-year-old man, he said.
“It’s an expensive hobby and not a lot of recent college students can afford to buy the equipment,” he said. “But the older students like it because it takes pressure off the back and knees and they can participate with no problem. But this sport is pure serenity once you learn to do it and let the kite do all the work.”