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Old 09-01-2006, 06:14 PM
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RickI RickI is offline
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Default FLORIDA GUIDE - Panhandle, Ft. Walton Beach

Kiteboarding on the Emerald Coast (Ft. Walton)

(Provided by Michael Percy and Sarah Jones with http://www.xlkites.com/ )

1. Popular launches in the area
a. Leeside Park – Okaloosa Island
i. Location – Just east of Fort Walton on the north side of US 98. Coming from Ft. Walton on US 98, continue across Brooks Bridge onto Okaloosa Island, through the commercial and residential areas. The seashore is on the left, just past the last Tom Thumb gas station.
ii. Precautions – This is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and kiteboarders must abide by all park rules – including leaving at sunset (or whenever the park ranger decides sunset is). Vacate the park BEFORE you are asked by the rangers to do so. The area often is crowded with families and small children as the water is shallow and there are no waves. Do not launch your kite near families or other beach users. You may know what you are doing, but often they do not. If in doubt, walk down towards the east and out into the water to launch. Also, the launch area is quite close to the parking lot and also Highway 98, the main thoroughfare between Ft. Walton and Destin. Use a kite leash at all times and a helmet in onshore conditions.
iii. Amenities – Bathrooms, parking, sometimes “the Pizza Guy.”
iv. Conditions – Shallow, flat water, sandy bottom. Booties are good for the occasional oyster or hurricane debris
v. Wind Directions – Just about anything. On a southerly day, don’t ride off the sand bar unless you can ride back upwind efficiently. You will have a good time in the Intercoastal Waterway with the barges, otherwise. Also may be difficult to get back to the main beach area because of obstructions from Okaloosa Island. Anything northerly is good, but it’s often powered by fronts which can be gusty and erratic. In these cases launch your kite and get off shore quickly.
b. Beasley Park
i. Location – On the south side of US 98, across the highway from Leeside Park
ii. Precautions – This is an extremely crowded and popular beach location. It is recommended for advanced users only. Launch your kite and head out into the water way outside of any swimmers.
iii. Amenities – Bathrooms, parking
iv. Conditions – Sandy bottom, small gulf chop, water gets deeper quickly but you can see the drop off and there is a sandbar farther out (sharks like it there!)
v. Wind Directions – Southerly. Do not ride offshore conditions as you will end up far, far away.
c. The Boardwalk
i. Location – On the south side of US 98 on Okaloosa Island across from the convention center
ii. Precautions – Again, a very popular and crowded beach, so use common sense and the necessary precautions to keep this riding area usable.
iii. Amenities – Restaurants, shops, parking
iv. Conditions – Same as Beasley Park
d. The Seawall
i. Location – East of Leeside Park, on the north side of US 98.
ii. Precautions – Launch area is directly adjacent to Highway 98. And by directly we mean a bad launch here will be your last bad launch. Ride with a kite leash AT ALL TIMES and do not ride so close to the shore that you disrupt traffic flow.
iii. Amenities – None
iv. Conditions – Same as Leeside Park
v. Wind Directions – Same as Leeside Park. Often smoother here when it’s out of the south than Leeside. Take more precautions when it’s northerly as the road is so close.
e. The Dunes
i. Location – On the south side of US 98 a mile or two from Destin. You will see a small parking area as well as a path leading from the highway to the Gulf.
ii. Precautions – This location is far away from most other beach users, except locals trying to escape throngs of tourists. Be aware that this is federal property and is part of a nature reserve. Hurricane Ivan flattened the dunes, but the white poles still indicate where the dunes were – federal and county officials still consider it a ticketable offense to be in “the dunes”. Do not sand ski here as it disrupts turtle nests and other endangered creatures. Do not think it will be fun to climb the remaining dunes, or jump off them with your kite. Do not ride without a kite leash.
iii. Amenities – None
iv. Conditions – Same as Beasley Park with less people
v. Wind Directions – Same as Beasley Park
f. Navarre Beach
i. Location – West of Fort Walton Beach (14 miles or so). Take the bridge across over to Navarre Beach and park in the lot straight ahead.
ii. Precautions – High amount of beach use close to the water, as further back is federal nature reserve. Don’t step on the dune grass.
iii. Amenities – Bathrooms, parking. Hotels and restaurants nearby
iv. Conditions – Same as other Gulfside spots, but the sandbar is larger so the water is more shallow.
v. Wind Directions – Same as other Gulfside spots
2. Notable Hotels and Restaurants for Visiting Riders
a. Basic Florida tourist area so all of the major hotels are nearby. State parks and camping available in the northern part of the county, about a 30 minute drive from the main riding spots.
b. Destin Restaurants – Graffiti’s, AJ’s, HarborDocks, and about 1000 others
c. Fort Walton Restaurants – Los Panchos and Hightide on the Island. Manhattan Pizza by the bridge. Thai Saree in town. Gus’ in Mary Esther.
d. Worth the Drive – Tradewinds in Niceville

3. Regular Kiteboarding Events
a. Check with Sea & Sky, (www.XLKITES.com) or the local riding crew (www.gulfcoastkiteboarders.com) to see what is happening when you want to come down.
b. Local riders are always setting up impromptu downwinders in our shallow bay - from Navarre to Fort Walton, from Leeside Park to White Point, from the Seawall to Crab Island. Gulf side downwinders are planned from Fort Walton/Destin to Panama City on a regular basis.
c. Kite nights and BBQs at Sea and Sky happen regularly. We like to eat.
4. What makes kitesurfing in this area different?
a. You can find a place to kite in just about every location. Like surf? Go to the gulf side. Too much? Walk across the street to the bay. Any condition, any style rider, any experience is welcome.
b. The locals are really a great bunch of people. Don’t be shy, just come up and ask if you’ve got a question. And they’re pretty free with advice – they won’t stand around taking bets as to whether or not you’re going to die today, but they’ll let you know the pros and cons of what you’re doing in the prevailing conditions. Local riders are not territorial and welcome visitors with open arms - but they do protect the riding areas vehemently. Ride here like you would in your own spot. We have no bans or restrictions and are going to keep it that way. Heed what the locals tell you – they are not trying to keep you from having fun, but we are trying to have fun once you’re back home. Give other beach users the right of way – it really avoids problems.
c. It’s close to everywhere – a few hours will have you in New Orleans, Atlanta…a bit more to Tampa, Orlando, or the East Coast. Pensacola and Panama City are an hour’s drive either way.

Last edited by RickI; 01-14-2007 at 07:15 AM.
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