Bellingham residents associate Locust Beach with excellent low tides and warm campfires. However, when the tide returns, it becomes the perfect playground for kiteboarders.
Kiteboarding is a relatively new sport that has gained quite a presence in Bellingham due to the unique conditions of Locust Beach.
In this extreme sport, kiteboarders use a large kite that catches the wind and propels them across the surface of the water while they stand on a board that is strapped to their feet.
The thermal wind that comes up to Bellingham Bay from the farmlands to the south keeps a steady breeze blowing across Locust Beach, creating perfect winds for kitesurfing, said Dave Sanford, owner of Kite Paddle Surf since 2016, the only kiteboard and surf shop in Bellingham.
The shallow waters that extend far out into Bellingham Bay also play a key role in making Locust Beach ideal for the sport, said local kiteboarding instructor Dave Johnson.
“For a beginner it's great because if you break down you can basically walk back to your starting point,” Johnson said. “For advanced riders and freestyle, shallow water gives you flat water which is better for the more technical tricks.”
Kiteboarding is more dangerous than wing surfing and windsurfing.
“Your main danger with kiting is hitting an obstacle,” Johnson said. “That’s most likely to happen when you are on a launch or a landing.”
A harness, wetsuit and helmet should all be worn in order to kiteboard safely, Johnson said.
Kiteboarding has roots all over the West Coast, both in the U.S. and Canada.
Hood River, Oregon also has ideal conditions for kiteboarders, said Mark Morford, a kiteboarder who started learning the sport 12 years ago in Hood River.
“[Hood River] is where wind surfing and kiteboarding got their strong toehold in the northwest because we have such consistent winds there,” Morford said.
Sanford describes Hood River as the mecca of kiteboarding on the West Coast, but it isn’t perfect. The good conditions at Hood River bring large crowds, increasing the number of obstacles kiteboarders face once in the water.
“You can get a couple hundred kites out on the water on weekend days,” Morford said. “It's a circus.”
Hood River doesn't have the shallow waters that Locust Beach has, making it hard to get back up once you crash, Sanford said. Additionally Hood River attracts a larger crowd, creating further obstacles for kite boarders in the water, Johnson said.
The West Coast is ripe with good spots to learn and master kiteboarding.
Locust Beach and the Bellingham area provide not only the key ingredients for kiteboarding, but a great community for beginners as well, Johnson said.
Kite Paddle Surf offers lessons to beginners who are looking to get into this fascinating sport. From there, they can also provide all the gear necessary for exploring the world of kitesurfing on your own.
“It's a nice, fun community here,” Johnson said. “In general kiters are pretty helpful with each other because they've all been beginners that were very nervous and scared at the start. If someone helped you progress you tend to pass it on.”
Finlay Morrison is a reporter for The Front and a third-year journalism student. He focuses on local sports and WWU athletics.