Planning for your vacation sets the stage for getting the most out of your vacation, even if your plan is to be as lazy as you can be.
When my family vacations we tend to plan in two stages. The first stage is all about thinking ahead to: what will we need for the trip and what will we need when we get there. The second stage is all about what are we going to do when we get there (activities).
That is not hyperbole; there is some very good science to back that up.
Surfing on the Outer Banks
The shape of the Outer Banks is very much a part of why somewhere there are going to be waves. From Carova to Buxton, the Outer Banks face almost due east. At Buxton, which is where Cape Hatteras is located, there is a sharp bend to the southeast. That configuration means there is almost always a wind condition helping to create something to ride and, depending on where the swell is generated, there is going to be some place on the Outer Banks where the right conditions exist.
This is also where ocean currents collide—the Labrador Current runs into the Gulf Stream must north of Cape Hatteras, although that varies a bit by season. It does add energy to the waves.
There are a couple of other factors as well…but mostly it’s the sand.
The sandy bottom of the Outer Banks surf zone is constantly creating new sandbars, which is where the best break is always found. Generally the fetch of the offshore current is north to south, although that changes depending on wind conditions and swell direction.
As a consequence, there is usually a sandbar that has formed somewhere between Carova and Hatteras Village. It may take a bit of searching and perhaps an hour or hour and a half drive to the hot spot, but it is rare day indeed when there is no break and no waves to ride.
Back at the beginning of our blog we mentioned there is almost always something to surf on the Outer Banks. Summer is the “almost” in the equation. There are times during the summer that the ocean looks more like Lake Atlantic than the wave machine that it usually is.
There is a very well written and very informative article explaining what’s happening in the summer on OBXSURFINFO.com by Dr. Jeff Hanson, an expert on how waves form.Dr. Hanson worked at the Field Research Facility (FRF) at Duck—the Duck Pier predicting wave patterns and formations before retiring six or seven years ago.
What he explains is that the Outer Banks summer weather is dominated by a Bermuda high, which is why we have great weather in the summer. But that weather pattern also creates lighter winds and smaller waves.
There are exceptions to the smaller summertime waves.
The Atlantic tropical storm season runs from June through November. Although tropical systems are not common from June through mid August in the Atlantic, they do occasionally occur, almost always pushed out to sea by a combination of North American fronts and the Bermuda high. They do, though, generate very good surf conditions.
In many ways, fall is the best time for surfing on the Outer Banks. The peak heat of the summer is gone, but the water temperature stays in the 70s through Columbus Day and that pesky Bermuda high that has been suppressing waves has retreated.
Weather systems paralleling the coast will sometime create outstanding condition, although that is not a common occurrence. When it does happen, though, 5’-7’ waves with a long even break will be a part of the Outer Banks scene for three to four days.
The shape of the Outer Banks comes into play at this point, with the southeast facing area from Buxton to Hatteras Village catching the first of the storm’s wake, with the excellent conditions moving up the coast.
This is also a time of the year when reading what day to day conditions are creating becomes an important part of the Outer Banks experience. Wave energy has increased and as it does so, sand is constantly being transported to different locations creating new temporary breaks.
Wind conditions also play a role in the daily surf report. Generally speaking—although not always—west winds are helpful and east winds create chop and sloppier conditions.
After Columbus day a wetsuit will probably be needed.
Get your wetsuit out, your crazy on and be ready for a wild ride.
The nor’easters that march up the East Coast in the winter generate the largest waves the Outer Banks experiences all year. There are typically two to three good nor’easters during the winter and it’s reasonable to expect waves in the 8’-10’ range. However, a March storm this past season (2018) generated waves 12’-15’ in the surf zone.
It should be apparent but let’s be clear—these conditions are for experienced surfers only.
Some important information to have: the water is going to be cold—37-40 degrees north of Cape Hatteras; a little bit warmer south. Those northeast winds create some really sloppy conditions, but find the right sandbar and there will be a good break.
Try to find a sandbar a little closer to shore. There may be a great break 100 yards offshore, but with high surf and sloppy conditions, getting there is going to be a challenge and getting back to the beach isn’t going to be easy either.
Even though nor’easters create the most dynamic environment, even when the sun is out and conditions moderate, there are still some great waves to catch. It may take some research and asking a few questions but there will be something out there.
It’s rare for spring to have the spectacular waves of a winter nor’easter, but overall, it is the most consistent season of the year for good conditions. There are a number of reasons for that, most of it having to do with changing climate conditions, the flow of the Labrador Current and Gulf Stream and their interaction.
This is a good time to find those shifting sandbars and surf a chest high break.
Spring seems to spawn at least one if not two nor’easters. Conditions are generally not quite as dire as the winter nor’easters, but there are some great waves to ride.
North of Oregon Inlet the water stays in the 50s until June. Even south to Cape Hatteras water temps are chilly. A wet suit will be needed.
#1 Mile High Hang Gliding
Kitty Hawk Kites has been providing hang gliding on the Outer Banks since 1974. They provide lessons for adults and children off the dunes of Jockey’s Ridge, but they also provide Tandem Hang Gliding on this Currituck mainland that tows you up to 1 mile in the sky (5,280 feet) giving you a bird’s eye view of the coastline above the Currituck Sound as you drift back down to the ground over a roughly 20 minute descent. This is certainly not for those with a fear of heights but it is the perfect unique experience for the adventurer at heart. The best part is this is also a “no experience needed” activities since you are strapped in with an expert to guides the glider for you.
#2 First Flight Adventure Park
First Flight Adventure Park is an aerial obstacle course that goes up to 50 feet high. The course is shaped to resemble outer bands of a hurricane, branching out from the central tower which resembles the eye of the Hurricane.
There are 6 courses total and each course consist of 7 obstacles, and it looks like more challenges are coming this year. The obstacles are designed around a maritime theme using ropes, cables, wood, barrels, stir-ups, a hammock and more. The higher up the central spiral staircase you go, the more difficult the obstacles become. At the end of each course there is a short zip back to the central tower. Have no fear, climbers will be in a harness and attached to a safety device while completing each obstacle, at all times. Climbers take the action into their own hands by choosing to go on easy, intermediate, or advanced courses.
Read about Bill Koebernick’s experience when the park first opened.
The most exciting and thrilling new water sport, kiteboarding, is guaranteed to get your heart pounding, yet it is easy enough for almost anyone to learn! Kiteboarding, or kite-surfing, a synergy of wind and water forces, takes harnessing the wind to the extreme! Learn to kiteboard at Kitty Hawk Kites under the guidance of an expert and certified instructors that have been leading the sport since its conception! It is the hottest new kite sport to sweep the world, and it thrives on pure adrenaline!
This is an aquatic jet pack provided by Kitty Hawk Kites. The rumor is most people can’t handle more than a 30 minute ride at a time due to feeling like you just went on a 30 minute sprint. While that may seem a little intimating, it is also a unique experience that’s hard for the adventurer-at-heart to pass up.
#5 Airplane Tour
To truly appreciate the Outer Banks it takes a unique perspective to this unique place. The Outer Banks is made up of some of the most diverse landscape found anywhere. From the air you can see this incredible area featuring shipwrecks, sand dunes, endless beaches, maritime forests, lighthouses and much, much more.
We highly recommend booking your tour through Above the Coast.
Soar above the water for breath taking views. Parasailing, also known as parakiting, has been around since the mid 80’s. On the Outer Banks you are attached to a parachute that is being towed by a boat anywhere from 600 ft. to 1,200 ft., for approximately 10 minutes.
If you’re staying in the more northern part of the Outer Banks (Corolla, Duck, Southern Shores, etc.) you can use Nor’Banks Sailing or Kitty Hawk Kites. If you’re closer to Nags Head/Manteo then
Kitty Hawk Kites