12 Months of Sessions

12monthsofsessions-blogheader-600

People often ask us, “What’s the best time of year to come to Cape Hatteras?” Well, to accurately answer that question, it really depends on what you’re looking for. Here’s a general overview of our year, with a month-by-month break down of the conditions to expect.

Wind:

Dating all the way back to the Wright Brothers, the Outer Banks is famous for consistent winds. Looking at statistical data from Weatherflow/Ikitesurf.com , on average, we have over 20 good kiteboarding days a month, 12 months a year. Typically, our two most consistent months are June and July, with upwards of 29-30 days a month of good kiteboarding conditions. August is our “least” consistent month, but still has on average 21 days of good riding. The Spring and the Fall have a strong reputation as solid wind months, as these seasons produce the highest peak wind speeds, which is a different measure than the most number of days per month. All in all, if you’re looking for wind, twelve months a year, your odds start at 68% and only go up from there.

Number of days per month with “kiteable” winds over 16mph:

January : 24
February : 24
March : 28
April : 28
May : 24
June : 27
July : 29
August : 23
September : 22
October : 22
November : 21
December : 20

Source: www.Ikitesurf.com

Waves:

Cape Hatteras is unique in that the coastline has a right angle at Cape Point, and this allows the Cape to face East, north of Cape Point, and south, south of Cape Point. This means our swell window goes from NW clockwise all the way around to SW. We almost receive 360 degrees of swell and all of these angles are easily accessed within a 30-minute drive up or down the coast from our location. These angles can also be utilized to turn any wind direction into an “offshore direction”, producing clean surf. Due to our close proximity to the Gulfstream, our water is significantly warmer than our neighbors to the north. The Gulfstream also supercharges any weather going across it and this creates swell that only our stretch of beach receives. Between our wide swell angle, close proximity to the Gulfstream and short continental shelf, Cape Hatteras is known around the world as “The Wave Magnet”, with consistent (although seasonally different) swell year ‘round.

session map

September:

Without a doubt, ask any local, and they will tell you, September is their favorite month of the year. Warm water, pumping swell and consistent winds make this a “must visit” month here in Cape Hatteras, yet somehow, it always falls off people’s radar. As we roll out of Summer, predominant winds shift from a SW direction to a NE direction. These NE winds produce NE swells, some of them big. The north winds can also produce epic offshore wind surfing conditions on the southside of the island (between Frisco and Hatteras villages), especially when combined with our other September swell producer, the tropics. September is our best month for epic kitesurfing conditions, with long period groundswells combined with strong NE winds. This month takes this combination to the MAX, often combining tropical swells with strong nor’easters to produce our top kitesurfing days of the year. This is why the Cape Hatteras Wave Classic is always held during the third week in September.

kellerphoto_JKH_7230_September 21, 2014
REAL Team Rider, Jason Slezak, pulls into a heavy barrel. Photo by Jason Hudson Keller

For surfing, September is great month because the water is still really warm, and you’re either surfing a NE swell created by local winds, or you’re surfing a tropical swell created by an offshore tropical storm or hurricane. Most people freak out when you say hurricane and Cape Hatteras in the same sentence. The truth is, most of these storms pass far offshore, only sending us super clean, big surf. Sometimes they tighten up the gradient and produce a strong nor’easter (kiters getting excited here!). When the swell really gets big, most of our beach breaks close out and you have to head to the outer bars, or some of the sheltered spots that trim the swell down to a manageable size. Remember, with so much coastline there’s a lot of places to look to find that novelty spot that works three days a year when everywhere else is a raging mess.

 

Brett Barley Surfing Hurricane Hermine Swell | Photo by Nicola Lugo
Brett Barley Surfing Tropical Storm Hermine Swell | Photo by Nicola Lugo

Hurricane Leslie Track
The offshore track of Hurricane Leslie produced 9 days of waves.
REAL Teamrider Josh Mulcoy
REAL Team Rider, Josh Mulcoy, is no stranger to September Swell.
BillyGonzalo
Billy Crews deep in the barrel off of Rodanthe Pier! Photo by Matt Lusk

Sessions Hall of Fame:

These are the sessions you will remember. For kiting, it’s going to be the best kitesurfing (ocean) sessions of the year. Big, long, clean waves with side or side-shore winds. It’s so good, …you’re pinching yourself. For surfing, September normally goes down remembering a week of solid hurricane surf, and this can mean a lot of different things, since it will range from heaving barrels, to giant outer bar breaks, to long roping sand points, all from the same swell.

Patrick Rebstock tears into a wave at the Cape Hatteras Light House. Photo by Richard Hallman
Patrick Rebstock tears into a wave at the Cape Hatteras Light House. Photo by Richard Hallman

Gear:

Air temps range from 80’s and 90’s beginning of the month to 70’s end of the month. For wetsuits, you’ll start out the month wearing just boardshorts and finish it in a 3mm fullsuit. During the entire month you can wear any of these, especially if you’re sessioning both sides of the island. Kites tend to be ALL sizes from lighter wind gear all the way to the smallest kite in the shop. Lots of 9m and 12m days, but also, be ready with something small, like a 6m or 5m, because you will use it. For surfboards, you’ll ride everything in your quiver from your log, to your fish, shortboard and serious step up for the outer bars.

REAL5693 2
Onshore winds on the north side=Offshore winds on the south side! Photo: John Bilderback

October:

This month is definitely on the kiter’s radar, as it’s an inherited month of all the windsports crowds that have been coming here dating back to the 70’s. This means big groups, big houses, big dinner parties, big sessions! October sees more of the predominant NE winds with a good number of days per month of kiteable conditions. Now that the wind has been blowing for over a month out of the NE, air and water temps drop a little bringing in cooler, and by now, refreshing conditions. There’s still a lot of great kiting in both the Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. Kite Point and D-Spot, both just south of Canadian Hole, are the popular flatwater kiteboarding hangouts for this wind direction, where you can pull onto the beach, tailgate, session and enjoy good times with your friends. In the ocean, you’ll find groups of riders doing downwinders in the ocean on the northside (north of Cape Point), as well as locked in at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, or even down south in Frisco/Hatteras, if the NE swell is large enough to wrap all the way around the island.

BRYANELKUS_290496
Billy Parker throws down at Kite Point. Photo by Brian Elkus

For surfing, we move out of tropical storm season with maybe one more, late storm, and head into true Fall Nor’easter conditions where the NE swell is ON more than it’s off. The more days in a row we get this wind (and swell), the stronger the down the beach current gets. That’s why you will see surfers tucking in behind piers and jetties to beat the current and also find a predictable takeoff spot. October is a great month for the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, with consistent NE swell and mild water temps. The barrels at the jetties here are THICK, normally much thicker than they are tall. This is where local pro surfer Brett Barley gets all his deepest tubes and GoPro POV footage. If you don’t want to compete for waves, you can also find your own peak to split with just you and your friends. In October, it’s common for the NE swells to get “too big” for the northside of the island. This is when you head to Frisco and Hatteras Villages to find that same swell wrapping around Cape Point and then up into the grooming north winds, forming clean lines. You have to do your hunting down south, as many of these waves section out or are too fast to make. Match the right swell, with the right sandbar and wind conditions and it can turn total anarchy up north into groomed perfection down south.

 

Sessions Hall of Fame:

These are the sessions you will remember. For kiting it will be a big oceanside downwinder, a day at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse First Jetty or a classic “Pool Party” at Kite Point. For surfing, you’ll remember an overhead NE swell, surfing it on the way up, the peak, and on the way down, all over the island. The entire time you’re chasing it, you can’t wait for Lighthouse perfection. At some point or another, it locks in off the jetties and it’s the day of the swell. Pure OBX magic.

NATEAPPEL_150426_32344
Robby Naish came all the way from Maui to session Kite Point. Photo by Ryan Osmond

Gear:

Air temps start out in the 70’s and 80’s and finish up in the mid 50’s to 70’s. You go into October wearing just a wetsuit top or shorty, and exit it wearing a 3-4mm fullsuit. Depending on weather fronts, it can be any of the above, at any time of the month. Peak winds can straight up “nuke” during October so be ready with small kites. Remember, small for here is not a depowered 9m. Small for here is a 5m. For surfboards, you’ll ride everything in the quiver. With so many solid days at the Lighthouse, make sure you have a good quiver of shortboards. Plenty of size for the step-ups on the outside bars and the wrap swell down south can be super fun on both longboards and shortboards.

November:

November weather and sessions are kind of like the November crowds themselves. This month starts out SUPER quiet on the island, as the big October windsports month comes to an end and that whole contingent leaves. The first three weeks of November see only a few people here and it doesn’t get “busy” (in our sense of the word) until Thanksgiving week. The wind is still here, although in November you’ll notice that it’s either 100% ON or 100% off. This results in either really good kiting or total glass. Not much in between. That makes it really easy to decide to kite or surf! November is still a really good wind month (just no “teaser days”) and for those looking for a quiet getaway, early November many times gives you the entire beach to yourself. Winds start out mostly from the N and NE, as you get further into the month, we will get a few N/NW fronts pushing through with cooler temps. We typically get at least one good SW blow in November as well as a few magic SE days in The Cove for kitesurfing. Thanksgiving week is a blast down here as nothing beats a full day of sessions followed by a turkey feast (after dark of course!).

For surfing, if you read above, you saw the words “total glass”, and that’s what is unique about November. Those glassy days often overlap a good swell, and typically we get the most glass in November compared to any other month. But remember, it’s not ALL glass, as the other days can be pretty windy. It’s just that living in a place known for consistent winds, November seems to be the month where you can rely on some consistent glass (in between the raging blows). November sees mostly north and northeast swells, although if we get a good SE blow, you can also see a solid south swell (with WARM water). November is also a really active month for porpoises here on the OBX. You will see them (and their young) swimming in the lineups and also scoring some of the best set waves of the day.

Billy Mitchel All Groomed out
70 miles of coastline and four wheel drive access means empty line ups and great sessions!

Sessions Hall of Fame:

These are the sessions you will remember. For kiting, it will be the longest kitesurfing waves of the year, breaking all the way across The Cove, many times right on Thanksgiving Day, so remember, don’t commit to dinner until after dark. If it’s not that, it’s getting blown out on a 5m when you used to think 9m was a “tiny kite”. For surfing, it will be a head high glassy beach break session, that’s oil smooth without a drop of water out of place. The glass won’t last for 15 minutes or an hour, sometimes it will last all day.

Gear:

Air temps start out in the mid 50’s to 70’s and drop to high 40’s to low 70s by end of the month. These days can seem warmer with glassy conditions and noticeably cooler when it’s blowing a gale. The warm ocean water surrounding us keeps us significantly warmer than just a few hours to the north. You start November in a 3-4mm fullsuit and finish it in either the same, or adding 1mm plus a hood and boots. For kiting, the November trend seems to be all in or nothing, so your smaller kites get a workout. Pretty much every November we can remember, we’re getting nuked off of a 5m at some point in the month. The glassy conditions in between blows lead to some incredible surfing with mild air temps (compared to up north) and powerful NE swells. The glass gets you motivated to surf anything, longboard to fish to shortboard to step-up, so bring it all.

December:

The first half of December typically repeats November weather. If you were a bird, you would actually think November is 6 weeks long and December started on December 15th. On about December 15th or so, we typically get a SOLID NW cold front that drops temps, ushering in the beginning of winter. These cold fronts bring NW winds 30-40mph, with temps dropping from the 60-70’s to 30-40’s. Due to being surrounded by much warmer water than that, the cold temps don’t last long, but they due signify a seasonal change that winter has arrived on the OBX. To sum up the month, lets talk about it in terms of first and second halves of December.

For kiting, the first half of December is a carbon copy repeat of November. This is funny because the seasonal crowds in December also mirror those in November. Empty the first two weeks, then more tourists visit the back half of the month around the holidays. For wind, just like November, it’s either windy or glassy. The wind has more punch per knot in December, so even when it looks marginal, you’re still getting litt. The back half of the month, after that big cold front, see consistent high winds and cooler temps.

Ian Aldredge dropping into a set wave. Photo by Nate Appel
Ian Aldredge dropping into a set wave. Photo by Nate Appel

For surfing, the first half of December sees strong NE swells, generated either locally or offshore. “November glass” still has its shining moments and is replaced by strong NW winds as the month goes on. These NW winds are an offshore direction at some of the best breaks on the island, making for some unbelievable left hand barrels.

 

Sessions Hall of Fame:

These are the sessions you will remember. You’ll typically get one good SW wind before the NW coldfront pushes in. It’s the “last SW” of the year, so might as well enjoy it! You go from kiting in a short-sleeved fullsuit in 70 degree air temps one day to a 5mm fullsuit with boots, gloves and a hood the next. Oh yea, on the warm day you’re on a 12m perfect. The next day you’re on a 5m, litt out of your mind! For surfing, it has to be Christmas week and sneaking in all those good barrel days in between family visits and holiday cheer. Some of these weeks can be really warm (like last year where we were in boardshorts and wetsuit tops), or very cold (like the previous three record breaking winters). Either way, as long as you have holidays, non surfing family, and a bunch of non surfing events lined up, you KNOW it’s gonna fire!

RYANOSMOND-8266
REAL Coach Brian Wennersten sending a lofty boost over the REAL Flagship Store. Photo by Ryan Osmond

Gear:

December starts out with the same temps as November. Air in the high 40’s to high 60’s, wetsuits being something between a 3-4mm and a 4-5mm depending on how warm of a Fall it’s been. Once we get to the middle of the month and that cold front, air drops to 30’s to low 60’s and wetsuits step up to 4-5mm, hoods, boots, and gloves. For kiting, the winter winds have a noticeably stronger punch, so rig conservatively, you’re gonna get LITT! For surfing, with the increase in rubber, combined with the increase in your holiday weight, your small shortboards are going to feel SMALL in the powerful winter swells. It might be time to consider a solid wave “winter board” with a bit more foam to offset the added lbs. Christmas and New Year’s Week is a fun one here with plenty of sessions and house parties. Make sure to bring your NYE attire as there’s nothing like watching the ball drop from a tiny sliver of sand in the Atlantic Ocean.

Trip Forman has been living on Cape Hatteras year round since 1991.  After this many years on the island Trip has gained a deep understanding of the seasons, and sessions.

Previous article Oliver Kurtz Surfing Cape Hatteras