Kitesurfing Downwinder - Grand Haven to Buchanan Beach
One of the intrinsic appeals of kiteboarding, especially in the Great Lakes region, is the liberating sensation of exploring the coastline. Take Lake Michigan, which is peppered with paradisal locales, some are well-known - Little Point Sable, Muskegon, Grand Haven, St. Joe, Tawas - while others remain hidden. One of the absolute best ways to explore these environments is by taking part in a kiteboarding downwinder. Downwinders in the scientific community refer to the individuals or communities who have been exposed to high levels of radioactivity or nuclear contamination through weapons testing or fallout. In kitesurfing, a downwinder refers to starting at one point and kiteboarding to a specific location considerably downwind. Fortunately, we are working with the latter of the two interpretations.
Besides the intrinsic beauty of the natural surroundings, downwinders serve a very practical purpose, upwind abatement. They completely eliminate the need to spend time and energy driving back upwind. Rather, the kitesurfer is free to concentrate on different facets of their riding. Imagine how many transitions, jumps, and tricks you could throw in a session, or how many waves you could catch, if you weren't held accountable to return to your original launch point. Down winders are immensely valuable not only for beginning kiteboarders, but the intermediate and advanced as well. Even more-so, downwinders tend to be a lot of fun!
One of our favorite local Lake Michigan kitesurfing downwinders is from Grand Haven City Beach to Buchanan Beach on a strong north wind day. The most straightforward way to Buchanan is to take U.S. 31 south out of Grand Haven to Buchanan Street. From there, turn right and follow it west until it dead-ends into a fenced-off beach entrance. If you are not familiar with the area, go down to the beach and identify a feature that will help you recognize the spot, as there are many small beach outcroppings along the coastline. Drop one car off, and double back the direction you came. Take a left on Lakeshore Drive and follow that back towards Grand Haven. Follow it until you reach Grand Ave, and take a left at the four-way stop. After several bends and hills it will feed into Harbor Drive, with the City Beach parking lot on your left after the Bilmar restaurant.
The downwinder from Grand Haven to Buchanan is approximately four miles, so plan accordingly. For those seeking a shorter kiteboarding experience, Brucker Beach (also accessible off of Lakeshore Drive) is about a mile south. Still, the journey to Buchanan offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the West Michigan area, passing by the Rosy Mound dune area. It also offers some phenomenal wave sets, the changing sandbar profile creating different waves throughout the downwinder. I personally recommend making this downwinder on a surf-shape kiteboard. Kiteboarders new to the surfboard experience can play around in the closer breaks and work on their transitions and toe-side riding, while intermediate to advanced kite surfers can enjoy the larger waves near the second and third sandbars offshore. Depending on how long you linger in a particular area, the downwinder should take between 45 minutes to an hour and a half. The best conditions are strong, consistent north winds, generating large waves and ample power in the event the wind begins to tick down. Having to walk the expanse isn't nearly as fun as kitesurfing it.
One last thing - before embarking on your downwinder, make sure to connect with some other local kiteboarders. Not only is it more enjoyable kite surfing in a group setting, but it is far safer in the event anything goes wrong. Call into the shop or post on our Facebook page. We'll help get you connected. More importantly, have fun, and learn something new!
Weight: 180 pounds
Years Kiteboarding: 3
Favorite Downwinder Surfboard: Best Short Stick