Charleston, By Night and Day
Also known as kitesurfing, the sport bewitches. In two Charleston area shops, I watched videos of kiteboarders ripping across the surf, jumping 30 or 40 feet above the water and setting down as smoothly as one-man pontoon boats.
Although kiteboarding's American and European forefathers pioneered the sport in the 1980s, its recent explosive growth dates to the late '90s. It caught on in Charleston soon thereafter, taking advantage of what locals call the best conditions on the East Coast after Cape Hatteras, N.C.
The sport is risky. Dan Floyd, manager of the local water-sports shop Half-Moon Outfitters, told me his kite's safety system once failed during a trip to Mexico, sending him over a small cliff and dragging him across the rocks below. He also said strong winds can launch kiteboarders 50 to 70 feet into the air -- a thrill that can turn deadly without proper instruction.
For beginners, in fact, lessons are really only the second step. First, the staff at Half-Moon recommended that I learn to fly a trainer kite.
A trainer kite is what it sounds like: a smaller kite that handles like the big ones. It's all about learning to steer. On both large and small models, this involves manipulating a bar that resembles the end of a water-ski tow rope.
It is not as easy as it sounds. On a quiet beach on Sullivans Island, my friend Ben repeatedly released my new Wasp One trainer kite, which I repeatedly nose-dived into the sand.
"I hope this thing has a warranty," Ben cracked.
I couldn't believe he was only worried about the kite.
As with Charleston's other water sports, it's probably not wise to kiteboard at night. But that's no excuse to sleep.
The city is packed with bars and clubs, and an army of college students and restaurant workers ensures that someplace is hopping every night. If you stay downtown, many of the best nightspots will be within walking distance of your bed.
Jim Marshall, managing editor of a local entertainment guide called Charleston BarFly, told me the nightlife was a mix of three scenes -- the young professional scene, the art scene and the college scene (the College of Charleston and the Citadel, among other schools). I might add the surfer/beach bum scene, but the general idea is that Charleston has a bar for almost everyone.
Want music? Walk a half-mile stretch of King Street on a weekend night and you'll hear snatches of at least seven or eight live bands. One Friday, I started out listening to a cover band on the strip's north end. A five-minute walk later, I was swaying to infectious reggae.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company