Bellingham subdues some of its excitement so well that only select thrill-seekers know of it, and kiteboarders at Locust Beach are no exception. This extreme sport’s enthusiasts are among the few who frequent this recreational haven tucked into Bellingham Bay. Downhill from Locust Avenue’s parking lot, overhead railway bridge, winding wooded trail, and long flight of earthen wood stairs lies 200 acres of beach to explore.
Locust Beach’s landscape bears marks of constant change. Engraved yellow bricks and old concrete structures recall Marine Drive’s industrial legacy, and driftwood forts stand out against rocks and streams. The Nooksack River Delta stretches Locust Beach’s alluvial plain far into shallow waters.
At low tide, families and their dogs walk—as if on water—along reflective mudflats as far as the eye can see. At high tide, kiteboarders harness the wind and their bodies for exhilarating jumps or long rides around the serene natural area.
Bellingham Kite Paddle Surf Offers Locust Beach Kiteboarding Lessons
Locust Beach’s dynamic winds gave rise to popular paddlesports shop Bellingham Kite Paddle Surf. Since its garage beginnings in 2006, this school has offered kiteboarding lessons at Locust Beach and expanded into a store. According to shop manager Dave Johnson, also known as DJ, they now sell surfing, paddle boarding, wake boarding, and wake surfing gear.
DJ says that with proper equipment to withstand Bellingham Bay’s cold waters, kiteboarders find Locust Beach an ideal spot for its shallow water and wind that “can smoothly travel without being interrupted by land.” He estimates that 50-60 Bellingham residents kiteboard, and many from other counties and Canada test the waters here.
“Whatcom County is probably the best county in the state other than right near White Salmon and Hood River,” says DJ. “The Gorge is a world-famous spot for kiting, and it’s windy almost every day from April through September there. But the advantage of kiting here in Whatcom County is that we can kite year-round if you’re willing to kite in cold weather.”
Kite Paddle Surf also recommend kiteboarding access in the Chuckanuts, Sandy Point, Birch Bay, and local lakes.
Locust Beach Kiteboarders Master Their Environment
Experienced kiteboarders know that practice makes perfect. DJ says that beginners usually practice basic strokes with trainer kites for three to ten hours and can go kiteboarding on their own after “three to five three-hour kiteboarding lessons.”
Kiteboarders control their power kites with a handle attached to their waist harnesses, which Bellingham Bay kiteboarders wear over wetsuits. DJ says that when kiteboarders feel the kite’s pull on their harness, they can really efficiently use that power. They may perform jumps and other tricks for up to a half hour or ride back and forth in what kiters call “mowing the lawn” for up to four hours. Kiteboarding can feel like flying or sailing depending on how you do it. Either way, experienced kiters feel remarkably in control.
“The appeal of it is it’s more independent than sailing, and has a tremendous amount more power if you want that,” says DJ. “The best way to describe it is it’s as if you have superpowers. Some people describe it as like wakeboarding behind a helicopter.”
Kite Paddle Surf’s older website, Bellingham Kiteboarding, still provides up-to-date monitoring of Locust Beach’s wind and tides for interested thrill-seekers.
Beautiful Views and Other Leisure Activities
Even if you don’t kite, Locust Beach also balances excitement and tranquility in its other attractions.
“It’s a really beautiful beach, and it’s still not very well-known. So, a lot of times you can get down there, it’s not very crowded,” says DJ. “It has beautiful views of Lummi Island and the San Juan Islands. The Nooksack River is about a mile away, so you can kite over there and get real close to the Nooksack River. There’s also beautiful marshlands out there. It’s a very unique place and you have great views all around. You can see Mount Baker, you can see the Twins.”
You can see downtown Bellingham from Locust Beach and low planes from nearby Bellingham Airport blend in seamlessly with their natural surroundings. Besides kiteboarding, you can kayak, skimboard, or stroll to the end of the mudflats or beach. The land extends so far, you’ll feel like you’re exploring another world.
Artists love Locust Beach, as the painted driftwood and elaborate forts dotting the landscape can attest. During leisurely visits, you can spot these structures on your way to the many good spots for picnics or hammocking.
Locust Beach’s obscurity results from both the secluded environment and the City of Bellingham’s relatively recent 2012 purchase of the land. But once you’ve seen its vibrancy, you’ll spread the word to friends—and perhaps even spread your wings to the wind.
Locust Avenue in Bellingham
Bellingham Kite Paddle Surf
2620 North Harbor Loop Drive, Suite 18, in Bellingham
Featured photo by Agnes Kuc