Matanzas Inlet Overview
The Spanish word Matanzas means slaughter. Matanzas Inlet was named for the slaughter of the French fleet by the Spanish troops held up at the nearby fort. Matanzas Inlet is the last remaining natural uncontrolled inlet in Florida, and one of the last on the east coast of the U.S. Any inlet that is used for navigation has been outfitted with rock jetties, groins, or other man-made structure to keep the channel open for boats - Matanzas is free of these manmade structures. The main highway, A1A, has a bridge going over the inlet, but the bridge is far enough inland so that it doesn't affect the sand movement much. What that means is that the sand and currents at Matanzas are constantly changing.
This ariel photo will give you an idea of the basic setup. The main channel runs NE to SW, with a few smaller channels running E to W on the S side of the inlet. On an outgoing tide, a 3-4 knot current runs out through these channels. This is what creates the magic of Matanzas for kiteboarding. On our prevailing NE winds in the fall and spring after cold fronts, the current directly opposes the wind, creating 3-4 knots more apparent wind. The current also allows riders to head upwind incredibly fast, like a conveyor belt or ski lift. The S side can create the same effect on a S or SE wind, but the current isn't quite as strong.
The other thing that makes Matanzas unique is the placement of sandbars in the inlet. Most of the time a few sandbars in the middle and S side of the inlet are above water during low tide. This creates any number of perfectly slick flatwater areas for kiters to enjoy. Even on the windiest days it's possible to find flatwater somewhere in the inlet. The wind direction has alot to do with how smooth the water is. If it's really sideshore out of the NNW, it can be almost sideoffshore as you get closer to the bridge, and the water is usually really glassy. When the wind is more onshore with bigger surf, the outside waves block the chop and create flatwater throughout the inlet, even in the channel sometimes.
The other side of riding Matanzas Inlet is the surf. The outside break at Matanzas is notorious in the St. Augustine area for being able to handle just about any size, and has a rivermouth point break effect on the surf depending on the swell size and direction. However, be forewarned, the surf at Matanzas is not for beginners. The outside break is a quarter mile out to sea, and if you drop your kite, the outgoing current and breaking waves can make it very difficult to relaunch. If you don't get washed back into shallow water you run the risk of getting sucked out to sea. I've lost more than one board out there, but they always wash back in on the downwind side after a time. On the north side, the channel depth and outgoing current messes up the waves on the outside. As you get more towards the middle of the inlet, the outside break has alot more sand and can get hollow. The best waves are generally found more towards the middle and south side of the inlet on the outside break. On a strong NE swell a left-hand peak in the middle sometimes breaks for several hundred yards. The best thing is that on a N or NE wind you can ride downwind in the surf until you reach the S side of the inlet, then head back into the current for a round trip right back to the start of the conveyor belt.
As the number of kiteboarders at the inlet increases, we need to continue to have respect and watch out for other kiters when you are out riding. There can be many fisherman on a warm weekend day, so watch out for fishing lines and let's try to keep a good relationship with the locals. There are always park rangers from the nearby Fort Matanzas driving up and down the beach, and if we don't keep a safe record as we have so far, we could easily lose access to this amazing spot. So keep an eye on the wind and weather, make sure to double check your gear setup before you launch, and keep an eye on the tide. The tide runs out from 2 hours after high tide until about 1 and a half hours after low tide. Once the current starts pushing in you can have a hard time making it back upwind to the north beach, so be aware. If you see a kiteboarding instructor teaching a student, please try to give them room to work. As long as we continue to be respectful and conscientous, Matanzas Inlet will continue to be one of the best kiteboarding spots in N. Florida for years to come. Enjoy!
[Thanks to local kiteboarding instructor Eddie Toy of Extreme Kites for this excellent overview]
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