For Andrew and Devon Kovacs, Topsail Island is not only home but also a playground for their favorite sport of kiteboarding.
On any given day along the shores of Topsail Island, dozens of surfers can be seen riding the waves or floating out beyond the breakers. Beachgoers might take a moment or two to watch as the riders pop up, take off or wipe out, but most who live or vacation along the coast have seen it all many times before. But anytime kiteboarder Andrew Kovacs or his wife, Devon, take to the waters (and the skies) all eyes are on them.
The adventure sport of kiteboarding’s first official event took place in 1998 in Maui with only 22 competitors. Since then, it has gained in popularity and garnered the interest of hundreds of thousands of windsports and watersports enthusiasts around the world. Combining elements of other action sports like windsurfing, wakeboarding, surfing, skateboarding and paragliding, kiteboarders are harnessed to a large hand-controlled kite and stand atop a board to glide or jump across open water. As long as there is adequate wind strength to keep the kite flying, waves aren’t necessary to enjoy the ride.
When Andrew first met Devon four years ago in Jacksonville, Florida, he was an avid surfer and she was an avid kiteboarder.
“Devon would be out there kiteboarding while I was surfing, and one day we exchanged contact information because I wanted to learn to kiteboard and she wanted to learn how to surf, so we decided to help teach each other,” Andrew says.
Lessons led to love, and after the couple married, they moved to Topsail Island when Devon’s career with the Navy led her to Camp LeJeune. Having just completed his medical residency, Andrew quickly found a position as an OBGYN in Wilmington, so Surf City seemed like the perfect location to live and continue kiteboarding as much as possible.
“When we moved here three years ago, there were only a few other people kiteboarding on the island, so we formed a bit of a community,” Andrew says.
Devon agrees, saying, “Because we moved during the pandemic, it was hard to make friends, so kiteboarding was a great way for us to get connected with people, and now those folks are some of our closest friends here.”
The Kovacs kiteboard any chance they get, which, depending on the season and the wind, might sometimes be two or three times a week or once or twice a month. Whenever they go out, people constantly stop and ask questions about what they are doing.
Andrew says one of the biggest misconceptions people have is that kiteboarding is dangerous, or that kiteboarders need extraordinary physical strength to be able to control their kite. He counters that the sport is very accessible to almost anybody at any age as long as they take the time to take lessons and learn about the proper techniques and safety systems.
“One possibility of danger is if someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing just buys kiteboarding gear and tries to figure it out and jump on a board, because then there’s a high likelihood they can get hurt,” he says.
In addition to lessons, Andrew also recommends kiteboarders select appropriate conditions for their comfort level.
Those newer to the sport are encouraged to choose more conservative conditions such as light to moderate wind levels, minimal waves and mostly flat water. As they progress and feel confident, kiteboarders can then ride in more extreme environments.
“One question we always get is how we handle different wind strengths and if we are going to get pulled off our board unintentionally,” Andrew says. “And the answer is no. We check the wind forecast and pick our kite size accordingly because the lower the wind, the bigger area of the kite that you use. As the wind gets stronger, then the size of the kite we use decreases.”
Kiteboarding has many different disciplines within the sport. Some of the Kovacs’ favorites include kitesurfing, where with a normal surfboard, the rider uses a kite to be pulled out into the waves, then turns and rides the surfboard back in. Kite foiling is another option and involves using a board with a hydrofoil mounted to the bottom. As riders gain speed, they are lifted a couple of feet off the ocean. With twin tip, which is similar to wakeboarding, the kiteboarder’s feet are strapped to a board while he or she rides, glides and jumps across the open water.
“I still enjoy surfing, but kiteboarding can be addicting, probably because there’s less downtime and more constant action,” Andrew says. “You’re getting that adrenaline rush more frequently than with surfing, where most of the time you’re sitting waiting for a wave.”
Andrew says kiteboarding gives enthusiasts like himself an excuse to travel and see new places. Some of the locations he and Devon have kiteboarded either separately or together include Turks and Caicos, Guam, Vietnam, Union Island, the Dominican Republic and Cape Hatteras, which is one of the better-known kiteboarding spots in the United States. No matter where they go, the kiteboarding community always makes them feel welcome.
“Kiteboarders are always happy to chat and share knowledge,” Andrew says. “Whenever we’re in a new place and see a kite in the air, we know immediately we have a connection with that person and something in common, so it’s been a great way to meet new friends.”
Last year the Kovacs welcomed a son, Peter, to their family, which means kiteboarding excursions now include taking turns hanging back on the beach with the baby while the other one is riding.
Regardless of their busy schedules, the couple still prioritizes being outside and active in their time off, and they try to take advantage of every opportunity to get out on the water.
“I think kiteboarding is all about being humble and patient when waiting for the right conditions because sometimes the conditions can be inviting and kind and sometimes they can be pretty harsh,” Devon says. “When the wind and the current and the waves line up, it makes those moments and those sessions that much more special.”
Photography by Unique Media & Design