Took a trip to South Padre Island a couple weeks ago. I had a great time, plenty of wind, warm water, and even a little sun. The timeframe was just before Spring Break Feb 28th-March 8th. I think this is a good time to go, because before this time its still pretty much winter time and can get pretty cold, plus the wind hasn't gotten real solid yet. After this time room rates go up and (from what I hear) the Spring Break crowd should be avoided at all costs.
Flew into Brownsville, which showed quite a few signs of being a very poor little town. Many torn up roads with "Under Construction" signs and no construction workers. We tried to go without a car in Brownsville the first night and found that with no sidewalks anywhere, it was not pedestrian friendly.
The next day we rented a car and drove into South Padre, much nicer and has a resort feel. The only weird thing is it felt completely deserted. You could tell that this place was built up to handle huge crowds (Spring Break) but that nobody was around right now, so felt a little weird.
But anyway, who cares! What about the beach, the wind, the riding? Well let me say that SPI truly offers all the elements of good kiteboarding: super flat, warm, shallow water that stretches for miles along sandy beaches. Being used to the shockingly unfriendly conditions of the Gorge, this was all a little hard to get used to (but not that hard!)
The locals were very friendly, especially the shop guys from South Padre Island Kiteboarding and Windsurf Inc.. One day my buddy couldn't find his board after a big wipeout, he came back to the beach and Shane from South Padre Kiteboarding immediately ran out to their jetski to go hunt it down. He found it, for which my buddy was very grateful. Shane asked for nothing in return, but we got him a six pack anyway.
The only locals that weren't so cool are the windsurfers that for whatever reason think that you being 100ft downwind from them is just not enough room. Most of the windsurfers were super cool, we hung out with them all day by their pimp vans while we waited for the wind to return. But for some reason some of the guys that have been there for the last 30 years aren't too happy with us young whippersnappers.
(Cool wind meter that a windsurfer guy built out of a bike computer.)
The spots: If you go to one of the local shops you can buy a membership to the local Windsurfing association that leases the North flats area. This spot is north of all the hotels and restraunts on the lagoon side. This is the beach that makes SPI what it is: very user friendly. Lots of room on the sandy beach, shallow smooth water, with pretty good wind.
Other spots include Holly Beach, on the other side of the lagoon. A bit of an experience to get to (don't go when its raining, the roads turn to deep mud and you will get stuck.) The beach is pretty muddy and the water close to the beach stinks (not fun sitting down in it when you are trying to get your board on.) That said according to the locals say south the wind is usually a couple knots stronger there, and the water flatter (and it actually doesn't stink too bad once you get out in the middle.) Bring booties though, there is a lot of bad stuff to step on (my buddy stepped on a mess of barb wire in the water and cut his foot up bad.)
Also there is a few ocean spots you can ride. Ask locals first! There are some currents to take into consideration if you try to ride on the south side of the island. A lot of guys do downwinders, and hitching a ride with some locals is usually not too hard (there are a lot of pickup trucks in Texas!)
(We destroyed our rental car, quick car wash and the rental company was none the wiser!)
Okay, so before you rush and buy your tickets, there are a few issues with this location to consider. For one, this is no Hawaii. The Lagoon beaches are less than spectacular, and the sand is more like mud. This can make driving out to the water over beach quite difficult somedays without a 4wd vehicle. In fact we saw a car get stuck while we were there. Even though we only had a front wheel drive Pontiac Grand Prix, we made it over the soft spots by getting up to 40mph
(Can you spot the Kite Pro?)
The weather was cloudy most of the days we were there, and several days had fog that stuck around most of the day (a few locals claimed this was very unusual.) There was a lot of humidity in the air which made drying gear almost impossible.
The Wind? Well in 8 days I had 4 good days, the rest of the time I was too underpowered to stay upwind comfortably. The frontal winds were hard to predict, in fact one day I was out on 3 different kites. I wouldn't call the wind super steady either, though it was a lot less gusty then Maui or Gorge winds. The best winds in SPI are said to be the thermal winds of summer, so go then if you want steady and predictable and offseason (winter) riding isn't important to you.
(Flysurfer Titan 21.5 out in 8mph wind, this guy frustrated the hell out of us for getting out and staying upwind when nobody else could.)
So SPI has its pluses and minuses. The launch is the most friendly ever, the locals are cool, hotels are cheap, water is warm and flat. For me it was also windy everyday (though somedays it rarely broke 10mph.) I had a lot of fun, it will be awhile before I return, but only because I can get very good deals on trips to Hawaii. For those looking for a cheap trip with very good chance of wind all year around, SPI is a great place.
Here's the only video I took of the trip, our rental 2004 Grand Prix making quick work of a 4" deep tide puddle in the sand (don't try this at home): http://k9.dv8.org/~dax/kite/spigrandprix.AVI