Sunday, May 3, 2009

Kiteboarding, too

I've hemmed and hawed a lot about the pros and cons of kiteboarding versus windsurfing, all while windsurfing exclusively. My main reasons for not trying kiting when I lived in Virgina were fickle winds, awkward launch sites, and the unavailability of local, affordable-to-a-grad-student lessons. However, when I arrived in Florida I found wide-open beaches, light, steady sea-breezes, and lots of friendly kite instructors. So my best excuses no longer applied. I faced the inevitability of learning to kite.

I didn't face it fast, though. The joy of developing my wave-windsurfing skills and assembling a wave-oriented quiver of gear kept my wallet light and my kite-curiosity at bay. Plus, most days that the kites were out I was stylishly-powered on 6.6 or smaller sails, with little room for envy.

Here, Jon Plaster is stylishly-powered on my 6.6.

The 10-14 knot seabreeze days definitely nagged me, though. I could get out on my Kona longboard and maybe catch a few waves if there were any, or plane a bit if I rigged a huge sail. But it's hard to be satisfied with that when you see kiters zipping and jumping all around you on tiny boards.

So I bought some kite stuff: a 12.0 meter-squared Cabrina Crossbow kite (2006), and a 161 cm litewave twin-tip board (old). I then proceeded to NOT use it, because my friggin' car broke and I couldn't afford lessons. Also, the late winter / early spring here in Florida was fantastic for wind, so my mind was always on high-wind windsurfing. I did get a 4 msq trainer kite during that, though, and flew it quite a bit.

Finally, Thursday, I bit the bullet and went for a kite lesson at Fort Pierce State Park. My teacher was Ray LeRoy (, 772-801-4315). He and his pretty girlfriend Irma are both certified instructors who live in town. The wind was light then so I just practiced kite-skills on land, and did some downwind body-drags in the water. I sustained my first kiteboarding injury, too; a busted toenail where I accidentally kicked my kite-pump when blowing up the bladders. Today there was more wind (10-15 knots) for my second lesson, so I was able to body-drag upwind and then get on the board.

The board-riding was challenging. Things happen fast and it's easy to lose track of where the kite is in the sky, which can lead to getting spectacularly yanked across the water and/or dousing your kite in the surf. I got bounced around more than I stayed upright, and I was nowhere close to staying upwind. At least I avoided major disaster by remembering Ray's #1 rule: "Fly the kite"; i.e. get and maintain control of the kite before you worry about anything else, like where the board is, or how much saltwater is blasting up your sinuses. Ray said it was refreshing to teach someone who picked it up so fast, so that was cool. I guess windsurfing skills do transfer over somewhat, and flying a trainer kite helps.

My plan now is to practice kiting when it's under 15 knots and from an ideal direction, and the waves are small. I'll windsurf the rest of the time. Everyone says that windsurfers who learn kiting always end up dumping windsurfing in a year or so, but I really don't want to be one of those guys. Windsurfing has it's own style and it's own niche, and I want to keep improving and staying in with the windsurfing scene.


George Markopoulos said...

That's right, I know of only one sailor who both kites and windsurfs.
Tread carefuly James, you're flirting with the dark side. Make sure u have good health insurance too

Scott said...

There are many folks in the Boston area who windsurf when it's 20+; kite on 10m to 13m kites when it's mid to high teens; and surf when there's no wind and there's any waves that are bigger than thigh high.

I just got a used (2008) 13m Slingshot REV and a pair of boards (one medium wind, one fattie for light winds), and I already surf. So I'll be a 3 sport liquid water-man, too.

Welcome to the club.

P.S. I also ski and skate. So I'm a 5-sport, 2-phase water-man. If you know of any steam-based sports, I'm hoping to cover all 3 phases of water. :-)

James Douglass said...

George- I think I know a few who do both, or have learned how to kite but ended up going back to windsurfing most or all of the time. Like Robby Naish, Steve Gottlieb, Andy, Bill Bell, the Peconic Puffin, Bruce Powers, etc. I think the fact that I'm fully-stoked on windsurfing on my freestyle-wave gear in 15 knots makes me more likely to stick with it than a windsurfer who isn't fully stoked unless it's 20+.

Scott- That's cool to hear. That's basically what I'm intending, except with a lower wind-threshold for switching over to windsurfing. Like, I'm expecting to have just one kite with a light-wind board. I don't know of any water-vapor based sports. Let me know if you discover one.

scooper said...

It's helpful to read about your kiting attempts. I'm following the same path, but still in the trainer kite/ prelesson phase. Somehow I got this idea that it would be easier to learn than it sounds from your experience. I think I'll stick with the trainer kite until I can fly it consistantly without looking at it. I don't like the sound of being dragged along repeatedly as the ocean fills up the sinuses.

James Douglass said...

Scooper- Yeah, it's scary and weird getting yanked around, although I may have been exaggerating a bit about water in my sinuses. Having flown the trainer kite a lot definitely improved my sense of "I can deal with this" during wipeouts. Also, practicing powered, downwind body-drags before trying the board got me used to the getting-yanked-off-my-feet feeling, and confident that I could eventually get the kite back into a neutral and depowered position to recover. Or crash it into the water. Nothing hurt much, so it was actually kind of fun.

PeconicPuffin said...

"Things happen fast and it's easy to lose track..."

That's why people get killed on kites...things happen fast and before you can take corrective action (if there's corrective action to be taken) you're slammed into something.

I was on a kite twice before I decided to leave it be. I had started flirting with the idea again, but when the Canadian fellow (who by all accounts was an excellent kiter) was killed on the water in Hatteras two weeks ago it provided all the clarity I needed.

It's extremely hard to make a bad decision on a windsurfing board and be dead a few seconds later. Can be done kiting.

Be safe, be careful, please.

uglyjiber said...

I'm a big fan of doing it all. No reason not to. Then just pick your poison depending on what mother nature decides to offer that day. To be honest, it irks me when windsurfers get all high'n mighty about kiteboarding. Or SUPping. You get wet, you have fun. I learned to kite, but still windsurfer 90 percent of the time. But man, get me in hatteras on a windy day at the slick with about 2 feet of butter flat water... yeah, that's FUN.

One note, James - if that old lightwave is the one i'm thinking of.... (long, and got very narrow towards the tips) try and get a hold of a newer board. That thing was difficult, unwieldy, and just not the best learning board. It's big... but not in the right way.

James Douglass said...

Uglyjiber- Ray and Irma said my board was a good one for learning even though it's a little older, and that they would actually buy it from me for a couple hundred bucks if I wanted to sell it later. So maybe it's not the model you're thinking of. I'll try to post a picture of it soon. I don't really know how a kiteboard is supposed to feel, but it felt pretty good yesterday when I got another ugly-but-fun session.

PeconicPuffin said...

Good point, UglyJiber (Josh) but truth be told the "high and mighty" dialogue on both sides is a bit silly. There are kiters who are defensive about kiting (I suspect because a voice in their head is saying they're missing something but they don't know what it is) and the windsurfers who I suspect are intimidated. Separate from both those groups are the folks who prefer one or the other solo, who are not preaching, but have legitimate feelings.

I've yet to hear SUPing get dissed, but maybe I haven't been around it enough. I still haven't taken one into the waves.

Johnny Douglass said...

I hope you're wearing a helmet.

Frank said...

Peter Norby was MBA, father of two,great windsurfer,husband, retire from American Express at 43 I think.
Killed while teaching kite boarding in Corpus Christi,Texas. As much as I like to get rid of liberal Bush bashers.Please be careful the best part of your life is ahead. Live for it. I know we don't see eye to eye on politics but i still think of you as a friend.

James Douglass said...

Puffin- I'll be careful. Like, by not going alone, and by only going in mild conditions from safe launches. Also, I agree that kiters who can't windsurf, or who never felt the "soul" of windsurfing, are too hasty to dismiss it.

I reckon the reason there's not much tension between wind-sports and SUP is because it's so obvious that wind-sports rule when there is wind.

Dad- I am wearing one now that you sent me that email about my life insurance policy.

Frank- Well, shucks. I'll kite safely, if for no other reason than to make sure I'm still around to annoy you with my hippie liberal tree-hugger rants. :)

PeconicPuffin said...

I suggest spending some time in some kitesurfing the debate about the guy who was just killed. What kiters tell new kiters and nonkiters about safety is often different than what they frankly discuss amongst themselves. There are plenty of active kiters who say the emergency releases aren't foolproof, the "ability to depower the kite" isn't all its cracked up to be, and that breaking one's neck in a bad landing (on the water or against something on land) is a possibility they live with.

It's worth noting that the kiting fatalities are usually said to be excellent kiters. If people want to kite, it's fine, but anyone who suggests its remotely as safe as windsurfing is being disingenuous. The difference is at least as considerable as that between driving a car and a motorcycle.