Kiteboarding: Riding Florida's Wind and Waves

By: Thomas Becnel

ADD TO FAVORITES
Kitesurfing is much bigger and badder than traditional windsurfing, which seems tame by comparison.

Even the world's worst kiteboarders - clumsy students like me who can barely stand on a board, much less handle a kite - immediately grasp the power of this extreme sport. From the first minute of your first lesson, you can feel it in your hands and in the pit of your stomach, as the huge sail of a stunt kite threatens to lift you off the ground and drag you down the beach.

On the water, this eye-opening force will send you skimming across the surface or, in my case, slam-dunk you repeatedly.

Kiteboarding is much bigger and badder than traditional windsurfing, which seems tame by comparison. You need less wind, which is good, but more room to maneuver, which is bad. There's more risk, both to yourself and the people around you. It's not for the weak of nerve or faint of heart.

Instructors keep various size kites on hand depending on the student's weight, fitness level and wind strength to allow everyone to learn and progress safely. Some students, especially those with wakeboarding skills, take right to the sport. And some students struggle, as I did, before kite, board and rider come together in a rush.

The best ride of my first lesson lasted just a few seconds, but I think I'll remember that feeling for a long time.

On the business cards for Kitemare (which rhymes with nightmare), Jeff Weiss has printed his slogan: "Learn fast, kite safe, get amped, go huge and share the stoke!"

Um, OK.

Weiss, a Florida native, began kiteboarding in the spring of 2000 and began Kitemare.com in the summer of 2000. Based in St. Petersburg, the mobile kite school is able to take advantage of the constantly changing wind directions and tides along the coast.

Lessons are taught at various locations to take advantage of the constantly changing wind directions and tides along the coast. Popular sites include Treasure Island, St. Pete Beach, Fort De Soto Park and the Skyway Bridge. Beginners start with a small trainer kite, literally learning the ropes and flying basics. Steering is simple, but the lesson soon covers neutral and power zones, along with maneuvering safely along the edge of the flying window.

For anyone thinking about learning kiteboarding (which is also called kitesurfing), the safest and most economical way to begin is with a small, 2.5- to 3.5-meter trainer-kite. Beginners start with a small trainer kite, literally learning the ropes and flying basics. Steering is simple, but the lesson soon covers neutral and power zones, along with maneuvering safely along the edge of the flying window.

Students will get a lot of practice with re-launching, as they tend to repeatedly drop their kites into the water while learning to fly. This soon became my best thing.

The next stage is body-dragging, an essential skill in which the student learns how to use the kite's power to pull themselves through the water without a board. Students then progress in body-dragging while steering the kite one-handed and moving the kiteboard with their other hand. Finally they will learn how to do a "water-start," placing their feet into the board's foot straps, then turning the kite quickly to generate the extra power needed to pull the rider up and onto the board.

Keeping all of these things in mind at once is a little like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time. When you get confused, the kite goes astray, the board goes flying and you get a face full of saltwater.

Low winds frustrated my beginner's lesson, which stretched over a few days, but wound up giving me more kite time. I wore a flying harness and a safety helmet with a radio receiver, to make it easier for Weiss to coach me through maneuvers.

Miracle of miracles, at least once or twice I did everything right, the board popped right up and I was kitesboarding.

Weiss says, unlike windsurfing where the most fun and difficult maneuvers take a long time to learn, the thrills of kiteboarding are immediate – harnessed to the kite, feet in the straps and gliding across the water like water-skier or wakeboarding only powered by the wind.

Going by the Kitemare slogan, I suppose my grades were mixed. I don't think I learned very quickly, but I did manage to kite safely. I didn't really get amped, and I certainly didn't go huge, but I sure did try to share the stoke.

The Kitemare.com website was created for the beginners. From the home page, just click on “Beginner,” and you too may soon be telling your friends: "Not only did I visit Florida, but I also become a kiteboarder!"

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