A Crash Course In Kiteboarding

Our own Scott Holstein gives us a crash course in kiteboarding.
Photo by Gabriel Hanway

Scott Holstein takes on the surf with a twin tip Liquid Force “Edge” kiteboard. Photo courtesy Gabriel Hanway

I sit back in the water, knees at my chest, and quickly jam the board on my feet before the next wave hits. As I pull the control bar the giant orange and black kite flying above me turns in response, diving quickly toward the water. The kite’s power is transferred down the four lines to the harness around my waist and rips me up out of the water and onto the board. I zip over the swells, heading away from the beach at St. George Island and into deeper water as the kite pulls me along. For several moments, it’s just me, the water, and the wind as I enjoy a peaceful, but thrilling ride.

All too soon, my imperfect stance and balance get the best of me, and I accidentally vacate the board and hit the water face-first. In the confusion of my wipeout, I lose control of the kite. It crashes into the water and a swell immediately swamps it, preventing me from re-launching in the light wind.

I steadily tug one of my lines while bobbing up and down in the Gulf in a futile attempt to force the kite back into the air. John Parsons, my kiteboarding mentor, glides past me. “You’re going to have to swim in; I’ll find your board!” 

Frustrated, I roll over onto my back to keep free from my lines and gear and begin the painstakingly slow swim back to shore, dragging my waterlogged kite behind me. It’s the middle of winter, and I eventually crawl onto the empty beach, exhausted and thankful for the warmth of my wetsuit.

I’m a newbie to the sport of kiteboarding. In the months after my official daylong lesson, I have been hanging out with John, a seasoned kiter, any time there is enough wind on the weekends to fly the kites. 

I easily picked up the basics of flying the kite, but I have struggled from Day One to ride the board properly, likely due to my lack of experience with other board sports and to an unusually calm winter full of windless weekends. My continual wipeouts have led me to dub what I do as “kitecrashing.” And I’ve inadvertently mastered several of my own crash tricks, such as the “mullet,” or, my favorite, the “netti pot.”

Although considered an extreme sport, modern kiting equipment utilizes safety features that minimize the risks. Just about anyone in moderate shape with decent balance and coordination can learn to kite. It doesn’t require a lot of strength; the power of the kite is held by the harness, not the rider’s arms. I imagine having a background in board sports may help with the learning curve. Those with flexible schedules who can kite anytime the wind is blowing will get in more time on the water than those who can only go on the occasional windy weekend. 

The first step into the sport of kiteboarding is to take lessons from a professional instructor. If you’re unsure it’s something you would be interested in, stop by one of the local shops to learn a bit more about the sport to help you decide if it’s for you. Whether you pick it up immediately, or like me it takes you a little longer, kiteboarding is an exciting and challenging venture. So take lessons, grab your gear, and meet me at the beach. I’ll be practicing my new kitecrashing trick, the “ostrich.”

Categories: On the Water, Sports