Story and photos by Kim Anderson
The sport of kitesurfing is showing up in the Northwest on every body of water that has a consistent amount of wind and has become especially popular in Hood River. Watching people rip across the water, then jump 40 feet in the air almost effortlessly makes ‘kiters’ look superhuman. Many, like myself, have had their fun-o-meter shaken and said, “I’ve got to do that!” If this is you, it’s a good time to get started.
What is kitesurfing? It is the feat of riding across the water on a board, with a giant kite attached to a waist harness. The kite is comprised of four or five 25-meter lines attached to a large U-shape kite made of waterproof fabric and measuring between 6 and 14 square meters. At the end of the lines is a steering bar used to control the direction and power of the kite. The boards are generally the size of a wake-board, but are flatter so they cut the waves, rather than ride over them. Did I mention wind? With a larger kite, one can kitesurf in consistent winds that are as low as 10 mph. A few locals can kite in winds over 30 mph but, as a beginner, you don’t want to go there yet.
My journey with big kites began almost ten years ago. I wanted to ride across the snowy, rolling plains of Eastern Washington on my snowboard being pulled by a kite. After much research, I learned that the Europeans had been land kiting for years and had even started doing something called kitesurfing.
The closest distributor of any kites was an immigrant of the Czech Republic, already living in Canada. So I made a trip, bought two kites, and learned how to fly those kites on land. A couple of years later, I purchased a first-generation kitesurfing kite. My first attempts in the water would be described somewhere between disastrous and insane. It was during these early years of kitesurfing that the term “kite-mare” was coined. I tried two more kites and finally gave up to focus on windsurfing. The technology still needed to evolve in simplicity and safety and I wanted to see my children graduate from High School.
After a three-year break, I’ve been lured back to kitesurfing on both water and land with a new generation of kite that is safer, more powerful, and much easier to fly. What follows now are key points to get you started in this sport with fewer injuries and fewer detours than what I’ve experienced.
First the disclaimer: Kitesurfing is dangerous. The thrills are amazing, but bad things can happen very quickly, especially in gusty conditions or when you’re alone on the water. If you want to see examples of the dangerous parts, check out the videos at YouTube (use search string like kitesurfing crashes). Also make sure that if you’re going to do stupid things that you share your stupidity and that someone’s present to record the deed for YouTube.
Now that we’ve got the disclaimer behind us, where do you begin? A great place to start is to buy a trainer kite, which is a miniature version that gives you the basics of flying for under $300. These are meant to train on the land, which we call practice. These are generally 1.5 to 3 square meters and operate just like the big ones. This makes the transition much easier to the larger kites. When you make mistakes with the trainers on land, the consequences are minor. As with many sports, it’s beginners trying to learn without good instruction that account for the majority of injuries. Moral: Practice first … on land…with a small kite.
The next steps depend upon how much disposable income and free time you have. If you have enough of both to take an exotic vacation, I’d fly somewhere warm in the winter and take a week of lessons. Some of the closer, better places are La Ventana, on the Baja Peninsula and Padre Island, Texas. These places have warm water and consistent winds. If you have a smaller amount disposable income and time, I’d head to Hood River, OR or Bellingham Bay in the summer. A day of lessons cost an average of $300 and gets you started in the right direction. They provide everything you’ll need to progress during the day.
If the only disposable thing you own are Pampers, then find a friend to adventure with and keep reading. Almost all my friends began this way! Start cruising the Internet for product details and videos. One popular place to buy and sell gear across the country is ikitesurf.com. I’ve bought and sold through this site, but it’s always a little sketchy knowing the quality of used lines and fabric. A second caution about buying old gear is that the technology has significantly changed over the past couple of years and, in kiting, technology matters! If you want to handle the actual kites and gear, visit GoBent in Wenatchee, which is the only local retail store carrying kiteboarding equipment. Your goal to start is to have a friend, harness and a kite to practice on land. If money is a hindrance, go in with a friend to buy a kite because you’ll always need someone to fly with as a beginner. There’s a significant amount to learn about flying and relaunching kites before you ever want to head for the water.
- See what kite’s are available locally through GoBent
- The author is happy to field individual questions if you want to email him about kitesurfing
Editors note: While it seems a bit late in the season to be posting this story about a water sport, Kim says this is a good time to be thinking about kitesurfing next spring and summer. Use the off-season to research equipment and make purchases of new or used gear — having plenty of time works to your advantage in making smart purchases and finding good deals. Also use the off season to log lots of practice flying your kite on land before you take to the water.
This story was originally published on 10/8/09.