Kiteboarding in Noosa
12.16.2007 - 12.17.2007 75 °F
Have you ever watched a Kiteboarder? Man, let me tell you that it is something to behold. I sat in my car one day on the coast Highway in Del Mar California and watched in befuddled amazement as a guy unfolded what looked like half of a parachute, attached some stings, slipped on a harness, stepped onto a wakeboard, then slowly floated this thing into the sky and took off at 20 knots across the face of the wind. He sliced through breaking waves and then skipped from top of swell to top of swell, launching himself 20 feet or so into the air every so often, only to land skipping off the tops of swells once again. Skip, skipskip, skippity, skip, launch, float, skip, skippity, skipskip… I was blown away. The whole thing looked so adrenaline producing, so simultaneously elegant, and so easy that I had dreamed myself into that harness many times since.
Fast forward to Noosa Australia, where we are staying for the month of December as we travel around the world. I’ve seen a few “KITEBOARDING!” brochures as we’ve strolled the town, which has dreamily conjured up visions of skipping across the swells, replacing the very obviously experienced guy in Del Mar with me. I mention to my buddy Hal that I would really like to take a Kiteboarding lesson and he’s on the phone the next day – finding out about the local scene. Seems Hal shares the delusion of skipping over the swell tops as well.
The next day, after a bit of a surfing at the Noosa river mouth with the family, we stumbled across a van that reads “www.noosakiteboarding.com.au 0404838773”. Hal called the number and spoke to Mike, the instructor who was just motoring across the river mouth in his inflatable boat, returning from a lesson. What seemed like seconds later he was standing beside us along with his student. The student, a 20 something Norwegian gal, had just stood on a board for the first time and went for about 200 meters. She wore an ear to ear grin. Another ex-student of Mike’s was just hanging out and watching Mike’s lesson. He was a recent retiree, and spoke of his lessons with Mike fondly and how he looks him up whenever he’s in town. This 60 year old retiree is now an avid Kiteboarder . “Hey, if a 60 year old can do it, no problem for a 48 year old, right?” I thought to myself. I should probably mention that he had the body of a 25 year old triathlete. Mike hung out and casually spoke with us about Kiteboarding and we were ready to sign up. Hal and I were sold on Mike’s abilities and we began making arrangements for our first lessons. We were told that with four or five hours of instruction we should be up on a kiteboard. I of course envision myself skip-skip-skippitying my way across the swells… Mike gave us a quick kite control lesson and loaned us a min-kite to practice some flying skills until our lesson. “Kiteboarding is all about Kite control.” Mike told us.
A few days passed. Hal and I practiced with the min-kite, and felt good about our kite control. Lesson day came and the wind was good enough for the lesson. Mike called and we headed out to meet him at the Noosa River mouth. We motored across the river mouth in his inflatable boat to a beach that was relatively deserted. Mike gave us a technical lesson on the do’s and don’ts of kiting. He described things simply with analogies and Hal and I basically understood what we were supposed to be doing. “Look directly ahead.” “3:00 is on your right, 9:00 is on your left and 12:00 is directly above your head.” “These are the positions of the kite when it isn’t powered and with these positions, you will launch and land your kite and get into position for boarding.” “The wind just glides over your kite in these positions”. That concept seemed simple enough to Hal and I. “Now, that arc in front of you, if you can envision this, forms a quarter sphere between 3:00, 9:00 and 12:00.” This is where the kite gets its power.” “This is a dangerous place.” Mike actually referred to it as the “power zone” “death zone” or “kill zone” . “The way you generate enough power to move your body is to control your kite within this zone.” Mike said. You either keep your kite at a 45° angle when you have great wind, or you move your kite through this zone, sharply diving the kite down and back up again to generate power”. Hal and I had practiced this maneuver for a couple of days with the mini-kite and said, “Right! No problem! We’ve done that!”
Mike then told us, “What you don’t do is also important. You never move your kite into the zone directly in front of you. The Kite creates huge resistance here and generates way too much power.” “Do you know what a super man is?” Mike asked us. “No.” Hal and I both shook our heads. “A superman is not a trick, It is a f*ck-up, and it can happen when your kite enters this zone.” “The kite will jerk you into the air at warp speed and you will fly like superman until it loses power, and if it fills with air again, it happens all over.” “One other very important thing… You can release power simply by letting go of the bar attached to the lines. The kite will totally depower and wind will just pass over it”. If you pull the bar in, it creates more resistance, and you just go faster.” The superman analogy is visual enough for both Hal and I to get it. And to be scared to death. We are now ready to strap on the kite.
I am the first lucky guy to try this out. First we learn how to unroll the kite, pump it up with air, (the kite struts and leading edge are filled with air for stability), connect the harness to the lines, and step into the harness. On the sand, I maneuver the kite through the air from 3:00 to 12:00 to 9:00 and back multiple times. I can raise and lower the kite into position and I feel pretty confident. I then wade out into waste deep water with the kite hovering at 12:00, and begin dragging myself along in the water by moving the kite up and down through the power zone. When the kite enters this power zone it literally picks your body up out of the water and drags it forward in the water. “If I had a board on my feet, I just might be Kiteboarding right now!” I thought. There was a pretty light wind that day and it made the power zones a little more forgiving. Hal went next and performed the same excercises and was equally capable of controlling the kite. We were far from good, but we were learning. The wind began to die and Mike told us it’s actually harder to control the kite in a light wind, so we were doing quite well. A stronger wind would be easier and tomorrow was supposed to be stronger. End of lesson one. On the drive home, Hal and I chattered about how easy it seemed and how much power that kite can produce. It is so fun! We can’t wait for our next lesson!
The next day was much more windy and the lesson was on! It was a great day for Kiteboarding! Fantastic kiteboarders filled the rivermouth, skipping and launching through the air right next to each other in full control of their kites. We excitedly met Mike and motored to a deserted beach downwind, a safe distance from the skilled kiteboarders. Hal went first. Hal did a great job launching the kite in the stronger wind. Maybe it is easier in a stronger wind. Hal practiced controlling the kite as he stood on the beach. Every time Hal’s kite got close to the power zone, Mike would grip Hal’s harness, and pull back hard like he was the lead man in a tug-o-war. Mike was just trying to keep Hal on the ground. After 20 minutes or so of this beach work, Hal waded out into the water and began dragging himself down the beach. The tide was going out, so the water was pretty shallow and getting shallower. Hal returned to shore and had a small gash and some scratches on his leg, evidence of a submerged tree. He was bleeding, but feeling good. I’m next!
I strapped on the kite and walked into the water, controlling it pretty well. Mike pointed to a newly exposed sand bar “beach” about 600 meters down the river and said “drag yourself over to that beach and we’ll meet you there”. I began dragging myself through the river while Mike and Hal took the inflatable. Sand bars were everywhere at varying depths as I drug myself through the water. As the tide goes out, the river gouges tiny ridges in the sand and they felt funny and coarse on my feet. I finally arrived at the beach where Hal and Mike were now standing. I emerged from the water and controlled my kite as I walked toward them. My confidence with the kite was peaking. I took my eyes off the kite for about 2 seconds and looked at Mike and Hal to engage in a bit of conversation.
Then all hell breaks loose. My kite quickly moves into the death zone, and in what seems like a millisecond, I am running faster than Michael Johnson (but looking like Michael Moore) across the sand ridges in my bare feet, desperately trying to catch up with the kite. Of course, I’m not smart enough to let go of the bar attached to the lines which is exactly what Mike is screaming at me as I blow past him. “Let go! Let go! Let go!” No. I pull the bar into my chest as if I’m pulling on the reigns of a horse. Wooooaaaa boy . Woooooaaa boy. Woooaaa Sh*t! I am now flying through the air horizontally at the speed of a Randy Johnson fastball. I land with a thud and drag across what feels like a sandy cheese grater. I finally let go of the bar. Now, I didn’t let go because I heard mike screaming at me. I let go because I hit the ground so hard my muscles involuntarily released. My bowels didn’t, thank god. I am now lying face down on the sand, and I’m humiliated. I get up quickly faking an amused smile and showing no pain. My big toes feel broken, my knees are skinned, my hips feel dislocated, and I am thoroughly embarrassed. Hal is doubled over laughing. Mike would be too, but he is the respectful teacher. While the audience of onlookers on the river bank is ooohhhing and ahhhing at the graceful kiteboarders, a broken marionette is being jerked through the air by a spastic puppeteer in the distance. I pray I’m not noticed. Hal walks over to me, still laughing and says “Sometimes in life Blake, you just have to let go…” cracking up… and it is pretty funny, especially if you know me. I don’t think I laughed. I am in pain and ready for Hal to take the Kite for a while, or Forever.
Mike has a quick come to Jesus conversation with us telling us that all the confidence we have built up to this point will be lost, because this is much more difficult. Too much confidence isn’t a problem for me at this point. Up until this moment, we have only been practicing the ‘kite’. Not the ‘boarding’. Hal straps on the kite and wades out into the water where Mike hands him the board. I watch and nurse my aches as Hal tries to control the board while also trying to control the kite. It is not easy. Hal Rotates his body under the kite as it hovers at 12:00. He spins and tries to straighten for about 5 minutes. Once his body is aligned, Mike gives Hal the go ahead and off he goes. Hal stands up and moves a few feet. He goes through this a few times, and then tkes off on the water moving for about 100 meters. In the blink of an eye, Hal is now flying through the air with too much wind in his kite. God it looks so much more forgiving on the water. I am comforted knowing that even good athletes (which Hal is) “supermans” at some point. I laugh out loud and silently forgive all those that were laughing at me only 15 minutes before. Hal goes through a few starts and stops then boards a few hundred meters successfully moving left and right, finalizing his session with a spectacular aerial that would have been so much better if his board would have come with him when he was jerked into the sky. Somewhere Christopher Reeves is jealous. Hal is now ready to give the kite back to me. And I am scared sh*tless.
I strap on the harness and kite, ready to try the board, and I slowly raise my kite in the air when it happens all over again. I let the kite fill with air in the superman zone accidentally and I am franticly chasing the kite as I pull the bar into my chest. Wooaaaa- Sh*t! This time though, there is an unfortunate would be Kiteboarder downwind from me getting a lesson. I am running directly at him and his instructor looking like a defensive back about to lay a hit on a receiver. Their eyes are wide. My kite whizzes past them both followed by me, also wide eyed, spewing apologizes. “Let go!” I say to myself, and I let the bar go. The wind passes over my kite and all is calm again. Except me. I am freaked.
Mike asks (concerned) if I want to go over kite control basics again and I say, “No. I just want to get the board on and go.” I wade out into the water and Mike hands me the board. I try and align my body as the kite hovers over me at 12:00. I struggle. Once I’m aligned, Mike says ,”Go!” I take off and am able to board about five meters. I do this a few times. I don’t have enough air in the kite. Perhaps it because I’m scared sh*tless of filling the kite with air right now. Finally, I take a deep breath, and position the kite into the power zone, and off I go. I skip across the water about 300 meters or so and turn the kite in the other direction. My board follows the kite and I’m off skipping in the other direction. This is awesome. This is worth it. Doh! Once, again I am flying through the air horizontally bracing to hit the ground. It’s just water this time. I crash face down after 10 meters of board less flight, and it is painless. Painless until I find that my prescription sunglasses have been ripped off my head and are now on the river bed somewhere behind me. I signal to Mike and Hal who are now about 500 meters away that my glasses are gone. I do this by repeatedly pointing at my head with both hands. Mike thinks I’m flexing my biceps because I’m so proud of my last 30 seconds. When he and Hal realize that I can’t see so well, they motor the boat toward me and we all sweep the area for my Maui Jims. They are gone. And I am done with the lesson for today.
Hal and I got home and were about to tell the story to Carol and Maria. We didn’t have to. It turns out they were part of the audience watching the incredible kiteboarders from the shore. Carol described watching the amazing kiteboarders and seeing some poor dork off in the distance madly chasing after his kite on the sand, then flying through the air and dragging on the ground. She was telling Maria how funny it is watching someone wreck when they’re doing risky sports like this. When she realized the dork was me, she covered her mouth and convulsed as you might do in church, when you’re desperately trying not to laugh. God – I wish I could have seen it.
You know the crazy thing? I can’t wait to get back out and try it again. Superman beckons.