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Flowing in a River of Wind

Paul 2007-11-19
Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/15 at 15:52 [CIMG2338]
Kitesurfing has intrigued me for years, ever since I stood in awe watching someone in San Diego drawn effortlessly across the water by the wind. I came to Cabarete, Dominican Republic, to strap on a kite and feel it for myself.

Cabarete is one of the world hot spots for kitesurfing - relatively consistent winds, warm waters, lots of facilities, and the world kitesurfing competitions are held here. On a windy day during the high season, the sky is littered with a hundred kites in the afternoon.

The beach is lined with schools, teachers and kites for rent. After interviewing three independent teachers, I chose Yohan, a nice Frenchman with which I developed an immediate rapport.

After a day of theory and work on kite setup, beach launches and control of a small training kite on the sand, I was hungry for more, but time was up.

My second day of lessons would have me fly the kite on land.

Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/11 at 14:50 [CIMG2225]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/13 at 16:23 [CIMG2323]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/15 at 17:16 [CIMG2356]

To demonstrate, Yohan pulled one side of the control bar towards him. The kite swung quickly across the sky in an arc, and when it reached the apex above us, it yanked him right off the ground more than a meter. The enormous power of the kite was immediately evident. I would later see people launch 10 meters into the sky, travel 30 meters forward and land softly in the water. The wind's enormous raw power could seemingly be both harnessed and tamed, I thought.

Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/17 at 14:50 [CIMG2376]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/17 at 15:11 [CIMG2377]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/21 at 14:17 [CIMG2443]

I strapped a harness onto my waist and hooked on the four lines leading to the 8 square meter kite. The two outer lines are attached to the control bar, which when pulled or let go in unison draws in the edges of the kite or relaxes them, serving to power and depower the kite. Favoring one side steers its position along an arc that stretches from low to either side of you to straight above head. A simple principle, this should be a snap.

Reality, of course, would take me another way. I found it very difficult to control the kite and to keep it aloft. I spent more time crashing and relaunching the kite than flying it. Each crash smashed my ego down another notch, until I was left with a deeply carved nest of ineptitude. I cut the planned 3 hour lesson short at half time and sat alone, humbled on the water's edge looking out over the ocean. Frustration grew into dejection and bloomed into an all-out sense of failure.

The feeling was overwhelmingly depressing. My desire to do has always been met with the necessary matching capability. But now, despite wholehearted effort, I couldn't. I contemplated whether I could still pick up new skills and excel at them. I usually take the bumps of the learning curve as an enjoyable challenge, but this day, I faced difficulty by running away from it. I abhorred the feeling of quitting with failure.

After some more overly dramatic self dialog, the lapping waves calmed me and I concluded that I would be establishing the first footholds of regret if I didn't keep at it until I "got it".

Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/21 at 16:01 [CIMG2447]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/21 at 17:26 [CIMG2457]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/22 at 15:30 [CIMG2470]

The next day I approached the endeavor with a refreshed spirit and renewed vigor. This day, the kiteing was outstanding. The winds were twice as strong, between 15 and 20 knots and stable. I progressed quickly, keeping it aloft, gaining control of the kite, positioning it where I wanted.

Where on previous days, when I would misguide the kite for just an instant it would go hurling violently towards the ground, ending flight with a crash. On this day I was almost always able to recover control without an impact - which has really contributed to my feeling in control of the kite, instead of the other way around.

I was ready to move off the shore into the water to work on "body dragging". That's where I fly the kite in figure 8 patterns above and get dragged in an S pattern across (and sometimes hopping over!) the water. I now had a first-hand sense of the kite's power. It was a thrilling load of fun that had me perma-grinning ear to ear.

Where previous day's water crashes meant swimming back to shore, untangling the strings and relaunching - a 20 to 30 minute effort - I am now able to relaunch the kite while it sits in the water, a great feeling, and an even greater time saver.

Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/23 at 17:36 [CIMG2495]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/23 at 17:39 [CIMG2499]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/23 at 21:02 [CIMG2504]

With kite control and water launches down pat, I grabbed a board, holding it in front of me, and let the kite drag me 30 meters from shore. There, I positioned the board under my feet with one hand, flew the kite with the other while treading water - a coordinated dance I would soon loose awkwardness with - I strapped my feet into the padded slots perpendicular to the 138cm wide board. Finally, scanning the area for kites whose lines I didn't care to become entangled with, I made the kite fly a quick figure 8 above my head, which lifted me up to the surface of the water. Placing my kite lower towards the horizon, I am led, skimming on the surface on the board - finally, at long last, I WAS KITESURFING! Well at least for a few seconds. :)

The following days brought more consistency, changes of direction, and "out & back" navigation. With that skill, I earned my IKO Certification. I can now rent equipment anywhere in the world and start going out on my own - woohoo!

Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/24 at 16:31 [CIMG2509]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/24 at 16:51 [CIMG2517]

I secured a week long equipment rental and set out to practice during every sufficiently windy moment. Although the wind and weather was suitable only three days out of the week (Tropical Storm Noel came through - dumping sufficient rain to flood many parts of the country, killing many more than the government would admit to, for fear of hurting the tourism industry, but I digress), I enjoyed my new sport tremendously and organized my days around the anticipated arrival of the winds around 1 or 2pm each day.

Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/24 at 17:16 [CIMG2520]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/24 at 17:45 [CIMG2522]
Photo: Photo taken 2007/10/28 at 10:28 [CIMG2535]

As the days went on, my muscles learned their new patterns and struggle slowly turned to flow.

The feeling is tremendous. Like surfing, but with a never ending wave and a choice of speed and direction. Or perhaps like sailing a boat the size of a skateboard and the commensurate agility to stop and change direction, even 180 degrees, at will.

This flow amplified in those moments when I caught the wind just so, when its potency was matched equally by the counter force exerted by the edge of my board digging into the water, cutting a path diagonally with and perpendicular to the wind. Leaning back, the weight of my body was supported almost entirely by the harness on my waist, which itself is an extension of the kite and the stream of wind it's anchored to.

Photo: Photo taken 2007/11/02 at 11:07 [CIMG2575]

At day's end on what would be the last time out, a deep sense of idyllic satisfaction set in: Over the call of muscles drawn on all day pleading for notice, past the tingling of salt water on my lips and with my mind as wildly fired up as the sky's burnt orange glow - I realize that I'm flowing in a river of wind on its side of the frontier between the worlds of water and air.


Permalink by Bill   |  November 19, 2007 08:44 PM

wow! Wow! I would never have the kahunas to do this even when I was younger. I was happy to see that you came back and conquered the kite surfing.

Love and Miss you both xxxxooo

Permalink by Bill   |  November 19, 2007 08:48 PM

WOW! WOW!WOW! I would never be able to do this even when I was younger. I was happy to see that you didn't give up and instead conquered the kite surfing.

Love and miss both of you xxxxooo

Permalink by Phil   |  November 20, 2007 10:22 AM

I remember being in Cabarete in the mid-80s and wind-surfing was probably not even invented yet. I remember the constant wind though. Paul, you impress me with your dedication and never giving up on what you set out to do. Mabrook cous. xxx

Permalink by Gug   |  November 20, 2007 01:41 PM

I "saw" the video which you so eloquently penned on your enjoyable blog :)

Permalink by Jess   |  November 21, 2007 11:24 AM

I enjoyed this and could feel both your disappointment and euphoria in the kite surfing adventures. This says alot for the power of perseverance and determination! Miss you and it was awesome to hang with you and see your smiling face for a week in Cuba :)

Permalink by Dan   |  November 30, 2007 02:24 PM

Now that you can kiteboard, lets meet in La Ventana Baja during the winter.


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