I am far from an adrenalin junky. Yet diving a 15 square metre kite into the power zone of the wind and being lifted like a leaf is a rush I can't resist. I’d tried kiteboarding before on a previous vacation but never managed to get up on the board. I felt that I had to get up on the board this trip or I would have to abandon this dream. I believe almost anyone can kiteboard. It’s not reserved for extreme athletes or the perfectly fit - of which I am neither. It does take an investment of six to nine hours of lessons and then equipment if you want to continue on your own time. It also takes wind - lots of wind. The combination of wind, water, and time availability converging make it a harder sport for some of us to practice in Ontario.
My last kiting attempt had been a disaster. I had convinced my wife back in 2003 that booking a beach house for a week in Cape Hatteras in North Carolina when our kids were 11 and 13 would be great for everyone. A lack of wind had my son and I waiting around the kite centre while my wife and daughter sweltered in the breezeless heat on the beach. Not the "fun for all" vacation we had planned.
On this trip I had planned to meet Felipe Azar, the owner of the Bávaro Kite School, at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning to get out early and be back to join my wife at the resort for lunch. By the time I got back from my three-hour lesson - at 4:30 p.m. - I did not have the proverbial "happy wife, happy life”.
My session took so long because we lost the wind part way through, necessitating hanging out on the beach for a couple of hours before being able to get going again. Wanting to see me have a certain degree of success, my instructor James spent a little extra time with me as well. By the end, I was flying the kite in ‘eights’ (the necessary kite path to get you and keep you on the board), body dragging upwind (the necessary skill to get you back to your board when you fall), and water re-launching the kite whenever necessary (which was more frequently than I would have liked).
Kite boarders are nothing if not very patient people. They wait around for hours, days, and sometimes weeks for the right winds. Typically ‘good’ instructional winds begin at about 12 knots (22 km/h). My first lesson was gusting anywhere between 9 and 11 knots, which is doable but makes it harder to get a feel for a kite and keep it in the air. But with time running out, I had to take what I could get. I wanted to work with the board on the last day of our vacation, which had the best wind forecast of 12 to 14 knots. I needed to get more practice flying the kite before then.
While we were waiting around for wind on the first day, Felipe said that learning to kite board was mostly psychological. A sleepless night before my lesson on the last day confirmed it. I awoke just before 4 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep as my mind began doubting whether I would make it up onto the board. It was important to me because I had an upcoming trip to Cape Hatteras with some friends, some of whom are proficient in a variety of water sports, and needed to be self-sufficient enough to be without an instructor. Felipe says that before they can teach someone to kiteboard, they have to coach people through their fears and/or their egos. I believe him. My anxiety was getting the better of me and the possibility of me reaching my mental ‘go’ point for the trip to Hatteras seemed to be slipping away. There was a little bit of fear for personal injury, besides just embarrassing myself in front of friends. Kiteboarding certainly is an adrenalin sport when you are first learning. A moment’s inattention with the kite in the air can launch you in an unexpected direction.
Day two saw more wind and a new instructor. My wife Danielle also came to the beach which took a little convincing after Monday’s disappearance. Luckily Felipe suggested I take a video of the beach where the school is located and she was sold! A word to anyone travelling to Punta Cana, the beach at Cap Cana is one of the most beautiful and quietest in the area. It is wide enough to launch a kite and the water is shallow and sandy, also key for learning to kiteboard. While I was kiting, Danielle was basking in the calm and being treated like a princess.
I don’t know if it was because I was going on four hours of sleep, my anxiety, or a general lack of coordination, but despite excellent instruction from Anna, I got incredibly frustrated in the last half of the lesson. The first half went great as we reviewed Monday’s theory and skills with a 12m kite. Then the wind dropped and we had to switch to the 15m kite I had used on Monday as we needed a bigger kite to lift me from the water. I had done well with it on Monday, but maybe a one knot wind difference and the complication of coordinating flying the kite now while standing up and riding a kite board was going to be too much. Each time I crashed the kite onto the water I was having a hard time stopping myself from “losing metres” before re-launching. I seemed to be too deep in water to be able to lean back and arrest the wind’s power as the kite dragged me down the designated kiting area (before having to exit the water and fly the kite back up-wind to try again).
I did manage to get up on the board five times. Mission accomplished. Had I been younger, and a little more athletic, I might have been able to do it in half the time, at half the cost, and with half the stress. I did do it though and wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. I also feel like I have the confidence and desire to do it again at Cape Hatteras.
My advice: Find a kite school and try kiteboarding. You’ll never look at a windswept pine, sand dune, or whitecap the same way again.
Contributor: Struan Robertson @bestfitedu Photos: Danielle Labrosse
Struan is a Development Officer at Trent University. He also spent 18 years in admissions and recruiting with the independent school system. He is a co-founder of PTBO Explores.
Further Information about Kiting in Dominican Republic:
Lessons, equipment, transport to and from your hotel provided by Bavaro Kite School, www.bavarokiteschool.com. Book during windy ‘season’ at your location.
PTBO --> DESTINATION
- 4.5 hours by air
- 2 hours by land
- Endless hours by water