Learn to Fly: Kiteboarding
Ryan Summerlin March 16, 2011
When I was 20, I had a boyfriendwho went througha three-month obsessionwith kite flying. He’d come home frustratedand dropping F-bombs about hisday of flying some pricey, complicatedkite. The answer to his angst seemed clearto me: Get rid of the annoying kite andfind another hobby, something simpler,say, like riding a bike. But my commonsensesolution never registered, and now Iknow why.As it turns out, high-level kite fl yingis addictive. Especially when your wholebody is attached to the kite, and youadd skis or a snowboardto the mix.(Initially, learning onskis is easier than ona snowboard.)After five years ofwatching kiteboardersgliding and catchingair near Farmer’sKorner on the edge ofDillon Reservoir, I finally geared up fora lesson with Anton Rainold, owner ofColorado Kiteforce. Apparently, I chosethe perfect day to learn: The winds wereabout 15 mph – just enough to makeit easy to fly the trainer kite, but notenough to blow me all over the placewhen I graduated to a larger kite.Although I recognize the thrill ofcatching air on a snow kite – and evenfeel a fairly strong itch to try it – I hadnever fl own a kite or sailed or wanted toskydive, and I was cured of my love forparagliding one year when I tried it inMexico, and things felt a little sketchy.Luckily, Rainold and I were on the samepage during my lesson: Safety is hisprimary concern, so he begins with atrainer kite that has no chance of liftingstudents off the snow.That said, the little kite does pack ahefty punch upon lift off . Students learnhow to control the kite before strappinginto a board or clicking into skis, and inhigher winds, when the kite fills with air,it creates a fi rm tug, in which you canrespond either by letting go of the barand allowing the kite to deflate, or runningtoward the kite until it stabilizes.The latter approach ismuch more fun andonly involves runninga few to several steps,but it’s a bit of a rushin and of itself.Then comes thetricky part: Gettingthe kite to do whatyou want it to do,namely remain in the “window,” whichallows you to smoothly glide across thesnow when you’re on skis or a board.Most people begin with what Rainoldcalls “truck driving” syndrome. Forsome reason, people attempt to controlthe kite by wildly moving their handsas if they’re steering a semi, as opposedto gently pulling and punching, forwardand backward, to manipulate each sideof the kite.Not only did I have truck driver syndrome,but also, my body insisted on flyingthe kite “backwards,” something thatdidn’t become problematic until I movedonto a more advanced kite and couldn’tcontrol it to save my life. As a result, Ifully understood my boyfriend’s love-hateobsession with his kite. My firstround of kite control involved verballyabusing the flailing object by repeatedlycalling it “stupid.” Then, I realizedperhaps I was the “stupid” one; it waslike being in a relationship and realizingthere are two sides to every argument.As soon as I humbled myself, I openedup to cooperating with the kite, and,because I had somehow personified thisthing, I gently conversed with it. Yes,conversed. I asked it how it wanted meto move so it would go left or right, and itconsistently gave me direct answers, byeither crashing to the ground or gracefullygliding in my “window.”As we dialogued kinesthetically, I suddenlyfelt the Zen of kite flying. I was onewith the kite, not only because a harnessattached us, but also because I feltin harmony with the sky, the wind andthis beautifully inflated fabric mirroringmy arms’ movements. It was a spiritualexperience – one that quickly becameaddictive.”It’s kinda like smoking crack,” Rainoldreplied, laughing, when I mentionedmy new obsession with wanting “morepower and speed.”By the time I admitted my addiction,I had already skied with the trainer kiteand experienced the smooth transitions- unlike fl ying the kite with boots, any” jerks” on skis simply led me to glide,rather than running with the kite tokeep up. As I pulled away from the kitewhile skiing, I gained speed – and thenI wanted more.So onto the larger kite I went, thoughin kite skiing terms, the 6-meter spreadwas still quite small and not powerfulenough to lift me off the ground in 15mph winds. And so, I went through myentire learning curve once again (beginningin boots), since this kite hadfour lines, rather than justtwo. Fortunately, I quicklycycled through the “stupidkite” and “stupid me”phases and settled intoa state I can onlydescribe as zenfully. addicted. After I clicked into my skis, Iwas off and gliding.
Still, I wanted more speed, so Rainoldgave me a more powerful kite. Onlyproblem: It was very touchy, and I wasn’taccomplished enough to properly controlit (I wasn’t the only one). After a halfhour of struggling, I lost my mojo andhit a major downer that no Zen statecould cure. (Did I mention kite skiingis a very physical sport, especially whenyou’re just learning?) Rainold switchedme back to the previous pink-and-blackfoil kite, and I was up and gliding again,but the experience taught me an importantlesson: If you’re going to incorporatekite skiing into your life, take thetime to learn the technique and experimentwith various kites by renting themthrough Rainold. He said within a fewdays, most people gain enough experienceto decide on the right size andtype of kite to keep them entertainedfor quite a while. Apparently, even my6-meter pink-and-black foil would allowme to catch a couple feet of air in 20 mphor higher winds, and after listening toRainold explain that landings can befeather soft or much, much more jarringthan hitting a fl at landing in the terrainpark, I decided pinky would be enough.Then again, there was that one guy outthere with a 14-meter kite, skyrocketinghimself so high that he hung in theair, doing an upside-down spread eagle,while time stood still. Seems to me anyexperience like that is worth a little frustrationand swearing at your damn kite,before you and the sails become one.