Last weekend I got to try something that’s been on my list for a long time: kiteboarding. I’d purchased a Groupon for a three hour lesson, including dry land instruction and time on the water. Like most sports, a single lesson isn’t enough time to do more than learn the fundamentals that you need to one day go on and be able to ride a board and control a kite independently; but it’s a good way of getting a feel for what it’s all about.
After getting kitted out in very thick wetsuits, corset-like harnesses, life jackets and helmets, we spent an hour or so on the beach at Squamish Spit learning how to lay the kite out, launch it, and hook into our harnesses. Then it was out onto the water, and we took it in turns sitting on the front of the boat and trying out the control bar. The wind was gusting powerfully and moments after taking control of the kite, a too-swift adjustment to the bar resulted in a big tug that hauled me off the boat and dumped me into the freezing waters of Howe Sound. When this happened again a short while later, the instructor kept me in the water while we worked on one-handed control and body drags. It was actually much easier controlling the kite while not trying to balance on the front of the boat, and being hauled through the water at speed was very entertaining.
Disaster struck right at the end, when we were working on power strokes: big figure-eight movements that hauled us far out of the water before dropping us back down. On one particularly big drop, the left hand kite line tangled around the control bar. This sent the kite into something called a “death spiral,” where it appeared to be trying quite hard to drown me. On the plus side, I got to practice deploying the emergency eject system. As I scrambled back into the boat, spitting out vast quantities of glacial meltwater, the instructor commented dryly that ejecting isn’t typically a part of the intruductory lesson.
Regardless of the slight mishap and the minor whiplash that resulted, it was fun – especially the body drags – and well worth the Groupon. Never underestimate the power of a giant kite in a strong wind, though.