Our lavish two thousand dollar home away from home - a pop-up caravan - had just tried to overtake us. Thankfully it failed, and instead ploughed a two-inch deep trench in the bitumen?and we were just seven and a half minutes into its maiden voyage. Would-be disasters behind us, we navigated back through Melbourne, taking a moment to check out the city's popular kiting spot at St Kilda Beach.
A few photos of a deserted patch of sand and we finally felt we were off in search of our new home. Critical to this decision was finding the right location for both our teaching and our personal riding requirements. Punctuating the first leg of our journey with stops at any stretch of coast that showed promise for sailing, we cruised five hundred kilometres along the foothills of Victoria's high country. But, as beautiful it was, we didn't find our magic spot. A little further on and we crossed the state divide into New South Wales. As we approached Merimbula, a lovely and somewhat sleepy town, kites of all colours were peeping out over the rooftops like giant friends waving us over.
It was the weekend of a large kiting event. Mambo was something we had heard about but hadn't fully grasped the concept of. A kiting comp with a difference, equally famous for its format, or lack of one, as it is for its longevity. The lack of any makeshift grandstand was a pleasant surprise. Also notable was the welcome absence of a screeching P.A. and any visible judging area. Loads of kites lay on a shoreline that teemed with grilling meat, both edible and human. As Mambo virgins it was somewhat confusing as to what exactly was going on. Essentially it all comes back to the breeze, the swell and who's doing what on it.
I knew little about the competitors, but I do know that sautéed chicken in a bread roll tastes good. We plonked ourselves down with a brew and were totally taken by the chilled atmosphere and the display of riding before us. Smiles abounded and laughter temporarily stole the show as the older guy in the cool helmet took out Ben Wilson about fifty metres offshore? or was it the other way round? Hard to tell and no one seemed to mind. From what I could gather, the only rules are safety related. Beyond that, everyone that wants to compete just gets out there and struts their stuff.
The judges remain anonymous and the major goal of the comp is about having fun and enjoying the coming together of like-minded people. All in all a couple of well-spent days catching up with some old and now new friends, but we were itching to push further north. We cast our social calendar to one side and joined the masses at a Sydney beach, where we spent an afternoon or two sailing below the low-flying bellies of 747s on an otherwise flat-water haven. Interestingly, when Perry asked after an IKO product in a local kite store, the immediate response, 'You can't teach on the beaches around here mate.' Although irrelevant to us, it was a message well and truly received. Flashbacks of heated debates in a Cornish pub over beach access just a few months earlier helped to vindicate our decision to move on.
The familiar tone seems universal. Heading off through the northern suburbs and on past Newcastle, for once a wrong turn produced a favourable result. Jimmy's Beach at Hawkes Nest sounded suitably quirky and had a nice southern Florida feel? in a 'Flipper' kinda way. Swampy inlets and houseboats hide among dense low-lying bushland. The property price tags seemed a tad prohibitive but we gathered our toys and trudged over the squeaky dunes of Jimmy's Beach, a large crescent-shaped cove, protected within a bay. A lively twenty-five knot session was satisfying, but not even an aerial display from the local pod of dolphins could convince us to settle there. Several weeks on and we reached the Sunshine Coast in southeast Queensland. Always ear marked as the most idyllic spot, we'd done our homework from the U.K. and wasted no time exploring.
The Sunshine Coast is known for its surf and also for its strong rips. The idea of constantly plucking students from the big blue made our heads spin. We had neither the manpowernor the finances to provide a safe learning environment in open ocean. And simply finding a patch of sand devoid of mum and her kids would be a challenge in itself.
|So for Perry, as the instructor, flat water was the biggest priority and we had just the spot in mind. This called for an enforced session under the pretence of a detailed site assessment. 'Does my bum look big in this?' In a rare show of diplomacy, Perry replies with flawless sincerity. 'Nah, looks good babe.' While I'm squeezing into my new waist harness, admiring my reflection and the effectiveness of my two hundred dollar corset,
Perry is squeezing an inflated twelve metre through a minefield of gum trees. Snapping the odd twig and wincing at the union of stringy bark and rip-stop nylon, we tried to figure out how to get to the water's edge without a drama of some kind. Eventually we settled on running our lines in a grassed area just behind the tree line then re-winding back on to the bar once attached to the kite in order to get everything on the water in one piece. Whatever the access problems, this salt-water lake was almost perfect. Waist-deep water for kilometres fulfilled our safety wishes. Just a final phone call to Slingshot and we had the last piece to our puzzle ? a seven- etre; the appointed wing of kiting's future recruits.
We rounded out the quiver with a 10.5, a 12 for board starts and a 15 for the amazons. My role in our new venture is predominantly publicity and all nonteaching duties. With the launch of our website and several hundred business flyers distributed, we could only sit back and wait for our first client. We figured things would start off slow but to our amazement the first call came five hours after our information hit the streets. This unfortunately coincided with an over ambitious bite of a luscious salad roll. By the second ring I had determined it was an unknown caller and by the third, the roll's contents were swiftly ejected to allow for my first ever, 'Hello, Freeriders Kiteboarding.' Three hours later and we were on the water, inducing the birth of a new kiter.
Ultimately I've got my eye on an instructor's qualification, but until then, little deviates from the coffee by morning, kiting by afternoon routine we had honed in Cornwall? the coffee is better and the kiting is different. The journey from the U.K. has been 'a mind numbing siege which no one can fully comprehend' (to steal a line from Jerry Maguire), but half-way into the season and business is looking promising. Another lesson and a new student resurfaces from their second face plant. Frequently wondering if they'll ever get it they look toward Perry for reassurance. He often points at me as I cruise past fully lit, serving as a unique motivational tool. A rather large notch on his instructing belt and in no way the stereotypical kitesurfer, reiterating it can be done. This column is in issue #26