INTRO - Cheryl Harrison profiles some of the colourful characters on the beach. This issue: Greg 'Midnight' Hamilton.
If I ever hear the glib generalisation, 'Kiteboarding is a young person's sport' I find it difficult even to pretend interest in continuing the conversation. Kiteboarding can be whatever you want, to whoever wants it! I started out over a year ago, middleaged, overweight and with rheumatoid arthritis.
Kiteboarding seemed as good an activity as any to drag me out of my idle state and spend time with some likeminded people. Since then, many countries have hosted my enthusiastic failures, but it wasn't until a recent threemonth road trip to Western Australia that my body and instincts made peace. Just two weeks into the trip after a very cheap night's accommodation courtesy of a quiet beach just north of Perth, I awoke and looked out to find a tall, almost completely hairless and thoroughly tanned man, already on the water and displaying some impressive form.
While retrieving (my other half) Perry's board from the white wash later in the day, the early morning kiter hollered to me, 'Everyone needs a good kite chick!' He smiled and zipped off again. Intrigued, I decided to meet him on dry land and discovered the following.
He's known as Midnight, he's 58- ears-young, he looks fitter than most adolescents (and probably is). His love affair with the changing face of surf culture began back in the era of The Endless Summer in 1960 as a 12-yearold surfing long-boards on the shorebreaks of Queensland. In 1968, he left the Gold Coast. Destination: South Africa. But he never made it past Perth.
Then only seven years ago he was exposed to kiting. Having windsurfed for several years, kiting felt an instinctive progression - but not without facing a little discouragement: 'You'll never learn to kitesurf! You're beyond it!' screamed his instructor. Two hours later Midnight convinced the young whippersnapper to sell him his kite. The kiting obsession began. I liked this guy. Listening to his story changed my perception of people in this sport. I thought my situation was unique, but hey, when you first fly a kite you simply become the latest member of an international cast featuring in an uncoordinated spectacle on any beach or kite school around the world. Whether you persist is the defining property. The next morning, while Greg and wife Naomi began their 20-minute Tai Chi stretching ritual, I leant forward, strained to reach my toes and considered myself sufficiently limbered for a marathon 15-minute session on the water; and as I wondered why my stamina was lacking, Midnight was off for a half-hour swim before breakfast and then out with the kites as the wind kicked in. He explained that wave riding has become a big part of his kiting, and these days he sticks to what works for him, not what the current trends may be. 'I tried directionals. You'd think they ould suit me in light of my surfing background, but no, I like the twin tips. They feel smoother to me.' When I asked if Greg had a favourite spot, he enthused about
Canggu Beach in Bali, where he heads three or four times a year, regardless of the volley of warnings from the Australian government against travelling there. He chuckles, '...I come home for a rest.' Greg works as an aircraft refueler and muses on his stretching obsession and the sight passengers are faced when they look out of their window: a figure in fluorescent green, contorting and wrestling with his own body parts. He added that working in an area where safety is paramount, '...it tends to spill over into your private life.' Now a kiteboarding instructor, he is more interested in crusading for kite safety than making money, commonly offering his services free-of-charge to needy cases. His only reward: the birth of another safe kiter.
I witnessed this unexpected altruism at first hand at Greg's local beach in Lancelin. Naomi was suited up and ready for a lesson, but Greg's attention was diverted by the approach of someone who turned out to be a friend of a friend who had suggested they go and see Greg for a few pointers. I returned ater, dazed after a wash and spin cycle that lasted an hour, to find Greg still handing out the goods to the stranger while Naomi patiently waited her turn. I got the feeling this wasn't the first time... it seems there's just not enough Midnight to go around. I had to ask, 'Why Midnight?' I felt he was side-stepping the question when he told me, '... it just stuck decades ago.' I suspect there's more to it than that. I spent several afternoons sharing a beach with Midnight, and watched this big air merchant nailing tabletops, one after another, then tacking off into the distance.
Midnight readily admits that kiteloops and handle-passes dish out a punishment that he's not willing to take anymore, but when you can cruise and wave ride with an attitude like his... who cares? This is the kind of kiting culture I want to be a part of.
This column is in issue #21
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Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland