On a Queensland beach a Cornish man named Barney had been cruising the surf alone in a 15-knot breeze, several thousand miles from home. Just a couple of other kites could be seen in the sky a couple of kilometres upwind. As his session ended, the other kiters had made it to his spot after a nice downwinder, and they all met on the beach. Curiously they asked Barney, 'What were you doing mate?' Confused, Barney offered up his best guess, 'Err?just cruising in the waves?' Not satisfied, they continued to probe. 'We saw you from miles away. You've been in the same spot for ages.
Can you stay upwind easily?' By now Barney wondered if they were taking the piss, but they seemed obviously impressed when he replied, 'Err? yes.' 'Cool! We just go downwind and then catch the bus back.' Barney called me up after his meeting, his tone awash with bewilderment. 'Cheryl?it's just not right. That's not kitesurfing - what's the point?' Things are done differently down here. We're now six months into running a kite school but the first thing we discovered was that all the etiquette instilled in our kiting roots from the U.K. had little meaning here. It's not thatkiters here are any less welcoming or enthusiastic, quite the opposite in fact. But it seems that a large proportion of the kiting population is self-taught.
As with Barney's experience, there seems to be gaping holes in the knowledge of the sport and yet enormous talent in specific areas, like wave riding. I introduced myself to Kiteworld readers back in 2005 via a series of kiting tales entitled, 'Forty, Fat and Trying'. Well, I'm still fat - thanks largely to my arthritis and associated drugs (OK, OK, and maybe the odd vanilla slice!) - and now, further into my forties, I get to help other people try. A big part of our business is communicating with spectators and dispelling myths like the need to possess great strength, along with the often misguided notion that kiteboarding is beyond them.
|The nuances between students can be quite fascinating. Couples that come along to learn together are great fun; they tend to spend the whole time encouraging each other while enjoying the moment. In our experience, female friends learning together tend to be more competitive than guys, believe it or not. The tell-tale sign as to who is going to progress quicker is often determined by whoever goes for the better looking helmet and harness. The more assertive are usually more aggressive and often make quicker progress. We face a fresh batch of newbies daily; all willing to trust us and place their wellbeing in our hands in the hope that they can kick-start a thrilling and educated life as a kiteboarder.
The Aussie 'She'll be right' attitude can sometimes be a problem, though, especially when you see a student from the previous day (who only made it to basic kite flying skills) about to launch a 17 metre antique C kite directly downwind in 20 knots - leaving us wondering which part of the lesson didn't sink in. I did my best inconspicuous rush towards a situation about to turn worse recently. Student X had his kite caddy struggling downwind with a grossly underinflated leading edge, looking more like a V kite than a C. I approached with a few tactfully constructed words in mind?however, they rapidly materialised into a mere gape as I cast my eyes over the contraption he was about to take to the skies with. In the absence of a donkey dick he had tied a piece of rope from his harness, through the chicken loop around the centre lines, and back again.
'What's this?' I hastily enquired as I pointed to the knots. He just grinned. 'You've got NO safety release!' I continued, aghast. He grinned again. Puffing out my chest, hands on hips, I delivered my best disapproving tone. 'What happens if you need to get rid of the kite?' As the grin-fest stand-off came to a close I had at least convinced him to pump the kite up a little more. Despite sounding like his mother and apart from physically sitting on him (a proven method), there isn't always a whole lot we can do. The biggest challenge we've found is combining a good time with a browbeating on safety.
The lines snagged in between the sandbags then looped again just as Perry did his best tuck'n' roll, snatching a line then pouncing onto the canopy. The pilot (still on the other side of the sandbags) had no idea Perry was starfished on his kite. He was busy trying to fend off the sandbag that was pressing against his cheek whilst also tugging on a back line trying to figure out why his Crossbow hadn't reappeared. Hypnotised by the kites' bold colours and flirtatious movement, people the world over are oblivious to the potential dangers involved with coming up close for a better look. Even after a friendly yet informative chat we see the same people put the cart before the horse and return a few weeks later with an old C kite they bought off the internet. Giving in to the looming temptation of using it before they have lessons is easy and generally leaves them with a spanking or at least damaged kit in some way.
The net result is usually walking away thoroughly disappointed with their purchase. A few months ago on a popular Australian beach a guy wandered up to me as I lay out my lines. 'Stay away from me...I'm dangerous!' He was a nice bloke, ready for a chat and just wanting to talk kitesurf. 'Had a one hour lesson yesterday. Bought a kite yesterday. Is this a good spot?' I glanced at his 12 metre. The road was only 10 metres back from the small beach - not a good place to launch your first kite, for the first time.
'Do you need a launch?' I offered. 'Nah.. still setting up.' We chatted for a while; I tried to convince him of more suitable locations for a beginner before walking off to catch someone. A few minutes later I heard some shouts and span around to see his kite tumbling across the beach, then powering up briefly before slapping its leading edge down beyond the sand towards the road. My new friend, still strapped to the end of it was alarmingly unconcerned. He waded through the shallows towards his perilously positioned kite, but not in a way that would suggest that he was attached to it. Visions of trucks and hood ornaments filled my mind as I took off towards the kite.
As the kite rolled onto the road I pinned it down with a foot, quickly realising I was now most likely to be the hood ornament. Spinning it on to its back I retreated to the beach. My friend was still emerging from the shallows at an agonisingly slow pace. He unhooked and dropped his bar on the sand with a big grin declaring: 'Told ya I was dangerous!' I see all of these experiences as an invaluable part of my assistant instructor training. I recently took one large step towards going for my instructor's ticket when I attended a boat licence course.
Having no marine experience to speak of, I soon realised that of the eight weathered men and one seasoned yacht's-woman, I had my feet firmly planted at the bottom of the class. While important chart reading information was being dished out, my head was being swamped with an internal dialogue. 'Shit! I'm never going to get this stuff.' and 'Don't panic, just breath and smile enthusiastically!' (Both of which, however, were rather familiar after my many face plants!)All of a sudden I was propelled back to newbie status, facing an invaluable serving of food for thought in regard to my future teaching methods. Perhaps now it was my turn to be perceived as Student X. How quickly we forget.
This column is in issue #27