On a recent wind-chasing dash to Egypt I found myself to be the only woman kiter around for nearly a week, emphasizing how much female kiters are on the increase back on my local beaches in the UK! Three women come to mind, all very different and all of whom I take my lid off to. I met Heather Koldewey when she moved to Marazion in Cornwall earlier this year, just as she was temporarily hanging up her harness. Heather kited until she was five months pregnant. 'After five months I was told that the baby is a little less protected. Also the harness gets more uncomfortable as the bump expands!' she giggled. 'I had a credit system.
If Lawrence was out kiting while I was a big round bump, that meant that I would get some massive kiting sessions owed after Jemima (AKA: JJ) was born.
I was back on the water just three weeks after she was born.' In fact, when released from hospital, instead of heading home and putting her feet up like any normal person, Heather went to the beach with her family. 'We really wanted to go to the beach, so went and stood in front of St. Michael's Mount. We wrote, 'Welcome to a wonderful world Jemima', in the sand and took a picture of her with us.' recalls Heather. Fish is Heather's other big thing. Apart from being the senior curator for Aquariums at London Zoo, she is a founding member and associate director of Project Seahorse.
The project was set up to find solutions for the over-exploitation and consequent damaging of marine ecosystems around the world. It has become the benchmark for marine conservation. To her credit, she manages to confine our conversations to kite sizes and silliness, a language I speak fluently. It was interesting hearing about what has changed in the way she approaches kiting since becoming a parent. 'In the last few weeks we've had a couple of equipment malfunctions and I think it has knocked my confidence a little more than it would have before having Jemima.' JJ bounces on her knee as she recounts a funny tale that only new mothers would encounter. 'We had a comedy moment with the health worker; they do these questionnaires to see if you've got post natal depression.
They ask you if you've had any anxious moments where you feel over protective of your baby?' Heather considered the question carefully before offering up her most harrowing ordeal. 'l was out on the water and Lawrence had run up the beach to help launch somebody. I could see the push chair with this little baby that was like about a month old in it? and I had a very anxious moment! The health worker decided it wasn't P.N.D? it was probably very reasonable. Jemima slept through the whole thing anyway. She loves being out on the beach and we've got a great kiting community in Cornwall.' At the moment, Heather is my benchmark for my kiting ability, and there aren't too many other people I'd ratherlaze on the beach with.
Jac and Mike have opted for a kitefriendly lifestyle. 'Instructing is hard when you're addicted to wind,' she says with exasperation. Working at restaurants in Padstow by night leaves them free to traverse the county by day with kiting kit at hand. A little blue van on the cliffs and in car parks of Cornwall marks their presence on the beach. Many of the locals tend to use this van as a wind meter. If Jac and Mike are there, it must be good! Jac came to the attention of the British kiting community earlier this year when she entered the BKSA competitions in April at Watergate Bay. She'd approached North for sponsorship, they were keen, so she resolved to enter the Pros straight off. Jaws dropped when she took top spot. 'My double back loop kite loop nailed it really. It was windy but I managed to pull them off. I just thought, I have to go for it!' It has certainly paid off with Jac gaining instant respect for her efforts. I wondered what could come next? 'I'm going to do the rest of the year's omps and see how I get on. I'm really pleased to be a North rider. It's a good brand to be with and the kites are great.' As well as being the scene for Jac's dramatic triumph, Watergate Bay is also where Louise McDonagh met her partner, Tim Ovens. Based in Perranporth, they started up Mobius kitesurfing school together in 2004. It's been anything but smooth sailing for Louise, though. Her challenge is in the fundamentals, issues most of us take for granted. She has a horrifying yet inspirational tale to tell.
Louise's life dramatically changed in 1998 as a result of a terrible car accident. A long period of rehabilitation left her with limited muscular control of her right leg plus a condition known as 'Drop Foot'. Having always been an active person, Louise still craved a sporting fix. Her love affair with board sports began at a sabled water skiing event. Skis required too much independent leg control so she opted for riding a wakeboard and began looking at other sports that could be tailored to suit her needs. After snowboarding she finally came across kitesurfing in 2004. For Louise, the most difficult part of learning to kite was all the land-based work; controlling the kite and scudding. 'We did all that in the water as much as possible which meant I could really concentrate on my kite skills,' she explained.
If you have any disability or illness everything takes a lot longer and you need a lot of determination.' She laughs, 'It's a hard slog.' My mind regressed to a phone call I made two years ago. Nervously I called up Mobius to sound them out as to my own eligibility for kitesurfing, in light of my rhuematoid arthritis. If I'd known then what I know now, I wouldn't have hesitated. Louise is a very sharp girl. As she sat opposite me at her kitchen table with a twinkle in her eye, she explained how they came up with a way to keep her right foot in place on her kite board. A simple strap was fitted around her ankle. With that sorted, she then focused on finding a way of gaining more control of the board.
After trying various forms of orthotics she read about a place called Dorset Orthopaedics. 'D.O. have been amazing!' she says with a huge smile. Known around the world for their work in the manufacturing of prosthetic limbs, they also developed the 'Silicone Ankle Foot Orthosis' (SAFO), which is designed to help people with drop foot by supporting the ankle closer to a natural 45 degree angle. Eternally grateful for their help, Louise is due to feature in their marketing campaigns, and will be one of the faces fronting an exhibition for D.O. in December at Olympia in London, called 'Beyond Boundaries'. 'Being disabled puts people off, but we are trying to show them that they can do all these things. We've even taught a guy in a wheelchair to kite buggy!' I wondered if Louise could foresee any limitations to her own riding. 'Yes and no. I get tired riding waves because there's a lot of pressure with jumping over big swell. I feel strain if I ride toe-side for a while, too? I'm no Jac yet! I've spent so much time not being able to do it, that now I just like to go out and ride. Hopefully I will get to the stage where I can push it and start ditching my kite all the time trying to learn something new. But for now I'm quite happy just having fun.'