When I see kiters on the beach I don't recognise, I immediately trample any awkwardness with conversation. This is not always well received, but mostly a session benefits from a shared experience. I shared a few with Bill recently. Bill was a lone kiter battling the breeze at our local spot. The phrase, 'Shagging not shitting' came to mind as I watched him, hunched over, fighting to reach his bar. I wanted to pass on those well chosen words of advice offered to me when I was first struggling to hold my ground upwind. I wondered how they would be received. Fortunately, I soon discovered that, behind a mass of tattoos, Bill was a placid kind of guy just happy to chat about kiting.
Zinc cream smeared Bill's face like war paint; he poured me a brew before sitting back to spill his own kiting tale. He begins by describing a twenty-year rut; a groundhog-day existence that began working in the coalmines and finished in pubs. 'Basically, this is the first watersport? actually, it's the first sport I've ever been into. I've gone from doing nothing to a fullon extreme sport, so it's been a huge learning curve; there's been some interesting moments!' Bill nods toward the water, 'When I came to this spot I could get across the river mouth, but I couldn't get back; it was very embarrassing.
I would have to wait for the tide to come down and then the locals would walk me back across the river.' As Bill recounted our first meeting, my mind wandered back to that particular kiting location and I thought it interesting that my first sighting of him conjured intimidation. Bill's dilemma is his confidence. At that point he was trying to find the loneliest patch of sand to practice. If there were other kiters around he would be overwhelmed with trepidation.
'Getting over the anxiety about learning something at my age, forty-two, was a really big thing for me. I'd go down the beach and if there were too many people I'd suffer an anxiety attack, so my progression really stalled. It got so bad I even had medication prescribed for it.' The estuary before us was still butter smooth, barely a hint of breeze. We both paused as a branch swayed in a teasing motion before resuming its idle pose. But
Bill's thoughts were back at the mines. 'After fourteen hour shifts I was going home exhausted. But I was becoming very soft, so I started walking along the beaches, trying to get fit. I'd see the odd kiter but never really took much notice, until one day I thought? I want to do something in the ocean. I took a couple of lessons, got smashed up pretty bad and decided? well this is for me!' Bill chuckles, 'I was after a life change but didn't know what that was; kiting gave me a goal. I've got somewhere to travel now, to chase the winds. I had never heard of the Dominican Republic until I picked up a kite. And the lingo, it's a language of it's own. Chicken-loops, 180s and switch? when someone suggested that I was a natural goofy I thought they were taking the piss.
' Now fluent in all things kite related and still in his first year, Bill no longer flounders on the sidelines and can hold his own. 'I don't like giving up on anything, so when I decided to keep going with my kiting I quit my job that morning.' Loads of people think of chucking it all in and following their dream, but few ever fully commit. I asked Bill if that was a difficult decision to see through. 'Yes, it's not easy. I've chased big money in the coalmines all my life. I owned a house, but everything about it was a security blanket and the blanket was smothering me.' Bill glances towards his tent.
|'When you wake up and your tent and all your gear's soaking, sometimes you think it would be nice to lay back on the couch and watch some cricket but once you stick that kite on there's only one answer: yeah it's the right thing to do.' Inspired, free of all ties and looking for a tropical training ground, Bill headed a thousand kilometres to far north Queensland. He smiles, 'I didn't do my homework; when I got there I discovered the season was over. So I turned around and drove back again.' Nothing two thousand kilometres in the opposite direction couldn't fix. Bill finally struck it lucky with regular breezes and a good instructor. 'Once Gene, my instructor, realised I had no board skills he started dragging me to the cable park.
I got hooked so I actually moved closer to it and bought a membership. I went every day for two months.' With his newfound enthusiasm for geography, Bill came upon a picture that was to have a profound effect on him. It was an image of a kitesurfer cruising under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It seems zig-zagging his way up and down the vast Queensland shoreline is not quite rocking Bill's world. Having traded it all for adventure, self-growth and good times, he wants to up the ante. 'I'm too old to become world champion or anything, that's reality.' We both chuckle and, being of the same vintage, I chip in, 'Never say never Bill!'
He shakes his head, grins and continues telling me of his plans. 'I'm gonna follow the seasons. Starting with Cabarete for three months and then Brazil and the States. I'm going to kite that bay at San Francisco!' I smile at Bill's vision, especially when he jokes of the financial sacrifice. 'Nothing another ten years in the mines won't rectify.' Bill rolls his eyes and moans... 'Oh God!' As we flick the dregs of coffee over our shoulders the breeze catches our attention. The wind is up and the beach is empty, so we hobble to the shoreline with Bill's mantra in mind: 'Make it happen!
This column is in issue #28