TO KITE, TO LOVE, TO CREATE
WORDS: JASON GALLATE
CREATIVITY (UNLEASH THE BEAST)
'Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up' - Pablo Picasso
Thirty years ago I read a quote by world surfing champion, Mark Richards. He said he believed that surfers were genuinely lucky people. I was too young to get what he meant at the time; I thought it was obvious. I was obsessed with surfing. However, for some reason I gnawed on that quote for years. Eventually, I matured enough to realise that he was talking without guile. Sure, he had won world titles, but to him surfing was about more than that - it enabled a deep envelopment with the natural environment and a means of self-expression that was meaningful for every-man. A chance to do something beautiful that had no other purpose, in a world where men were supposed to work, drink beer and beat on one-another. Now, when I think about that quote it strikes me that if it is true for surfers it is even more true for kiters.
CAPTION – Alberto Rondinha's board strokes caught for us all to see / PHOTO – Jason Wolcott / LEWHS
Kiting not only provides us with all those good things that surfing does, it also gives the opportunity to be more creative. The sea is a vast canvas. The lines that one draws can be beautiful. Carving a fine line with a kiteboard is much like the ancient Japanese ink art of Sumi-e where, if the artist leaves the brush on the rice paper for an instant too long, it pokes through, wrecking the work. Our lines are fleeting, lasting only seconds and only appreciated by the painter. This is just the way it should be. My favourite sessions are when I tack upwind for seven miles to get around a local point to where there are great waves on a reef. No one else is ever out there, (maybe the occasional surfer) and it is completely inaccessible to the land-bound public. Carving different lines, left or right, as the bowl sections suck in various places over the shallow reef.
I suspect that if you kite you're probably like me. You didn't start kiting because you thought it was a reputable, well known and respected sport that would produce a healthy and fit lifestyle. No gold-medals here (yet). You knew you were never going to get the camaraderie of joining the local rugby team. Instead, something appealed to you about the incongruity of combining two completely different enterprises in a new and creative way. Surfing and flying a kite.
I can still remember looking over a foam-streaked bay where a solid eight foot swell was breaking well beyond the usual sandbars and seeing one lone guy cranking back and forward on a surfboard being pulled by a kite - he was immune from the normal rules. Firstly, he was out there flying along, in both directions, when all the surfers were pretty much confined to where the messy swell would reform into lumpy rubbish on the standard bars. Secondly, and most importantly, he didn't have to paddle. I was hooked and bought a second-hand rig within the month. We are an out there bunch - a mutant tribe of surfers, sailors, kite-geeks (and the occasional total innocent) who were not content with the normal rules. Paddling simply wasn't satisfying enough, so we evolved wings...
There is a neural correlate for this - as the brain develops, millions of neural pathways connect in all sorts of ways. Lots of these connections - the redundant - are pruned away. New ones grow. It is essential to the nervous system that we keep learning; that we keep trying new things; that we keep on being creative. This is not surprising - what sets us apart as a species is our ability to innovate, to use tools, to create, and our brains have been hardwired to do this. In fact, there is evidence that creativity is vital to the brain.
Rats in environments enriched with toys and tunnels live longer and are more healthy than their peers. They use their brains to engage and play and do the rat version of creativity. Similarly, it has been shown that doing crosswords and engaging in other creative activities protects the elderly against Alzheimer's. When I am sixty-five, I plan on pumping up my kite instead of pulling out my pen.
In the same vein kiting is not for the complacent. It is massively rewarding if you put the effort in to keep the creative vibe going - pushing your boundaries, changing and growing the way that you kite. Don't let yourself plateau. If you are competent on flat water get out in the surf. The first few times are a blast, it will do your head in as there is so much to think about.
You have been comfortable juggling with two balls; the kite and the board, but with wave it's like someone has suddenly thrown a third... a third to your left hand. Your board and kite don't behave the way that you expect them to when you get on a wave. If you are comfortable in the bay and in the surf, train so that you can comfortably swim for a few kilometres in open water and take off. Head up and down the coast; investigate new areas, or team up with your mates and do a 30 kilometre downwinder (one person driving in support and on look out).
There are also plenty of new technical directions to push the boundaries of the sport, on and off the water. The creative possibilities are endless, from wheels and skis to speed flying. Mix and match your own. Picasso had it right: it is hard to stay an artist when you're an adult, but that is why we are so lucky; kiting not only gives us the opportunity to be creative, it also lets us play like kids.