Community Culture: Becoming A Kite Girl

Amanda Casto Kite Girl

BREAKING THROUGH THE KITESURFING FEAR 

INTRO – The kiting community has proved itself powerful in so many ways. In the coming months its strong foundations will be more important than ever. In Kiteworld issue #103 Amanda Casto shared the story of how she was completely over awed by the intimidation of getting to grips with kitesurfing, but found the secret to her success within the community

WORDS: Amanda Casto

Standing on the shoreline of Los Barriles, Baja California Sur, Mexico on a warm January morning, my then-new-boyfriend looked at me, bewildered, as I sobbed like a child; snot and tears running down my zinc-covered chin onto my brand new pink Roxy wetsuit.

“I thought this is what you wanted?” he shouted above the wind and waves, genuinely perplexed at the turn of events. Just an hour earlier I had excitedly helped him run lines and pump up his Cabrinha Switchblade before running inside to suit up for my first kiting travel adventure.

Amanda Casto Kite Girl

Now one of the locals, St. Pete, Florida

I tried to choke out some sensible explanation through my sobs but, to be honest, the explanation wasn’t sensible. It was purely emotional… and it was purely fear. I was scared of kiteboarding. Very scared. The plan that day was only to hold onto the back of my boyfriend’s harness as he bodydragged us out past the shorebreak and I’d then be able to continue my practice of moving the kite through the wind window; practice which had initiated in our hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida a month earlier. No big goals, no board; just practice.

I couldn’t do it. The deep ocean, the wind, the giant kite; it all paralysed me with a fear that hit unexpectedly and forcefully, straight in the gut. I was terrified. I trudged back to our room at Vela Resort, trying to avoid the gazes of other guests; I was ashamed, frustrated and somewhat confused as the new boyfriend grabbed his board and effortlessly navigated past the waves, gliding out on the deep navy blue waters of the Sea of Cortez.

Fast forward four years to the present and the then-new boyfriend is still the boyfriend and still effortlessly kiting, now with a full decade of experience under his belt. I can happily say that, although no one would call my kiting effortless, graceful or even that good, I am indeed a kiter. I did not give up that first day on the Los Barriles beaches or any of the other equally irrationally terrifying days after that.

Amanda Casto Kite Girl

Tuning in to empowering advice on the KiteSisters camp, Belize, 2018

As another kiting season gets started here in St. Petersburg, (the kiting here is best in the winter months, where we are blessed with (mostly) consistent, albeit often light, winds and shallow, flat water), I find myself reflecting on my journey to become a kiter; my ‘kitegirl’ beginnings if you will. I did not even know that kiteboarding existed until four years ago when I was well into my 30s.

I grew up in the land-locked state of West Virginia and needed only one hand to count the times I had seen the ocean prior to moving to Florida. To put it mildly, the ocean was not my comfort zone. My idea of athletic adventure up to that point was veering off the sidewalk onto a wooded path during runs at my local state park.

Watersports were not on my radar at all.

Now, this is the point where I wish I could give you an inspiring reason as to why kiting came into my life, but it really was for the most eye-rolling, decidedly un-girl-power reason you could think of: I wanted to impress a boy.

When I first met my boyfriend I was impressed and intimidated by his adventurous nature. Here was this guy who snowboarded, wakeboarded, kiteboarded and mountain biked, all while saving lives during his day job at a local hospital. So when he asked if I wanted to try flying his kite on a light wind day, I said in the most casual tone I could muster, “sure”. Fear be damned. That is what started it all.

Amanda Casto Kite Girl

Amanda and still-the-boyfriend, Igor

During those first years I sporadically took professional lessons both on our trips with friends to Los Barriles and La Ventana in Baja, yearly pilgrimages to Hood River and at home in St. Petersburg. I learned how to launch, land, body-drag and self-rescue. I learned really well how to lose a board before you even get it on your feet. I learned even better how to lose your board repeatedly after it’s on your feet. I began to learn my kiting strengths (letting go of the bar when in trouble – not a problem… ) and my weaknesses (see first paragraph… sobbing like a little child with fear).

I felt like I would never lose my irrational fear for kiting. I also felt that no one was as scared, frustrated or as slow a learner as me. I began frequenting the Internet, as one does, for connections, looking for people who were sharing stories like mine. Tales of being horror-stricken at the sheer power of the kite, cussing mad as you crash the kite again and again while becoming so emotional over every success and failure that your significant other’s default face becomes one of sheer confusion as tears fall every time you venture into the water.

Being sure to avoid any link that included the words ‘Kitemare’ or ‘Kiteboarding Fail’, what I typically found instead were YouTube videos of amazing kiteboarders doing amazing things, articles about amazing kiteboarders doing amazing things and very technical instruction videos.

I found very little out there with the message of, ‘Hey, I’m scared! This is really hard and has a really big learning curve’, or ‘Hey, I don’t want to quit this really scary, hard thing because something deep down tells me that I will get it one day and that day is going to be so very worth it.’.

While reflecting back on my rocky beginnings into kite life I can gladly say that now I no longer cry or quake with fear in my wetsuit booties when I go out for a session. So what changed?

Yes, some of it was from adhering to that old kiteboarding adage that I heard so often from my instructors, “You just need more time on the water.”, but more than that it was the support of the community. More specifically, the community of other women kiteboarders.

In all of my Google searches: ‘kiteboarding fears’, ‘newbie kiteboarder scared to death’, ‘what are the chances I will be carried out to sea never to be heard from again?’ etc. etc., I began to see advertisements and promotions popping up for women-only kite camps. So I went to one. A week long all-levels-welcome, all-inclusive kiting camp in San Pedro, Belize with the company KiteSisters (shout out to Chelu and Octavio!).

I knew no one when I got there but it was such a hands-on, safe environment with one-to-one instruction four hours a day, by the end of the trip I progressed from a newbie to a newbie who was independent on the water. I left feeling more confident and with life long ‘kitesisters’ from around the globe.

This was a turning point for me.

Soon after returning home from that trip I received a serendipitous invite from the wife of a local kiteboard shop owner, who was a kiter herself, to join a private Facebook group. She and another kiter were organising a group of all the local (southwest Florida) women kiteboarders to connect and support each other. It was everything I never knew I was missing and has been nothing short of game-changing in terms of my kite confidence. We now have a local tribe of women who organise meet-ups at the beach, go paddle-boarding on no-wind days AND share stories of our beginnings. I have found that while some of these women were killing it from day one, many also had their fears to overcome with years of progress and setbacks; just like me.

Amanda Casto Kite Girl

It’s these women who really inspired me to put pen-to-paper and write about my kiteboarding experience. Maybe a beginner kiter who is just starting out and reading through the latest issue of a kiting magazine, searching for some connection because they feel overwhelmed and under-confident about the sport, will read this and decide to keep at it.

While after four years in the sport there will be no companies knocking down my door to sponsor me and I won’t be winning the world tour anytime soon, you will find me at the local kite beach, learning to transition, still shouting profanity when I lose my board or howling with pure exhilaration as I make it upwind; no more fear or tears there, just high fives to all my other kite girls.

 

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