Kiteboarding: A lesson in humility

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Adventurous types are often defined by their sports and extreme activities. Just take a look at their Instagram feeds. They read something like this: “Check me out. I’m a skier/surfer/knife juggler/fire dancer/world traveler/eater of bizarre-looking food/arranger of well-filtered photos/lover of large, inquisitive-looking dogs.”

I’m pretty much in the same boat. Looking back at my drop in the social media bucket, my biggest splashes are ski related. And a few other summer sports thrown in for good measure. While I don’t introduce myself at parties with a handshake and an “I’m a skier” sticker plastered to my forehead, I realize that it sort of defines me. At least in social media, because here’s a newsflash. Writers like me have blogs and FB accounts and Twitter feeds and an online presence so that when Random House Googles our name because they want to offer us a contract and a big advance for our upcoming novel, they can actually find something about us. (Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself, that all this time on the Internet is really work-related).

My good side

My good side

This only begins to explain why trying a new sport is so humbling. Especially a sport like kiteboarding. Especially when all of a sudden everyone and their grandmother is taking up kiteboarding and exclaiming it to be an elevator ride to nirvana. “You haven’t tried kiteboarding? Ohmygod. It’s the best. It’s amazing. It’s like flying. It’s like flying on heroin. It’s like flying on heroin while simultaneously saving a baby whale.”

So, of course I had to try it. My husband and I both had to try it. Because just like some of the best things in life (ahem, this is a family post here people, get your mind out of the gutter), kiteboarding is best done with someone you love. Someone who isn’t better at it than you. At least not yet anyways.

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there exists a small island surrounded by a beautiful lagoon and ringed by a corral reef. This island sits in the path of the trade winds. This island’s country, in an effort to promote tourism, subsidizes cheap flights from Aukland and L.A.  And for some reason, when you search the all-knowing Internet about the world’s best places to kiteboard, this island is never on the list. This island is Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.

Aitutaki is a beginning kiteboarder’s dream. The water is warm. The winds are cranking. You can stand on the soft sand as you repeatedly attempt to fly the kite and get up on the board and there’s no one else around to watch you fail. At least not in May.

Learning to kiteboard isn’t easy. First of all, you have to fly the kite. You don’t want to crash it, although I did that. Numerous times. And you want to keep the kite flying but not so hard that you Jesus-walk out of your board and across the water and face plant hard enough to turn your mouth and nose into a sluice box for the lagoon water to flume down. At the end of five days of perfect winds our little group of kiteboarders voted me Most Spectacular Crasher. So I have that going for me. Which is nice.

By the second day I was actually up. I was kiting. I was even cutting upwind a little. For a brief second, I actually achieved a mini-nirvana. No singing angels or anything. No laughing Buddhas. But just an itty bitty moment of flow when I was flying and boarding all at once.

Just learning to fly the kite is sort of double black diamond

I lost these sunglasses soon after

On my right side that is. In board sports I’m goofy-footed, and attempting a reach to the left is like trying to rub my stomach and pat my head while alternately raising each eyebrow one at a time. No matter how many mouthfuls of water I swallowed, no matter how many times I supermaned into the coral and cut the dickens out of my fingers, even after loosing my sunglasses and with snot pouring out of my nose, I kept after those lefts. You can’t just kiteboard one direction. That’s the thing about this sport. Like with sailing or windsurfing or even skiing. At some point, you have to turn and go the other way.

Attempting a left

Attempting a left

So I sort of beat myself up out there. I kited each day until my beer light was on amber. And sometimes even after that amber turned to a dangerous red light that usually means I must stop all activity and open the nearest beer and sit down and nurse my wounds. And yet I never really got it.

I mean I got it a little bit. I made a few downwind-ish reaches to the left. Once I actually stopped on my own accord that didn’t end in a spectacular crash. But I never really got it. I never turned. I never felt that look-at-me-mom-I’m-really-doing-it rush I was hoping for.

Instead I practiced humility. The diaper-like harness was cutting a nasty wedgy into my board shorts. The salt water stung my eyes. I was cut and bruised and waterlogged. But knowing just how fickle the wind can be, that sports like kiteboarding require the perfect ingredients of wind, water and waves, I kept trying. And I’m pretty sure I made the fish and the sea slugs chuckle. Silly human.

So please don’t invite me to go kiting with you in Hood River (although thanks for thinking of me). Not just yet anyways. I’m not ready to prime time, and I guess I’m okay with that. I wouldn’t even mind returning to Aitutaki again. Roundtrip tickets from LA to Rarotonga are only $800 on Air New Zealand. And maybe that’s what’s required: another trip to this beautiful island where the sand is soft and forgiving and the people are lovely and there’s no one else for miles to watch me fall flat on my face.

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10 responses »

  1. Haha! That was me learning to windsurf in Juneau, until I had an epiphany after my eleventy billionth crash, after which I flailed to recover and reposition the board, and noted my eight mm wet suit failing to protect me from the icy wind and glacial temp water, and being grossed out for the 400th time by a rotting zombie salmon smacking me in the face or getting under my feet while I dragged the board back into position: I should be doing this in MEXICO.

    So, though I want to learn to kite, I doubt I’ll try to learn it in Alaska.

  2. Kim, 

    I just wanted to say thanks for the laugh, this is a great story. 

    Susan 

    ________________________________

  3. Wow you took me right down memory lane.I had many experiences like that, only having a 15 ft mast being sucked under while hooked in the harness as the current of the Columbia river kick your ass !Defiantly not for the weak ha ha laughing with you. I’ve Sailed for 10yrs in the George and when you get it, and you will, its truly the most amazing experience to harness the elements of wind and water and actually go where you intend!!love the article and super excited for you both.

  4. My goodness, you’re brave! I have only ever tried kite skiing boarding (on snow). I can’t even imagine being in the water (but perhaps that’s because I’m a bit afraid of that in the first place!).

    • I didn’t even know kiteboarding on snow was a thing until recently. Sounds fun. I’m more of a snow person myself but trying to push outside my boundaries.

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  6. this is a great post, really well-written humor, which is hard to do…me trying to break out of my expository journalism writing mode and write something funny that zings is like you trying to learn to kite surf….brava!

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