Tag Archives: Kiteboarding

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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Getting Accidentally Stranded on a Desert Island

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There will have to be great sunsets on my deserted island

Copper colored sunsets are a prerequisite on my deserted island

I’m not much of a long term planner. I’m more of a winger. Or a wingnutter. Or, as I like to say, a spontaneity buff. 

And when I (or we, because my husband is nearly as guilty as I am of this) do make plans for the future–broad notions that may or may not require a zip code change–they usually don’t last long. These plans don’t stick. One minute we think we’re ready to pick up stakes and move to Montana, and then we look at each other and say, “Who are we kidding?”

It’s sort of like trying on a million bikinis to see if there’s just one that doesn’t make you look fat. But at the very least, we get to entertain some interesting life plans. And, we get to travel well.

Travel plans are made last minute around our house. It’s dumping snow in Japan? We’re on a plane to Niseko in 24 hours. Need some beach time to dry out our cold, wet winter bones? We book a trip for the following week to Aitutaki, an island in the middle of a turquoise lagoon in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

So even with this spontaneity-fueled planning strategy, I’m making plans anyways. Can you see me? Here I am making a plan. A real-life, honest-to-God plan for the future. Ready?

I’m planning on getting accidentally stranded on a deserted island.

All I need are these coconut trees, this blue sky and this white sandy beach.

All I need are these coconut trees, this blue sky and this white sandy beach.

I realize this begs the question: how can you plan to accidentally do anything? I don’t have an answer for that. But what I do know is that the right deserted island could be a great place to spend, oh I don’t know, a month, a year, the rest of our life.

Of course not just any deserted island will work for me. It’s going to need a few essentials. Number one, my husband has to make the journey with me. It worries me a little because every time I mention this new plan, he sort of cocks his head like he didn’t hear me quite right.

Him: Where is this again?

Me: On our deserted island. Remember?

Him: Oh. Yeah.

Me: Anyways, it will definitely need coconuts, I think. Lots so them.

Him: Okay.

Me: And maybe some limes. I think limes are important.

Him: Limes?

Me: For the margaritas. and the ika mata*. That way we don’t have to rely on matches and fire. In case it rains. Which, hopefully it does rain some. For drinking water.

That’s when John just looks at me funny. Then he says, “What was this for again?”

I don’t think John realizes how serious I am. Because I’ve really thought this one through. Just look at coconuts for example. You can pretty much survive on coconuts. The green ones are full of coconut water, which is like regular water on steroids. And the brown ones are full of delicious coconut flesh. Is that what it’s called? Coconut flesh? That seems weird. But coconut meat isn’t any better. It’s just coconut. But it’s amazing. The trunks are wrapped in a sort of cloth that could be great for making shelter for when it rains (and rain is kind of important on an island that doesn’t have a lake, or a stream, or creek, or anything other than sandy beach.) And in case I decide I need to wear clothes on our deserted island those discarded coconuts make a great bra. Plus, Cook Islanders have found a way to turn the palm branches into an excellent broom. So, with the coconut alone, we could have most of our needs met. I’m pretty sure that the hierarchy of needs goes something like this: Water, food, shelter, cleanliness. And then maybe wine. And the Internet.

But we probably won’t have the Internet on our island. And that’s okay. I’m willing to make some sacrifices here. Wine though? That would be harder to give up.

Maybe some swashbuckling Johnny Depp-type pirates left a case of rum buried in the sand of our deserted island (because let’s face it, who doesn’t want a little Johnny Depp on their island?) That would be okay. I could work with rum. It goes well with coconut. And lime.

Truth be told, I actually have found my perfect deserted island. It’s a motu just off Aitutaki. It’s called Honeymoon Island, and it’s a favorite with the newlywed set. And with kiteboarders. And tevake birds. They nest here and seem to have no fear of humans, as if they don’t have a care in the world. Which is important on a deserted island. You can’t really worry about all the Internet and peanut M&Ms that you’re missing.

It only took me 25 faceplants to get this one shot.

It only took me 25 faceplants to get this one shot.

And I’d be perfectly happy with this island. Especially if we also had a few kites, say a 5 meter for those days when the trades are cranking and say a 9 meter for the rest of the days when the trades are still kind of cranking. Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about? Don’t let it fool you. I owe it all to a few Aitutaki locals who are teaching us this elusive sport of kiteboarding while we fantasize about ways to claim this island for our own.

Come to think of it, kiteboarding is a crazy sport. It’s the latest thing. The new SUP, the cooler version of windsurfing, the less hostile version of surfing, the current sport, the fastest-growing-watersport-etc, etc, etc. But after a few days it seems like a more difficult version of wakeboarding. Because you’re also flying a kite at the same time. But it’s fun in that sort of how-many-sports-can-I-simultaneously-do-at-once-while-making-it-appear-absolutely-effortless sort of way. It’s frustrating enough to make you want to keep doing it, just to prove to yourself that you can.

Maybe I will revise my aforementioned future plan just a tick. Perhaps John and I can make an annual pilgrimage to our deserted island once a year and play with these kites and boards and pretend that we are taking up this challenging new sport, when in reality we just want to come back to our deserted island and pretend that we live on coconuts and rum. Maybe that’s what we’ll do.

See? That’s why I love you people. Because you help me focus on the truly important things. 

 

*The Cook Islands version of ceviche or poisson cru, a raw, lime-cured tuna concoction served in coconut milk that is so good it should probably have a sin tax on it.