This is a guest post by Mark Lettinga, who currently lives in the Dominican Republic.
When you were a kid did you ever wish you could fly? Ever jump off a table, porch, or house-tested the unbelievable physics of the Mary Poppins umbrella trick? What about running across water like those lizards you see on the discovery channel? Ever tried that at a friend’s pool? How did that turn out? What if I said that you can conquer both of these childhood dreams at once, would you believe me? Would you be so excited that you race back to your parents house, squeeze into those old superman pajamas and say, “lets do this!”
Not only did I accomplish these dreams (without my pajamas by the way), but I found that it doesn’t take super powers at all, it’s called kite surfing! The sport of kite surfing involves kiting, wake boarding, and for the advanced, some high flying acrobatics that make you look pretty awesome. I have done some limited snowboarding and surfing but as far as kites go I haven’t touched one since I was a kid at grandma’s house in 1995.
When I first heard about kitesurfing the first of many questions I had was, “wait, uh you can do that?” It turns out you CAN do it and in less time that you think. All you need is some steady wind, lessons from a local kite school, and a free weekend where you can let that kid inside you accomplish his dreams.
For the past several months, I have been living and working in the Dominican Republic (DR), and what started off as a non-scheduled weekend beach trip to Puerto Plata ended up as the beginning of my kitesurfing experience. The north coast of the DR is known for its steady and consistent summer tradewinds making it a perfect spot for wind sports. Only 45 minutes east of Puerto Plata is a world renowned place for kiting called Cabarete, aka “kite beach,” where you can watch dozens and dozens of people out on the water riding the wind all at the once (and where Tammy Camp set her kiteboarding world record). While great conditions for the seasoned pro, it can be real intimidating, crowded and dangerous for a beginner. If you’re looking for the same summer tradewinds as Cabarete minus the crowed beach, Kite Club Puerto Plata is a great place to learn the sport.
During our weekend beach trip, Joel and I stumbled across a small surf shack along the beach which turned out to be a Kite Club kitesurfing school, and after a brief discussion with Fernando Suber, the owner we decided to sign up for lessons right then and there. We waited until our instructor was done with his previous lesson to say hello and get started on our training. Going into this kite boarding training I was feeling confidant yet a bit nervous because I didn’t want to fail. I usually pick things up fairly quickly and am really anxious to get up on that board and see what it feels like to be riding the wind. But like any adventure sport you need to learn the basics before you start acting like a pro or you could get into some serious trouble.
WORD OF ADVICE: Never surf YouTube the night before you start your first lesson looking for videos like “worst crashes of _____” (plug in your favorite adventure sport here!) It makes for some great nightmares!
Kitesurfing: Day 1
Our first lesson started off with our instructor teaching us all about wind and how the kite should be handled in relation to wind direction. Words like “power zone” and “wind window” were used and explained. He didn’t just give is a kite and let us start flying right away (as much as I secretly wanted to), he made sure we knew about how the landscape affects the wind that you will be using to kite board. Our instructor said wind knowledge is important for two reasons; First is so that a beginner can learn how to maneuver the kite in the presence of others. Second: once a person has been certified they can travel to any part of the world and have basic understanding of how to kite safely in different surroundings, no matter where the wind is coming from.
After the wind lesson, we started on the training kite – sounds kinda wimpy huh? But these kites aren’t the ones you flew when you were a kid at the local park – training kites can really move! After a minute or two of our instructor showing us some basic kite maneuvering, I found myself holding the reigns hoping I wouldn’t crash and burn on my first try. The wind was dying down a bit as a storm slowing rolled in which made handling the kite more difficult. I crashed the training kite several times before I got the hang of things and soon felt confident in my new found kite flying skills. An hour or so went by since we began our lesson, it was getting late and there just wasn’t enough wind to move to the next step, so we called it a day and thanked our instructor Fernando for a great start.
Kiteboarding: Day 2
We hit the beach nice and early the next day, excited about the possibility of getting on the board. Right away Fernando brought out a 6 meter kite that we would be using and as he took it out of the bag, he used the opportunity to teach us the very important lesson on how to prepare a kite. He had us run the lines, pump up the kite, and tighten the loops, all of which should be done with a careful eye. We learned trick of how to carry it down to the water and a quick lesson on the fundamentals of how to untangle lines. (Red always to the left!) We slipped into what looked like a big back brace with a bunch of clips attached everywhere, this in the harness which attaches you to the kite. With the bigger kite, our instructor had us first hold on to him as we were dragged though the water while he explained his actions, and then it was our turn to drag ourselves.
At first I wasn’t that good at flying this new kite and also had trouble properly handling it while I was being slowly pulled through the water. Joel and I rotated every half hour or so to take a break and also get some coaching from Fernando. After I was able to prove I wouldn’t crash the kite, I was able to be in the water alone and work on getting a more powerful pull and maintaining a steady pace through the water. After a couple rotations and a quick burger break and the beach bar next door, I was able to not only maneuver down the beach but also successfully retrieved my fallen kite out of the water – score!.
Like the day before, a storm was headed our way at around 4:30pm and we called it a day. We briefly talked with our instructor before we left and he told us that tomorrow we should be able to get on the board and ride. After a 5 hour day of getting dragged around in the ocean – we were excited to come back the next day and finally start looking like the pros.
Kiteboarding: Day 3
Right at 11am when the kite school opened, we started the day by demonstrating our new skills by assembling the kite by ourselves. Being sure to pumping it up properly, and make sure that the lines are straight and attached correctly, we had it done in no time. We hit the water to learn how to maneuver the kite up wind (yeah you can do that!) and also an important lesson on board retrieval in case you crash and need to grab your board. We used a 9 meter kite in the strong winds, and I could definitely feel the increase in power.
Within the hour I was strapped in with the board at my feet ready to give it a go. The board I was using was a fairly large – about the size of a large wake board – and I was strapped into a 9 meter kite with the wind blowing around 12-14 mph. Sitting in the water with the instructor holding me steady, I put my feet in the straps and whipped the kite around and felt a strong pull that lifted me right out of the water. I felt a rush of adrenaline and was thought I had this kite surfing thing in the bag but I soon realized I was in for a much longer day.
I was on my board briefly and then all of a sudden I lost speed and fell back to my seated position in the water. I heard the coaching of our instructor to straighten out my position and get aggressive with the kite, but my first run down the beach was a series of standing and falling. Several times I would lose track of my kite and let it sail all the way across the sky (big kite surfing no-no) which caused me to be pulled totally out of the water and crash in the wrong direction. It was one thing to fly a kite, but flying it while strapped to a board was a whole new game of multitasking.
Joel and I traded turns and I got a break from the crashing while I watched him start to get the hang of kiteboarding. It wasn’t until my 5th or 6th run that I was actually able to get up on the board and start to understand what I need to do – and then it happened. I went through the checklist of things to do in my head while I locked into the kite and slowly eased into the water. With the sun in my eyes and the board at my feet, I whipped the kite down aggressively toward the water and a strong pull lifted me up and onto my board. Back and forth back and forth I worked the kite determined not lose track of it like I had before. Gaining speed I took a look around and before I knew it I was 100 meters down the beach, I was kite surfing!
At the end of our weekend, I was pumped to have accomplished the goal of kite surfing and as an added bonus I received my IKO certification. This was just the beginning and I have a feeling there will be more kite weekend adventure to come!
Disclosure: Kite Club Puerto Plata is a great place to kiteboard in the Dominican Republic and graciously hooked us up with a discount while helping learn to kiteboard. They’re good friends of Nerve Rush and we will be going back.