Kitesurfing: A Board with Wings

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A steady Nor’easter gale blows the ocean into a jumble of 20-foot waves off Nags Head, N.C.  Foam washes high up on the beach and there’s barely room for us to rig our kites. The water is heaving and pitching.

We launch our kites and stand near the shore as foam swirls around, trying not to get ripped off our feet by the retreating water. We wait for an opening to quickly jump on our boards, power up our kites and take off.

Steering my kite hard left and then back to the right, I’m yanked upward, quickly flying across the roiling surface. Right away I float over an eight-foot wall of whitewater, skimming the bubbly surface weightlessly.

Kiteboarding is somewhere between surfing and flying. It combines paragliding, windsurfing, water skiing, and even skateboarding into one wild ride. A kite makes it possible to get huge air with gentle landings, perform wake style tricks, tow onto big waves, and reach crazy speeds. A kite boarder now holds the world sailing speed record of just over 60 miles per hour.

I bob, weave and hop around and over breaking waves until I’m out with the big swells. There’s nothing quite like looking down at a breaking wave twenty feet below you. It’s a moment of transcendent calm in the midst of a storm.  The smack of my board clipping through the water is replaced suddenly with quiet flight. I float high over the maelstrom in brief suspended animation. Then the spell is broken as I land, trying to keep myself together and prepare for the next mixed-up pile of chop.

Once I land on the wave, I turn onto the face of a swell and ride it shoreward as it steepens. At the last minute, I throw the kite off the wind and drive my board into a bottom turn, then up the face, off the lip and back into another bottom turn. I repeat as long as the wave holds up—or until I get munched. When the wave starts to break, I’ll race ahead of it, turn in the shore break, and head back out for another round. On the way out, I might launch a 25-foot jump just for fun.

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