Riding the wind
July 5, 2004
When the summer afternoon winds pick up, windsurfing and kiteboarding instructor Micah Sanders heads out on the water. Sanders has been windsurfing for the past five years and kiteboarding for the past three years.
“Extreme, although the word is pretty played out, completely defines kiteboarding,” said Sanders, founder of Windpig, a Tahoe-Truckee based windsurfing/kiteboarding school. “It’s a pretty extreme sport.
With very little winds, between 10 and 15 miles per hour, it’s possible to get 15 to 20 feet off the water simply by redirecting the kite.”
Launching the board into the air is the easy part; landing can be a little more difficult.
“As long as you keep your arms above your head, you can steer the kite even under the water,” Sanders said. But the sport takes practice and a considerable amount of initial knowledge to safely learn.
“Kiteboarding is one of those sports where you have to have a lesson,” Sanders stressed. “It’s just too dangerous without one. People need to practice with small trainer kites before they launch bigger kites so they are aware of all the hazards ” rocks, power lines, streets ” and don’t launch into them.”
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Sanders said he often takes beginner students to Washoe Lake to avoid shoreline hazards, but when the water gets too low at the reservoir during the summer he switches lessons to the Kings Beach area on Lake Tahoe and other area lakes.
One of the most difficult steps in learning to kiteboard is the first one: launching. An understanding of the “powerzone” or the “wind window” is essential to get the kite to take off safely and smoothly. Generally, kites take off best on the edge of the powerzone.
The first step of the takeoff is to dive the kite toward the front of the board to get up and planing. While in the air, constant movement ” moving the kite back and forth or up and down gently and smoothly to keep it in the air, especially with higher-aspect kites ” is essential. In the powerzone, fly the kite 45 degrees off the water for good power and edging.
But one of the most important steps in kiteboarding takes place before launching: constantly checking the attachment of your lines. Each kite is attached to the harness via four lines to steer the inside and outside corners of the kite. Making sure the lines are not tangled to begin with saves a lot of time in the water when you crash.
Proper body position helps avoid crashes, but due to the unpredictable nature of the wind (especially mountain windgusts) crashes are almost inevitable. Body position starts with the head and eyes: always look where you’re going and keep your head and eyes up instead of down. The hips should be set forward, the knees bent and the shoulders square and level. Keeping an even pressure on the lines avoids funky steering and smoothes out the ride. The bar should be kept close to the body for maximum control.
A beginner kiteboarding setup, which includes a kite, board, lines, harness and bar generally costs around $1,000, Sanders said.
Although the combination of wind and water have existed forever, it wasn’t until 1965 when Southern Californians Jim Drake (a sailor) and Hoyle Schweitzer (a surfer) focused their energies on fusing the sports of sailing and surfing.
The brainchild of their endeavors, windsurfing, grew steadily during the 60s and 70s with a surge of popularity in the 1980s, as it was introduced into the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles.
Participation waned in the 1990s, but with the introduction of kitesurfing (or boarding) in 1992, a national interest in windsports has re-ignited.
The sport of windsurfing can be categorized into light-wind and high-wind maneuvers. Light-winds consist of breezes traveling 10 mph and under. Cruising ” sailing across a lake or island-hopping in a mostly consistent direction ” is a popular form of light-wind windsurfing.
Freestyle sailing can also be done in light-winds and consists of executing a number of tricks on the board ranging from turns, rail rides and sail spins.
In high-winds, ranging from 15 to 25 knots, sailors have the ability to travel faster by getting their boards on a plane. Smaller and more maneuverable boards are utilized in strong winds to maximize performance.
Slalom sailing is one of the most popular forms of high-wind sailing, where sailors perform tight turns at high speeds. Bump and jump sailing is popular when winds are high and the water is choppy. Advanced techniques allow sailors, using small boards, to jump or perform high-speed turns, loops and crashes in 20 to 40 knot winds.
Finally, wave-sailing is the original marriage between wind and water. It is best performed on open swells breaking parallel to a beach with the wind blowing along the beach or side-shore.
Learning to windsurf typically requires a two-hour lesson, but mastering the sail takes a lot of time and effort, Sanders said.
“I had a pretty quick progression, mostly due to my stubbornness,” he said. “But I feel like I could have improved faster with newer equipment.”
According to http://www.windance.com, a windsurfing Web site maintained in the world-renowned windsurfing Mecca of Hood River, Ore., the right equipment and conditions are the most important components of a successful lesson.
Generally, beginner boards are designed wider to offer more stability to learners. Wind conditions should be between 5 to 10 knots.
In addition to the right equipment and conditions, it is essential that the beginner focus on finesse, not muscle, to raise the sail up out of the water.
“The whole setup ” sail, boom and mast ” probably weighs around 15 pounds,” Sanders said. “But when there’s water on top of the sail that’s when it gets heavy. If you use your legs when you’re uphauling it’s a lot easier and you can avoid hurting your back. That’s where guys have it harder than girls. They have a tendency to want to ‘muscle’ the sail up, whereas women are more open to the idea of finessing the motion.”
Beginner lessons focus on the basic motion of “uphaul,” which is simply hoisting yourself onto the board. Sailing position on the board and turning the sail is determined by pulling the boom in and letting the boom out to increase or decrease speed and change direction.
A beginner setup consists of a board, fin (attaches to the bottom of the board near the tail, keeping the tail behind the front of the board), mast (a pole that attaches the sail to the board), mast foot (fitting that attaches the mast base extension to the board), a boom (bar attached to the sail that the sailor holds to steer the sail), sail and rigging lines.
Beginner setups usually start at around $500. Additional gear may consist of a harness, enabling a sailor to travel for longer periods of time, harness lines, wet suits and a roof rack for the boards and sails.