It’s the only sport I’ve tried where you routinely need rescue when you aren’t doing anything wrong.
Between waiting for the wind, learning to deal with a vast assortment of highly specialized gear, language barriers, and a seemingly endless amount of complications thereof, kiteboarding has definitely been tougher to learn than any other sport I’ve tried.
I arrived in Lima, Peru jet-lagged and recovering from the flu about a week ago. My good friend, Daniel, his parents, and I then drove south from Lima on the Pan-American Highway for a few hours through the desert to a small town called Paracas. The local geography is this wild contrast between the barren desert and the Pacific Ocean, which meet at Paracas bay.
The bay is naturally protected from ocean swell, yielding comfortably small waves. Its south wind is famous in kiteboarding circles for its strength and consistency. The beach is also conveniently devoid of obstacles, making it an ideal learning environment. With almost 3 weeks to learn and no other obligations, I was pretty optimistic going into it. I mean, that’s enough time to pick up just about any sport and get decent at it, right?It turns out that kiteboarding isn’t like most sports. To even get up on the board and ride for the first time you have to combine quite a few skills simultaneously, none of which are that easy to pick up. You’ve got to learn to launch the kite, control the kite, control the kite while walking, control the kite with one hand while putting on the board and getting into riding position, and swing the kite in an arc that generates just the right amount of force.
At first, I would often give it too little and would sort of rise up but get stuck in the water and fall back. Then, feeling a bit braver, I would overcompensate and it would rip me out of the board and the water, hurling me face-first across the surface like a skipped stone. Then I’d do it again. It really cleans out your sinuses, face-planting repeatedly in saltwater; until, finally, you somehow get it just right. But then what? The next step requires figuring out how to keep tension in the bar (but not too much) while finding the sweet spot where the kite generates the right amount of power. Messing up here means either crashing the kite on the water and sinking or getting dragged downwind really fast then crashing much more violently and sinking. Succeeding means you then have to learn to edge your board and lean back while doing all of the above so that you can ride upwind. Until you can ride upwind, you’ll need someone with a boat to come pick you up once you’ve gone too far downwind, which happens pretty fast. There are also countless ways of crashing the kite bad enough that it’s difficult or even impossible to relaunch it from the water. If that happens, you’ll need a rescue or else you’ll end up dragged downwind and possibly out to sea. It’s the only sport I’ve tried where you routinely need rescue when you aren’t doing anything wrong.
And so many different things can go wrong that inevitably something will. The other day, for example, my board caught on something underwater when the kite was crashed. My board leash and the kite bar then pulled me in opposite directions, yanking me underwater. I could have drowned if I hadn’t been able to yank the board loose. Then the next day I got picked up by a gust and the board swung around into my leg, leaving me with a massive deep muscle bruise. Then there are the hordes of jellyfish that leave your ankles bright red and stinging every day.
Yet, despite all this, I can ride now and can almost stay upwind; I’ve gotten a minuscule taste of what it’s like to really kiteboard, and all I can say is it’s incredible. It feels limitless, as if the entire ocean is a playground.
Finding out what it’s like to learn has left me with a deep respect for those who’ve stuck with it and made it their own. My conclusion is that it’s overwhelmingly worth it despite the harrowing, difficult, and often uncomfortable learning process. With about a week left to keep learning, who knows where the wind will take me…