The southern Grenadines are a kiteboarding mecca: strong, consistent trade winds, relatively calm waters protected by coral reefs, and lots of east-facing harbors. Here on Union Island there are several experienced kiteboarding schools and, with plenty of time on our hands, Capt. Mike finally got his chance to take a week of lessons from Happy Kite Grenadines!
Kiteboarding has evolved from the sport of windsurfing. The newer gear is slightly less expensive, and consumes less space in storage, making the sport more accessible than earlier iterations. A rider wears a harness around his waist, attached to a leading-edge inflatable kite by approximately 60 feet of control lines. He stands on a bidirectional board, similar to a wakeboard, and uses the kite to generate power and to control the direction and speed of travel. Is that a dry and boring enough description for you? 🤣 Well, when watching Mike’s lessons, I could feel the excitement and invigoration of flying across the surface of the ocean at high speeds, hoping to avoid boats, reefs, and other boarders, and definitely hoping to avoid a sudden and violent crash!
Happy Kite is run out of a turquoise catamaran anchored off Frigate Island. We anchored Sanitas there, next to SV Holiday, and Mike and Zach signed up for five consecutive days of private lessons and equipment rentals. I’m pretty impressed with the way they run their school! One instructor drives a fast dinghy. A second instructor communicates with Mike through a Bluetooth-enabled headset, providing guidance and real-time feedback while he was out there on the board. They started out on the beach, learning to inflate and configure the kite, as well as learning about safety devices and how to detach from the kite in an emergency. The first lessons focused on kite control, power zones, and generally how you can use the kite to lift you up and propel you forward.
Next, they moved into the water, not with a board yet, and learned to use the kite to body-drag you through the water. I guess this is important because even experienced kiteboarders fall off their boards, and you need to have a way to pull yourself back to it. Otherwise, the kiteboarding session could end almost as soon as it began! This part of the lesson does not look ANY fun to me at all! Getting dragged through the water, waves and choppy water repeatedly slapping you in the face, no goggles, fins, or snorkel to help us land creatures to feel more at home in the water. Blech!
Soon enough, Capt. Mike mastered the kite (Mike here. I wouldn’t say mastered. More like comprehended kite control) and the drag and was ready to tackle the board. I think his years of snowboarding the Colorado mountains really helped! There are lots of similarities between the two sports: holding an edge to carve through the water, shifting your weight and foot position to change direction, soft knees, sinking back on your heels, and of course, balancing your weight to stay in control of that board at high speeds. I could feel his excitement when the lessons finally clicked and Mike was able to get up onto the board and fly downwind – finally starting to work intuitively with the kite – and really felt that rush of speed! But, just like on a sailboat, you can’t simply speed downwind for ever. At least not if you ever want to get back to your boat or to land again! So he next had to learn to carve up wind – always a bit counterintuitive, lol.
By the final day of lessons, Mike had: lost his new sunglasses, bloodied his big toe and shins, swallowed gallons of seawater, bruised his ribs with the harness, and spent hours on YouTube watching kiteboarding videos 😀 This was the big day! He’d finally mastered both kite and board, (Mike again protesting the use of the word mastered) and the goal of the day was to finally figure out how to link turns from downwind to upwind and back again without stopping and sinking down into the water. I went out on my dinghy and trailed Mike to get some photos and video on the final day. It was much more exciting than watching from Sanitas’ cockpit through binoculars! Not the easiest thing in the word to capture on a cell phone camera from a bouncing dinghy, and a fast moving kiteboarder way off in the distance, but I did my best!
What’s next? Will Capt. Mike find some used kiteboarding gear to purchase down here? (And if so, where will we store it on teeny Sanitas?) Will Sanitas start anchoring in the windiest places we can find, instead of in the calmest? Will I become a kiteboarding widow, whiling away the hours, waiting for my adventure-seeking captain to return? Whatever happens, I’ll share it with you here!