Zero to Hero Kite Lessons

 

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Soundside at Real

 

     Our happy clan of adventure seekers recently returned from the most
EPIC of adventures to Real Watersports in Waves, NC in which my wife
and I both learned the ancient (not really) art of kiteboarding. Our
happy little clan made the trip to Cape Hatteras this past spring
break. We spent a couple days driving down, five glorious days in
Waves at Real Watersports, and then made the mad dash back to Indiana
for the start of last bit of the school year. The experience was
fantastic from start to finish and has left our family with a frothy
desire to get out to distant shorelines to chase the wind and find
perfect kiteboarding conditions.
We decided to break the drive down to Cape Hatteras into two nights.
The girls love everything about hotels from the elevators to the
pools. We spent a night outside of Pittsburgh and enjoyed a return to
elevation. It doesn’t take much elevation to make a Hoosier
appreciative of the beauty of elevated terrain. The drive through
colonial Americana from Pittsburgh to Richmond VA was spectacular.
Every other sign is a historical marker from the 1700’s, such trivium
is enjoyable to a guy with a history minor. We stopped at a brewery in
Frederick MA for lunch that was in a 200 year old building. Out of
respect for my ancestors, I sampled the heavier beers. They were
fabulous.
In Richmond, we stayed with one of my old friends from my Ocean Rescue
days. It’s interesting how real friendships can pick right back up
after more than a decade with little more than the clink of glasses
and a high five. It’s always fun to let your kids run around with your
buddies kids when you met as free-wheeling bachelors living in a beach
house.
Arriving on the Outer Banks after a long hiatus, we were greeted with
overhead peeling waves. I am apparently an idiot and neglected to
bring a board, (instead deciding to focus on kiteboarding) watched
perfect waves peel across an empty sandbar for an hour while building
sandcastle with my daughters. After watching too many empty waves
peels across the sandbar, my wife smartly suggested we head south to
our cottage in Waves on the Real Watersports complex and start
prepping for our kiteboarding lessons.
For those of you who have never been to the Outer Banks, I suggest you
keep it that way. It’s much better that you have no idea about the
perfect paradise that you are missing out on. I’ve been all over the
country and I still wake up dreaming about Cape Hatteras. There is no
going back once you have crossed the bridge onto Pea Island and driven
south through the canyon-like dunes that tower over you, braking for
occasional seat-belt straining checks of the surf. Roll down the
windows and take a deep breath of the salty sea air. This is the type
of place that one can simply pull over, hike across the dunes, and
have an afternoon of solace on the Atlantic Ocean.
My Subaru, however, was not on such a freewheeling search for
enlightenment. I was driving a car full of groceries, children, and a
spouse that had been in the car much too long down the deserted
stretch of highway simply waiting for the sign indicating that our
cottage for the week was near. The Real Watersports complex is located
in the town of Waves, part of the tri-village. It has exploded in
popularity since the advent of kiteboarding and my last visit to the
area. The region is known worldwide for its primo kiteboarding
conditions and quality surf. The purpose of our trip to Real was to
learn how to kiteboard and become self-sufficient kiteboarders.
I had booked the “Waterman’s Hideout”, which is located next to Real
Watersports. It is their premium sound-front cottage, they offer some
pretty great accommodations that won’t break the budget (even for a
teacher). It features a secluded location with a private dock but is
still 100 yards from Real and all of the amenities. While cleaning up
the kitchen one evening I stared out the window and simultaneously
watched a pair of deer amble through the yard, a handful of pro-kiters
boost huge airs, and the sun setting over the sound.
Our first night at Hatteras was going wonderfully until Evie, our 4
year old, tripped into the coffee table and received a gash under her
eye. When she looked up, her face was covered in blood and my wife was
screaming. The closest medical facility was 45 miles back down the
single lane highway, we made it in thirty minutes. Evie was a trooper
in the ER and we survived the 90 year old doctor that wanted to do
some crazy shit to treat a cut that needed just a couple butterfly
bandages in the end. My mother-in-law and I traded some looks in
response to the doctor several times, but we made it out of there
alive. My HSA account will surely take a hit after this trip.

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 Zero to Hero Lessons at REAL Watersports
REAL is famous in the kiting world and a perfect place to take
lessons. The owners of REAL are influential in the kiteboarding world
and were early adopters of the sport. Over the past decade, they have
taught thousands of people to kiteboard. They have developed a three
day program to take someone with minimal experience and turn them into
a self-sufficient kiteboarder. Justine and I decided to start our
kiteboarding journey here at REAL.
Taking the lessons in early April was both good and bad. It was good
because our group only had three total students. It was bad because
the wind was either ripping or non-existent, compared to July which
traditionally has rideable conditions 28/31 days. Our lessons started
in the REAL shop with an introduction to our coaches and the
curriculum. The wind forecast for our time at REAL did not look
favorable over the three days, so our lessons were slightly modified.
I was paired 1 on 1 with a coach, Luke. While Justine was paired 2 on
1 with a teenage student and the coach, Matt. Both coaches were
awesome, but I was secretly stoked to get basically private lessons.
My first morning of lessons started with a brief intro into rigging
the kite, but Luke quickly got me out into the water hooked up to the
kite. We spent a bit of time getting used to the kite and doing some
body dragging. I had spent hours prior to my lesson on my trainer
kite, so Luke decided to put a board under my feet see what I could
do. I appreciated Luke’s approach to teaching me. He recognized my
skill base and played to my strengths. I was up and getting short
rides before lunch of my first day of lessons. I had purchased a
Go-Pro to document adventures. Luke was awesome about taking footage
of my rides and commentating in the background. After the morning
session, he handed my the Go-Pro and told me to got watch the footage
during lunch. Watching the footage and listening to Luke’s critique
was awesome. He pointed out the good and the bad of my progression and
shortened my learning curve greatly!
After lunch, we did more body drag runs and worked on ways that I
could recover my board after crashing for a bit. We then got right
back onto the board, hooking in and getting on my feet. Time goes
quickly out on the water and my afternoon session went fast. My coach,
Luke, was awesome. He gave solid advice and was able to help me get up
and riding for extended runs by the end of the afternoon. His years of
experience riding and teaching was obvious. He gave me tips that
accelerated my learning curve. He took tons of GoPro footage with
commentary for me to watch. I ended my first day with a couple minute
long run that pushed my quad muscles to exhaustion. Kite boarding uses
the whole body and I was toast by the end of the long first day.
After chatting about the day with our coaches, we walked back to our
cottage and rinsed off. There’s nothing like a nice outdoor shower and
a beer after a long day in saltwater. One of the best parts of staying
right on the REAL property is the Waterman’s Bar and Grill, which
overlooks the REAL slick and the whole kiteboarding scene. After the
day’s lesson end, the coaches gear up and head out to the slick to do
some serious riding. Our little family had dinner overlooking the
riding area and watched the pros rip it up while we sipped ice cold
microbrews.
The second day of lessons dawned bright and windless. The sound had
turned into a millpond overnight, with barely a whiff of breeze. Our
coaches took advantage of the conditions and brought out a couple of
jet skis to help us develop our board skills. As a decent surfer and
skater, the board skills came quite easily for me. It took a couple of
tries for me to figure out switch-foot riding and carving, but after a
few tries I was able to start making toeside to heelside transitions
seamlessly. Justine used the time behind the ski to work on popping up
on the board and working on her carves. She picked up the skills in
little time.
The wind stayed calm for the afternoon session and our coaches took
the time to walk us through some of the bookish aspects of kiting such
as right of way, evaluating spots, etc. It was enjoyable to hear the
lingo of kiting, but I could have done without the afternoon session.
Commercial sailing prepared me well regarding navigational hazards,
wind assessment, and safety evaluations.

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The Waterman’s HideAway

After we had a nice dinner at the cottage, we walked out to our
little private pier and stumbled onto the deer family enjoying an
evening walk like us. Evie and Alba are nature fanatics, so they loved
watching the deer. Evie has a habit of naming everything and then
ascribing human emotions to them, so we had fun talking about the deer
family until the sun set over the sound. After we got the kids in bed,
I went back to the Waterman’s for some reading and writing time over a
few rum drinks.
Our third and final day of lessons dawned with a screaming wind that
shook the windows  and streaked the surface of the sound with foam.
Our coaches postponed our lessons for a couple of hours to see if the
rain squalls would pass through and wind subside a bit. There was a
break in the rain, but the wind kept up. With time at a premium, our
coaches made the call to take us out for a session. My last session at
Hatteras was fantastic. I knew that I needed to get up and riding in
both directions today if I was going to feel successful. My coach,
Luke, loaded a couple of kites and boards onto the jetski and we took
off for a shallow area 15 minutes north. Luke showed me how to drift
launch the kite, which is a skill I’m still struggling with, and I was
off and riding. During the next several hours, I worked on making long
runs in both directions with the goal of staying “upwind”. Staying
“upwind” means that the kiter doesn’t fall off with the wind and drift
downwind. It’s considered the “holy grail” of kiting. At the beginning
of the lessons, I naively stated that my goal for the week was to stay
upwind while kiting. As a sailor, I didn’t really think much of
pointing into the wind. I decent sailor can easily make upwind
progress in most conditions. Kiting is a tad different of a beast, but
by the end of the session I was making progress upwind. The whole
point of staying upwind is to be able to launch and land from the same
spot on the beach. The conditions on the last day were insane. The
wind was barely in the safe range for my skill level with the wind
gusting 30 plus in the morning. The session got called off with enough
time to stow the kites and race back to shore just prior to a massive
storm unleashing on the sound. During the storm, winds gusted up to 50
kts with massive thunderheads rolling through. Needless to say, our
lessons got called off for the day. I spent the rest of the day
shopping for my gear with Luke. In my grant budget, I had proposed
spending $4,000 on gear. My tab at the end of the day was close to
$7,000. In my defense, I bought a full quiver (3 kites) of top level
Ozone kites. I also purchased two boards, two control bars, and two
life jackets. Justine and I envision getting out and kiting together
into our old age. We will be those two leathery souls with frizzed out
gray hair ripping our way into the setting sun.

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Justine evaluates a selection of boards.

The storm blew through in the late afternoon, leaving insane wind in
its wake. The shop guys were frothing to go out kiting. I noticed the
owner of REAL kites walk by a group of his pro riders and ask, “What
are you waiting for?”. It was neat that he told his guys to grab new
gear and go use it and test it out. In retrospect, I could’ve gotten
lessons and gear a bit cheaper on Lake Michigan, but you can’t put a
price tag on the atmosphere at REAL. It seems like everyone from the
cashier in the shop to the coaches are high level kiteboarders. In the
past couple weeks, I’ve had to call the shop a few times and ask
questions about my gear or a kite location. Everyone I’ve spoken to
has been great, the shop manager even has remembered that my daughters
loved the little Skittles machine at the door. Little things like that
have earned my lifetime customer status from them.
We had dinner at the Waterman’s again (ribs and fish
tacos…delicious). After we got the girls in bed, I walked out to the
end of our pier with a couple beers and watched the pros ride the
slick. I had spent the past winter watching youtube videos about
kiteboarding, it was insane to watch the real thing in front of me. A
few of the riders noticed me sitting on the end of the pier and rode
out of their way to bust huge moves and airs in front of me. The level
of riding was inspiring and humbling. I was feeling pretty good about
going upwind for some long runs that morning, but after watching these
guys do things…I was left scratching my head. After spending the
week immersed in kiteboarding, I was starting to feel pretty good
about my riding. These guys were out ripping at a whole new level, it
was certainly inspiring to watch.
We spent the last morning at REAL packing the car and going through
my kiteboarding gear order. Kiting is an expensive pursuit. A big part
of my grant went to lessons, but a majority of the funds went to
purchasing a quiver of kites and boards. My coach, Luke, was analyzing
my riding level and strengths during my lessons. At the end of the
trip, he helped walk me through purchasing my gear in the shop. I
ended up buying two boards (one for light wind and a general use twin
tip), two control bars, and three Catalyst Ozone kites (9, 12, and 14
meter). I also purchased a couple harnesses and impact/flotation
vests. I was fortunate to be able to put together a full quiver for
most riding conditions that I will come across in my beginning stages
and I’m thankful for my Lily Grant. The right equipment will go a long
way to helping me progress.
Driving away from the Outer Banks has always been bittersweet for me.
I spent my college years working Ocean Rescue in Corolla. I always got
a lump in my throat as I drove across the bridges and watched the
ocean disappear in my rearview mirror. The air just never smelled as
fresh nor the sun shine as bright on the other side of the bridges to
the mainland. As if to punctuate the experience at our last stop at
the beach to let the girls run around before the drive, the waves were
head high and barreling across the sandbar with nobody else in sight.
As we drove inland and homeward, Justine and I talked about our
experiences kiteboarding and the wonderful rush you get harnessing the
wind with a kite. Everything from the pull on the harness to the spray
in your face as you cruise on the board is exhilarating. Skimming
across the surface of the water, pulled by an invisible force seems
almost surreal. We both chatted excitedly about chasing the wind close
to home and seeing what sort of riding options awaited us back home in
the midwest. We had start forming plans to spend the bulk of the
summer exploring kiteboarding opportunities along the Michigan
shoreline.
Please check back to keep follow our Happy Clan’s adventures as we
continue to chase the wind…

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