Kiteboarding Lessons/Life Lessons

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When I was in second grade, I learned to windsurf when my family moved to Venezuela for a year. We lived in the small coastal village of El Yaque on the island of Margarita where the palm fronds sing in the wind that consistently blows year around. Sitting in my dad’s lap on a light wind day, I saw kiteboarding for the first time. We watched the new sport with wonder and awe. 

“I gotta learn that!” My dad said. I echoed my dad’s words, wanting nothing more than to dance across the water as the kiters did. Kiteboarding is a sport so much more graceful and gear light than windsurfing. My dad started taking lessons that year but the equipment didn’t have enough safety systems yet for my mom’s approval standards. I trailed along at my dad’s kite lessons, leaning as much as I could from the sidelines along the shore, awaiting the day when I too could have a wing in the sky. 

I became my dad’s “kite caddy,” helping him with the gear. When we moved back to the states, my dad and I went on kite safaris to the Outer Banks and Beaufort, North Carolina. I helped him with set up, detangled lines and attached them to the kite, learned how to safely launch and land the kite for him, and carried his board up the beach as he learned how to make upwind. 

In 2008, at 16 years old, I decided it was time the caddy learn to fly. The safety systems and my independence had both increased since our first glimpse of the sport. I researched the best places with wind in the summertime. Cabarete, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, reported the most windy days in the month of July. I found a 1 bedroom airbnb condo that was $680 for the month that had a camp stove style kitchen. It was a mile walk from a woman owned kiteboarding school called Laurel Eastman Kiteboarding (LEK) with rave reviews and a focus on safety. My parents could have the bedroom; my sister Ella and I could bring our camping stuff and make up Thermarest style beds in the small living room. With the inexpensive place to stay where we could cook all of our meals, we could invest in kiteboarding lessons. 

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“$680 a night is way out of price range,” my mom said. When I clarified that it was $680 for the whole month, my parents laughed and started taking the plan seriously. 

That summer we packed our big duffels and landed in Puerta Plata, a short 20 minute ride from the small town of Cabarete. LEK became our home and our condo just the place we slept. I loved my instructor Fernanda, a Chilean woman who made me believe that I really would get up on the board and ride. The first week I swallowed a lot of water, crashed the kite countless times, and did a lot of walking up the beach with Fernanda after long body drags downwind through the water, learning how to retrieve the board before ever getting to ride it. The kite control took much longer than I expected to learn even though I had seen my dad struggle in the same ways. Fernanda was patient and encouraging, buying us coconut candy to lift my spirits after a particularly frustrating session when I could not get the kite to relaunch. 

Finally, it was time for the board. Learning the water start was the hardest part and Fernanda went out with me again and again, holding onto my harness to get me in the right position, coaching me on when to dive the kite, reminding me to not pull too far in on the bar. I had to learn to anticipate the kite and keep a loose grip to not oversteer. 

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By the second week I was up and riding, making up wind and learning how to turn. Ella and I shared a kite and took turns being each other’s teacher. Our instructors highfived us when we came in for water breaks and gave us tips even though we weren’t taking lessons anymore. Mom had decided kiting wasn’t for her after a few lessons in which she lifted herself for a few big accidental jumps ending in spectacular plunges into the waves. Dad was just learning to jump as my sister and I mastered our transitional turns. Mom cheered us all on, making sure we took breaks to reapply sunscreen. 

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After courting the sport for 8 years, I fell fast and hard for kiteboarding. I kited until sunset everyday, vowing in my journal that one day I would become an instructor like Fernanda. At the insecure age of 16, when my boobs weren’t big enough, my stomach not flat enough and my hair much too curly, kiting was the antidote. Out on the water, I felt confident in my body. I didn’t care what I looked like in my swimsuit, only that it would stay on when I popped off the top of a wave feeling the kite suspend me in midair, a rush that I knew had to be better than the less healthy ones many of my friends were pursuing.  

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That teenage love has matured into a nourishing relationship, teaching me invaluable lessons and guiding my path. Three years after we left LEK, I returned as an instructor, completing my International Kiteboarding Organization training in Cabarete and teaching lessons full time. Through teaching I realized that the tenants that govern kiting also serve as instructions on how to live life. May they inspire you to want to learn more about kiteboarding and perhaps take lessons with me. And at the very least, may you remember a few of them to guide your adventures…

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KITE LESSONS/LIFE LESSONS

Predictions are just that (all bets are off)

The conditions will always be different and are ever changing

Just let go

Comparing yourself to others only leads to crashes

Avoid getting tangled up in other people’s stuff 

Give way (be the bigger person) 

Ask for help

S*** happens 

If you are interested in taking lessons, check out Betsy’s kiteboarding site to learn more about how to sign up for your first lesson on the coast of North Carolina.

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