Sunday, 13 May 2012

Finally flying

Me, flying my two line, sometime ago...
(no new pics of me kitesurfing, yet!)
It was 2008 when the sharp-suited, dreadlock-sporting, charismatic contradiction that is Tony Devenish; the then sports development officer for West Norfolk borough council, got me lined up for a kitesurfing lesson, when he came in to see Lingo about the extreme sports "Lifestyles" festival website. Every year since then, Lingo have sponsored the annual design of the festival website, and taken an active role in promoting it, working closely with Tony and the lifestyles crew.

The lessons were to be one of the benefits in return for supporting the festival with co-sponsor Hunstanton Water Sports, and every year for the last 4, I've said "I will get round to doing those lessons" and then haven't, only to find myself sat at Lifestyles watching wishfully out to sea as the boarders do their awesome thing.

So with that kind of build up, and a lot of hard work from a lot of people, it was with real excitement that I finally booked my time in and am now finally pleased to report my first two successful lessons! :) 

As far as extreme sports experience goes, I'm not a complete novice; I've been power-kiting for 9 years now, having had many happy flying hours with a pink flexifoil 6ft stacker, as well as having flown some bigger, 3.5m bullets, 4.m blades and even 'proper' big kites (mostly belonging to my good mate Gordon, who overtook me in ability long ago, but whom I like to remind that it was me who introduced him to the sport) meaning I've had a few goes at land-buggying, (getting dragged up and down a grass airstrip in a three wheel get up a few times) and a mini-dabble in land-boarding too.  I've also been snowboarding for 6 years now, I just about class myself as an intermediate. So I thought these skills would hold me in good stead as I finally got to mix kite and water for the first time. 

I'm happy to report that I wasn't entirely wrong. I've mastered the basic kite control pretty well now, the scariness of the 12m kite and the chance of getting picked up in the air 50ft without warning seem to have waned as the lessons of how not to do that have slowly sunk in...

But physically, learning to kitesurf seems harder then learning to snowboard and obviously way harder than power kiting alone. The constant onslaught of a strong current, the relentless battering of the freezing waves, and the resistance of water as you body drag back and's not one for the feint hearted. The crashes are a little easier; sure it smarts a bit as you repeatedly smack your face into the salty, cold, sandy-brown sea from 5ft up in the air, but I've got fewer bruises than when I was relentlessly smashing my knees and arse into compacted snow and ice while trying to learn how to not fall down a mountain.

But, I've also picked up some bad habits from power kiting; I keep wanting to 'loop' the kite (one of my favourite 2 line stunts), and I keep pulling on the bar too aggressively with my arms (adding power) when I should be letting the harness take my weight and drag me along, plus I can't quite seem to get my head around always needing power... but I am getting there, and I'm not about to stop.

That is thanks in no small part to a very patient, friendly instructor called Alex. Alex is obviously passionate about kitesurfing. He's the kid of guy who seems right at home showing novices the ropes (or lines) and then spending every spare minute he can, honing his kitesurfing skills and tricks in readiness for his first attempt at competition level when he enters the amateur mens round of the BKSA championships at Lifestyles this year. Part of a super cool and super friendly bunch of people at the school and shop, HWS know how to make you feel right at home. Shop owner Steve is so laid back that even as the most nervous newbie, you're made to feel welcome and chilled about in the shop. Pros come in and discuss the latest gear, people stop by to enquire about lessons, and (while I was thawing out and trying not to spend all my money on Roxy or O'Neill clothing) Steve's dad came in to talk about parking and bins (as Dads often do) really is a friendly place.

So I'm hooked. I've got my boots, a second hand kite, board, lines and bar and, apart from a wetsuit, (which is provided during your lessons) a bit more fitness training, maybe one or two more lessons (sorry Alex) who knows, you might even see my competing next year in the ladies amateurs.*

*May be a pipe dream... but you've got to have them.

Special thanks to Lifestyles Festival, Tony D, Steve, all at HWS and of course, the marvellous Alex. 

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