Get high on kiteboarding

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Local kiteboarder Joe Vicars sets out to catch  some windLocal kiteboarder Joe Vicars sets out to catch some wind

On Oct. 3, 2008, Frenchman Sebastian Cattelan became the first sailor to break the 50 knot barrier by reaching 50.26 knots or almost 60 mph of wind-powered speed across the water. This record was previously held by sailboats, but Cattelan set the new record on a board with just a kite.

Speed is just one of the thrills that attract people to kiteboarding, an extreme water sport that is a hybrid of kiting, surfing and wakeboarding. There is no other sport in which you can achieve such speed or heights.

Participants seem to just fly across the water while occasionally jolting out of the water for a jump or an impressive flip. The sport is not only fun to watch, but fun to do, and is becoming more and more popular on Hilton Head Island.

Joe Vicars is an avid local kiteboarder who has kiteboarded on water, snow and land around the world. Asked why Hilton Head is an ideal spot for kiteboarding he said, “We have big sandy beaches with no rocks. The waves are not rough, and it is an easy place for a beginner to learn.”

Fellow kiteboarder John Batson, M.D., agrees adding, “There are some great people participating in the sport who are willing to lend a hand to learners.”

Another reason that Hilton Head is ideal for kiteboarding is that we have “favorable winds three out of the four seasons,” said Vicars.

Local kiteboarder Joe Vicars sets out to catch some windThe sport uses wind to pull a rider across the water on a small board. A large inflated kite is attached to a control bar that is attached to a harness that the rider usually wears around his or her midsection. The control bar allows the rider to manipulate the kite and steer, while the harness relieves pressure off the arms and equalizes it throughout the body. The board, which may be a wakeboard or surfboard, is ridden by the rider in a standing position and usually includes foot straps to facilitate jumping and flips.

“One of the powerful things about kiting is that it allows a person to be a fulcrum between two major forces of nature, wind and water,” said Vicars. He lights up when he talks about the sport and says one of his favorite kiteboarding experiences was coming off a particularly high flip and landing in a pod of humpback whales.

If you are interested in learning to kiteboard, the fiist thing you need to do is take lessons from a certified instructor. This is not a sport that you can teach yourself, and you will most likely end up frustrated and possibly injured in what kiters call a ‘kitemare.’

“It may look challenging, but in truth it is a relatively easy sport to learn. If you can fly a kite and chew gum at the same time, you are a candidate,” said Batson. “A background in sailing helps to know the basics related to wind. A touch of bravery and humility will assist during the first lessons.”

For safety reasons, kiteboarding is prohibited on Hilton Head Island in swim zones on the beach; these are usually areas in front of resorts where beachgoers are more concentrated.

There is currently no place to take lessons on Hilton Head. To find a certified instructor or learn more about kiteboarding, start by checking out kiteboarding association websites: www.internationalkiteboarding.org or www.pasakiteboarding.org.