Activity of the Month: Kite Surfing

It’s time to fly. 

Text by Briana Duffy and Stef Godfrey; Photos by Leading Edge Kite School

Walking up to 41st Street beach for my first kite surfing lesson, I kept repeating… “I can’t do this. There is no way I can do this. What the heck am I doing?” as my feet kept moving me forward.

If you’ve been lucky enough to spend time on the beach, you may have already seen a kite surfer.; I’ve watched people kite surf for years as I peeked out from behind my beach book. Kite surfers harness themselves to a giant kite, then maneuver it as they work their board through the waves. These people seem like pro athletes, but I decided to put my fears aside and learn this extreme sport that combines aspects of wakeboarding, surfing, windsurfing, skateboarding, and even gymnastics.

Chris Doyle greeted me on the beach. He is the owner of Leading Edge Kite School and was going to teach me my lesson that day. He made me feel comfortable as soon as he introduced himself and again when I found out he’s been kite surfing for 10 years and teaching for six. When he’s not in OC, he’s down in the US Virgin Islands and St. Croix teaching.

“Have you ever wake boarded? Ever surfed?,” Chris asked.

As I shook my head no, my anxiety was creeping back in. I have flown a kite before, so that’s something and turns out, enough to give me a slight edge in the lesson.

“Take what you know about flying a kite, this is the same thing. Use the wind to direct where you want to go,” said Chris.

Kite surfers use this knowledge to guide the kite. Chris and his partner Laura Lee explained the difference between an upwind, downwind, onshore wind and sideon wind.

“It’s a lot easier once you get the kite in your hands,” said Chris.

I was taking my lesson that day with an OC pilot named Roo. Once we had our wind lesson, Chris and Laura brought out a training kite. This was much smaller than the actual kite used for surfing, but the perfect one to learn with. It had a control bar and lines, just like the bigger kite.

With both arms extended, like riding a bike, I got the hang of changing direction with the control bar. I alternated back and forth as I bent my elbows, and made the kite turn in the direction of the bent elbow. Chris and Laura were so encouraging and enthusiastic, it was hard not to get more comfortable with each passing minute… until, that is, Chris brought out the real kite. This one was nine meters – or you could say – giant. After we pumped it up (unlike a beach kite, this one is filled with air) it was time to learn how to flip it. It may seem like just flipping a kite, but the direction and speed of the wind is crucial. I turned my right arm in a half circle and placed the leading edge of the kite into the wind.

“Orange on the left, always have the orange on the left,” Chris said about the colors on the control bar.

It’s important to keep the orange side on the left because if not, the lines connecting the kite and handle would get tangled.

As we watched Roo with the kite, Laura looked at me and said “you believe people were doing this a hundred years ago?”

She told me people used to use old army kites on skis and would cruise around on the water, without being harnessed or attached to the kite. That put things into perspective as it became my turn to fly.

Chris let go of my harness and I flew! In those few seconds, my mind went from this is fun… to this is it, this is how I die.

I only went about a foot in the air.

It was the scariest, most life-changing foot of my life and enough to keep me out of the water that day. A few more classes and I’ll be ready to take on the Atlantic. Kite surfing is an extreme sport but with Leading Edge Kite School, anyone can learn to fly high. Even me.

Ready to ride the wind? The Leading Edge Kite School is located at 4015 Central Avenue. Call 215-498-5788 for more info.