Kiteboarding: can a middle-aged woman of average athletic ability and no previous experience snowboarding or surfing fly through the waves on a kiteboard? Absolutely. I discover this in San Juan on Puerto Rico’s Isla Verde Beach during a two-hour lesson with 15 Knots.
Forget-about requiring bulging muscles. “That’s one of the biggest myths about the sport,” my instructor Felix Cuadrado, tells me. “You don’t rely on strength to control the kite and you won’t be blown out to sea,” another concern for never-evers.
What you do need: clear and patient instruction, much encouragement plus good equipment. Felix and 15 Knots provide that. In explaining the equipment—top-rated Cabrinha—Felix points out the safety systems that enable us to slow the kite’s speed quickly and if necessary, disengage completely from the kite. And just in case, Felix also shows us how to turn the kite into a life raft in the unlikely event that the wind dies suddenly and we need to float back to shore.
The Isla Verde beach, long, wide enough and often blessed with steady winds of 10-15 knots that parallel the shore, is a prime place to learn. We begin on the sand by launching a training kite, a small foil version with only two lines. After Felix gets this kite airborne, I place my hands next to his on the bar, feeling the wind.
Instead of brute force, as I imagined, controlling the kite, at least at a beginner’s level, requires a series of gentle maneuvers that result in the kite executing figure eights in the air. This keeps the kite flying at the edge of the power zone, that dead-ahead position in which the full force of the wind—formidable-- fills the kite.
After mastering basic control, we don harnesses (the ones with seats don’t ride up and put less pressure on your back), practice some more and then Felix pronounces our group ready for the body drag. Much more fun than it sounds, body dragging is using the kite to move on the water’s surface.
As Felix holds the kite steady in the air, we head into the sea. As instructed, I grab hold of the bar on his harness and Vivianna, the other student, grabs onto my harness. All of a sudden, we float through the water, effortlessly and swiftly as I imagine mermaids might. The feeling is extraordinary. We take turns controlling our ride. To show us just how fast we could go, Felix points the kite into the power zone and we zoom on top of the waves. It’s hard to believe we use just skill and the wind.
The next lesson would get us onto boards similar to those used in snowboarding. 15 Knots offers a variety of courses. Most beginners opt for the six hour package delivered over two or three days.
What does Felix especially like about kiteboarding? “It’s eco-friendly. You are not contaminating the environment. There’s no boat or motor.” Adds Juan Carlos Morales, 15 Knots owner, “I love to feel the power of the wind in my hands.” So do I.