The kite runner
Soma Das dropped by the sandy shores of Mandwa in Alibaug for a Kitesurfing test drive. Not only did she hone a few skills and techniques about this thrilling water sport but was also able to learn a few uplifting lessons on life, along the way
In life, love and Kitesurfing, the rules remain the same — Let go (when you feel the pressure). As soon as you let go of the control bar, the kite loses wind and glides down peacefully, preventing a tricky situation.
This was something we learned during our first Kitesurfing safety lesson. Kitesurfing (or kiteboarding) is an adventure sport that combines skills from different activities such as surfing and paragliding into one power-packed sport. In this fun sport, you surf on water or sand by using the power of the wind.
A few hours earlier, we had landed on the sun-kissed beach of Mandwa, and headed to Kiteboarding India’s activity centre. On that sultry May afternoon, we met our 57 year-old instructor, Fred Manning aka The Legend.
Originally from the UK, the very fit and affable Fred admitted that he consciously tries to explore the world as much as possible. Being an IKO (International Kiteboarding Organization) Level 2 instructor, he has taught kitesurfing across the world including in Thailand, which is where he met Jehan Driver, director of Quest Expeditions, an adventure sports company. Jehan learned from Fred in Thailand and invited him to India to promote and teach the sport at this facility in Mandwa.
While he learned the sport around a decade ago, Fred admits that age has never been a barrier for this sport (his teacher in Australia was 65 years old!). While we were excited but wary since we didn’t know much about the sport, he put us at ease — “You need to know swimming to learn Kitesurfing.
Beyond that, its about learning the basics, being aware of safety regulations, practicing and building muscle memory. It’s better to not be confused with the techniques of windsurfing and other disciplines as it leads to confusion.”
Have kite...will fly
Since Kitesurfing is all about the nylon kite being propelled by the wind, the lesson started with Fred teaching us how to figure out the wind window, the power of the wind and its direction (a simple technique is to let the wind blow a fistful of sand to know the direction of the wind).
We were then taught about the suitable winds for Kitesurfing — cross-shore and cross-onshore winds. Direct offshore winds can be dangerous as they can blow you away from the shore and direct onshore winds can blow you onto the beach into obstacles.
Kitesurfing is 90% about kite skills and 10% board skills so Fred got us started with handling the control bar. “The kite has to be handled like a bicycle handlebar (moved at an angle right and left), not like a car’s steering wheel,” he explained. Needless to say, our kite crashed quite a lot due to our insistence on “steering-wheel” manoeuvres but thanks to the helmet and the life jacket, we didn’t mind the crashes. Also, the fact that either Fred or Jehan held on firmly to prevent us from flying off was a huge relief. All of a sudden, we didn’t feel out of place when Fred revealed that he had crashed several times more than us.
But as we kept practicing and time flew, we were able to manage certain moves including launching and landing the kite with the appropriate signals (thumbs up and patting the helmet, respectively), keeping it steady at a 45-degree angle, keeping it moving from side to side (10 o’ clock to 2 o’ clock position on the clock) without crashing and handling the kite with just one hand.
We also had to manoeuvre it each time it tilted from left to right and vice versa, to ensure it was kept at a proper angle. The control bar had to be pulled in to give the kite speed and power (it enters a higher pressure dynamic zone) and eased to diminish the speed, based once again, on the principle of letting go.
The real deal
We also learned how to pump the kite with air, how to assemble the kite lines, attach the safety leash to the harness, and get it going. Feeling reassured of our skills till then, we headed to the sea for a few body drags. Here, the power of the kite drags you across the water’s surface at a speed; it was great fun and a stepping stone to learning how to stand up on a board. When the kite fell in the water, we learned to re-launch the kite by pulling the right kite line and send it up in the air,again.
Even though we had water in our eyes, ears and mouth, we couldn’t remember the last time we felt so thrilled. Then, we tried out the techniques we had just learned on the shore in the water (of managing the kite between various angles, maintaining it steadily, launching and landing the kite).
As Fred had told us, Kitesurfing was very relaxing and helped us forget all the cares in the world. Soon, we were in a world of our own, oblivious to everything except the motion of the kite in our hand, which was free flying in the air. Perhaps, this is what they mean by meditation in motion.