Friday, April 18, 2008


Taking Flight

Having an excess of annual leave owing to me, I decided I would do something a bit different with my Friday off work. Kite landboarding seemed like the obvious choice, as I'm sure you'll agree.

I'd booked 3 hours of one-to-one tuition with kitevibe, on the recommendation of a Guardian 'adventure' supplement from a couple of months ago, and set off for Richmond Park. Which, incidentally, has appalling signage. I got off the bus early, walked through Robin Hood Gate and didn't realise it was Robin Hood Gate, tried to board another bus, before the driver pointed me back to where I had come from. Considering I was 20 minutes late, my instructor was remarkably good about the whole thing.

Mark looked every part the extreme sports instructor. Pony tail, snowboarding jacket in polar camouflage, goatee, and a grin that comes from knowing someone is paying you to watch them fall over repeatedly.
I did as I was told, and put on the helmet, elbow pads and knee pads provided, then filled out the form Mark handed to me:
Emergency Contact number...
Blood type...
Preferred Hospital... ?
Those last two only worried me a little bit. I left them blank - I don't know my blood type, and if I need a hospital, I'm not the picky type.

"Let's see you fly a kite then."

Carefully, I got my kite out of the bag and laid out the lines. I'd been caught out before, and wasn't going to let it happen again. Everything set, lines staked out, I got ready to launch. The wind was pretty strong. Actually, it was very strong, and I was having second thoughts, as the kite bounced angrily on the ground ahead of me. I turned sheepishly to Mark.
"Um, I wouldn't normally fly it in winds this strong. I don't think it's very safe."
"Go up to the kite and hang onto it. I'm going to make an adjustment."
I followed instructions and clung onto the still-inflated kite until Mark called me back.
"What I've done is tighten up your brake lines. You see how it's not bouncing around any more?"
"Try it now"

I gingerly pulled on the lines, until the kite took flight. It soared upwards, did a few turns in the sky, then a gust of wind caught it, pulled me forward, and then launched me skyward, causing me to activate the kite killers. Unfortunately I was already airborne.

I'm no sure of my trajectory, I had my eyes shut. What I do know is that I landed on my helmet-clad head, and that when I sat up I saw stars.

Mark tried out the kite, and agreed that the wind, at over 20mph wasn't really safe for someone as unskilled and lightweight as me.
So, we moved onto board theory. We went over bearing types, board materials, wheel spokes and all sorts of other details I now can't remember.
How do you practice kiteboarding without a kite? First you practice getting on and off the board whilst not looking at it. Stepping on... jumping off... stepping on... jumping off. All whilst wearing my helmet, elbow pads and knee pads. Ridiculous doesn't begin to describe it, but it got worse. I also needed to practice steering the board whilst in motion.

Remember, I wasn't flying the kite. So how to learn? Thus it was that I found myself holding onto the ends of a kite bar, with my instructor holding onto the middle, playing the role of 'kite', and then was dragged up and down a path at a leisurely pace, still wearing my helmet, knee pads and elbow pads. The dog walkers were bemused to say the least.

The wind was gusting up to 25mph once I'd finished making a fool of myself, so we decided to call it a day. I've still got two hours left, so maybe next time I'll be able to combine the kite and the board.

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