Harness the Wind With Kiteboarding

Combining paragliding, wakeboarding and windsurfing, kiteboarding (also known as kitesurfing) is still a debutante in the athletic world -- yet to celebrate its tenth birthday. But the high-adrenaline sport, in which you can perform tricks more than 20 feet above the water and travel at speeds of more than 30 knots, is steadily gaining disciples.

Despite its reputation as an extreme sport, kiteboarding is also about balance, technique and finesse. Perhaps that's why the ranks of women riders increase every year, along with female instructors and women-specific kiting camps.

Kiteboarding classes -- an absolute must to get started in the sport -- are available around the country. Complete beginner packages at certified schools last several days and cost $400 to $1,000. Any experience you have with board or balance sports -- wakeboarding, skiing, snowboarding or surfing -- will help. You'll start small by flying a small trainer kite on land, but will soon be zipping across the water on a board, being pulled by a kite 90 feet above you.

After taking a class, follow these tips to keep your lessons fresh in mind and help you soar across the water. Take note, you should never kiteboard alone, and always practice your skills with a more experienced boarder.

On land

Master the kite. Practice launching and landing your kite on the beach. Choose a spot that's free of obstacles, and have two people assist you -- one to hold you by your harness for added safety and one to help you with your kite.

As your partner launches your kite, quickly bring it up directly overhead into neutral position, where the kite is flying but not pulling you. Practice making small adjustments with line tension so you can keep it parked. Then carefully bring the kite down into your partner's hands.

Walk the line. The long kite lines can twist, tangle and knot easily. Get in the habit of checking them thoroughly before you head in the water. Walk upwind with your control bar, unwinding your lines as you go. Place the bar in the sand in the same orientation it would be if you were getting ready to launch -- with the red side on the left, black on the right. Take one of the right lines in each hand and walk between them, untangling as you go. Do the same with the left-side lines. Carefully rewind your lines around the control bar for when you're not using them.

On water

Go for a drag. Practice body drags, flying the kite without a board while you're in the water. Once you're away from the beach, dive your kite into the power zone, or the sections of the wind window where your kite is the most powered by the wind, and park it in the neutral zone. Then try flying your kite with one hand, an important skill to master so you can easily adjust your foot straps and perform turns and tricks. Reach behind you as if you were grabbing for your board. Try switching hands.

Let the kite pull you up. When you're ready to stand up, dive the kite into the power zone in the direction you want to go. Feel the kite tugging your harness up and out of the water as you increase the depth of the dive. Don't force your legs into a standing position. Stay relaxed and let the kite do the work. When you feel the pull, bend your upwind leg so your heel is right under your butt, point your other foot slightly downwind and stand up.

Launch from the water. If you crash your kite on the water -- and you will -- stay relaxed. Kites, with built-in inflatable bladders, are designed to float and relaunch easily. When the kite is downwind of you, steer it to one side of the wind by pointing your control bar. As the kite moves sideways, increase the tension on the top lines to help it rise up and out of the water.

Stay aware. Pay attention to your surroundings at all times, and maintain a safe distance from other boarders, obstacles and boat traffic. Also, watch your lines to avoid getting entangled in them.

Eileen Garvin lives and writes in Hood River, Oregon, where she is happily getting up on her board.

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