Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Shredding the Delta

I had the best day today I've had in many years. [Be sure to read the disclaimer at the end of this post.]

I've avoided practicing my kite surfing much. I think it is quite dangerous while you are learning because:
  • the equipment has not been very well thought out & safety systems have been afterthoughts
  • your safety is always based upon the skills of the people on the same beach, if they are all beginners, then its like skiing Chamonix with a SF bike messenger as a partner.
  • things are most dangerous if you are on the beach, but in most areas a beginner must spend 90% of the time at the beach.
  • people keep getting electrocuted, bashing out their brains, and dying of hypothermia. The lucky ones only loose fingers & eyes. You may remember I saw a guy knock down a sement wall (bye, bye, leg), slam into a bigger wall (bye, bye, period), and one get lofted (10 year old DR helper still attached) into the top of a palm. I'm old enough to heal slowly if dismemberment or death comes my way.
I did spend a few days in Texas this year when the conditions were good, but the wind was very light. That was great training, but not great fun because in light winds you really must have great kite skills to power yourself. Therefore I was never able to get long rides and lever even able to practice going up wind. In addition while the location was great and the people at the school were nice, they did not provide a balanced plan of instruction. Skills like the ability to to up wind without your board were ignored. (You usually do this when your board has been blown off your feet & it is up wind of you. It is easy for this to be a 10-30 meters, although until to day, a kite even 3 feet was beyond my capacity to retrieve.)

Today I got the right combinations of location, equipment, and instruction & was able to get long rides, hold my own against a strong ebb current with pretty big waves, work my way up wind without the board, and handle the type of kite pros use 80% of the time. These give excellent up wind capacity, but require more skill to keep in the air & relaunch when they crash. The kite was fantastic, but when I buy a few I'll probably buy a newer model from a competitor, which is even safer. Next year: waves on the California coast!

So, I had more fun than a barrel of monkeys & got some wonderful runs. Because the kite gives you a lot of lift, it often feels like you are flying & just using the board as a rudder. The kite I was using was actually owned by one of the worlds top riders & he uses it for 80% of his riding. A little like learning to ride a horse a GG fields. [The kite was not a true high aspect kite, but these days most pros seem to be riding medium aspect kites for most purposes as they have greatly improved performance.]

If I can get a day like this in each of the next 4-6 weeks, I'll feel confident in a much larger set of locations, including Larkspur. I'll be able to ride over the hippos & terrorize the ferry passengers.

Since I've made one trip to the DR and one trip to Texas its been disappointing that I've not gotten real rides until today; sometimes I've really felt like the classic old fool. But, I've been confident that my kite skills are really pretty good and that I've had far from ideal conditions, although I've been in areas where the conditions are usually ideal. Its strange that I finally got the conditions I wanted near Antioch! My instructor was a real teacher & taught veterinary medicine for years. Encouragement from a young athletic blond never hurts.

So part of the excitement is the thrill of some nice rides & part is the confirmation that I'm really not past being able to handle the sport, which is the sport of the future. Next year Sardinia, which has the best wind in Europe & pecorino to boot!

Disclaimer: If you saw me riding, you would wonder why in the world I think I'm having any success at all. My body position is terrible, I'm never truly centered, I don't usually go anywhere after I get up, no intentional air, I ditch my board at the slightest hint of trouble, I'm still not ready to ride without backup. All the above was carried out with Jet Ski support. I was able to practice a long way from anyone else & I had someone who could cut lines and/or chase after me in an emergency.