Storm season is right for kite surfing Gasparilla Sound

August 20, 2021
By Tonya Bramlage

Tami and Ralph Bellon kite together in Gasparilla Sound locally but the couple travels literally to where the wind takes them. “We love all the diverse walks of life that kitesurfing appeals to. We know surfers as young as four years old all the way up to 87 years old.” There is no age limit when it comes to learning new things, after all Tami herself was 45 when she took up the sport. Ralph has a special fondness for kitesurfing here in Florida although he and Tami have traveled extensively. “We have all our gear ready to go, as often as we can go, to wherever the wind is blowing. It only takes about 40 minutes for us to be out in Gasparilla Sound, but the Keys are well worth the drive,” said Ralph.

In as little as three decades, kitesurfing has managed to become the fastest-growing sport in the world. Kitesurfing is an adventure water sport that consists of using a large steerable kite to propel yourself on a board on top of the water. The term “Kitesurfing” is commonly referred to interchangeably as kite boarding and sky boarding. Kites are controlled through a bar and lines that connect to a harness, which is worn around the midsection. The kite can be flown in specific patterns in order to generate power and can be used to elevate oneself high in the air. Experienced, professional kiteboarders can jump 50 or 60 feet high and can easily float for hundreds of feet when the conditions are right.

Kiteboarding is considered to be one of the most thrilling water sports by extreme sport enthusiasts. It combines the art of sailing, wave riding expertise and the gravity-defying characteristics of acrobatics. Selecting what type of kite that is right to use, varies by size and shape depending respectively on the strength of the wind, your weight, your level of expertise and the discipline you are practicing. Any time you see a kite on the water, you can notice a number on the canopy of the kite which indicates its size in square meters. Most kites are between five and 18 m2. Kites are generally made from a material called ripstop polyester. In addition to the ripstop fabric, there is an inflatable plastic bladder that spans the front edge of the kite and smaller struts that are perpendicular to the main bladder. When you inflate the bladders, it gives form and rigidity to the shape of the kite. Teijin Frontier, a Japanese textile company is the leading supplier of fabrics to the kitesurfing industry with its “techno force formula” found in over 90 percent of the worlds kites.

I know that you are probably thinking to yourself, “Don’t you need to be really strong and have a lot of upper body strength or at least in your arms to do it?” The answer is no. It is the harness that you wear that takes most of the brunt of the force while your arms are free to steer the kite quite effortlessly. The two types of harnesses that are used in kitesurfing determine where you feel the pressure. A waist harness sits along your lower back and a seat harness is strapped around your legs and buttocks. The harness hooks into the control bar on your kite and you lean back into it as the kite is filled with wind. “A two-hour ride with an instructor will give you a taste test of the general sensations, but if you really want to rip the water, a four hour lesson is what I typically suggest,” offers Aaron McClearon at Elite Water Sports.

The pull that you feel with kiteboarding does not originate in the controls. If you feel an extreme pull in the handles, it is likely that you have too much pressure to steer the kite. This is precisely where the harness comes into play. The pressure from the kite will start towards your back and waist. This is the moment where you will be propelled through the water, making it easier to stay stable and on your board. Other sports such as wakeboarding, require that you to hang on to the bar with all your might in order to perform your tricks and ride. “I began Kitesurfing 10 years ago after I broke my foot. The kite allowed me to body drag and not worry about any weight bearing,” shared local kitesurfer Tami Bellon. Defying all the typical stereotypes of kitesurfers, not only is she a lefty, but she also surfs with Multiple Sclerosis.

In kiteboarding, the power of the kite is directed straight to the hook on your harness. This is near your center of gravity and allows for you to use your body as leverage against the kite. Enabling the load to be taken off your arms, which are used for steering, powering up and de-powering the kite, the harness does amazing feats all its own. When you pull the bar towards you it adds power, when you push the bar away you decrease power.

Kites have a special construction including a neutral zone where the wind will pass above and below the kite. Aerodynamics are the main aspect of kiteboarding that makes it easy for the average person to control a kite. Mastering the “wind window”, ensuring that you can control the kite and maintain your balance on the board is the ultimate goal of the kitesurfing experience. Using different sized kites is an important aspect of equipment adjustment so that kitesurfers can ride in different conditions. A larger kite will help larger people move through the water or ride in less windy conditions. Choosing a larger kite if you are a smaller person is not typically recommended, unless there is a minimal amount of wind. An easy way to know which kite to use is to check out what everyone else around you is flying or ask another nearby surfer if you are still unsure.

It is often advised for beginners to choose a kite that is a bit larger for easier control. (Until the time that you are able to gain some confidence and comfort behind a kite, it is important to stick with the recommended sizing based on your weight.) Simply by gently leaning back, using the control bar for steering will give you all the tools you need for great movement on the water. The best grip on any control bar is usually a relaxed one because if you keep a tight grip and try to muscle into each turn, you will likely deflate the kite or lose the board with the sudden turning. The technique does often take a bit of practice but doing some exercises out on the water will help you to develop the movements. Once you have successfully learned how to “boost” or jump, you will begin experiencing sensations, like the feeling of flying.

The sport of kiteboarding is still relatively new on the water sport scene. In short order, it has already managed to gain a few rivals in the extreme sports industry. There are no shortage of arguments that will likely be presented to you when you begin to tell friends, family and other sports enthusiasts that you plan to learn how to kiteboard. It is probably best to humor them by listening, but be assured and make no mistake about it, kiteboarding is in fact easy to learn, accessible and remarkably safe.

The good news is that the kiteboard is always ready to go. As for the main setup, rigging your lines, pumping your kite and getting everything ready usually takes less than five minutes. The main requirement is that careful attention should be given to a few safety guidelines before the fun of your kite run can begin. Surprisingly, kiteboarding gear is minimal when compared to other sports. There is a kite, a board, lines and a kite bar required for kiteboarding pleasure and adventure. An added bonus is that they all fit neatly in a backpack and can easily be transported. Aaron McClearon at Elite Water Sports in St. Petersburg has everything you need to get started on hand. “The price of a high-quality kiteboard for beginners ranges between $1,000 and $2,000, but when it comes down to making your selection it’s more about what best fits your needs versus the overall price of a kite.”

You can be sure when it comes to myths and misconceptions around flying and riding kites, that there are no shortages. The most common begins with the notion that kiteboarding is a life threatening, extreme sport and very dangerous. As with any other sport, if you don’t follow the basic safety rules and do not take the necessary precautions, injuries can happen. Professional kiteboarding equipment offers several safety releases, which can be used to kill power in case of emergency. The freedom that kiteboarding provides, while simultaneously having the ability to be safe and effortless, allows you to ride in most large bodies of water that have a steady breeze. Similar to a sailboat, you can go any direction you want except directly into the wind. If you want to go upwind you can tack back and forth at about a 45-degree angle to the wind. With today’s technology and kite design knowledge, it is possible to ride a wing with only five knots (9.3 kph or 5.8 mph) of wind. This debunks the myth that kiteboarders need strong winds to fly kites.

Kiteboarding does not have a steep learning curve as one might suspect. One of the largest mistakes that anyone can make is trying to teach themselves how to kiteboard. “An instructor is there to teach you the basics and help you build confidence for future tricks, challenges and maneuvers”, explained Aaron McClearon of Elite Water Sports. “Learning to ride a kite upwind and downwind takes on average somewhere between 5 and 15 days depending on the depth of the water.” Kiteboarding can be practiced in rivers, lakes, estuaries, fjords, gulfs, harbors and lagoons, but kites are also increasingly gaining popularity in locations inland.

 Land kiting and snow kiting offer diverse landscapes and opportunities for kiters. Unlike surfers, kiteboarders are able to enjoy their sport both in and out of the water. In the early stages, it is always good to have people around to help you, but as you progress, you can rest assured that you will be able to launch and land the kite all by yourself. Kiteboarding benefits each individual differently and provides physical, mental and social benefits to all surfers from the novice to the pro, the young and old, the thrill seekers and sightseers, but mostly to those who believe they can touch the sky and try to fly.