Kite the Free Life

The first day I met my true love… I can relive every aspect of that meeting like it were yesterday. I was strolling along the beach, when she overtook my line of vision, moving gracefully across the horizon, her beauty unmatched by anything I had seen before. I knew at first sight that I wanted to be a passenger on her crazy ride. In retrospect, I could not even begin to fathom how she would consume my life…one I had dreamed of for many years. My girlfriend? No, folks. I’m describing my fateful discovery of the sport of kiteboarding.

Currently rated the fastest growing water sport in the world, kiteboarding boasts an estimated 200,000 riders worldwide and this growing number of enthusiasts translates into new competitions, DVDs and magazines. Kiteboarding is morphing from a niche pastime into a fully accredited and increasingly popular action sport

Nick throwing some big air with a tail grab.

By: Dawn Hunter

Nick throwing some big air with a tail grab.

“It became a thrill once I got up on the board and was able to ride and control the kite,” says Alex Djindil, a 34-year-old Naples dentist with three years of experience and a weekend-habit.. “To feel the wind against your face and to be able to begin taking it further and jumping…”

Personally, I’m lovesick. Every day, I wake up and promptly look at wind reports and local conditions to detect the slightest hint of wind. I take breaks during work to peer out of the window, wistfully hoping the tree tops are swaying. I constantly compare newly released equipment to my current quiver of kites and plot ways to receive the most return on them when I upgrade.

An avid kiteboarder is a case study in sports obsession. Symptoms: Creating a new allowance specifically for purchasing equipment. Moping about when the wind is absent or unresponsive. Trading human contact for online kiteboarding communities forums, delving into the hype on new equipment and watching the latest videos. Always wondering what it’s like to live in an area where the wind can lavish you with attention, predictable by the hour. Asking one’s self if a job will allow you to kiteboard anytime.

Your family and friends may not approve of moving this fast and you may find yourself trying to come up with excuses for them as to why you can’t make it to the event…just to spend time with your kite.

This sport has been known to completely destroy relationships and breakdown regular communication. Kiteboarding is a jealous mistress, demanding to be first on your agenda, especially if the wind calls for it.

These days you’ll find me out on the local beaches every spare minute. I will have, once again, put every aspect of life on hold for that brief and exhilarating moment with my new love. And my girlfriend? She had the rest of my heart when she learned how to rig my 9 meter.

Kiteboarding through the years

Nick with friends during a session.

By: Dawn Hunter

Nick with friends during a session.

The exact origins of kiteboarding are often disputed, with conflicting theories of when the idea of being powered by a sail/kite developed into a sport. The earliest recorded history of kitesailing dates back to the early 12th Century when, people used kites to propel their watercraft much faster than human power could provide. These boaters utilized a combination of wind and momentum to increase their speed.

However, one pivotal point transitioned a variety of practices into the one mature sport it has become.

By 1985, French brothers Bruno and Dominique Legaignoux had developed the first inflatable kite specifically designed for use on water with self re-launch capabilities. Along with the design came a patent, intended for licensing to windsurfing manufacturers to help the sport become more global and easier to access.

The brothers would soon introduce the kite to wind sport enthusiasts at the Brest International Speed Week.

But it was the mid-eighties, and with windsurfing at its apex, the Legaignoux brothers found it difficult to persuade the extreme sports industry that this was the next big thing. That would take another decade.

The sport debuted with real flourish into the realm of the action sport industry during the mid ‘90s, with the first inflatable kite produced by Neil Pryde in Hawaii between 1994-1995 under the brand Wipika. Surfers and wind surfers alike could adopt the sport with little struggle, due to either current boardwork or windsurfing knowledge. These skills lessened the learning curve and increased enthusiasm for many early kiteboarders.

Lucas Gianello edging hard with style.

By: Brian Kaufman

Lucas Gianello edging hard with style.

In the sport’s early years, there was no safe instruction for the sport’s intricacies. So, many of the early adoptees learned at their own risk.

The release of the four-line kite garnered positive feedback from the sport’s already growing fan-base. This latest innovation increased kite control, providing safer release systems and easier re-launch. It also allowed riders to harness more power and the combination gave them the confidence to experiment with tricks.

By 2005 the patent was coming to a close and manufactures lined up with a new kite to release. The bow kite showcased a slew of new features that improved riding, jumping and promised a safer learning environment.

The Legaignoux brothers had done it again, but this time with major brand support. Cabrinha introduced the first bow kite into the market, setting a fast pace for many brands to follow. The bow kite boasts a huge wind range compared to the classic C kite and also provides more de-power features with simplified safety release systems.

Want to learn? Take lessons.

This is the most repeated phrase echoed in the kiteboarding community to all newcomers, newbs, beginners, snowboarders, wakeboarders, windsurfers and surfers who want to get started. The main reason for this is because of the steep learning curve associated with the sport. Eighty-five percent of mastering the gear is learning to properly rig and fly the kite. The remaining fifteen percent is boardwork and safety rules. Taking lessons increases your knowledge of the sport and all of the factors involved before going out on the water. This will decrease your chances of sustaining severe injuries or causing bodily harm to others at the beach. Overall, this will prevent bans on a hard-earned legal right to fly at the beach.

Enrique Gianello instructing a student with assistance from Lucas.

By: Todd Soligo

Enrique Gianello instructing a student with assistance from Lucas.

When seeking instructions, be sure that a certified instructor provides them. Be prepared to make game-time decisions about when to train, take a day off, or travel to get the best wind available for your lessons. Try to keep it local. It helps with the travel time and you become more aware of your local beach’s launching areas. For an additional advantage research the sport. Watch training DVD’s to help you better understand the concept of flying the kite and how it works. They will familiarize you with the lingo that is used to describe important actions, events and terms. Having a better understanding of wind reports will help you obtain an enhanced level of knowledge about what to expect when you view your local conditions.


A multitude of manufacturers offer their own innovation or setup that makes the sport safer, cheaper and more fun. But, buyer beware: do your research, talk to reps and read reviews. With so many manufacturers making kites, you have to carefully decide what you want, what your needs are and what expectations you have. Ask your instructor what he or she thinks would suit you best, depending on your weight, height, local conditions and skill level. He or she should be able to discuss these factors and help you choose a kite. Instructors are also well versed in pitfalls and can tell you what to watch out for.

Plan on a few big purchases, including a kite. You have four main categories of kites to choose from, all with different profiles, flying characteristics, safety features and re-launch capabilities. Invest in a suitable control bar. Manufacturers offer many different bars, each made to work with a specific kite. When you start your equipment search, make sure you purchase the specific control bar for your kite. This will greatly affect how the kite reacts and flies. In addition, purchase a well-crafted harness. You have a lot of choices for a harness, each featuring individual comfort designs for where you want to be or where you want the direct pull on your body to be focused. The final thing you’ll need is a kiteboard. This will strengthen riding abilities from the beginning, depending on the board type you purchase. Harness selection will vary upon your preference for comfort and whether or not you want extra bouyancy.


body dragging: being pulled through the water without standing on your board. This is an early step in the learning process, and is recommended before trying the board after flying a trainer kite.

de-power: to reduce the kite’s power (pull), generally by adjusting the angle of attack of the kite. Most kites and control bars now allow you to rig a kite for a number of different power levels before launching, in addition to powering the kite up and down “on the fly” by moving the bar up and down. Depowerability makes a kite safer and easier to handle. Some new kite models, especially “bow” kites, can be de-powered to practically zero power, giving them an enormous wind range.

lofted: to get lifted vertically into the air by the kite by a strong gust of wind. A very dangerous occurrence that has resulted in several fatalities when kiters on or near land have been dragged into obstacles. Can be avoided my minimizing time on land with the kite flying directly overhead, and by not kiting in overpowered situations.

nuking: wind blowing at great speeds(30-40kts). These conditions are very extreme and dangerous for most riders.

overpowered: the condition of having too much power from the kite. Can be a result of an increase in wind, incorrect kite choice (too large for the conditions), incorrect adjustment, simply going too fast, etc. Experienced riders who are overpowered can switch to a smaller board to compensate although it’s common to have just one board.

power zone: the area in the sky where the kite generates the most lift (pull), this is generally between 0 and 60 degrees from the center of the downwind direction.

spreader bar: A stainless steel bar that attaches to the rider’s harness. It has a hook that holds the “chicken loop” when riding hooked in.

tack: The direction which is being sailed, normally either starboard tack or port tack. In a starboard tack, the wind is coming in from the rider’s starboard (right-hand) side, similar to sailing a boat. In normal riding, the kitesurfer takes a heading which is as close to into the wind as possible, and leads at some angle slightly upwind, sometimes as much as 45 degrees; jumping or wave riding usually results in traveling downwind, so the net result is to maintain relative position.

underpowered: the condition of having insufficient power from the kite. Can be a result of insufficient wind, choosing a kite that is too small for the current wind, rigging incorrectly, a board that is too small, water current in the same direction as the wind, not riding fast enough, etc. A rider who is continuously diving the kite and sending it back up in a sine-wave pattern is usually underpowered.

wind window: the 120-180 degree arc of the sky downwind of the rider in which the kite can be flown. Roughly one fourth of a sphere’s surface. If the rider is facing downwind on a flat surface, like the ocean, the wind window consists of roughly all the area the rider can see, from the rider’s peripheral vision on one side, along the horizon to the other side, and then directly overhead back to the first side. If the rider somehow puts the kite out of the window -- for example, by riding downwind very quickly and sending the kite directly overhead and behind -- the kite will stall and frequently fall out of the sky.

Local Riders

Al in an 'epic' session at Naples Pier

By: Andrea Djindil

Al in an "epic" session at Naples Pier

Full Name: Al Djindil

Age: 34

Profession: Dentist

Years riding: 3

Certification Level: IKO level 3

Favorite riding location: There is no place like home-Naples Beach. I also absolutely love Crandon Park on Key Biscayne and East Beach in St. Petersburg and Freeport, Grand Bahamas

Favorite riding conditions: 20-25 knot wind, flat water or big swells that you get over on the East Coast when it’s nuking!

Preferred equipment: Definitely my 13m waroo 2007. I have had it out in 7 knots and over 30 knots. Awesome range, lots of power and hang time, fast, and safe. For those light winds days, you just can’t beat the Sling Shot Glide Board. Favorite trick: I love just boosting air, the higher the better!

Scariest moment (kitemare): Once I had a board leash (when I still used to have one), wrap around my leg and snap, leaving a big gash in it. At the same time the kite looped and my hand got caught in the lines. I thought I was going to lose my fingers! Luckily, I walked away with minimal injury.

Advice for beginners: Take a few lessons from a good instructor. Practice away from people, trees, parking lots, buildings, on wide beaches. Stay in the shallow water until you can comfortably stay upwind. Learn how to judge the weather. Wear an impact vest, gloves, helmet and booties.

Nick in a 'toe side' carve.

By: Dawn Hunter

Nick in a "toe side" carve.

Full Name: Nick Shirghio

Age: 35

Profession: Photographer

Years riding: 6

Certification level: Advanced rider

Favorite location: Wiggins Pass

Favorite riding conditions: When we get a nice cold front and the waves build, the wind is 19-24 mph. I’m on an 11m kite riding waves.

Preferred equipment: I prefer to use Slingshot kites because of the build quality, great flying characteristics and the high performance, not to mention the great customer service.

Favorite trick: My favorite trick at the moment is a double back spin kiteloop with a tail grab.

Scariest Moment (kitemare): One of my friends had launched my kite straight downwind and I went flying down the beach on my belly. I lost four layers of skin on my ankle and almost ran into some people.

Advice for beginners: Take lessons!

Enrique styling for the camera.

By: Brian Kaufman

Enrique styling for the camera.

Full name: Enrique Gianello

Age: 43

Profession: Owns tile and marble company and Wind Stalkers Inc.

Favorite riding location: Tigertail

Years riding: 3.5 riding and .5 learning

Certification level: Level 1 Instruction

Preferred equipment: I don’t have a favorite brand of equipment. Safety is a big consideration. Bow kites are now my favorite kind of kites.

Favorite trick: Backroll with kiteloop, “but I can’t do it, I’m too old for it” (laughing).

Scariest moment: When my kite went down when I was learning, and was some 300 feet offshore. I got tangled with my lines and the wind changed directions to offshore. I had to swim all the way back.

Advice for beginners: Do not to go into kiteboarding if you don’t take lessons. Don’t buy equipment if you don’t take lessons.

Going huge on a 'nukin' day.

By: Nick Shrighio

Going huge on a "nukin" day.

Full Name: Rich Gardner

Age: 45

Profession: Contractor

Years riding: 4

Certification Level: Uncertifable

Favorite riding location: Hood river, the Keys and 7th Ave. N

Favorite riding conditions: Nukin’

Preferred equipment: aggression/slingshot

Favorite trick: Backroll-kiteloop

Scariest moment (kitemare): Wrapping kite lines with my buddy Big-B (several times).

Advice for beginners: Get lessons!

Useful Links:

Wind Stalkers Kiteboarding Inc. (kiteboarding lessons)

Florida Kitesurfing Association

International Kite Forum

Custom Kite Bladders

Kite Repair

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