New adage: Go fly with a kite
If only Benjamin Franklin were still alive to see how far flying a kite has come.
Kitesurfing or kiteboarding is a mix between windsurfing, wakeboarding and snowboarding, says Tom Sykes, operator of Powerzone Kiteboarding School on the North Shore, the only official instructional service on the lake.
“You can catch significantly more air than wakeboarding and snowboarding,” Sykes said. “Guys are sometimes getting more air than they want.”
The sport, which uses wind power to maneuver kites, started in Europe 20 years ago before it was introduced in the U.S. three years ago.
“People have been intrigued with the power of kites since Benjamin Franklin,” Sykes said.
Apparently, Franklin used a kite to pull his body across a lake, which is a beginning step in kitesurfing.
The range of winds necessary for kitesurfing is 10 to 30 mph, said Graham Sanders, a member of the crew of kitesurfers at South Shore.
“I’ve tried to go in 50 mph winds,” he said, “but you don’t need much wind.”
There are two types of boards and many different kites, depending on skill level.
A directional board is like a surfboard with 3-foot straps, which allow the rider to change foot position. A twin-tip board is bi-directional and resembles a wakeboard.
A waist harness hooks the rider to a control bar, which is held in front of the body like a kayak paddle and used to maneuver the kite.
The power of kites can be overwhelming at first, and beginners are highly encouraged to start on land and move to the water one step at a time.
However, all the experts agree that it’s something everyone can enjoy.
“Anyone can do it. Sixty-five-year-old people and overweight people are doing it, 12-year-old girls are jumping 20 feet in the air,” Sykes said.
“The learning curve at first is steep, but once you get up, it’s incredibly fast,” he added.
Sanders tried to get a permit to teach kitesurfing at South Shore, however he was greeted with skepticism from the California Tahoe Conservancy.
The Conservancy is worried that kites will scare away birds and threaten beach habitat.
They are still in negotiations to get a permit for next summer and Sanders believes it looks good for kiters.
“It’s gonna be big on the Lake,” he said. “We just want to make sure that people don’t get hurt and the Conservancy understands that.”
For now, the group hangs out at the beach most afternoons to answer questions and offer pointers to beginners.
Sanders is also in negotiations with Lake Tahoe Community College to teach a three-stage backcountry snowboarding and kiting class this winter.
“I never go in the backcountry without a kite,” he said.
In winter, kites are used to fly up peaks and ride through areas that are not suitable for snowboards.
Lake Tahoe conditions challenge kitesurfers.
“If you can fly in Tahoe, you’re gonna be a good kiter,” Sanders said.
“It’s definitely not a great place to learn but once you’re proficient, you can have a great time,” Sykes said. “And you’re in Tahoe. The water is clean and beautiful.”
–Tribune staff writer Darin Olde contributed to this report.