New sport is rising fast
Up the beach near the Tahoe Keys, giant kites are visible in the late afternoon light made cryptic by the smoke pouring into the Lake Tahoe Basin from fires 150 miles away.
The wind was gusting. The weather report estimated winds from 18 to 28 mph but Micah Mook, a recently addicted kiteboarder who comes from a windsurfing and mountain climbing background, said the gusts reached as high as 40 mph – one of the windiest days of the year.
The waves engaged attention.
Pulling the strings of massive kites, like puppeteers controlling their own fate, kiteboarders zoomed across water.
“Even when we look in control we’re on the edge of insanity,” said Graham Sanders, a transplanted Australian.
The force of Mother Nature is raw and unforgiving. To channel its divine power can mean taking some knocks, but for kiteboarders the undeniable rush overcomes fear.
“These kites have a lot of power and can humble you very quickly,” said Dave Siviello, a representative for Slingshot, a company that specializes in kiteboarding gear.
But for Siviello, a skier whose knee abuse has caught up with him, kiteboarding offers an opportunity to go big and land softly, pulling tricks such as spins and backflips.
“I love cranking it up,” he said.
But for those learning, the term “teabagging” aptly describes the consequences of an uncontrolled ride, in which the kiteboarder is picked up and dipped back into the water.
“The kite has a tremendous amount of power, ” said Scott Langoria, owner of the Lake Tahoe Water Ski School. “One of the first times I went out, the kite took me 100 feet through the air. It was pretty enlightening how powerful it is.”
Kiteboarding is a burgeoning sport gaining momentum across the globe and at Lake Tahoe. Harnessing the wind to get speed and air, kiteboarders have a choice of wakeboards or directional boards, smaller versions of windsurfing boards.
Although the power can be intimidating, avid kiteboarders claim the learning curve is quick. If you already have board skills, learning to control the kite is the primary obstacle.
Consistent winds make for the best kiteboarding in places like Maui and Oahu. Manipulating the kite in the sporadic winds of Lake Tahoe can be tricky, but with larger kites, 12 to 18 meters, it is possible to tweak the wind enabling a consistent source of power.
The other applications of kiteboarding include snowboards, mountain boards and skateboards.
The kite acts like airplane wings, creating lift and power. A kite floating in the sky directly above its master is an idle kite with little power, but once that field is broken, even just a little bit, the amount of power increases exponentially.
No boats are needed: just a kite, harness, a board and some guts.
“I think the ability to go 30 or 35 miles per hour across the water with nothing more than 10 pounds of gear is the most exciting thing about it,” Langoria said.
The kites designed for water have floating capabilities that allow for aquatic relaunches. While those new to the sport could use the help of a partner to launch the kite, experts can take off solo directly from the beach.
Two-string kites and four-string kites provide different options for the kiteboarder.
The sport is so new no formalized lessons are available yet at Lake Tahoe, but Cutting Edge Sports, which carries the gear, may be starting a program soon. The Lake Tahoe Water Ski School may also offer lessons in the future.
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