A bird? A plane? No, a kite-boarder!
By FRANCIS FEDOR
On a leisurely drive over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, as you head towards St. Petersburg, off in the distance you’ll notice a sky filled with kite-looking objects. The spectacle is a sport that is growing in popularity with each passing year. On any given day, there could be tens of kite-boarders on the bay with the picturesque Skyway Bridge in the background. The “kites” are connected to what one may consider surfboards. The boards are more akin to the snowboards that have become very popular on ski slopes. The thrill of kite-boarding, also referred to as kite-surfing, is catching the wind just right to carry you along the water, and even more dramatically, off the water into the air. The action of the board leaving the water is what is known as catching air.
Kite-Boarders pay very close attention to the weather. The wind is ultimately the most important ingredient in kite-boarding. A good link for determining wind conditions is https://wx.ikitesurf.com. The surf is a very close second in importance and may even be more of a safety issue than the wind itself. A very rough surf could create a landing issue for a kite-boarder catching air and launching airborne. Kite-boarders deal with five basic wind directions; Side-Onshore, Cross-Shore, Onshore, Offshore, and Side-Offshore. These wind directions are defined as follows:
Side-Onshore: the safest wind direction for kite-boarders allows you to easily sail back to the beach;
Cross-Shore: a good, but not perfect wind direction because the kite might pull you away from the shore;
Onshore: you must proceed with caution because the wind will be pushing you toward the beach;
Offshore: a dangerous scenario because the wind will be constantly pushing you away from the coastline and into open ocean;
Side-Offshore: a threatening situation in which the wind will push you further out to sea.
So, you may now be asking what are the best conditions for kite-boarding. The ideal scenario for kite-boarding would be a sunny, cloudless day with constant side-shore winds blowing in the 15-to-20 knots range. The most dangerous conditions, which could put your life in jeopardy, involve a rainy sky with black clouds and strong gusty winds of over 30 knots blowing over challenging swells. Ideally, kite-surfers should let the warm and cold fronts pass before taking to the surf. Sailing away before they arrive is not a wise move. Simply stated, too little wind and the kite-boarder will be challenged to gain air. Too much wind and the kite-boarder will have trouble controlling the kite.
I caught up with a relatively new kite-boarder on the day I visited, and he talked about how the wind that day wasn’t good for great airborne stunts and said that when the wind is right, the water is filled with kite-boarders performing incredible stunts. He suggested that I keep an eye on the wind conditions and visit on a day when the wind is optimal for the surfers. It was clear that even without the perfect conditions, he was enjoying his time out on the water and the light winds were likely conducive to building his skills.
Kite-boarding can be an exhilarating experience and is a growing sport for enthusiasts. Kite-boarding also comes with its risks and should only be undertaken by those who have been educated by professionals who have been certified and understand the risks associated with the sport.
There are a number of companies that provide kite-boarding lessons from professionals in the field, and they can easily be found through an internet search.
The internet is a vast treasure of information on the ever-growing sport of kite-boarding, and I encourage anyone wanting to know more about this sport to dive in and search away. Or, to simply enjoy the visuals of the kites in the wind, take a drive out to the St. Petersburg rest area and pier side of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and enjoy the spectacle.