Don't be fooled by the tanned young hotties doing crazy backflips in kiteboarding videos. The average kiteboarder is a middle-aged man. His gear truck may be as scruffy as his hair, but chances are he has enough money in the bank to drop work in a jiffy. When the wind picks up, "you become a bad person – you're very willing to ditch out on all sorts of things," said Matthew Cooper, who at 33 is one of the youngest regulars at The Spit in Squamish, B.C. Women kiteboard too, especially on the pro circuit, but men typically outnumber them by about three to one, he said. The gear is expensive, the wind is finicky and the learning curve is steep. But junkies insist that this technically challenging sport – which combines aspects of windsurfing, wakeboarding, paragliding and gymnastics – pays off with a rush of power and exhilaration as they soar with the wind up and over the water.
Kiteboarders like to ride hard, party and chill out, too. At kiteboarding hubs such as Nitinat Lake on Vancouver Island, the wind starts blowing in late morning and dies down around dinnertime. That leaves plenty of time to drink beer, share tacos and toke up on the beach to a soundtrack of edgy rock and ska. Kiteboarders are a friendly bunch. They help each other launch their kites and take turns showing off as they jump up 10 metres, spin through the air and then glide smoothly back to the water. In their slick wetsuits and colourful kite plumage, these gutsy men and women look like exotic waterfowl in the throes of a courtship ritual.
Kiteboarding isn't cheap, even if you resist the urge to get a fix in far-flung locales such as Cumbuco, Brazil, or La Ventana, in Baja, Calif.
Full-size kites cost around $1,500 each and come in different sizes for different wind conditions. "Most people own two or three sizes at the very least," Cooper said.
A board costs about $600. Then you need a harness, a bar and lines, a helmet, a life vest and a wetsuit. Because the sport is relatively new, manufacturers of kiteboarding gear cannot offer economies of scale, or so they say.
Fortunately, used gear is easy to find in kiteboarding communities, Cooper said.
The "power zone" is the kite position that generates maximum lift and pull. When kiteboarders say, "I was lit on my 9," it means they were almost uncomfortable powered with a nine-metre kite.
When it's "nuking," the wind is so strong that leaves are coming off trees. "Nerfing" is a cop-out, meaning that a rider is keeping the kite so high in the air that doing tricks is almost too easy. "It's a term we would use to bug each other," Cooper said. But sometimes, in a strong wind, there's no way to avoid having the kite fly high. On days like that, people talk about "just going out for a good dangle."
Kiteboarders get annoyed when beginners don't follow their advice after asking which kite size to use in that day's wind. More often than not, "they've been asked 50 times already that day," Cooper said. Beginners who don't take lessons or learn to ride safely will make enemies fast. On the water, "there are very strict right-of-way rules to avoid collisions," he said.
And as laid-back as kiteboarders like to be, busy places such as Squamish often have "etiquette police" to keep people from hogging the sweet spot on the water. If you linger there too long on a crowded day, "you can really tick people off," Cooper said.