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- A Water Lesson -
ìYeah now, just step off the side.î
ìYeah here. This wind line is perfect. Just step off into the water.î
ìOff this side?î
ìYeah, step off the left side like we talked about.î
This lesson was proceeding along the classic exchange for those with trepidation; and fed, yet again, my perverse glee at watching another student step off the Jet Ski, miles from land, and into the middle of San Francisco Bay.
What follows has become equally routine; - the scream. Sometimes from fear, sometimes from exhilaration, often itís simply the blast of 58-degree water searching for cracks in the wetsuit forcing lungs to search for oxygen.
With my most consistent entertainment having passed, another water lesson is underway. Within the first minute I know whether I will be teaching the student how to fly a kite or how to kite board.
It always looks so cool from the beach, ya know? Beautiful kites floating among the clouds, effortlessly gliding humans across the water in sweeping turns or elevating to those same clouds in glorious gravity defying flights. ìYou got that on DVD?î ìI can do thatî ìDo I really need to take a lesson?î
It is amazing how quickly a student can find themselves neck deep in reality. For those who came to the lesson with ego and ìboard skillsî but no time on a trainer kite I like to quote the Lords question to Noah when he first balked at building the ark. ìHow long can you tread water?î
If the first minute has passed and the kite is still in the air hope will rise eternal within me that I will at least catch a glimpse of my studentís ankles as they attempt to rise forth from the depths of The Bay. Often my first glimpse is momentary, preceded only by an over steered kite sent hard across the wind window. Hips rise out of the water followed by knees followed by; there they are, ankles! Followed by dang, soles of the feet.
Is that the scream again? Superman never screamed did he? Often this scream is muffled in the sound of a nine-meter kite hammer heading hard onto the water from twenty-five meters overhead. Hhhmmmm is the entire leading edge hitting the water at a rate faster than 32 feet per second squared? How hard is water from 25 meters high? It sure makes a loud smack! Ahhh, there is the student again, neck deep in reality! Siigghh, if only they had flown the trainer kite before the lesson the kite would still be flying. Oh well, I guess you can never really practice water re-launch too much.
It really is a shame to see a student in the water along with the kite. This is probably the only time in their kiting experience they will have 24/7 board delivery service to there current GPS location anywhere downwind of their initial step off into The Bay. Until the kite is in the air the board isnít even a useful sea anchor, more like an Albatross as a replay of re-launch revisited returns the student to their soggy reality - they do not know how to fly a kite.
ìIf only I had flown the trainer kite more I would have gotten up!î
ìI believe you.î Just like I wanted to believe you as you explained how you snow boarded and skate boarded and surfed and waked boarded, had great balance, was a cross training athlete and had done some sailing so you understood the wind so kiting would be sooo easyÖ
ìUnHuh. Have you been flying the trainer kite?î
Occasionally, before the first few minutes of kite in the air I can tell Iíve landed the slam-dunk student. With the marina fading behind the Jet Ski we are typically working our way upwind into waves. It is a time for the student to experience the thrill of driving a powerful personal watercraft at high speed across one of the most beautiful bays in the world. The Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, The Rock, San Franciscoís skyline and three-foot choppy waves with wind driven spray exacerbated by a grinding speed into it. Suddenly my magnanimous gesture, ìNo really you drive, Have Some Fun!î is realized for what it is; survival, as I hide in the lee of my students back to avoid the needle like spray.
Eventually we arrive at an appropriate classroom location and I open school by asking about the drive out. The reply gives a clear indication of the students appreciation of wind and waves. If their smile is as wide as the Gate itself when they take the kites control bar from me, and they step confidently off the side at the first suggestion to do so pronouncing that they are ready, I know Iíll see their ankles firmly planted on a planning board. How do I know for sure? They mentioned they had been flying the trainer kite every chance they had before the water lesson.
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Bob, I enjoyed your well written article. However, my experience was a little different. I had flown a trainer kite once before my first lesson on a small (about 8M) ram air kite for about an hour. The next lesson I was on an inflatable kite and within an hour I was up on the board. I guess everyone is different. I know what you mean about inexperienced people being overconfident. I think the reason I had early success is that I proceeded only after I was comfortable and was very cautious as was my instructor.
There is one in every crowd!
Allan some folks just have talent and get it.
Students like you are the teachers treat for the other end of the bell curve. It really is fun to teach edging technique on the first water lesson
Your experience however is the rare exception. (This from an unscientific albeit statistically large enough sample of all students I have taught in two years.) About two or three times a season I drop a student in the water and have to start chasing them across the bay at 15 to 20 mph. For the rest of the season five seconds of vertical is a good beginning that student and teacher should savor.
I hope you remain as cautious today and everyday you are on the water as you were on your first lesson. I physically touch all my safety equipment before every launch and on every final approach to the beach.
Next for you is an hour to nail down the handle pass!
Enjoy and be Safe!
Hi Great article by the way. I`m very intersted in the sport and want to get started. I`m just graduating from college, I ll`try to spend most of the summer by Alameda, Try to kiteboard all summer. and maybe i can take the fun back to Izmir, Sweet Aegean. I have flown the trainer quite a few times. Here in landlocked iowa. You can`t take the mediterranean off a person I guess. I also have a 2003 15;5 meter Cabrinha Acsess and an older 162 Bic airflow board, I`m around 190 and 6 feet. I`m athletic, I teach Tumbling, So I love the air. I can`t wait to get to know you guys. I have done my homework quite a bit, Flew kites many times. I need to take some water lessons. But they are quite expensive. is there any reasonable classes you can advise me? I`ll be in Berkeley in 2 weeks, God Willing. Is there a place that you guys meet, and how do you get there? Can I take the kite and the board on a city bus?
I can`t wait to meet you all, and get in to this wonderful sport.
I would deeply apreciate it.
Thanks a lot.
THE beginner spot in the Bay area is -Alameda Crown Beach-. Check out the details on this site. It has a long beach and it is side on shore almost all the time. Just because I call it a beginners spot does not mean that it doesn't rip there too. Most all the other sites are far less forgiving and the majority are intermediate or better only.
I really need to recommend that you take lessons before you grab the big kite and head out. Launching and Landing are where folk get into the most trouble but you can be in the water a loooonnnnggg time if things go bad while outside...
Just ask for local knowledge when you arrive at the beach and someone will point you in the correct direction. There are buses all over Alameda and I'm sure some go to Berkeley a few miles North. I know that NBG use to take his gear on the bus so no worries there.
See you on the beach soon, and really strongly consider a lesson or two. It will ramp your learning curve and safety way up quickly!
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