Who needs exotic locales for kiteboarding? These kiteboarders are soaring over Lake Rathbun in south central Iowa.
If you want to soar like a kite and skim across the water like nobody’s business—at the same time—there’s a singular water sport you must try. It’s called kiteboarding and you can head out to Lake Rathbun, north of Centerville in south central Iowa, to check out a motley crew of experienced kiteboarders race across the waters and leap into the air 15 feet with deft agility before continuing their swift ride across the surface.
In June, I had received an invitation to check out this rapidly growing sport from Carl Stone, a local kiteboarding enthusiast, who was heading out with a few comrades on a promising Saturday morning. The temperature was not yet summer material, but the team had decided to head out anyway to see what the day would bring.
Like most water sports, kiteboarding does require formal instruction to gain a solid appreciation of wind and water conditions, as well as master kite control and your equipment’s safety mechanisms. Advances in kite design have made the sport very safe, and the vastly popular stories of brash pioneers getting blown away by sudden gusts of wind or crashing into a palm tree due to the inability to depower their kite have become part of the sport’s folklore. Today, new kite designs allow for an impressive array of safety, speed, and control, giving all trained riders a smooth ride.
However, all the fun to be had on the water does demand careful preparation on land to insure that both operator and his equipment make it back in one piece. As Carl and friends began to lay out their equipment—which on that day included a de rigueur wet suit, a life jacket, a harness, a helmet, a twin tip board, and the proper kite with its steering bar and lines—I began to realize this kiteboarding troupe, the Wind Hogs, really did mean business.
As kites unfurled and four-line configurations were put in place across the grass, the wind started to pick up nicely. I quickly learned that both a person’s weight and the prevalent wind conditions determine the kite size that one must use on a given day. As a kiteboarder, one must own a couple of kites to insure that whatever the wind conditions, one will have the right equipment to get in the water and harness enough lift to kiteboard.
In the sport’s lingo, kites are measured in meters, and usually the tamer the wind conditions, the more surface area one’s kite and board must have. When the wind conditions are between 15 and 20 mph, a twin-tip board, which is symmetrical on both ends, is the ideal companion to the bow kite, the best shape suited for beginners due to its maneuverability and ample safety features.
After inflating the kite’s skeleton and getting help positioning the kite for launch, the first adventurers were ready to take on choppy waters, an indication that the wind emerging from the tree line was turbulent. Despite the uneven winds, all three kiteboarders soon began to glide across the surface, using their steering bars to draw eight figures in what’s called the “wind window” in order to switch direction, as well as pick the best moment to leap into the air.
Kiteboarding demands a fair amount of coordination and a good sense for compensating in rapidly changing conditions. When the winds are uneven, first gusting and then falling flat, a kiteboarder will have to use his steering ability to get the most of the moment while remaining afloat. It is a sport that demands a fair investment for the right equipment, but it’s sure worth it when you see it all come together on a clear windy day.
After a full day of jumps and calibrated landings, Carl summed it all up with one big smile. “Kiteboarding is an incredibly exhilarating experience: sun, water, wind, and speed,” he said. “I’m so glad Peter Huggins introduced me to the sport. He’s really the great pioneer and ace veteran of our group.”
By his side, Frank Wintroub, who looked ready to ride a Harley rather than a twin-tip board (on account of his silver-plated motorcycle helmet) chimed in: “I’ve been kiting for four years and it’s—hands down—the most fun I’ve ever had in an afternoon. It’s great exercise, challenging with plenty to learn, and you’re surrounded by nature’s beauty. It’s the greatest!”
Come out and watch the best of Iowa strut their stuff at the lake. Email Carl at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out when the next kiteboarding extravaganza takes place. The Wind Hogs are more than happy to help you on your way to that first magic lift off.
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