Kiteboarding: nature’s contingence with sport

It seems to be a feature of modern life that the public adopted a more wholesome living with a growing philosophy of environmentalism.  This encompasses activities like growing vegetables, recycling and… kiteboarding. 
 Thousands of sport enthusiasts are taking to the beaches to kiteboard and kitesurf.  One way to view the rising sport is the new surf culture (like Dog town and the Z boys – a brilliant film about the rise of skate culture)…in Britain. This may sound of context- there are no white sand beaches and aquamarine blue oceans with dreamlike waves of sunshine cutting swathes through tanned flesh.  But this is a different world of lethargy and guns. The United States of America pales in comparison to this great nation, surrounded by dark angry sea and ripping winds.

Out of the car window, luminescent green fields and cotton clouds roll by illuminated by a low morning sun in late January.  On this particularly icy day, following a night of snowfall, I head to the coast with my friend, Lewis Galloway, a budding kiteboarder.  He is a young professional from the city (London), but returns home at the weekends to escape the mad rush and endless oceans of brick and mortar.  Lewis was brought up in the country like me and has a sense for adventure – the instinct that never leaves you if you stay in contact with the land; the image of little Eliott whizzing around on his bike, discovering aliens, evading the authorities, surviving in the wilderness with a packed lunch, some rope and a torch.

As we approach the sea, the salt in the air pushes back the ice and harsh shrub and grass rise up, followed by mud and then sand and rock.  At Tyninghame, old trees line the car park with stubby trunks and sprawling branches, making them ideal for climbing.  Lewis regards the trees, but not as organic climbing frames.  Rather he is looking at the topmost branches, to gauge what the wind will be like down at the beach.

Perhaps some movement is happening on its own; the vast impersonal forces of all combined wisdom blowing us irresistibly towards paradise.  The people, long ago divorced from the land, first by the factory, now by the dreary office of the post-industrial society, are rediscovering the symbiosis of species and environment.  The cannons of the future shaped by ecology and renewability.  In numbers people are taking to the beaches to do battle with the old way, to use the wind and understand it – a symbol.  Philosophy is forming out of the people’s wisdom; by degrees we create the new symbols for a new age of consciousness, of the environment.  In droves people are returning to the land to feel, in the blood of the soil, how the world pulses.

Or maybe it is just a new way to get your kicks. And if that is so then it is not a bad thing.  The thrill seeking adrenalin maniac has hit the beach with a land-board and a whopping great kite.  This is not new technology.

I asked Mark Davis, who has been running his business, Synergy, for 5 years with his partner Maggie Cleve as kiteboard instructors, to tell me about the sport.

What do you do at Synergy?

“We provide internationally recognised training courses in all kiting activities, starting with power kiting, kite-buggying, kite-land-boarding, kite surfing and occasionally snow-kiting.”

What kind of folk is it that are getting into the sport?

“We get all sorts of people in ranging from school children, coming in as part of school groups, individuals, sort of young professionals… I’d say the oldest person we have taught to kites-surf was 65.”

Would you say this is the next big craze in outdoor sports?

“Yeah, its certainly a growing sport at the moment, certainly the kite surfing’s probably only been around for about 10 years.  Snow kiting and power kiting have been around for a lot longer. Sort of the origins of snow-kiting go back to arctic expeditions back in the 50s, using the kites to travel.”

“What about competitions?”

“Within the UK the buggy racing has a big competition scene…kite surfing wise there are a number of competitions held throughout the UK, which range from free style competitions, course racing, speed trails…wave riding would be another one.”

Is your business growing?

“Yeah, our business has grown year on year, um, which is a good thing obviously…we are seeing more and more people out on the beaches kiting on a regular basis”

I presume you have heard of Lewis Crathern and Jake Scrace  – are they the heroes of the sport?

“One of the great things about kiting is that there are so many disciplines within the sport.  Lewis Crathern I have known since he was about 16 when he first started competing, so, I suppose to young people in the sport, who are looking to get into the competition side of freestyle kite surfing, then yes I would say he is a sort role model within that discipline…he’s won the British title a number of times.”

This makes me think of that film Dog town and the Z boys and why the same sort of vibe could be achieved, not on white sandy beaches in California, but around the gusty coasts of Britain.  Yes, it has the cool vibe.  Like all the people I know who are involved with kiteboarding or other outdoor sports, they are really relaxed and friendly.  They are not jumped up speed-hungry junkies. These are the spiritual descendents of the hippie who are in touch with the land

Back at Tyninghame…on the way to the beach we forgo the kite temporarily and use the board to ride down a sand dune.  The board is like a giant skateboard with straps on it for your feet.  It is called a land board and can be used independently in downhill pursuits.  Flying down a beaten track, both of us fall and clatter into knife like grass and thorny gorse bush, but it’s worth it.  It’s thrilling.  If my looming arthritis can take it, anybody shy of brittle bone disease should give it a go.  Returning to the top of the hill I have another go. “Hold onto the straps.” Lewis shouts behind me as I accelerate downwards faster and faster.  I do as he says and instantly feel more in control.  Shifting my body weight from side to side, I negotiate the turns, each time, the speed increasing.  A tight corner rushes up on me.  I lean back, but it’s too late, a lethal stump sticking out of the sand catches my front wheel.  My backside thumps into the ground and my feet and the board go skyward.  The only thing to do is grab a handful of thorns and hope for the best. “Again!” I say and run back to the top of the hill. I am beginning to understand what it is all about.

Finally on the beach, several lines of fine rope stretching upwards into the sky above the sea tense up then go slack as the Lewis manoeuvres the glider-like kite into position.  The mass of material billows in the wind as it is moved back and forth in a figure of eight to utilise the optimum angle at which the wind speed is greatest. Moments later he disappears down the beach, a man back in touch with nature.

To read about one of  Lewis Crathern and Jake Scrace’s kiteboarding events, follow the link http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/sussex/8362671.stm

Words by Leon Worden

Photography by Flikr.com

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