I’ve never been very athletic. I keep reasonably fit, but team sports or activities requiring any sort of coordination just aren’t really a family passtime. I remember one long weekend at a park when all the other barbecuing families were playing touch football or catch, my cousin Mike spent a couple hours teaching us kids how to sharpen our knives safely and correctly.
I ran a season of high-school track and attempted wrestling in 7th grade, neither of which worked out so well. I’ve lifted weights since I was young and took up running pretty seriously for a few years after college, but that’s about it. I’ve never played basketball, baseball, football, or soccer in any capacity but the very odd pickup game with friends. Despite growing up around mountains and snow, I’ve never been skiing or snowboarding. Water sports? Ha! I can barely swim.
The one exception to all of this is mountain biking, which I’ve been doing since I was young and love wholeheartedly. I’ve gained a level of proficiency on a bike that is far above my skill in any other physical pursuit.
I grew up watching the kiteboarders in the Columbia River Gorge as the sport flourished and progressed to its current state of popularity and technological advancement. I imagined the skill and coordination it must take to keep an unwieldy inflatable airfoil on four 70’ strings controlled and aloft while also balancing on a small flat board, cutting through the water at astounding speeds. I’d tried wakeboarding a couple times, with absolutely no success. I couldn’t imagine ever being capable of even riding a kiteboard, let alone handling the setup with the ease and grace of the experienced boarders dancing across the waves of the Columbia.
But after a question from our effortlessly too-cool friends Nick and Megan of The Long Cruise made us realize that our only real hobby on the road was day-drinking, we began expanding our horizons and trying new things. I originally wanted to learn windsurfing, but the meteoric rise of kiting’s popularity meant finding schools that still taught the sport very difficult. The common response I got after asking was- “Why don’t you just kite bro?”. I couldn’t help shake the feeling that windsurfers were the inline skaters of windsport.
After spending a few days camped at a kite-spot on Colombia’s Lago Calima, watching the kiters turn, jump, and race across the reservoir convinced me to give it a try. I set up lessons a few weeks farther South in Ecuador and committed to give it a shot.
The school, owner, and instructor in Ecuador were great. My instructor “Canadian Mike” and owner Javier were infinitely patient with me and explained everything slowly, from the basics on. They were also helpful and kind outside of lessons, helping us to feel right at home in Santa Marianita almost as soon as we’d arrived.
The beach and location were idyllic. Well, the 6’ waves, deep water, and abundant stinging jellyfish made actually learning kiting more difficult, but the three weeks we spent parked on that beautiful quiet beach are some of my favorite of the trip.
Learning kiting turned out to be exactly as difficult as I’d expected. It is like nothing I’ve ever done before. The most similar two things I have done? Probably flying an airplane and CrossFit. At the same time. In fact, I first rode the board without an instructor nearby after about 16 hours. I soloed a Cessna 150 through three landings after 15 hours of instruction.
When I finally received my IKO card certifying me independent with a kite, I think Mike and Javier were even more excited than me. I was mostly just stunned I’d even done it.
I’m in Paracas now, waiting for Taylor to return from a wedding in the US, and taking a few more lessons. I’m still not good, and I’ll probably never be great, but each time I can say I’m better than yesterday, I consider it a win.
If you happen to be interested in doing some kiting in Colombia, Ecuador, or Peru, I linked the three schools I have experience with below. They’re all well run, with professional, experienced instructors and good equipment. While I wouldn’t trade my time in Santa Marianita for anything, I’d say Paracas in Peru probably provides the easiest environment for learners. The protected bay doesn’t see waves and is standing depth water a few hundred feet from the shore.