Worshiping the wind

They worship the wind. They wake up in the morning and check the trees outside of their windows to gauge how much wind is blowing and from which direction. They consult multiple weather sources — via phone, radio, the Internet and television — to compare forecasts for the day. And they do all of this before even considering having a morning cup of coffee.

Sailors have been doing versions of this morning routine for centuries; but these are sailors of the freshest kind. They are kiteboarders, taking to Manitoba’s lakes in higher numbers each year. Their colourful kites soaring high in the sky over the middle of Lake Winnipeg are definite eye catchers. The peaceful beauty of their majestic kites make kiteboarders mesmerizing to watch. There are about 300 kiteboarders in the Winnipeg area and only a handful of them are women.

As a relatively simple concept, kiteboarding consists of a board with footholds that is very similar in design to a wakeboard. The difference is that wakeboards are pulled behind boats, whereas kiteboards are powered by large steerable traction kites. There are numerous types of kites used, but the C-kite — named after its C like shape when inflated — is one of the more popular styles seen on the lakes in Manitoba. Spanning upwards of 21 square metres, smaller kites are preferable for windy conditions while larger kites are more efficient on less-windy days. Also, the more a person weighs, the larger a kite they will need to propel their body weight.

Kiteboarders wear a harness that is attached to a control bar with four “kite-lines” attached. Learning how to control the kite is one of the most important skills that kiteboarders have to master and safety is a primary concern. Because the kite is powered by the wind, learning to read weather patterns is another key skill for kiteboarders to have. If the wind dies down, your source of power is lost and it may be a long swim back to shore.

A more recent safety innovation of kiteboarding allows riders to de-power their kite instantly. This way riders can avoid being over-powered by the wind and avoid close calls with other watercrafts or hazards. Also, there is now a safety hook knife that allows riders to cut their kite-lines if they become tangled, although age-old advice still warrants that practise is the best way to avoid accidents on the water.

Combining kites with other established sports is not a new concept. People have experimented with kites and roller skates, carts and even canoes. As kiteboarding becomes more popular and mainstream, several distinct riding styles have emerged — freestyle, wave riding, speed, big air and ramps (kickers and sliders). These styles are mainly dependant upon location, with freestyle being the most popular in these parts.

Kiteboarding is a natural way to enjoy the lakes around Manitoba. Because our summers are so short, another added bonus is that kiteboarding can be easily converted into a new winter sport, known as snowkiting. Snowkiters use kites to pull them across terrain while on skis or snowboards. One advantage is that kites can easily power riders both up and down frozen hills. Flat fields are also ideal for this sport, making it both versatile and appealing to people in a wide range of geographical locations and climates.