Skimming over the waves, leaning back into the harness and digging heels into the water. Enjoying a sensation of speed and control. Just trying to hold on to the moment. Just trying to keep it going, not to make any mistakes.
Splash! I was in the water again. No time to think about the board, my position or gulping down the seawater, the priority is always the kite. Keeping it up in the air and under control. Slowly it became more natural, and I could lose everything else but still keep the diving piece of nylon above me. I was just starting to master my kite.
This was my second trip down to the south-east French coast with N. to continue trying to learn kitesurfing. My first contact with the sport had started me off with some control, but I still had a long way to go. They say that learning kitesurfing has a sharp learning curve. In my case the word to take into account is sharp, as well as bumpy and fast. Having spent the last hours of my last trip in hospital, this time I was decided to do things properly and if possible painlessly.
So we decided to try a new spot, just in front of Sète. A well-known area, it was the nurse in the hospital just in front of the lagoon who had told me about it (he also confessed having given up the sport after being injured himself). Due to the proximity to the rocky parking area, train-line and helipad, you need to walk out along a spit of rock, which goes into the lagoon. From here a small sandbank gives perfect access to both sides as well as giving a flat zone to unfold the kites. We installed ourselves right at the end where it started to break up and form little islands. This was something else, not a rock in sight, and just flat water downwind. Behind us the larger part of the lagoon also offered a huge expanse of water.
From this base we spent three days going out onto the water, eating as much chocolate and beer as possible and soaking up the sun. With slightly softer winds and a collection of kite sizes it was the ideal place to learn. With stronger winds it is necessary to use a smaller surface area, so a smaller kite has to be used. With my kite control skills getting better, the critical step was getting on the board and away. This looks simple, especially when N. does it, and probably is, but at first can be quite trying. I will try and break it down for better comprehension.
To start, you need to position yourself in the water looking down-wind, in a sitting position with your legs in front of you. The kite stays overhead, under control. Then the board comes on, perpendicular to the wind. Once all is in position, you need enough power to be pulled out of the water. To do this the kite needs to be dived from above your head towards the direction you want to go in. Do this fast enough and it can drag you out of the water. To pick up enough speed the board you need to be pointing downwind, with the board flat to the water. Front leg straight, back leg bent. Once out of the water and picking up speed you can point the board in the direction you want to go, leaning back into the harness and digging your heels in. The weight on the harness has to channelled down your legs into the board, without leaning back too much or you will fall back. By this point you should be moving along. Oh, you forgot about your kite while doing that? Well let’s start again!
Obviously all this starts to become natural, and I slowly (very slowly) started to get the hang of it. As I was still a bit worried about my kite power, I preferred a to go with the smaller sized one, meaning I had to work it; keeping it moving in figure-of-eight shapes to increase the power, as opposed to parking it, at a certain height. This demanded more concentration on kite than the board but was great fun. Slowly, as I started to get the position right, I could dig my heels deeper into the water and use the kite’s power to start inching up wind.
Oh, I almost forgot! Yes, sea-urchins. We had obviously been warned, but it wasn’t after having been dragged by the kite through the infested lagoon bottom that I realised how much damage they can do. Normally if you step on one it hurts enough, and if you are lucky you can maybe get 5 or 6 spikes, which will then break off. The problem with the kite was being pulled in one direction and using my feet to brake in the other. On top of the spikes. This meant, a full foot-load, with all the spikes breaking under the skin, and slowly working themselves deeper with every step. With nothing on the beach to get them out, we (by this point N had his fair share too) had nothing to get them out. That night I used a needle to wreck carnage on my soles and get as many chunks out. Two trips to the Decathlon in Beziers, and I could finally limp along the lagoon. Then I found out they could also go through the backside of my wetsuit…