With skills honed, kiteboarding takes flight
Marie-Christine Leclerc spends her summers living and working at Nitinat Lake. Each year, the 29-year-old kiteboarding instructor visits the remote lake on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island to take advantage of the predictable and steady winds that blow in from the Pacific Ocean.
Those winds have turned Nitinat into a haven for kiteboarding, a recreational water sport wherein a person straps their feet onto a twin-tipped board and manoeuvres a fabric kite to harness air currents. Those with sufficient skill can sail across the water and perform aerial tricks.
Over the past decade, Leclerc and other kiteboarders in British Columbia have been watching the sport glide its way into the mainstream of outdoor recreation.
“Anyone can do it. You’ve just got to spend the time [learning how],” Leclerc, the founder of Elevation Kiteboarding, told the Georgia Straight by phone. “And it’s not super physically hard, because it’s a bit more finesse than muscles, but you have to go through the learning curve.”
Kiteboarding has come a long way since the early 2000s, when it was still a burgeoning sport on the West Coast and elsewhere. The design and safety of the gear has evolved, instructional schools have been established, and competition in the sport has flourished.
Colin Ernst, a self-taught kiteboarder, has watched the sport develop along with his business, Vancouver Kiteboarding School. In 2006, Ernst started offering private, one-on-one kiteboarding lessons. Now his Squamish-based school has grown to include eight certified instructors and a fleet of support boats.
Ernst said kiteboarding is gaining a higher profile. In a phone interview with the Straight, he noted the sport’s course-racing discipline has been added to the 2016 Olympics. He also gave Richard Branson a nod for bringing celebrity clout to the sport, even though the British billionaire recently sparked controversy after he invited Premier Christy Clark on a naked kiteboarding date.
“Before we were just a bunch of yahoos,” Ernst said of how the sport was perceived early on. “It was just some random guys at the beach with the kites causing all kinds of havoc [and] damage. Now with course racing and guys like Richard Branson, who’s a very successful guy doing the sport, it’s kind of legitimizing our sport a lot more.”
Newcomers to kiteboarding no longer have to struggle as much to pick up the sport. Outfits including Vancouver Kiteboarding School, Elevation Kiteboarding, and Squamish Kiteboarding School offer instruction in the essential skills, from flying a kite on dry land to travelling upwind on the water.
Leclerc, with Elevation Kiteboarding, said it usually takes students a few days to pick up the basics. After some land-based training, students head out onto the water accompanied by instructors on jet skis who offer guidance. With another week or so of practice after that, a person can be kiteboarding without assistance, she said.
Beginning kiteboarders also have more options these days when it comes to equipment. Philippe Cabanne, owner of Airtime Board Sports in Kitsilano, said the basic gear—a kite, a board, and a harness—can be purchased new for less than $2,000.
Cabanne lauded the improvements made to the safety of kiteboarding gear over the years. Kiteboarders can now have more control over their kites, which helps them avoid injury from being tossed into the air by powerful winds.
Cabanne encouraged beginners to purchase equipment with the latest safety features. Newer systems give kiteboarders a better ability to reduce the power generated by a kite or easily cut it loose, features not available in the past.
“We’re lucky,” he told the Straight by phone. “There were really very few accidents in the early days, but when you look back at it, you say: ‘That was very dangerous.’ ”
Besides Nitinat Lake on Vancouver Island, Squamish is considered a top spot for kiteboarding in B.C., also because of its consistent wind conditions. The activity there is focused on Squamish Spit, a narrow piece of land that extends into Howe Sound.
“Having a place that basically blows every day during the summer is extremely important for us to enjoy our sport,” Chris Glazier, with the Squamish Windsports Society, the group that manages the popular site, told the Straight by phone.