There’s an old saying that goes, “You can never be too thin or too rich.” That may be true if you’re breaking into the world of high fashion, but certainly not if you’re trying to learn kite-boarding on the tiny Caribbean island of Aruba.
The winds there are stronger than you think and you might just find yourself thankful for a few extra pounds here and there!
Learning to kiteboard in Aruba
I knew something was up when my classmates and I arrived for our first kite-boarding lesson at Dare 2 Fly Aruba, next to the elegant Marriott resort. Six relatively fit women, none of us weighed more than 130lbs – and that didn’t seem to be making our trio of instructors very happy.
It was the windiest day they’d had all year!
Gamely, they showed us the training kites we’d use on land to learn to manage the gusty breezes.
“Women learn this part more easily,” said instructor Mike Tiedemann encouragingly. “Men put too much muscle into it.”
Colleague Thijs Van Westing agreed, “Men want to yank the kite, when all you need to do is touch the bar lightly.”
The basics of kiteboarding
Like a water-ski rope, a kite-board handle is designed to fit easily into your fingertips. Four long, thin strings clip on, and a strong center cord attaches everything to the bright billowing kite. Once the wind begins to blow, the kite, with its long, inflated edge, rises from the ground – tentatively at first and then with great gusto.
And that’s when the fun begins, because you rise too – also tentatively at first and then with great gusto! As much as you try to remember to make those tiny, gentle handle movements, the wind seems to have a mind of its own.
It’s all about another piece of equipment you’re wearing – a floatation vest with a large, blunt, metal hook that attaches to the stretchy ‘chicken loop’ hanging below the handle. Once that chicken loop is attached to your vest, you and your kite develop a close new relationship. Wherever it goes, you’re going too!
Once you’ve had a taste of the power of wind and kite on land, it’s time to trade in your small trainer kite for a larger version that will propel you through the waves.
Yikes. And you haven’t even added the board yet!
The same principles apply in the water. Let the kite fill with wind and rise above and ahead of you, then use small movements of the handle to shift left and right and ‘body-drag’ through the waves.
Easier said than done
It all sounded so easy, but I seemed to spend a whole lot of time skidding on my face that first day – and the next day too, when we added the boards.
“Get the kite up above you – at the neutral position – hold it steady with one hand, then slip your feet into the straps on the board,” said Darwin Quero, our third instructor. “As you feel the pull from the kite, try to curl up onto the board and then slowly stand. “
Remember the old party trick that involved patting your head while rubbing your stomach and hopping on one foot? It was a lot like that. Try as I might – and try as hard as Thijs, Mike, and Darwin might – the gusty winds made it unlikely that I’d put all the pieces together.
End of story?
Determined that this student wouldn’t leave Aruba without tasting the thrill of racing through the waves and leaping high into the air, Thijs had a plan.
“Climb on my back,” he said, “wrap your arms across my chest and your legs around my waist. ‘
In a heartbeat, I attached myself to poor Thijs like a limpet, and we were off, rocketing through the waves like a meteorite.
“Hang on,” he shouted over the roar of wind and water. Then suddenly, Thijs gave a mighty leap and we soared high above the waves, six feet off the surface.
So, I thought as the spray hit my face, this is how it all comes together!
I’m guessing I’ll only need another year or two of practice to be able to do it without Thijs…
Keen to fly with Thijs, Mike, and Darwin? Visit www.kiteboardingaruba.com.
Liz Fleming is an award-winning Canadian travel journalist who specializes in adventure, health and wellness and learning travel. For more from Liz, go to: Liz Fleming’s Travel Tales.