The Hardest Decision You’ll Ever Have To Make

Once we know what we’re doing, things are all fine… Right?

A buddy of mine was recounting a ‘kitemare’ he had overseen – and partially caught on video – on Liberation day. The details are not super important but it’s relatively safe to say that a combination of youth, inexperience and an eBay “Saturday night special” kite, all came together and led to a situation where a rogue untethered kite was blowing north across Vazon beach towards crowds of innocent bystanders. Worst of all, he described how the reaction of said bystanders was split equally between; running in the opposite direction with toddlers held aloft, and running towards the errant kite in the hope of apprehending it. All in all – fucking terrible.

Image Credit: Adam

Image Credit: Adam (via www.facebook.com)

Terrible that the person didn’t know enough to own/use a safety leash so that his kite did not become a threat to innocent bystanders, and more terrible because it will only take a few incidents of this nature to get kitesurfing unconditionally banned on Guernsey’s beaches.

A lot of work is being done by the Guernsey kite community at the moment to try and avoid this type of incident… This website was in fact created solely as a place to host a voluntary code of conduct that we all try to adhere to – everything else grew on top of that like moss. It’s good work but unless we can get the message out there to the people who are just dabbling with kiting, possibly having no idea about the possible risks, and the resources available to us to learn from each other and therefore try and mitigate them.

So all in all, inexperience is the cause of dangerous behaviour. Once we have got to that hallowed stage of knowing what we’re doing, things are all fine… Right?

Well maybe not. After a couple of weeks of reflecting on this incident I thought it might be interesting to turn a mirror on my own behaviour.

I have been kiting around 3 years now. I am not great at all the spinning and flipping, but I have very quickly realised that beyond the company of my family & friends, kiting is one of the best things in my life. I am confident in a range of conditions, ranging from 12 to 35 knots, riding twin tips and surfboards (both strapped and strapless). And I feel I have a good grasp of the kind of advanced techniques needed to safely kite on your own. It’s probably fair to say I am an experienced kiter.

But does that mean I am really a safe kiter?

Two recent incidents came to mind – both of them launches and both of them in retrospect extremely stupid and based entirely on my perception of my own ability.

The First – No Bloody Beach

The first was in early April at L’Ancresse on a borrowed 7M Naish Park with my lovely North WAM. I had a one and a half hour slot before needing to be home to put the kids in bed, and I had misread the tides. When I arrived at the beach, there was none. Well no sand at least – just a bank of stones and an angry ocean occasionally washing over them. The wind was around 30 knots and the waves looked wicked. I knew I had to kite and so needed to address the problem of having absolutely nowhere to launch. I roamed the shingle bank for a bit, looking for any likely spot, but it was obvious that there was no hope at all of laying out lines without them getting tangled in the granite rocks, and the kite flying away before I was done.

The wind was around 30 knots and the waves looked wicked. I knew I had to kite and so needed to address the problem of having absolutely nowhere to launch.

I toyed briefly with the idea of attaching my chicken loop to the bannister of the beach steps for a tethered launch, but the wind was dead on shore, and there was no angle for it that would keep the kite off the wall for sure.

Desperate now having wasted 20 precious minutes, I started thinking about launching up on the golf course, and then risking the wrath of the updraft off the sea wall, as I walked down to the water. As dumb as this idea was, it was actually only the fact that (again) I couldn’t weigh the kite down enough to keep it still whilst I rigged up (one of the problems of having a surfboard, as opposed to a TT in high winds, is it doesn’t do anywhere near as good a job of weighing down the kite) that stopped me.

Now 35 minutes into my valuable session time, I decided to have one last look at the beach as a whole. In the middle distance I spied what looked like 7 or 8 feet of sand, newly exposed by the outgoing tide. It stayed more or less dry for the time it took me to get over there, and so (having dumped some sand on the kite to keep it still) I finally managed to affix some lines. Having hooked in, it probably wasn’t until the moment I started to walk backwards to get tension into the lines, that it crossed my mind for even a second, that if this launch went wrong there might be consequences including but not limited to:

  • Kite sliding into rocks downwind and catching a line on them – leading to death loop
  • Kite hitting a gust, drifting towards the sea wall and then catching hold of the updraft, lofting me into the car park or beyond
  • Water washing under kite and turning it the wrong way before launch, tumbling it to rocky destruction
  • Kite, that I had never flown before, having dodgy or uneven settings (again leading to one or all of the above)

As it happened – none of this transpired and my concerns drained away in microseconds. The Park did exactly what I wanted it to, flipped on a penny, and sailed slowly up into a neutral position in the window, allowing me to grab my board and suck up a very pleasant 40 or so minutes of steep fast waves.

The Second – No Bloody Beach Again

The second was at Ladies bay and circumstances were very similar – tide was higher than expected and there was no beach at all to launch off.

This time around I actually got half way to rigging up an impromptu tethered launch set up, right in the northern car park, with a combination of a blue canvas strap attached to my car tow bar, and an aluminium karabiner (sold for 99p as a “Pram Hook”). My plan being to rig the kite and do a bouncing tethered launch right there on the tarmac and then to wander down the boat ramp. The only thing stopping me on this occasion was the timely arrival of Carts in his van. Although I still managed to convince him to do an assisted launch with me from the same spot. Again – it wasn’t until I was watching him wrestling with my 12M Naish Ride in order to keep it off the stone bollards and tall signpost surrounding the Kiosk (with a look of “Seriously?” in his eyes as I stuck up my thumb) that I considered properly that this might not be a good idea either – but the feeling quickly passed as the kite hovered easily up to zenith and I scampered off towards the sea.

I actually got half way to rigging up an impromptu tethered launch set up, right in the northern car park, with a combination of a blue canvas strap attached to my car tow bar, and an aluminium karabiner (sold for 99p as a “Pram Hook”).

If anything – although having an accomplice reduced the risks exponentially, the close proximity of the road leading to to Mont Cuet, downwind of my launch position, added an extra two levels of spice. The possibility of being dragged into the path of an unwary car, and the further potential for the car’s occupants to end up crashing in the confusion of having 12 square metres of kite suddenly wrapped around their windscreen.

I think the worst part about both of these situations was how un-phased I was by them. I didn’t feel scared or worried in any real way. I was just motivated by the need – the utter, complete and overriding need, to kite.

Recounting these situations, has actually made them feel even worse to me. Especially in the context of how angry I was at the poor inexperienced guy at Vazon for not having any idea of the consequences of what he was doing. I have total knowledge of the potential consequences of my actions, and yet I did them anyway. Which leads neatly to the point of this post.

The hardest decision you’re ever likely to make as a kiter, is not going to be whether to spend a ton of money on new kit or whether to go for that boosted kiteloop in a F7 storm.

The hardest choice of all is putting your absolute bone-deep craving to one side, and acknowledging that for whatever reason, some aspect of your current situation means that it’s simply not safe to kite and you should pack up your gear, change out of your suit, and get back in the car.

I am hoping that the next time I find myself up against this choice, I have the balls to make the right call. Keep safe.

Written by: Adam