The New Fusion

Where Kite Flying and Wakeboarding Collide

May 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

Giving in to the addiction: the power zone off Maui

TAKE TWO FAVORITE PASTIMES of the ancient Hawaiians—surfing and kite flying. Toss them into the Cuisinart of new-sport inspiration, press the frappé button, and out pours kiteboarding. Barely five years old, this nascent sport has quickly come to the attention of all self-respecting fun hogs. Holding on to what looks like an oversize stunt kite with a trapeze-style bar, a kiteboarder harnesses the power of the wind, riding atop a stubby windsurfing-style board. It's been described as wakeboarding with a twist—the twist being that you're both the rider and the boat driver, the wind serving as your 250-horsepower outboard. My surfboard shaper on Oahu warned me: "Be's more addictive than heroin."

Overcome by temptation, I head to the center of the kiteboarding universe: Kanaha Beach Park, aka Kite Beach, a shaded little cove on the north shore of Maui. I'm here to take a lesson from Martin Kirk, owner of the Kiteboarding School of Maui, which, at three years old, is a pioneer in promoting the sport. Like so many of his kama'aina (long-time local) brethren, 15-year resident Martin came to Maui to satiate his water-sports jones—and never left. With sun-baked freckles, strawberry locks, and an East Carolinian pork-barbecue heritage, Martin didn't strike me as a local's local. But I found that more than wind powers him. He possesses an attribute the Hawaiians call kokua aku, a penchant for "giving back" to his community, whether organizing beach cleanups, volunteering as a Big Brother, or serving as kiteboarding's ambassador.
The day of my lesson, the 18-knot trade breeze is ideal for laying out power-jibe rooster tails and hucking enormous air with slow-motion rail grabs. I, however, succeed with a flailing "body drag" wake, which is sliced and diced by a who's who of hard-cores, pros, and even world champions. I clutch the so-called control bar, but it's not at all clear who's controlling what as I am dragged out to sea by the twitchy, bumblebee-colored kite, a 4.2-square-meter Cabrinha. If my motions aren't smooth it yanks me skyward like a marionette being jerked off the stage. Martin encourages me in a calming voice: "Bring your kite to hook into your dive your kite toward the water...PULL UP! Easy now, you can add and subtract thrust by diving and climbing."

I safely make it to the culmination of our four-hour lesson, and now is my chance to put it all together—alone. Kite launched, Martin spots me at shore's edge—adding ballast lest I get lifted prematurely. He repeats the checklist I must go through when I'm out on the water. "Kite to neutral...hook in...reach back for your board...slip into the footstraps." All systems go—I dive my kite through that hallowed place known as the Power Zone, the downwind sweet spot about 45 degrees above the horizon where the wind's full force hits the kite. Skipping out to sea, this time on my feet, I lean back on my heel-side rail and let the kite do the work. I've got it, and for now, my only peril is addiction.