60 Let’s go fly a kite

Lively and lib­er­at­ing, the sport of kitesurf­ing is en­joy­ing a surge in pop­u­lar­ity. Anna Tyzack talks to devo­tees, who like noth­ing more than soar­ing across sea and sand

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

The sport of kitesurf­ing is en­joy­ing a surge in pop­u­lar­ity—anna Tyzack talks to devo­tees, who love to soar across sea and sand

AL­most ev­ery week­end, sir si­mon ste­wart, a con­sul­tant clin­i­cal on­col­o­gist at the Im­pe­rial NHS trust in Lon­don, swaps his scrubs for a wet­suit and hur­tles across an es­tu­ary in Devon be­hind a kite. His wife, Cather­ine, and chil­dren Hamish, 32, and Anna, 29, are still com­ing to terms with his new hobby, which also takes him on coach­ing hol­i­days to Kenya, Cape Verde and Egypt. ‘It’s a real buzz,’ sir si­mon, 60, ex­plains. ‘You don’t have to be strong or fit to kitesurf be­cause the wind does all the work.’

over the past decade, kitesurf­ing —also known as kite­board­ing—has been taken up by so many pro­fes­sion­als, en­trepreneurs and celebri­ties that sir si­mon’s in­struc­tor, steph Bridge, refers to it as the ‘golf’ of wa­ter­sports. sir Richard Bran­son was one of the first to catch the bug in the early 2000s and mrs Bridge, who is a five-times Kite Race world cham­pion, counts model Jodie Kidd and olympic skier Gra­ham Bell as pupils.

It’s such a mag­i­cal feel­ing–i got hooked straight away

she’s watched the most stead­fast land lovers—the type to get their kicks from hunt­ing and off- piste ski­ing—be­come hooked on the sport, which is poised to be­come an olympic event in time for tokyo 2020. ‘this is great news for Bri­tain, as our shal­low es­tu­ar­ies and har­bours are the per­fect train­ing ground,’ she notes.

one of the sport’s ris­ing stars is 22-year-old Rose Bun­gener, a for­mer even­ter, who took up kitesurf­ing at Bris­tol Univer­sity and is spon­sored by wa­ter­sports equip­ment brand sling­shot. Horses be­came too ex­pen­sive and time-con­sum­ing when she was study­ing for her eco­nomics and man­age­ment de­gree; kitesurf­ing, how­ever, re­quired less kit and com­mit­ment, but still sat­is­fied her need for speed. miss Bun­gener mas­tered it in just three les­sons: ‘I got hooked straight away be­cause it’s such a mag­i­cal feel­ing. You don’t have

to rely on other peo­ple—you can set up by your­self and do what­ever you want. It’s very lib­er­at­ing.’

That feel­ing of free­dom is what ap­pealed to Mrs Bridge when she took up the sport a decade ago. ‘I liked that you can fit all the equip­ment in to one big bag. And, un­like surf­ing, you’re not wait­ing to catch a wave, or re­ly­ing on a lot of wind, as you are with wind­surf­ing.’

Back then, there weren’t any qual­i­fied in­struc­tors, so Mrs Bridge and her hus­band, Eric, taught them­selves and set up Edge Wa­ter­sports (01395 222551; www.edge­wa­ter­sports.com) on the Exe Es­tu­ary in Devon, now one of Bri­tain’s top schools. ‘It’s amaz­ing how it’s taken off,’ Mrs Bridge en­thuses. ‘At any one time, there will now be 60– 80 kiters on dif­fer­ent parts of the river here.’

The cou­ple’s three sons, all pro­fes­sional kiters, are known locally as the ‘Bridgelets’— Olly, 18, is a Euro­pean and World cham­pion, Guy, 16, was the 2015 Bri­tish Kite-foil­ing Na­tional Cham­pion and Euro­pean ju­nior freestyle cham­pion and Tom, 15, won the 2013 and 2014 PKRA Youth World Cham­pi­onships and was Vir­gin Kitesurf Ju­nior world Cham­pion in 2015.

Mrs Bridge de­scribes kitesurf­ing as a com­bi­na­tion of snow­board­ing, sail­ing and wind­surf­ing. Af­ter two days’ in­struc­tion, be­gin­ners can set up a kite on their own and prac­tise rid­ing be­hind it on the wa­ter. Within a week, you can be do­ing jumps and tricks. ‘It’s a bit like learn­ing to snow­board,’ points out Chris Burke, a pro­fes­sional kitesurfer, who runs Po­sei­don Kite School (07772 370007; www. po­sei­donkiteschool.com) in the waist­deep wa­ters of Poole Har­bour. ‘There’s no gen­tle way in. You’ve got to hit it hard, but it’s fun right from the out­set and you can pick it up very quickly.’

The trick­i­est part is learn­ing to fly the kite, hence why be­gin­ners start their les­sons on dry land. ‘The board­ing bit is easy, but, first, you’ve got to mas­ter fly­ing a kite without look­ing at it,’ con­firms Oliver Hor­ton, 22, an in­vest­ment banker who be­gan kitesurf­ing at Bris­tol Univer­sity. ‘The sec­ond it drops too low, you get pulled over, but, once you’ve got the hang of it, the feel­ing of power is some­thing else.’

Cle­mentina Thavenot, of Sav­ills’ coun­try-house con­sul­tancy, who had her in­au­gu­ral les­son ear­lier this sum­mer, de­scribes be­ing towed by a kite as ‘scary, but to­tally ad­dic­tive’. Once you’ve man­aged to stand up, you have to learn how to turn, by ma­noeu­vring the kite in an arc from one side of the ‘wind win­dow’ to the other. Get it wrong and you’re pulled into the air and dunked un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously into the wa­ter. ‘I was freez­ing cold, my legs had gone numb, but I still wanted to keep try­ing,’ she ad­mits. ‘The power is im­mense and alarm­ing. There’s some­thing very in­vig­o­rat­ing about the cold wa­ter and the fact you’re be­ing pow­ered by na­ture rather than a mo­tor.’

As an ex­treme sport, kitesurf­ing can be dan­ger­ous—deadly even. Mr Hor­ton was once dragged down the beach by his kite in a 40-knot wind—his wet­suit was torn to shreds—and Sir Si­mon woke up on a beach off the north coast of Boa Vista in Cape Verde, hav­ing been pulled out of the wa­ter by his

The power is im­mense and alarm­ing. There’s some­thing in­vig­o­rat­ing about... the fact that you’re pow­ered by na­ture

kite, although he has no rec­ol­lec­tion of what ac­tu­ally hap­pened.

Be­gin­ners are taught how to ac­ti­vate the safety sys­tem, which de-pow­ers the kite in an emer­gency, but, if you give your­self enough space and ob­serve the ba­sic right-of-way rules on the wa­ter, you shouldn’t run into se­ri­ous dif­fi­cul­ties. ‘Space is the first rule,’ coun­sels Mr Burke. ‘Don’t get too close to any build­ings or other peo­ple. Al­ways have enough space to eject your­self if needs be.’

Although kitesurf­ing doesn’t have to in­volve the travel and ac­com­mo­da­tion costs as­so­ci­ated with snow sports, it’s still an ex­pen­sive sport to be­gin with. Three or four les­sons with a Bri­tish Kitesurf­ing As­so­ci­a­tion ac­cred­ited in­struc­tor cost about £500 and buy­ing all the nec­es­sary kit (a kite, board, line bar and wet­suit) will set you back at least £1,000. How­ever, as Mr Hor­ton rea­sons, there’s no need to buy new equip­ment: he bought his kite sec­ond hand via Face­book. Fur­ther­more, the diminu­tive size of the equip­ment makes it easy to take abroad to kitesurf­ing com­mu­ni­ties in Por­tu­gal, Mau­ri­tius, Hawaii and Brazil.

Since he swapped bulky wind­surf gear for a kite six years ago, Rowan Gray, who runs Lon­don-based coach­ing academy Made to Move (www.weare­made to­move.com), has taken it on sev­eral hol­i­days to Tar­ifa in Spain. ‘Lug­ging my wind­surf­ing gear around was com­i­cal, but now I just have a small back­pack and a board,’ he says with a smile.

Ac­cord­ing to Miss Bun­gener, the great­est as­pect of kitesurf­ing is that you don’t have to leave Bri­tain to enjoy it—her favourite spot is Wey­mouth in Dorset, with Sir Si­mon sin­gling out Ban­tham and Ex­mouth in Devon, as well as Hayling Is­land in Hamp­shire. It’s also pos­si­ble to kite on lots of other beaches, from the Gower Penin­sula in Wales to New Hun­stan­ton in Nor­folk and Troon in Scot­land.

‘Kit­ing has got every­thing go­ing for it—an ex­treme sport with a surfer vibe that’s easy to learn and at­tracts in­ter­est­ing peo­ple,’ Miss Bun­gener eu­lo­gises.

This au­tumn, she’s tak­ing up a job at Ama­zon in Lon­don, but it won’t stop her kit­ing ev­ery week­end through­out the win­ter. ‘Don’t let the weather put you off—you can do it all year round, even in the UK,’ she urges. ‘The key is a thick wet­suit.’

Fly­ing high: kitesurf­ing is the ‘golf’ of wa­ter­sports

Mak­ing a splash: Rose Bun­gener ( top) flies over the North At­lantic, in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, and Cle­mentina Thavenot with fel­low kitesurfer Johnny Mild­mayWhite ( above) at Sand­banks, Poole

Olly Bridge, 18, a Euro­pean and World cham­pion, soars through the air on his foil­ing kite­board

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