STORY BY MIKE CAMUNAS
Where there’s wind, there’s a way. For kiteboarders, it’s about grabbing a strong breeze, holding on tight and reaching out to touch the sky. They can be found up and down the coastal beaches, whirling up into the sky with the greatest of ease, jumping and flipping to their heart’s content. And in Tampa Bay, it’s no different.
Kiteboarders take on a risk with this growing sport, but it’s more than an extreme activity. It’s a water-sports hobby that can be mastered, just like surfing or wakeboarding.
“The bay or the gulf may not give out the best waves, but it can get windy,” says Steve Sadler, owner and operator of Kiteboarding Tampa Bay. “There are plenty of beaches and areas to kiteboard. You’ve just got to know where to go and what you’re doing.”
Here are some basics of kitesurfing, from equipment and lesson costs to the pure enjoyment of this water sport.
First and Foremost
Kiteboarding takes work and its takes lots of practice. In fact, you’re more than likely going to need lessons. That’s where Sadler comes in. Sadler is a level-two instructor who owns and operates Kiteboarding Tampa Bay and provides anything from lessons to tips and equipment for those water-sports adventurers. He’s been instructing for more than nine years, but he’s also known as the safety guy.
“I’m always happy to point out my students,” Sadler says. “I’m proud that I taught them the right way to do this.”
Sadler adds there are many ins and outs of learning this sport. He offers packages that include gear for beginners, and most people end up taking eight to 12 hours of lessons over a two- to three-day period. During the lessons, Sadler will go over the basics, from riding the board to standing up on the board to what to do if you’re dragged through the water.
Sadler points out that it may take time to master kiteboarding. “It is something anyone can learn, while some pick it up faster than others,” Sadler says.
The basics you’re going to need are, simply put, a board and a kite. Sadler says most boards are around $500, while kites usually start at $1,500 and go up from there. You’ll also have to throw in the harness and ropes, which are about $150 or so.
The boards can be strapless and don’t attach to the feet, but the standard board is a twin-tip board. Kites come in roughly four to five different shapes, but the most common is a bow kite, and all kites inflate so they don’t sink. Kites usually come with a harness and bar, which the rider uses to steer.
Sadler also tells beginners to buy semi-used equipment when you’re starting out and then work your way up as you improve. Sadler also recommends purchasing flotation devices and a helmet.
The weather plays a big factor, but obviously the wind is the most important.
“You learn about warm and cold fronts and how they affect the coast out there,” Sadler says. “Sometimes some tropical storm activity will do, but just because it’s windy doesn’t mean its good to kite.”
Ideally, Sadler says, as you learn to watch weather and wind meters, that 10 to 20 mph hour is good conditions, but you don’t want to go over 30 mph. And for doing jumps, Sadler says higher winds are ideal, especially in Tampa Bay, where the waves wouldn’t be as big as on a different coast.
Incidentally, winter is the best time to kite because it’s generally windier, and the wet heat of summer doesn’t allow for as much wind. Sadler adds that another great time to get out is when a cold front hits the area.
For Sadler, it’s not all fun and games, even though he uses fun and games to raise money. As one of the founders of Action Sports Foundation, Sadler helps raise money and hosts events as a 501(c)3 charity that does beach cleanups. He also teaches disabled veterans and challenged athletes how to water ski, kiteboard and participate in other water sports activities. Just recently, Sadler hosted a paddleboard race as a way to help others get out and have an active lifestyle.