Wave Flyers of the Central Coast
by Ruth Ann Angus
When the wind is up on the Central Coast, a small cadre of individuals break out an interesting combination of equipment, go down to the ocean, and take flight.
In the last three decades surfing has grown from skipping across the waves on boards both long and short, to riding them hanging onto huge sails, to flying over them with kites.
Windsurfing is just what it sounds like, surfing with some kind of apparatus that utilizes the wind. It consists of a surfboard with a huge sail connected by a mast. The sail is maneuverable and can be rotated from one side to the other via a free-rotating universal joint. Windsurfing is similar to both surfing and sailing and some people still refer to windsurfers as sailors.
Good windsurfers can do jumps over the waves, loops, spins and other movements all the while flying through the water at breakneck speeds. This is a surfing sport that has a longer learning curve than others. A novice starts slowly with a smaller sail and in less wind while learning to raise the sail up out of the water and managing to stay afloat. What looks so easy when viewing experts is really pretty darn difficult at first.
Windsurfers attest to the fact that this sport can be managed easily though, once one is experienced, even into old age and it is not surprising to see a senior come trudging up out of the surf with their windsurfing equipment in tow.
Kitesurfing, or kiteboarding, on the other hand, is an extreme sport. Barbara Engel, an athlete from Morro Bay, says "a person should definitely take lessons before taking up the challenge." Engel started kitesurfing after years of regular surfing and windsurfing. "It was something new and different from windsurfing," she said, "and the equipment is smaller and lighter than windsurfing equipment."
"The good thing about this sport," Engel said, "is that you don't necessarily have to be a good surfer." But there are special techniques and safety tactics that need to be employed.
Kitesurfing schools teach students how to launch the kite, how to fly and land, usage of the bar, and what procedures to follow if they get in trouble.
"In the early days there was no way to release yourself from the kite if things got bad," Engel said, "but in the last five years manufacturers have built in safety release mechanisms." Engel always carries a knife with her just in case.
Type of kites and kite sizes make a difference in the ride as well as types of boards. In the beginning wakeboards were used with kites where the person was towed behind a boat. This is still part of the sport.
Naturally wind is the most important component. "The best wind is coming from either the northwest or the north," Engel said. Down in Pismo the winds are often onshore, and while that's a challenge for the rider to make sure they don't get driven up on shore, Engel says it is doable. "You never want to kitesurf when the wind is offshore," Engel said, "or you could get blown out to sea." It's also a good idea to go kitesurfing with a buddy.
There are leading edge inflatable kites referred to as inflatables or C-kites, and bow kites and each enables the rider to do different things. A C-kite might lift one into the air about 30 feet whereas a flat bow kite will keep the person riding the waves with about a 15 foot lift.
The other elements involved in kitesurfing are the lines that attach the rider to the kite, the control bar that attaches to the kite via the lines, a kite harness that has leg loops or can be a waist or vest type, and of course the kiteboard made of wood or foam. Now there are directional surf style boards, wakeboard style, and some that can go in either direction. Some kitesurfers do use their regular surfboards or longboards.
"It's an expensive sport," Engel said, "with kites in the $1000 and up range and boards too."
For those who love the exhilaration of flying over the waves, windsurfing and kitesurfing will continue to be popular sports and those of us who are spectators will always enjoy watching the wave flyers of the Central Coast.