This is the story of a world first endeavor, an expedition to kitesurf one of the 7 wonders of nature. This story was set to test our team against a series of grueling physical, mental and strategic demands; some we were prepared for and others we were not.

I first realised I wanted to kitesurf on Table Mountain on my second climb up this iconic mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. I’d spent the past months kitesurfing in the ocean below the mountain. It was time to do it on top.

The top of Table Mountain wasn’t ever going to be the safest kite spot in the world but with 16 years of kitesurfing experience to call on, including 15 years travelling the globe as a professional instructor, I reckoned I could cope. But I decided to call in a little help anyway.

I asked around and was told nobody had done it before, so I couldn’t get any advice on how to approach my adventure. I did manage to find some willing accomplices though, and we set about planning our adventure.

Table Mountain, Cape Town - Graykite Surf

Our group was a 4 man team of professional kitesurfing instructors and school owners, Chris, Christian, Hilmar and myself, whom together have over 55 years of experience kitesurfing. Between us we were probably as well equipped as anyone to make sure our adventure was as safe as possible.

For over a month we played with the idea daily, trying to read the conditions as we looked up at Table Mountain from the world famous kitesurfing spots at Blouberg and Big Bay. We eventually decided to kite on Pink Lake, and for the climb we chose Skeleton Gorge, a steep ascent winding its way through the stone pine forests of the lower mountain gorges to the rocky heights high above Cape Town.

One morning we woke and the day had finally come.

Table Mountain, Cape Town - Graykite Surf

After a couple of wrong turns as we traversed towards the Skeleton Gorge access point we finally found the trail marker and were ready to begin the ascent. Our boards were on our backs as we climbed vertical ladders, hiked through the jungle and passed up through Skeleton Gorge.

Table Mountain, Cape Town - Graykite Surf

Table Mountain, Cape Town - Graykite Surf

As we crossed paths with other hikers on their descent, they were surprised to see us with kite equipment.

“Are you guys going to surf in the woods” we would hear.

“Is this the right direction to the beach”. we would say.

Table Mountain, Cape Town - Graykite Surf

We pushed on closer to the summit, though after 2 hours of climbing with all the gear we were tiring a bit. Visibility was only a few hundred meters but we stuck to our route as best we could.

Table Mountain, Cape Town - Graykite Surf

As we neared the end of the gorge our hopes started to fade. With the cloud cover the wind was very light, only 8 knots at most which would not be enough power for our 11, 10 and 8 meter kites.

After two hours hauling our gear through the mist and clouds this left us feeling pretty down, but we carried on regardless and our spirits were lifted when sunlight broke through just as we stumbled on Pink Lake. The famous Table Cloth lifted as if to bless our mission and the warmth of sunshine revitalised our strength as we drank in the spectacular views from the roof of the mountain.

The Cape Doctor was onside too. Cape Town’s famous wind, the friend of all kitesurfers, started to blow smoothly across the lake. We were pleasantly surprised to find that there were no swirly wind patterns on the lake or strong mountain gusts. This was when we knew that our plan was about to become a reality: we would be able to kitesurf Pink Lake on top of Table Mountain.

It was now or never.

Table Mountain, Cape Town - Graykite Surf

Table Mountain, Cape Town - Graykite Surf

Finally, the moment we had been striving towards was upon us, as I attempted the world’s first seconds of kitesurfing on top of table mountain. The feeling was simply incredible. A feeling of exhilaration and success, the knowing that we did it against so many odds, we achieved our goal, it was now a reality! The feeling of the wind, the water the freedom of kiting on top of the world where no one had ever kitesurfed before was nothing short of awesome.

Table Mountain, Cape Town - Graykite Surf

Table Mountain, Cape Town - Graykite Surf

Shortly afterwards Christian also got his moment of exhilaration, as he kitesurfed his way across Pink Lake and into history. By normal standards it wasn’t a particularly amazing kitesurfing session. The wind was a little light, and we couldn’t do any tricks or freestyle. But where it was made it special.

Table Mountain, Cape Town - Graykite Surf

We had kitesurfed on top of Table Mountain, South Africa.

Table Mountain, Cape Town - Graykite Surf

Table Mountain, Cape Town - Graykite Surf

Kitesurfing Techniques | Transitions

To make a smooth kitesurfing transition you need to understand a few key points about both kite control and weight distribution between your front and back leg/hip. Understanding these points is the key to changing direction and making smooth transitions on the board.

Kite control: Starting position for smooth transition

Depending on the direction you are riding you need to position your kite at either 10 O´clock or 2 O´clock before you start your transition. Remember you will turn your kite in TWO stages. From 10 or 2 O’clock you will turn the kite aggressively to generate moderate power as you send it through the edge of the wind window to the 12 O´clock position. Too much power and you will lose control and go over the board superman/superwoman style, too little power and you will not have enough speed throughout the transition to complete the turn.

Kitesurfing Techniques | Transitions

Starting the turn: Kite movement and shifting your body weight

For this example we’ll assume you’re travelling upwind with the kite at 10 O´clock. Your weight will be in your back (right) hip/leg in this direction of travel. Turn the kite up hard from 10 O’clock and as it passes 11 while moving at 45 degrees across the wind window, push out with the hip of your back leg so the board travels in a down wind direction for a few more meters. Then, while you are travelling downwind these few metres, flatten out the board and stand more upright as you start to transfer your weight to your front hip and leg, which is about to become your new back leg and hip.

Kite control and weight distribution

When should you turn?

Throughout the downwind part of your transition the kite will be traveling past 11 to 12 O´clock, and the power and speed that the kite generates at this point determines the distance you will have to travel downwind to make a better, smoother transition.

Kiteboarding Transitions

Turn when the kite strikes 12

As the kite hits 12 you need to change you riding position and shift your weight quickly and smoothly from what was your front leg and is now your new back leg. At the same time you need to twist your new back hip so the board travels back in the opposite upwind direction which will give you a smooth carving sensation on the edge of the board

Learn to Kitesurf: Transitions

Completing the transition

To complete the transition you need to get yourself moving in the opposite direction, in this case upwind. As the Kite hits 12 you need to dive the kite relatively aggressively in the opposite direction to your previous direction of travel and lean back on your edge a little more. As you are already up on the board you do not want to make a power stroke as aggressive as a board start, but you will need around 80% of the power of a board start in your first power stroke to maintain momentum, generate power and speed, complete the transition smoothly and carry on riding.

Kite surf Techniques: Transitions

Practice

Now that you understand these principles you need to put them into action! If you follow this advice you’ll soon have butter smooth board edging and sharp heel edge moves combined with precision two stage kite control. This will assure your transition is smooth and looks highly professional. Just remember to be relatively flat and upright on the board during the few meters down-wind part of the turn. And don’t go over 7 or 8 out of 10 power while learning!

Kite Boarding Techniques: Transitions

Then enjoy

When you apply these principles you will quickly learn to make smooth and stylish transitions that feel great and will impress your kiter and non-kiter friends alike. And with a little more practice you’ll become eye candy for all the chicos and chicas on the beach 😀

Want to get hands on training from an expert instructor? Book an advanced kitesurfing lesson.

Red Bull - King Of Air

With Red Bull now moving into day 12, all is finally looking good for the first heat today Feb 3 rd.

Red Bull - King Of Air

The wind conditions the weeks previous to the event were phenomenal but the 2 week lull in the wind has had all competitors on standby. As we wrote this the night before the final day, it was gearing up to even things out with over 35-45 knots expected. The Cape Doctor has returned. Yes you read this correctly the Cape Doctor is the common name for Cape Town’s wind when she blows consecutively day and night reaching between 25 – 45+ knots, sometimes for weeks on end.

The King of the Air event allocates a much longer period of time than any other Kitesurfing competition for one main reason. The riders need absolute perfect wind conditions when performing such massive jumps while they execute the most dangerous part of the trick, by looping the kite at the apex of the jump. Otherwise known as a kite loop.

By looping the kite this accelerates the riders vertical jump which is around 20 + meters, to a very high horizontal velocity speed at the apex of the jump, being singularly the most dangerous trick in Kitesurfing. If the rider doesn’t land the jump near perfect with the kite being sent back over the riders head to slow the horizontal speed before landing, then outcome is potentially disastrous.

Red Bull - King Of Air

Red Bull - King Of Air

Red Bull - King Of Air

So far we have seen Kevin Langerlee go out with an injury in his preliminary training. And on the upside, Reuben Lentin is back and stronger than ever after his successful and determined battle with cancer. Right on!

All riders are fully determined to go bigger and push harder than ever before and take this year’s King of the Air title.

Red Bull - King Of Air
The world will be captivated again as the best big air riders in the world push the limits in the 2017 Red Bull King of the Air.

Red Bull - King Of Air

For all the up to date info, head over to the Red Bull – King of Air 2017 website.
Images courtesy of Red Bull – King of Air 2017 – Gallery

Kitesurfing has slowly been magnetizing cultures the world over, one beach town at a time. Today we see beaches around the world transformed by our rapidly growing sport.

Kitesurfing culture has embedded its roots in all corners of the world – across 6 continents, 5 oceans, more than a few deserts and even a frozen sea.

Wherever there is a body of water, land or snow, or an oasis with wind, kite boarders are harnessing the elements and pushing the limits of the seemingly impossible, lifting the sport to its current zenith. We have seen daredevils kitesurf the Atlantic from the Canaries to the Caribbean and even kite their way to the North Pole. Did Christopher Columbus or Santa Claus ever imagine they would see this? I think not!

Santa Clause Kitesurfing

The world has been inspired by the no fear attitude of kitesurfers spectacularly jumping over piers, off 120 meter cranes, cliffs and 800 meter mountain tops, testing the limits of what a rider attached to a high performance kite can do. Bear in mind that a kite is not a canopy like a parachute or and paraglider, used to control a fall from the heavens to the earth, a kite is just that, a kite, intended to fly, not to fall. At these great heights one simple error with the control bar would put the kiter attempting these death defying feats in mortal peril. And there is no backup canopy if things go wrong.

At the grass roots the culture of kitesurfing has embraced its own unique identity, values and cultural affirmations. Perhaps the easygoing values of kitesurfers are related to the sport’s intimate connection with nature – if the wind, weather and location don’t come together on any given day the kiter just has to kick back and soak up the local atmosphere. Perhaps it’s partly to do with the unusual requirement to release the bar, to let things go and surrender to nature when you feel trouble coming, rather than trying to keep control at all costs.

Whatever the reason, the global growth of kitesurfing has begun to effect an open minded conscious revolution in partnership with the locals in beach towns and cities the world over. As kitesurfers come to understand the ways of the locals, the locals come to understand the relaxed and accepting ways of the kitesurfer, and a mutual fascination is emerging all around the world.

Cultures around the world are being dazzled by these colourful fanatics of the wind, their aerial acrobatics and death defying stunts, and by their unique and interesting stories. Likewise kitesurfers,  adventuring to all corners of the globe with their goodie bag of kite & board looking for the next wind and wave, have been given a rich and open minded welcome into the communities, cultures and even homes of the people they have met on the way. Accepting and embracing these invitations is a natural part of the open and adventurous kiter’s nature.

This mutual acceptance has changed everyone involved. Kiters share their open minded mentality and sporting fascination with the locals while embracing the unique hospitality, experiences and generational stories that are shared in return, making acceptance and understanding a natural part of the story of the global kiter. Skills and experiences are shared, and everyone enjoys and benefits of the exchange.

Perhaps it’s fair to say the impact of kitesurfing culture at the North Pole would be limited by its permanent population of, well, nobody. But over the past 15 years, as I’ve kited my way around the world and introduced thousands of people to our sport, its effect has been clear to see in major kitesurfing destinations like Tarifa, Brazil, Hawaii, Cape Town, Perth, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Cabarete, Perth and Aruba, to name but a few. These places have been besieged and changed in part or whole by this fierce but friendly storm of colourful kiters, adventure seekers and wild party animals!

Could we possibly be brave enough to this call this a revolution?

What is a revolution?

Revolution

The Merriam-Websters definition of a Revolution is:
1) the usually violent attempt by many people to end the rule of one government and start a new one
2) a sudden, extreme, or complete change in the way people live, work, etc.

So OK, perhaps the former might not be such an accurate indication of any kiter’s true and inherent intentions. But I’d argue that the second is. And if, to help bring about the second, a kiter just happens to take a non-violent yet conscious attempt to the end the rule of fear, is that so bad?

Make luft not war

Angels Luft

It’s natural that a fear based society will view with suspicion any movement consciously based on the rejection of fear, which is perhaps evidenced by the surprising number of restrictions that kitesurfing is subject to in many places when compared to other watersports.

Rejecting the rule of fear is an act of freedom, and it can certainly be argued that many individual acts of freedom combine to become a revolution. And, if these many acts stem from the influence of kitesurfing and kitesurfers, then could we consider it to be a kitesurfing revolution?

Napolean

Kitesurfers have made permanent and temporary homes in many places and cultures, changing and being changed by the people they come into contact with. This cultural symbiosis coupled with the rejection of the rule of fear is a symbolic reflection of a very conscious sport of which no part is intrinsically normal – flying around on a human size kites and jumping to spectacular heights while performing crazy and dangerous tricks is not really normal. In most places. Yet.

Kite Snowboarding

But kiters never claimed to be normal, we are adrenaline fanatics, kitesurfing is an extreme sport with an extreme lifestyle and culture, but we build kites not bombs, we learn to live alongside many peoples and seek our freedom without restricting the freedoms of others. I’m pretty sure nobody’s ever heard of a kitesurfing terrorist, but a kitesurfing revolutionary? Maybe.

Napoleon Revolution

Our lives are changed for the better by the places and people we meet on our travels, and in turn we change the places we visit.

The natural order

Different cultures and ethnicities the world over have, in part or more fully, embraced the kitesurfing revolution in their own back yards. I would argue that this is symbolic of the respectful and down to earth ideals that grass roots kitesurfers generally travel with.

Kiters the world over live for their passion and submit to the elements that we are governed by, not to schedules, rules or government. Thus, consciously or unconsciously, we seek to embrace the natural forces, and that has led many a kiter in his or her primal quest towards freedom of expression.

The kiter’s conscious freedom of expression contains a veracity that has slowly begun to merge and merge with cultures the world over.  As kitesurfers and cultures collide, new fascinations and possibilities arise. An intimate bond has already been forged and the seeds of many individual micro-revolutions have begun to sprout.

We’re seeing a conscious, naturally uninhibited revolution, bound and unbound by its cultural identity, one that is as unique as kitesurfing and as distinct as the cultures kitesurfers encounter. It is organically evolving to be. It is neither seeking approval nor based on any existing social norm, but rather embracing many worlds within one and one within many.

All this said, kitesurfing culture is still in its infancy, so I ask again, can we reach out to say a revolution is occurring in the here and now, within a few short years of kitesurfing’s birth? Based on my personal experience, I think we can.

It’s not unprecedented

The baby boomer generation rode the figurative and literal wave into what was to become The California Dream, the surfing revolution. A generation of open minded, VW driving, pot smoking, free loving people who lived to surf, for the lifestyle – they were cultural revolutionaries and opened the minds of the mainstream to an alternative way of life.

Surfboards and Mustangs

Perhaps not every Kitesurfer drives a VW van (although many do), and whether they smoke pot or not is a choice that is entirely his/her own. Certainly kiters are a vast and varied fleet of individuals, as unique as the many kitesurfing destinations in the world.  But they are all part of a culture that surfs on its own ebb and flow, one that has its own identity as it rides the figurative and literal wave into a new era, a world apart from the current norm, yet open to and capable of blending with the existing social organisms.

Girls with Surfboards

Same difference

In such a varied group each of us is a sloop to our own. Sometimes we need to enter back into our home ports, our worlds of reality. But there is one singular bond, a glue that unites kiters and keeps the kitesurfing culture alive. When that next kitesurfing adventure calls, when that next global destination is called upon, that sloop leaves its berth to reunite with the global fleet of riders and the interconnected spark of passion is ignited again.

Wherever the kitesurfing fleet berths cultures are shared, learned and unlearned, made and unmade.  And through this process that a Kitesurfing Revolution can be born.

The kitesurfing revolution hits Boracay in the Philippine Islands

The sport of Kitesurfing has evolved quickly since its humble beginnings just a few short years ago.

In a way, it makes sense to trace its roots back to the evolution of Surfing. However, the sport of Kitesurfing has had the luxury to evolve in a more modern age, with a wealth of technology and innovators to help it on its way.

Today we see design of the highest level performance and specialized kitesurfing equipment, with modern kites and boards resembling Ferraris of the Sky compared to their earlier Model T Ford and VW Beetle counterparts.

Surfing, Man and Predestination

Angel Paintings
There’s no getting away from it

I think it is safe to say that Surfing was almost predestined to evolve into this unforeseeable yet somehow inevitable future, creating the water sports we have come to know today, like Windsurfing and ultimately Kitesurfing. It’s all a process of adding dimensions.

The roots of surfing are surely ancient. The sport was born in a time and place long ago, and probably far away. Time must have felt endless yet short for primordial man, living by the command of his primal instincts and the grace of Mother Nature’s forces.

Sun Worship
Image credit http://donglutsdinosaurs.com/

Once he had mastered his local environment, survival and reproduction were no longer the only things he had time to consider. As he sat staring at the sea, surely his intrigue at the forces of nature would have stimulated his imagination, ultimately leading to his determination to harness the raw power of the wave. And this must have given him an itch more intolerable than his fleas, an itch to override his mundane hunter/gatherer instincts and ride the real and figurative wave.

Man, watching the ebb and flow of the endless sea of waves, captured the answer to his longing.

Endless Longing

‘I am Man. I will ride wood on wave!

And Man made a hopeless attempt to ride the first bit of driftwood that floated by, without much success. So he adapted his primitive tools to carve that first performance shape, the change that would let him balance and carve on the wave.

Finding a new and exhilarating experience, his longing became his addiction.

The figurative wave became his literal release, as he found his eternal Zen, harnessing the untamed forces of Mother Nature. In time, his addiction gave birth to a culture which gave birth to a revolution. How could Man have known that his primal quest to ride wood on wave would eventually create The Californian Dream?

As wave riding was mastered, man’s insistent evolutionary drive to Surf bigger waves was conquered. It was only natural that he would seek the next logical step, to harness and master the next dimension, the power of the wind.

The second dimension

Second Dimension
No, not like that

From this came the adaptation of ‘sail attached to board’ and, lo, windsurfing was born. Man was now able to zip cross the water, at speeds faster than any other non motorized craft. This new two dimensional sport was a true waterman’s delight.

Windsurfing Tarifa
Like this

Windsurfing offered both the freedom to move long distances at speed on the water and a tool to ride the waves while harnessing the wind. But what would come next?

The third dimension. Natch

3D
3D!

Could primordial man, while first carving his wooden plank, have envisioned an age where human size high performance kites would zip the surfer along the water at death defying speeds? A way to conquer a third dimension and launch the rider to incredible heights while performing visually spectacular gymnastics in the sky, requiring only tiny control inputs to a bar and kite?

Whether he envisioned it or not, it happened. Today the sport of Kitesurfing is a true wonder to behold, and a life changing sport for all who learn its secrets. From this new sport another new culture has emerged. Beaches the world over have been transformed by the colours and silhouettes of kites up to 24 meters in size dancing across the skyline.

The beginnings of Kitesurfing

The humble beginnings of Kitesurfing in the late 1980s saw ‘kite like’ equipment such as basic paraglider canopies attached to the would-be kitesurfer, as he struggled on a basic surfboard or windsurfing board. This primitive attempt worked. To a point. However the rider only had one place to go: downwind.

Beginning of Kitesurfing

Next stop Africa!

Think about it. Tarifa was one the the birthing grounds of the sport. Before modern(ish) equipment arrived, the kitesurfer could not move up wind and ultimately back to the beach, so unless you were both careful and lucky the next stop after leaving the beach in Tarifa could be Africa.

Although this method of traversing the Straits of Gibraltar from Spain to Africa offered the rider a very reasonable €70 saving versus taking the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier, it was not optimal for the progression of the sport.

As a sailboat tacks against the wind, so does the modern day kitesurfer, enabling him/her to arrive back on the beach at the same spot he/she left the beach from. This is called travelling upwind, and creating the equipment to master this was key to the development of the sport.

Early Upwind Kite
An early upwind-capable kite. Cameras weren’t great back then either.

With the early foil kites, water starts were very difficult – they’d fill up with water. So if you made a mistake and dropped your kite you were pretty much stuck, just floating around in the ocean. Then, towards the late 90’s, the first LEI (Leading Edge Inflatable) Kites arrived on the market.

Leading Edge Inflatable kites

LEIs offered the vital ability to steer upwind and relaunch from the water but, for the first few years, these new kites on the market only had 2 lines, giving the kitesurfer decent steering control but no safe braking (depower) system.

In the year 2002, almost as a symbolic millennial transformation in the progression from wood riding to modern kitesurfing, the much higher performance 4 line kite was introduced to the market. 4 line kites offered two huge improvements over what had come before.

Modern safety systems

Firstly, 4 line kites provided a simple and functional safety release system and controlled braking.

Safety release systems in the late 90´s were like a shoe lace loop on your shoe, and the only way to release the kite from the rider was to place your finger in the loop and pull. The problem was that when the kitesurfer needed to release the kite, he or she would have already been out of control and it was highly problematic to complete this safety release procedure.

With the introduction of the 4 line bars came the toggle, push and release safety system. With this system, when the kitesurfer finds him/herself in an emergency situation, a worst case scenario being pulled out of control at high velocity, the toggle and push made it very easy to release the kite from the rider – you just push the toggle, and the kite depowers while remaining attached to you. This has ultimately prevented many serious accidents.

Tricks and Freestyle and stuff

The other great advantage of the 4 line kite is that it has far superior flying characteristics that offer the rider the ability to perform spectacular new tricks. Today’s performance kites allow very high levels of advanced freestyle and wave riding with amazing levels of controllability and stability that were unimaginable not so long ago.

Gray Freestyle
Freestyle

More tricks, more fun and fewer broken people? That’s what we call a millennial leap in technology!

Professionalism

Today Kitesurfing has its own world professional tour (PKRA), Governing Body (IKA), and official educational body (IKO). The sport of Kitesurfing will truly hit the world stage for billions of people to see with its Olympic debut in the 2018 Toyko Games.

Olympic Kitesurfing
www.kitesurfing.lydiasnider.com
From wood riding to here – where next?

For now we will only see one discipline, speed racing, at the 2018 Olympics. Yet who knows – although we have arrived here at the current zenith of kitesurfing (and surfing) evolution, beginning with that age-old quest to ride the waves, perhaps in time the Olympic committee will adopt the 18 other disciplines of Kitesurfing, including freestyle and wave riding, and allow the world to be inspired and captivated by them.