The best water day of my life

by Gabriel Miller / Oct 01, 2013 /

As I walked back from the beach, alone on a quiet road, I thought to myself, “I need to write about this, I need to let the world know how many awesome things people can do in the water.” And so I have. I have written about many things, from scuba diving to leaping of thirty-foot cliffs with my hair whipping above me before I hit the cold water below. I have written about snorkeling on the reefs of Hawaii, about being crushed by huge walls of water, about teaching myself to surf, and about kite surfing, which has got to be the hardest thing I have ever done in the water. By the end of the second hour my legs would be shaking and my neck would be sore because of all the jerking around trying to learn how to control the kite, the board, my body, and watch out for tons of people around me who were moving a lot slower than me. Right now I will tell you the story of the last day of… shall I say torture? No, too harsh, how about difficulty? I will tell you about the last day of difficulty before I was given my license to kite surf.

kite surfing

It was a windy day, probably too windy for my own skills, but I had been asked to come down to the kite surfing school, so there I was. The water would be at least lukewarm, so I wasn’t worried about the cold. All I was worried about was that I was going to make a fool of myself. I shrugged that concern off a moment later, realizing that until I was able to do jumps and actually stay on the board, I would be either making a fool of myself or not, it didn’t really matter. Normally I would be going with my dad or at least a brother or sister, but they all had school and dad had work, but a day like this had not come in a while, so I had volunteered to go.

getting ready to kite surf

When I got down to the beach and had geared up with Chris, the master of the school, we went down the beach to a blue kite with black stripes. Next to it, winding up the lines, was one of the teachers, who hailed us when we got close with a giant grin and a hello. We shook hands and Chris left me in his care. We got to work right away, because the winds in Thailand are very shifty and they can disappear at any moment. He took me down the beach as far as we could out of the way of people without getting into the really shallow area.

There are two reasons you would not want to be in the shallow area, and one reason that you would want to be there. If you are there, it helps that you can just touch the ground to hold yourself steady while getting ready to take off. The two reasons you don’t want to be there is if you crash and put your hand under the water to try to stop yourself you can get it stuck on sand or a rock. The second is that if you are in the shallow area and you’re trying to get going, then if your board sinks under the water and gets stuck in the sand it can twist your back painfully!

Once we had the kite up and flying well, we pulled it out into the ocean. We did a few exercises such as lying on our stomachs and letting the kite fall toward the ocean a bit until we were moving forward easily. Then he ran through the process of getting on the board before telling me it was time for me to actually do so. For those of you who do not know the process involved in kite surfing, I will list it below in order.

1.    Check that the kite is above and very slightly in front of your head.

2.    Hold the board with the footholds in front of you and the bottom of the board facing downwind. You should have it flat with your shoulders.

3.    Look behind you for any waves coming towards you.

4.    DO NOT LET GO OF THE STICK LYING FLAT BEFORE YOUR FACE! Otherwise the kite will fall and bad things will happen, such as the kite falling really fast and hurting someone in front of you.

5.    If there are no waves, then lower yourself down into the water so you are floating on your back.

6.    With no hesitation, slip your feet into the footholds on the board, pull your legs in very tight to your body, push one leg just a little bit out to your side and slightly away, drop the kite hard and fast down the window of wind using the stick in front of you by pulling it left or right, wait until you have your butt out of the water, and then start to pull it up again. As soon as your butt is out of the water, you want to pull the stick in front of you so the kite goes up again and you want to lean back into the embrace of the harness so that the kite is holding you up. The board is more of a guideline so you are not trying to stand on the water.

7.    Move the kite in and out of the window of wind, up and down.  Relax, and enjoy the ride.

 

This all sounds easy. Watching a pro do it makes it look easy. In fact, I mocked the people who were doing really badly the first time I saw this sport.

Well, the first time I kite surfed, I started to pull the kite down through the window to stand up I did it too fast and I didn’t pull back up fast enough, sharp enough, or violent enough. The result? I was pulled up out of the water, the board flew off my feet (skipping over the water), was thrown into the air at least five feet, and then came down again with the kite, cringing as I heard it smash into the water with a clap like thunder. I was horrified and shocked that I had done that. Again and again, I had tried and failed. It was not until about a month later that I finally was able to stay on the board for a while. And even then, I found it really hard to stop.

Well, on this day that I am talking about here, I was able to get up and get all the way to the 7th step before I was gripped by a sharp gust of wind and picked off the water. I was in the air for a moment before I was pushed back onto the water. I have always been known to have an average amount of wit and speed at doing things when I want to, maybe a little above average, and so I was able to get my feet and board under me before I hit the water. For a moment, I was riding again and I heard claps from my teacher and from onshore where some kids were watching us, and I felt pretty good. Then the wind died all of the sudden and I slowly sank into the water until I was around waist deep, and then the wind picked up suddenly and tossed the rest of me into the water so that even my head had disappeared. I came up spluttering and swam back to the teacher letting the kite stay a little ahead of me so that it wasn’t hard to move. Again and again, I tried to kite surf the right way. Each time I failed and I saw that my teacher was getting more and more annoyed that I wouldn’t get it right, but it was well hidden behind a mask of being pleased at my small successes.

After a bit, I asked him if I could take off my shoes that I was wearing; they were bothering me because I couldn’t move my feet well. I brought them onto shore and gave them to one of the kids who babbled away in Thai and then ran my shoes up to the shed where everything was kept, and then I waded out into the water again to where my teacher was holding the excited looking kite (meaning it was tugging really hard on its line to get moving) as it swung back and forth around in the sky.

I took it from him, and took the board as well, ran through the steps in my head, and then closed my eyes. I cleared my mind of all things and thought of only the things in the present, not words and not things that I was told before, but instead felt the wind thrum the strings holding the kite to me, felt the kite as it swung ever so slightly, felt the tug of the water below as it left the shore to get to the wave that was bearing down on me. I heard the wave crash and felt it as it lifted me from the ocean ground and up into the sky. Then my eyes snapped open. My teacher told me afterwards that I had a very strange expression on my face, one of determination and calm.

As I was deposited by the wave as it went on its way into shore, I dropped backwards into the water, and in one smooth motion pulled my feet up and close to me, felt the water below me and knew I didn’t have any waves coming, pushed my left leg out just slightly, dropped my kite hard and fast across the window of wind - and was suddenly skipping over the water. My kite dipped in and out of the wind zone before I found the sweet point. I stood there for a moment marveling at the feeling of victory. Nobody was before me and nobody was behind me, either. I was heading upwind (which I had not done before), and I had not a care in the world for ten seconds.

Then I heard the calling. I looked back and saw my teacher waving his arms for me to stop. I did so and sank easily into the water. I slipped one foot out and felt for the bottom of the bay, but I couldn’t feel anything; it was wonderful that I had made it out this far. Then I remembered what my teacher had said, go one hundred feet one direction and then turn around and come back, I was more like two to three hundred feet away, so I got back into position and then stuck my right foot out a bit, dipped my kite down to my right and stood up and skipped over the water to where my teacher was waiting. He was beaming at me as I came to rest next to him. I laughed out loud and cheered for myself, hearing the kids on the beach do the same.

My teacher called to me, “No more boots for you, young man!” And we both laughed at that. Four more times I did it and then we went in. I was given my certificate and license for finishing all the requirements after being quizzed once more by Chris and then having to kite surf once more a hundred meters in each direction again, so he knew for sure I was ready, and then I went home with many congratulations.

Of the rest of the month that we were there after that remarkable day, there was not one day with weather that was good enough to even try to kite surf for anyone in my family. I was the only one who earned the license and with that, the ability to kite surf wherever I want to. The others were given little tickets that told the next instructors where they were when they stopped the lessons, so they can just start from there when they want to finish learning and get licensed. That day marked the results of five months of hard work. I had finally been able to get up and stay up on a kite surfing board. One of the things I learned that I could do things that seemed impossible, but only if I took off my boots!!

Kite surfing. Photo by Aerial photography by Above Photography, used with permission

(Note, I did not take the photograph and I did not see any whales. The picture was taken by Aerial photography by Above Photography, and used with written permission of the photographer (abovephotography.com.au). He has an extremely awesome site in which he has placed so many photos I can’t even count them all!!! I totally recommend going and checking it all out.)

 

 

 

Gabriel Miller is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program

 

Photos courtesy and copyright Gabriel Miller, except where noted.