Be sensible when kiteboarding before and after storms
Whenever the wind is up take a look off Elbow Beach and no doubt you will find some of Bermuda's kiteboarders literally flying across the waves. And when a storm or hurricane is approaching or has passed by the very experienced ones will take advantage of the weather for what looks like a thrilling ride.
But local kiteboarder Denis Pitcher is keen to stress that those who do the sport are not irresponsible and have no wish to actually go out in the middle of a hurricane.
He said: “My ideal conditions are between 18-25 knots of consistent wind. While it is possible with the right sized gear to kite in winds upwards of 35 knots it isn't very enjoyable. Bermuda is one of the better places in terms of wind for kiteboarding given that throughout much of the winter we are likely to have favourable wind conditions. The summer tends to be less windy, and thus experienced kiteboarders tend to take advantage of pre and post hurricane winds when the conditions are safe and mirror those of winter conditions.”
And he had a word of warning for those who may think they can handle ferocious conditions.
“People who kiteboard, under any conditions, need to fully understand the safety systems of their gear, how to read the weather to know when the winds may change and to avoid and manage hazards like rip currents, trees and reefs. Unfortunately, there is no recognised governing body or association in Bermuda for kiteboarding so it is difficult to ensure that people meet these standards before going out.”
Mr Pitcher, who also teaches but hasn't been able to do so lately on account of his work, said: “Extreme conditions can make the sport extreme like many other sports but usually it is only the foolish who go out in extreme conditions. The sport itself has an element of danger in that the equipment is complex and needs to be well maintained and one must be wary of hazards, of which there are many in Bermuda. If you treat the sport and the equipment with respect and take the necessary precautions, it can be incredibly enjoyable, but as with any sport, there are risks to be aware of.”
He said that waves are not much of a consideration for Bermuda.
“Due to the south shore reef line, Bermuda's beaches don't get much in the way of waves. The Island gets a wide range of wind conditions, some of our winter winds reach hurricane force. I'm often asked when it's crazy windy if it's been great for kiting and I usually stop to clarify that unfortunately, extreme winds and kiteboarding don't mix. Consistent predictable winds and the right equipment can mean a great range, but going out in extreme winter storms or hurricanes is a recipe for death.”
Mr Pitcher said that kiteboarding is dominated by the “wind direction and which beaches are safest for that given direction”.
He explained: “There are really only two safely kiteable beaches on the Island, those being Elbow Beach and Somerset Long Bay. Elbow Beach caters to winds from the south west through the north west and Longbay for west through north. Other beaches are best left to very advanced kiteboarders.”
And while he has gone out alone, he said that he prefers not to. “It simply isn't worth the risk. There's a pretty good local community of kiteboarders and it's usually common that if the conditions are right, others will be there. Due to the nature of launching and landing of the kite usually requiring help, the kiter community tends to be very helpful and open. Thus, it is best to go out when there are others around to lend a hand, or help you out if you get into a bind.”
Having said that rough weather is not “conducive to kiteboarding”, Mr Pitcher added, “anyone who is kiteboarding in Bermuda needs to very aware of how to read the weather in case it changes or should only kiteboard under the guidance of someone who does. Understanding how to read the clouds on when the wind speed is going to change, squalls are coming or rain and lightning is forming is very important. A casual stormy spring day can bring perfect conditions that can change quite quickly until you find yourself struggling with far more power than you can control or the winds drop and your kite loses all power.”
When he first started Mr Pitcher said he loved jumping.
“I started the sport thrilled by jumping high but grew bored of it. The conditions on the Island's beaches don't lend themselves well to speed as often the South Shore is very choppy and anywhere else would require boat support. I became far more enamored by the challenge and technical complexity of aerobatic tricks. These don't require a great deal of height or power and instead rely on concentration, balance and a great deal of practice.”
Like other sports, one can get injured doing kiteboarding. “I've had a couple injuries, one not terribly serious and another a fair bit more serious. Kiteboarding isn't without it's risks, even for experienced kiteboarders. It's very important to know, inspect and test your equipment regularly to ensure it functions correctly and wear appropriate safety equipment like a helmet. Many kiteboarding accidents can happen as a result of poorly maintained equipment. Lines can break, pullies and safety releases can jam due to the salty sandy conditions of Bermuda. Kiteboarders are encouraged to check their equipment regularly and never go out on gear they're not familiar with.
“It is an incredibly technical sport which is very difficult to master and enables you to enjoy a wide variety of experiences. You can enjoy the thrill of using the power of the wind and momentum of the kite to jump really high, perform complex aerobatic tricks, race along at considerable speeds or simply enjoy the tranquillity of feeling connected with nature as you embrace the wind and ride the water in ways you can't with many other sports.”
He said that it was hard to say how many kiteboarders there are on the Island as “due to the transient nature of international business, people tend to come and go”.
He added: “Perhaps 40-50 would be a good guess with around 15-20 more avid kiters who you see out more regularly. The kiteboarding community is pretty welcoming and you get to know each other on the windy days. Often times kiters get together simply on the beach when there's wind, or arrange beach barbecues or evenings on the days when there's none.
“Kiteboarding tends to attract an interesting assortment of people. Locally the sport is dominated by people who are looking for a means to get away from the doldrums of spending their days in front of a desk. Internationally it attracts a variety of people from some of Silicon Valley's top brass such as Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Virgin Group business magnate Sir Richard Branson, former US presidential nominee John Kerry and a stream of pros from around the world like Susi Mai, who visited the Island a few years back.”
There are also different kite sizes and there are different sizes of sails in yachting.
“Kite sizes are all dependent on the size of the rider and the wind strength. I tend to have three primary kite sizes a seven metre, a nine metre and a 12 metre. The nine is the kite I use most often in the winter in Bermuda, the 12 is the typical kite for the summer and the seven is good for trips to places that regularly have 30 knot winds like Brazil.”
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