Kite surfing for freedom
Nothing about Gray Robinson’s first hours of kite surfing suggested a future career.
He struggled to put his first kite board together in 2001.
Eventually he and his father, Gordon Robinson Jr, got the contraption in working order and took it to Elbow Beach.
Clueless, they attempted to fly: one hand on the kite, the other on the instruction manual. They hadn’t factored in the wind, or lack thereof. Despite the inauspicious beginning, Mr Robinson fell hard. He loved extreme sports and kite surfers can go as fast as 72mph although they typically travel between nine and 12mph.
“You have the freedom to be able to move on the water, but you are attached to a human-sized kite,” the 40-year-old explained. “It’s a multidimensional sport where you can surf and get into the air by doing jumps and literally flying — some jumps are 60ft vertical. You have this freedom that is very special.”
The introduction came when he was 23, and studying Chinese medicine in Canada. By the time he graduated, three years later, he was teaching people to snowboard using kites.
Before he knew it, he’d opened a school in Canmore, Alberta and was travelling the world teaching.
The sport does have its dangers. Mr Robinson has dislocated both of his arms and his shoulders. There was also an “embarrassing situation” off Vancouver Island, Canada.
People saw him kite surfing and thought he was in trouble. They called the Canadian Coast Guard.
“It was an embarrassing situation because I didn’t need rescuing,” he said.
It didn’t help that the coast guard had no protocol for rescuing kite boarders.
“The coast guard drove over my kite,” said Mr Robinson. “The kite got sucked up into the prop at the back. We were ten to 15 metres from 10ft waves crashing into cliffs. The coast guard hit the cliffs.”
He was asked to write the Canadian Coast Guard protocol for dealing with kite surfers as a result.
“It was a serious incident,” he said. “It was in the international news.”
Spain called last year. Mr Robinson opened a kite surfing school in Tarifa, one of the world’s most popular destinations for wind sports. His company, Graykite Tarifa, faces stiff competition from the 60 kitesurfing schools in the region. More than 250 instructors can hit a beach on any given day.
“All of Europe comes to Tarifa to learn to kite surf,” Mr Robinson said. “That makes it a little harder but it is a really beautiful area. It’s at the most southern point of Europe — Morocco is just 11 kilometres away. It is a little colder than Bermuda, but very beautiful. It has one of the most beautiful cultures and one of the most incredible kite surfing locations. That was one of the main reasons I decided to start a school.”
During the high season, from April to October, as many as 2,500 kites can be found on a three-kilometre stretch. Collisions are common and the strong, offshore winds sometimes blow kite boarders towards Morocco.
“Every ten minutes there are two or three kites all wrapped around each other,” Mr Robinson said. “It is part of the adventure and part of kite surfing in Tarifa. There is a company here called the Sea Angels. The schools pay them, and with five boats, they rescue people all day long.”
The venture means he’s no longer able to kite board as much as he’d like.
“I’m too busy,” he said. “We are training instructors at a higher professional level. We are trying to take the sport of kite surfing to the next level.
“Our day is busy with instructors on the beach and meeting the students. We don’t just teach, we also book in our students for accommodation and help with the whole holiday package. In the evening we meet them for tapas and introduce them to the culture.”
He opened another kite surfing school in Boracay, Philippines and is considering branching out to Cape Town, South Africa. He also continues to run his snowboarding school in Canmore.
Not all his ventures succeed: he tried running a business in Bermuda 14 years ago, but it didn’t work out.
“I realised fast that although the Bermuda waters are beautiful, the wind in the summer is not optimal for the sport,” he said. “In short, there is no wind in the summer.”
Mr Robinson offers a variety of lessons starting from 70 euros per person.