La Jolla resident Helen Spear is a kiter, and we don’t mean the kind on a string. Officially, what she does is called “kite surfing,” and it’s a sport she learned 15 years ago in Maui on — you guessed it — Kite Beach, the stomping ground for kite-surfing pros.
But Spear started slowly. First, she surfed the old-fashioned way, and then graduated to wind surfing. She remembers: “I was surfing a lot and when the wind came, all the wind surfers appeared and zoomed past me. I knew I had to be one of them and not sit on my regular board and watch.” From there, she became a kite surfer.
Spear is also a real-estate agent at Sotheby’s in Pacific Beach. She specializes in coastal real estate, and sees her job as the perfect complement to her passion for kite surfing. “In between client appointments, home showings, open houses, negotiations, and the like,” she explains, “kite surfing for a few hours is a refreshing, invigorating activity that clears my head and renews my energy for the next work-related meeting.”
What is kite surfing?
This water sport involves a board, kite, harness, control bar and lines, and usually a pump (if you have an inflatable kite). The whole package costs around $2,000.
Riders skim the water on the board and are pulled by the kite through a long set of strings and bars that attach to the harness. The wind pulls the rider who controls the kite’s direction and power by manipulating its angle. Control of the board is also critical while maneuvering the kite at the same time. People who love extreme water sports generally love kite surfing.
Where are the best places to go kite surfing?
The top local spots are Tourmaline, Law Street Beach, Mission Beach, and Silver Strand. Spear also recommends Hawaii’s North Shore and Kailua, as well as spots in Brazil, Saint Kitts, Mexico, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and the Hood River in Oregon.
But surf-shop owners say it’s really still a relatively small sport in San Diego. Mitch’s Surf Shop in La Jolla, for example, doesn’t even carry kite-surfing equipment because there’s not a big enough market for it.
However, according to John Cuchna, owner of Amped Board Sports in Solana Beach, the sport is growing: “We’re getting people from a lot of other places who kite, so they want to do it here,” he explains. “San Diego generally does not have enough wind to support kite surfing, so you have to use a bigger kite and a bigger board here for lighter wind.”
San Diego is not yet home to kite-surfing clubs nor kite-surfing contests, officially, but these do exist in other parts of the world where there’s more wind. Categories can include big waves, jumping, racing, and open-ocean competitions.
What does it take to be a kite surfer?
Being a decent swimmer, and in good shape, is key. And as a kite surfer, you’re strapped in a harness, so most of the tension from the kite is absorbed through the body’s core, and arms are used simply for steering. You also need fairly strong legs to make turns and absorb the ocean waves.
That being said, Spear said she weighs 115 pounds and insists that kite surfing takes more than just physical strength: “It’s crucial to have a strong psychological constitution and the ability to be resourceful and self-dependent. With so many variables — like wind direction and speed, wind gusts, waves, tropical rain squalls, and other kiters around you — you have to process all of this instantly as part of the challenge of the sport. You need to be 100 percent committed to every move you make and never second guess your maneuvers. So it’s a combination of physical stamina, knowledge of the right conditions, confidence and fearlessness!”
Spear recommends starting with lessons from a qualified instructor to learn the techniques, conditions, and safety factors involved. (Do an online search for a list of San Diego kite surfing schools.) Once you get down the basics, the ocean becomes your conquest.
“I love the free feeling of being out in the open ocean under my own power,” she gushes. “Plus, I really enjoy the feeling of conquering an exciting and challenging sport, and sharing that experience with other kiters, but also, on occasion, with a sea turtle or dolphin!”