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Kiteboarding in Cabarete


At a barbeque I recently attended, the topic of conversation turned to kiteboarding.  I kept quiet because I had absolutely nothing to share since I hadn’t even heard of the term. As I listened, I heard comments from both men and women like, “It’s a rush.  I am truly addicted” and “I am in awe just watching from the shoreline.  The kites are beautiful and the kiters look so graceful” and “My husband learned a few months ago. Now, I want to learn.”  My interest deepened with every comment, begging me to ask the question, “What is kiteboarding?”  Answers flew from every direction.  I was enlightened.  Mainstream kiteboarding or kitesurfing is still relatively new and on its way to becoming the most dynamic watersport on the planet.   It combines surfing, wakeboarding and kite flying into the ultimate thrill ride. A kite surfer is pulled across the water by a kite while standing on a kite board (a small surf board with foot straps).  An experienced rider with a steady wind can travel at speeds more than 40 miles per hour, launch themselves more than 30 feet in the air and glide up to 100 feet before coming down – extreme kiters compete internationally to display their technique and ability to accomplish tricks while airborne.

All the research I did pointed me to one spot – the beach village known as Cabarete, located on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. It has been the windsurfing capital of the world since the mid 1980’s and is fast becoming a mecca for kiters from around the globe because of its constant ‘trade winds’.  An Internet search put me in contact with the Laural Eastman Kiteboarding (LEK) Center. 

LEK, opened in 2003 by kiteboarding phenomenon, Laurel Eastman, is located in the heart of Cabarete Bay and has quickly earned a reputation as one of the best kiteboarding training centers in the world.  On their very extensive website, www.LaurelEastman.com, you can read a brief history of kiting, get acquainted with Laurel, the Center and her handpicked elite team of instructors. You can also pick from a menu of courses being offered, every one of which is tailored to suit individual goals and abilities:

  Transformation into a kiteboarder
  Advanced Lesson
  Kite For Fun
  Crash Course for kiteboarding Widows
  Kiting for kids
  Women only Clinics
  Elite Kiteboarding Charters Crew Courses
  Refresher Course
  Downwind Tours

I presented a package deal to my father as an early birthday gift.  He is the extreme athlete of the family.  As for my mother, she was recovering from a skiing injury and happy to take ‘kite for fun’ with me. Conveniently, the Center arranged for our stay at the beautiful Hotel Caracol, www.hotelcaracol.com, just steps away from the Center’s clubhouse. They were also happy to provide transportation for the twenty-minute drive to and from Puerto Plata International Airport.  

Cabarete has everything a tropical paradise should have, plenty of sunshine, blue skies, turquoise water, miles of white sand beach, palm trees, gorgeous flowers, etc. I immediately felt its laid-back charm.  At the hotel, we were warmly greeted by name; our room was ready for us as was the staff at LEK. As we took a tour of the hotel’s amenities, which included an international restaurant with bar, two swimming pools, kids’ playground, Internet café with fax and chiro/massage clinic, we were told of the continental breakfast that was served each morning on the beach patio.  We also were given directions for the five-minute beach walk to town.

All we had to do was enjoy soaking up our surroundings and concentrate on our future as kiters. The Center’s facilities and equipment was top notch.  The clubhouse was filled with multi-lingual, experienced riders from around the world.  Listening to their stories I realized that kiting for them was much more than a sport, it was a lifestyle. They are self-proclaimed nomads, “We travel with the wind and at this moment, the best wind is here [in Cabarete].”  Rich Stenning, the current Australian National Champion, was there for the summer before returning to defend his title in Australia in the fall.  He gave my father one-to-one instruction.  The course, ‘Transformation into a Kiteboarder’ is four days of intensive training and promises to turn anyone into a safe and confident kiter.   Rich’s realistic goal was to instruct my father in the fundamentals of the sport, which in turn would give him the abilities to turn himself into an accomplished kiter.  Standing on the beach watching the water activity you couldn’t help but be in awe.  There were at least 75 to 100 windsurfers with an equal number of kiters engaged in, what I heard one beachgoer describe as “controlled chaos.”  There were vibrant colors as far as the eye could see, zipping in and out of each other’s paths at speeds of 30 to 40 miles per hour.  Some looked to be racing. Other riders were content performing combinations of classic tricks with breathtaking new stunts as they flew by spectators on the beach.  All looked to be having the time of their lives.  “Looks simple enough, right?”

Rich said as he laid out the general progression schedule of a kiteboarder.  It consisted of four days, two hours of instruction per day:

Day One: Learning how to fly and control a simple parafoil kite.  You think every step is going to be this easy.
Day Two: Becoming used to the power of a Wipika leading edge
inflatable kite. On this day, make sure you trust your instructor!  For amusement purposes, he or she can let go of the back of your harness and allow the kite to drag you down the beach or fly you into a nearby palm tree. 
Day Three:  Allow the kite to drag you through the water while you do your best superman/supergirl impression.  This exercise will separate the wannabes from the hardcore devotees.
Day Four: Combine all your learned skills and stand up on the board for ten seconds before falling. This pattern will continue until your body becomes so exhausted that it refuses to move.

My father accomplished the challenge of each new day.  He resigned himself to the fact it was going to take patience along with practice.  After all, he looked down the beach only to see dozens of beginners attempting the same task he was.

In addition to being cheerleaders, my mom and I ended up becoming the official photographers of his learning process.  It was tons of fun walking the beach, learning, watching and, occasionally laughing.  The staff was extremely accommodating and super friendly.  We chatted about diverse subjects, everything from types of kites to living conditions there and elsewhere to the best place to listen to jazz.  A fellow American instructed me in the ‘Kite for Fun’ course that was given on the beach daily and focused on the equipment, wind patterns, kite control and, above all, safety.

He reiterated one of Laurel’s favorite aspects of kiteboarding.  She says, “It remains to be one of the few outdoor activities that does not leave a trace [on the environment.]   We can show up somewhere that’s been totally untouched, rig up our kites, go out, come back, and nobody will ever know that we were there.  Invisibility is the point!”

On our last day, my father admitted that he was exhausted, but in that good way.  My mom and I were very proud of his progression within the five days.  Rich presented him with a card certifying that he completed the course.  The only thing left to do was practice, practice, practice.  My father expressed an interest in continuing to kiteboard and asked what he should do next.  Staff members provided some names of good schools and kiting areas within the States like; Corpus Christi, TX; Providence, RI; Cape Hatteras, NC.  They all agreed that the ideal way to begin is in shallow, flat water.  Since a complete beginner’s setup, including kite, control bar, lines, harness and board, will range between $1500 and $2000, their advice was to rent the equipment from the center of your choice.  “You can always upgrade the equipment as your abilities improve and goals change.”  Actually a serious kiter will own a collection of different sized kites – different sizes are designed for different wind conditions as well as the daily goal of the rider.  As we left the clubhouse, Izzy, a very talented kite instructor who owns a kiteboarding school in Panama, www.machetekites.com, approached us to say goodbye and congratulated my father on his accomplishments.  My father explained his slight frustration with only having seconds on the board before falling.  Izzy quickly responded, “It’s a learning curve for all of us.  Four, five years ago, this sport did not exist.  The general opinion was that it wouldn’t and couldn’t work.  I was a guinea pig. I taught myself with makeshift equipment.  It took me months with several injuries.  All the windsurfers laughed at me as I continued to eat the beach. Today, I can kite and, with this new equipment, can teach a person the fundamentals in a matter of hours.  Now, the windsurfers beg me to teach them.”

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