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Old 10-18-2006, 09:40 AM
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Default Parks and Recreation

Flight of fancy: kitesurfing is about to land in your waterfront area. Will you be ready to catch the wave?

Parks & Recreation, August, 2005 by Douglas Wuttke

Researching and preparing for trendy sports can sometimes seem like a daunting task for many park and recreation professionals. Some activities may seem like fads, but, given time to develop, eventually impact our daily operations. Remember skateboarding in its infancy?

About to arrive at your ocean or lakefront facility is the red-headed stepchild of wakeboarding and windsurfing--kiteboarding. As one of the world's fastest-growing water sports, kiteboarding has quickly spread to areas that would otherwise not be considered ideal for wind-driven recreational opportunities. The coasts of Florida, the Carolinas, Texas and California are all obvious locations, but kites are arriving on land-locked lakes because they can be launched in as little as 10- to 12-mph winds.

In this sport, riders harness the wind through the use of large 8- to 20-square-meter traction kites and are capable of reaching speeds of 30 knots and elevating themselves 30 feet or more, off the water. Riders use a wakeboard or small surfboard as a riding surface, then are harnessed to four 30-meter lines that connect a 24-inch control bar to the kite. The harness places the pull of the kite on the body rather than the arms, and it is recommended that riders wear a helmet and an impact vest. Riders are pulled through the water by the force of the kite, and can use the waves to launch themselves into gravity-defying stunts.

The kites are the most sophisticated piece of equipment and vary from parachute-type foil kites that rely on air moving through them to retain their shape, to more popular leading-edge inflatable kites that use long, inflatable bladders to create rigidity and flotation.

Now is the time to learn about this sport and proactively plan for its arrival at your lake, marina or beach. Without proper planning and knowledge by facility managers, kiteboarders may unknowingly put themselves and spectators at risk.

Waterfront facility managers must determine whether their water areas are appropriate. Long, wide banks are ideal for launching and landing, but well-planned smaller areas can provide similar safety benefits. "Educating kiteboarders and the public is crucial in maintaining safety on smaller and moderately crowded beaches," says Ian Currer, author of Kitesurfing: The Complete Guide. "Most beach users do not realize the strength and power of these kites and how quickly things can go wrong should a line break or inexperienced rider be dragged down the beach."

Currer also suggests that proper lakes and oceanfront kitesurfing areas should not be near power lines, airports or other dangerous and/or hazardous places. "The site must be large enough to allow an unobstructed area of at least 200 feet downwind of the launch zone," he says.

Some compare a large traction kite in untrained hands to that of a loaded gun. There is potential for serious injury. The most precarious time for riders and spectators is during the launching of the kite. It is at this point that the kite and 30-meter lines are spread out on tire beach or in the water waiting to take flight. For this reason, kiteboarders should be given a wide berth when both launching and landing their kites.

Creating or designating an area for launching and landing allows curious spectators a safe boundary to view the activity, and a point of reference for kiters returning to shore. International Kiteboarding Organization (IKO) cofounder Eric Beaudonnat recommends kiting away from large crowds. "Kiteboarding is a new and exciting sport that tends to draw attention and spectators," he says. "The safest location is upwind of riders on the beach and well away from the kite and lines."

Kitehoarding enthusiast and water safety consultant Mark Lucas compares a broken kiteline to a blown-out car tire. "Both the car and kite will steer very poorly and aggressively, but one difference is the car will slow down while some steering is still possible. With a kite, most steering ability is lost creating a dangerous situation for spectators as it spirals uncontrollably to the ground."

Some communities are relying on nationally and internationally recognized certifications to ensure kiters arriving at beaches and lakes are competent and capable riders prior to finding their way onto the water. Miami-Dade (Fla.) Park and Recreation has adopted this system for regulating both the skill level of riders and the number of kiters on its beaches. Florida Kitesurfing Association, Inc., (FKA) Director Rick Iossi has been working with Miami-Dade officials to help ensure beaches remain open to Florida kiters.

"The county government and the FKA have come to an agreement that to keep the beaches open, and riders and beach users safe, kiters must wear appropriate safety equipment and hold a minimal IKO or Professional Air Sports Association (PASA) Level III certification to launch from specific Miami-Dade beaches," says Iossi. "Creating relationships with IKO and PASA instructors and local kiteboarding retail shops has allowed us to spread the 'gospel' of kite safety."

Managers must also assess the training, skills and equipment available to their rescue staff at supervised facilities. The general rule of thumb for kiters is "don't go off shore any farther than you're willing to swim back." While this may seem simple, the reality is riders can travel great distances quickly and are encouraged to perform their tricks and jumps away from the shallow water and crowds often found near shore.

Injuries to riders and equipment failure offshore can create situations where rescue staff must understand the equipment in order to assist kiters safely, quickly and efficiently. By coordinating with local kiteboarding organizations, local instructors or experienced riders, water rescue teams can quickly learn how to assist riders by adapting existing skills and resources.

While some communities have chosen to ban kiteboarders from their beaches entirely or during busy periods due to near-miss incidents or crowded beaches, others are embracing the trend by inviting and accommodating kiters with showers and equipment rinse areas. Portland (Texas) Parks and Recreation Director Kristine Ondrias has worked with the local kiteboarding community to develop a positive relationship, and in the process has revitalized a community park.

"They informally adopted a portion of a waterfront park," she says. "It's worked out well for both kiters and community members. Through their positive work in helping to clean up the area and self-regulating rules to ensure safety, we've been able to reclaim the area for residents while allowing the kiters an ideal location for access to the bay."

As the sport of kiteboarding grows throughout the country, facility managers will be forced to critically examine the capabilities of their waterfront facilities. If these colorful kites have arrived in your area, communication with participants and local instructors to develop rules, and ensure safety and continued access is critical. Time and experience has shown that the creation of designated areas and basic rules for kiteboarding have facilitated safety and reasonable coexistence with other park activities. With a pro-active approach, kiters and the public can help this sport through its infancy.


International Kiteboarding


Professional Air Sports Association

Florida Kitesurfing Association

Kiteboarding Magazine

Online Kiteboarding magazine

Wet Dawg-online source for

adventure water sports

COPYRIGHT 2005 National Recreation and Park Association
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group
FKA, Inc.

transcribed by:
Rick Iossi
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