Year-round, kite boarding proponents in Northern Michigan can be found sailing over snow or waves whenever a brisk wind comes up.
Each season has its style, challenges and rewards, but wintertime revolves around a common theme: stay warm as rising wind chills lure boarders to frozen lakes for hours of frigid fun. Even before the lakes freeze, which happened late this year, diehard fans search out promising fields to skim over on skis or snowboards.
Linked via the technology of cell phones and Internet bulletin boards, a rising wind spurs a wave of calls and a posse departs for a promising location. Within 10 minutes of arriving, they can be skimming the frozen surface: no lift lines, no fees and no hassle.
We dont have a club, we just post on our forum: Hey, Im going to go here, said Brian Buchler, a kite board enthusiast for seven years who owns Grand Bay Kite in downtown Traverse City.
These traction kites are not parafoils where a rider sits and passively sails through the air, a familiar colorful summer sight on East Grand Traverse Bay. Kite boarders are actively involved in their sport, hooked to kites via a waist harness. Any airborne time on a kite board is deliberate and short-lived, usually after a jump over a wave or a built up snow kicker that can send a boarder 20 feet up for some acrobatic feats.
The kites control bar clips to the front of the harness and the boarder uses the four lines between the bar and kite to steer. The harness takes the pull off of the arms, making it an easier sport in that way than water skiing or wake boarding. Boarders get a relatively balanced work out, too, as every part of the body gets into the action: legs, abs, shoulders and arms.
The biggest thing is to get over the fear and stop hanging on so hard, said Dave Clark, a kite boarder for three years who teaches the sport and runs h2okiter.com. You dont need a lot of upper body strength; you can steer with your fingertips.
ITS ABOUT CONTROL
In fact, the key to smooth progress over snow or waves comes down to finesse, not strength -- even in a stiff wind. And speed does not necessarily spell mastery of the sport either, though boarders can easily reach 30 miles per hour.
You can definitely go really fast but kite boarding isnt about speed, its about control, said Keegan Myers, co-owner with his brother, Matt, of Broneah Kite Boarding in Traverse City.
If youre going really fast, youre pretty much out of control, which means youre not harnessing the wind properly, he added. We teach a lot of petite young women who will take lessons and do better than a weight-lifting guy.
A persons weight, the season and the boarders experience dictate kite size, with a typical size ranging from eight to 17 square meters and an average of 14 square meters for an adult male. If chosen wisely, one kite with gear including board, harness and spar lines can suffice beginners for both winter and summer.
Many who get hooked on the sport wind up with multiple kites, three being a good number for year-round devotees. An average customer will spend about $1,500 for a standard package of new equipment, noted Myers. Last seasons or used equipment will run less.
Well find people gear for any price. he added.
Getting started is more than purchasing the equipment: kite boarders need help learning to use their kites properly so that the experience is both safe and satisfying. Some people start by using a smaller trainer kite flown while they are stationary to get the hang of the wind and kite movement. A better route involves day- or weekend-long lessons or camps that immerse newcomers in the sport.
Kite boarding takes a lot of work from the instructor and the student, the student really needs to comprehend whats going on and theres a lot to digest, said Myers, who along with is brother has developed a training program and runs camps both in the region and Puerto Rico. Weve seen people learn really quick and others who have taken multiple camps to learn.
Its not super easy to learn, you need to be fully focused, he added.