You know you’re on to something good when you’re willing to travel thousands of miles for a sport, practice for days, get absolutely pummeled in the ocean, and you still want more. Welcome to kiteboarding. It’s known to be addictive—even when you face plant.
I couldn’t resist trying it after witnessing the beauty and grace of kiteboarders dancing with the wind and water, sometimes launching into spectacular aerial acrobatics. Now that I’ve gotten my feet wet, so to speak, I’m drawn to the challenge and the way kiteboarding forces you to live completely in the moment.
To give it a shot, I ventured to a remote, rustic beach called Bahia Salinas in the far northwestern corner of Costa Rica. Here you don’t find many creature comforts. But from December to April, steady wind lures kiteboarders with the promise of gliding across the waves under the blissful, pure power of air.
After a couple of days of learning to fly the kite and body-drag through the water, I finally ventured out with a board. As I floated on my back, holding my kite steady in preparation, everything else melted away. The kite’s bright colors brushed a cheerful stroke across the deep blue tropical sky. Water lapped at my ears, a steady, rhythmic companion. I breathed deeply, slowly, immersed in concentration. I was totally focused, serene.
I was ready to launch. I took a moment to envision success, then sharply dove my kite to scoop a powerful stroke of wind. It worked. The kite lifted me. Every ounce of my being was focused on the task at hand.
Then suddenly I was being pulled too quickly, feeling control slip away. The kite yanked me like a rag doll, its sheer force surprising me. I instinctively dropped the power bar, but it was too late. A gust violently jerked the kite, and I plunged forward, Superman-style, against my will, arms outstretched. My face smashed into the water. I gulped mouthfuls of sea.
Meanwhile the kite was still kicking—wildly diving and twisting. Head immersed, I desperately tried to fly my steed by feel. But I couldn’t tame it. The kite careened into the water, smashing the surface with a dramatic thud, then collapsing, defeated. I was defeated.
A smile spread across my face. I had survived a kiteboarding rite of passage: the face plant. I blew water from my nose, blinked it free from my eyelashes, noted my sunglasses still in place, and lifted my head, sputtering. I was alive. Humbled. But definitely alive and living life to the fullest.
The crash was so dramatic, onlookers commented after I dragged my soggy self back to shore. Undeterred, I headed up the beach to try again. And again. And again.
Kiteboarding demands tenacity. It isn’t something you learn in one lesson. It takes days, weeks, even months of practice, with many tries, false starts, and diggers. It requires a unique combination of fitness and finesse. You have to surrender to the process. It’s mesmerizing. And frustrating.
Once thing is for sure: kiteboarding forces you into the present moment. There’s so much to think about—the kite, the lines, the wind, the water, your legs, other kiteboarders—that your mind can’t stray elsewhere. It’s a brain scrubber, a soul cleanser. It’s meditative. You really have to focus. And accept what is. Sometimes the wind isn’t blowing and there’s not a darn thing you can do about it. Some days everything goes right. Other times you flounder.
I was right on the cusp of getting it when the time came to leave. But I’ve had a taste of what it feels like to be the conduit between wind and water. I’ll be back for more. It seems kiteboarding can help your spirit fly.
Avery Stonich is a freelance writer who lives in Boulder, Colo. Follow her on Twitter: @averystonich.