Puerto Rico school ready for wave of kiteboarding interest

By Alyssandra Barnes
Puerto Rico KiteboardingThe Caribbean sky will be more colorful than ever this winter, as more people hop on the kiteboarding bandwagon.

Kiteboarding, or kitesurfing, is a low-impact extreme sport where participants move across the surface of the water, their feet attached to a board similar to a wakeboard, while tethered to a kite 60 to 80 feet in the air.

The sport has been around for more than a decade but is certain to gain in exposure and popularity when it becomes an Olympic sport in 2016. It will be replacing windsurfing in the events lineup at the Games in Rio de Janeiro that summer.

"Kiteboarding has proven to us that it is ready to be included into the list of prestigious [International Sailing Federation, or ISAF] events, and it is a fantastic addition to the sailing program for the 2016 Olympics," ISAF President Goran Petersson said in a statement.

Given that professionals are already prepping for their Olympic debut in four years, and the 2012-2013 ISAF Sailing World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, in December will likely draw increased attention as a result, Juan Carlos Morales, owner of the 15 Knots Kiteboarding School in Puerto Rico, expects kiteboarding to be in high demand very soon.

Learning the ropes

Solo kiteboarding is typically learned through a series of classes, where students are taught the principles of wind control and proper body movement, Morales said.

The rectangular, usually colorful kite is tethered to a bar situated near the rider's chest. Using the manipulation of the bar for control, boarders use wind gusts to adjust their speed and direction as they glide across the waves.

At the school, students are first taught on the shore, soaking up the sun as they learn how the kite works and how to properly fly it.

Afterward, they hit the water, first learning to "body-drag," controlling the kite in the water without the board.

"That's when you learn how the kite takes you [away from the shore] and how to get back," Morales said.

After learning to launch their kites from the waves, with board and kite in tow, individuals are free to ride the waves on their own.

Morales said 15 Knots is the only kiteboarding school in the world that offers tandem rides.

Double occupancy on one board has been achieved in the past via a piggybackriding style, but 15 Knots' option is safer, according to Morales, who has been kiteboarding for 13 years and teaching it for nine.

He developed the new tandem experience last August when a blind teenager wanted to experience the sport. After that first joint ride, Morales and his company began improving the tandem-riding technique.

Helping hand

The student rides in front of the instructor, both of whom are standing fully upright on the board. During the ride, the student is able to control the ride by using the control bar while having the comfort of a pro as a safety net.

"You just get on the board, grab the bar and go kitesurfing," said Felix Cuadrado, an instructor at 15 Knots. "I'm behind you just in case something goes wrong, but basically, you're doing it yourself."

Tandem kiteboarding, which Morales said he is still perfecting, currently has a weight limit of 180 pounds per participant.

"Tandem does have a limitation with the Puerto Rican wind, which is traditionally 15 knots [about 17 mph]," Morales said. "The wind needs to be stronger [to lift] more weight."

For more information on kiteboarding classes, visit 15 Knots' website at www.15knots.com
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