"Surfing is the gateway sport,” warns Dan Floyd, a sun-kissed water rat who seems eternally happy and upbeat, even when sounding like a drug counselor—someone who understands a serious water-born adrenalin addiction. “People get hooked with surfing, which is actually the toughest to enjoy because of hit-or-miss conditions, then that leads to harder, more expensive ways to play out there.”
Floyd’s personal progression followed the same pattern: he surfed for years (still does), then took up windsurfing, and in 1999 helped launch the area’s first kiteboarding school with Beezer Molten at Half-Moon Outfitters. “Kiteboarding gives an unbeatable bang-for-the-buck given our waves and wind. There’s simply nothing else that offers that consistent ‘wow’ factor. There’s almost always a 10- to 12-knot wind,” Floyd says, and that’s all kiters need to zip, zoom, and “get lofted” over waves like swift surfing marionettes.
Kiteboarding has grown at a steady clip over the last five years, especially as the technology has become considerably safer. It’s common to see a sky full of colorful commas dancing and soaring across Breach Inlet on a breezy afternoon. And while predominantly a guy’s gig, more and more women are trying the sport and finding the challenge uniquely rewarding, says Elea Faucheron, who got “hooked” eight years ago and now encourages fellow wahine kiters through the Air Club for Girls. One of the up-and-coming female kiteboarders is M.T. Bourque, a crossover competitive surfer who has helped start a kiteboarding club at her school, Wando High.
Last month, the action really picked up as daredevils and speed demons battled it out on Sullivan’s Island during the area’s first official kite regatta, The Charleston Kite Week Invitational, held as part of the Maritime Foundation’s Harbor Fest celebration. Speed and thrill are the names of the game. In fact, Floyd proudly notes that a kiteboarder now holds the world’s official sailing-speed record: a guy strapped on a board and hitched to a kite reached 54.10 knots (almost 60 m.p.h.), shattering the record previously held by a massive multihull, multimillion-dollar hydrofoil sail boat.
The sport continues to evolve as board designs shift from “wake style” to those with fancy fins that cut through water with less friction. Local kiting pioneer Yani Dilling is “seriously tapping into the speed factor,” says Floyd. Still, the exhilaration far exceeds the effort. “Kiteboarding is so much easier on the body than surfing or windsurfing. “It looks extreme, but it doesn’t have to be,” notes 49-year-old Floyd. “I’m an old man, and I can still kite all day without really hurting. I’d have to eat a lot of Advil to stay competitive in surfing or windsurfing!”
Kiteboarding is fairly gear-intensive, so visit a local shop to get properly outfitted. Trainer kites are a good way to start, and lessons are a must. Local outfitters that also offer lessons:
• Air, 1313 Long Grove Dr., Mount Pleasant; www.catchsomeair.us, (843) 388-9300
• Oli Nah, 1204 Palm Blvd., Isle of Palms; www.olinah.com, (843) 886-3337
• Breach Inlet and the sandbar at Station 28 on Sullivan’s Island are favorite wind alleys.
• Head out anytime the wind blows. Afternoons tend to offer the best conditions.
“A good teaching program should start with safety: safe launching, safe landing, and most importantly, self rescue,” says Floyd. “It’s like teaching someone to jump motorcycles. One must first master the bike, then the mini bike, and eventually the 750cc Harley. Both the Harley and the kiteboard can jump over a house right out of the bag, so one must build a relationship with the vehicle and ultimately perfect the technique.”
Surf the Web:
• Charleston Kitesurfing Association: www.chucktownkiting.org