This Is What I Really Learned From Kitesurfing

It was over ten years ago the first time I watched kitesurfers speeding their boards along the Ottawa river as they dove their kite up and down through the air. They looked as though they glided effortlessly and flew to heights I could barely imagine; I would have to try this sport. For reasons of time, location, and money however, that dream just never seemed to come to fruition, until now.

For about a month through February and March I was located in Cartagena, Colombia with a single goal in mind, learn how to kitesurf. It started off with the standard 8 hour introductory lesson over 4 days and from there I spent about 4-5 days a week and up to 3 hours a day in the water on my own.

In total it was around 40 hours in the water.  Both spending time in Cartagena and kitesurfing had taught me a few things.

Working harder is not working better

Some of the most productive days on the water have been those where I slow down and think about each movement, when was deliberate. When I got frustrated, keep trying the same things, or just tried to force my movements, things went awry.

There were a few days at the beginning when nothing at all seemed to go right, particularly when the day before had seen spectacular progress. Why couldn’t I manage to do what I had the day before? Was I stupid or did I just forget? I realized that being hard on myself for having a bad day wasn’t helping. I needed to be mindful of what worked the day before and figure out what I was doing wrong now.

When I went against the grain and was stubborn, nothing worked, but when I brought my thoughts back to the process and following each step, all went as it should have.

Seek guidance and criticism

Following the advice in one of my new favourite books, The 4 Hour Chef, I googled “common mistakes of beginner kit surfers” and my eyes were opened. The two biggest mistakes people make while learning to kitesurf are bad stance and bar placement. These combined caused about 90% of the problems I was having in the ocean. A few simple adjustments following my revelation and being mindful of my errors helped transform my kitesurfing immediately.

Aldrin my teacher and Jeremy the owner of Xkite Cartagena were also a great help and offered advice whenever asked or when they spotted me having difficulties. The value of having experts on hand cannot be understated.

Don’t be afraid to find people and resources to help you learn along the way. Slugging through the difficulties of figuring things out for yourself doesn’t make your accomplishments any more meaningful. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  There is almost always information somewhere you can use to build upon.

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Issac Newton

Keep at it and lose your fear

It was just after 7pm on a Thursday in Vancouver a few years ago and I was staring up at a wall of plastic holds in the climbing gym with my heart pounding. I’d climbed this route before, I’d even lead the route, so why was I scared? I realized then that I’d only learned to lead climb a few months prior and all but stopped for one reason or another.  It had been well over a month since I’d done it. I was shaking in my shoes.

Just after finishing my kitesurfing lessons and having a few successful days on the water on my own I took a day or two off to let my tired legs recuperate. While my legs felt better when I finally got back out on the ocean, my mind was racing. I felt like I forgot what I was doing and every time I sped up I crashed. I was afraid to get moving, afraid that I had no idea how to do it, afraid that I’d fall, so naturally, that’s what happened.

Though I had largely conquered my fears in the days prior, the time in between had allowed me to forget the tricks I’d learned to stay in control both mentally and physically. The only way I’ve found to keep the fear at bay is to keep at it, practice, and cement the process as second nature in my head.

It’s often said that you go where you look, when driving, biking, or steering. . The same is true in kitesurfing. My body went in the direction it was physically and mentally pointed, so when it pointed to a wipe-out, the inevitable took place.

I know that I have to get to the point where the process just happens and I stop thinking about it, where the action becomes one of nature, not deliberate thought. Once I’ve got it down, there might still be a bit of fear the next time I get back on, but it dissolves quickly when I realize my body or mind remembers what to do even if I don’t.

What tricks do you have to learn something new?