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Volume 40 Issue 18 • Sept. 2-8, 2010
now in our 40th season

An Extreme Sport Meant for Nantucket

Kite BoardingIt’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a man attached to a kite sailing across the water on a board?

If you have been down to Pocomo on a windy day you may have been surprised and amazed watching a man holding onto a bar, standing on a board, skimming across the open ocean.  The activity looks like highly skillful, a little dangerous, but totally fun.  Anyone that has tried this sport called kiteboarding will attest that is all these things and then some.
The action-sport kiteboarding has gained popularity on Nantucket.  What once seemed like only a James Bond 007/Surfer Extreme sport has grown quite a following.  On a good day there can be more than a dozen people out on the water ripping the waves and sailing into the air.  But what would drive people to attach themselves to a kite and try to surf the water?

“It’s an amazing connection you feel.  It’s like you’re a lightning-rod between the wind and water, using both to fly across the water,” said veteran kiteboarder Utton Shipley.

Shipley has seven years experience riding the water and sailing the skies, kiteboarding in places from South Africa to Brazil.  However, he claims Nantucket is one of his favorites.  “Nantucket is a very safe place with a lots of great places to kiteboard.  There’s fantastic regulations and a lot of people that love the sport.”  Love the sport they do, as there are over thirty Nantucket active kiteboarders, both men and women, that regularly ride.

Kiteboarding may seem new, but has ties to over two centuries ago. George Pocock, an English school teacher and inventor, in 1826 patented the design of the “Charvolant” buggy.  This technology allowed carts and boats to be pulled by the use of kites.  In the 1970s people began to experiment with using kites to water ski, canoe, and ice skate.  In the early eighties two brothers, Bruno Legaignoux and Dominique Legaignoux, made advances in the kite and board design to become the first two modern kiteboarders.  The sport continued to grow and in September 1998 the first kiteboarding competition was held in Maui and won by Flash Austin.

The basic kiteboarding setup includes a surfboard or kiteboard, a power kite, flying lines, a control bar, and a kite harness.  Kiters use their kites to harness the power of the wind and sail across the water and often fly into the sky. To turn kiters transfer their body weight on the board and change the directions of the kite.  Controlled flying is possible and is one of the biggest attractions of the sport.  Instead of just surfing a wave, kiteboarding allows you to fly over them.

Like its growth in popularity, kiteboarding is fast.  On a good windy day, kiters can reach speeds that most sailboats never achieve.  In fact the first vessel using wind technology, including sailboats, to break 50 knots was French Kiteboarder Sebastian Cattelan.  Nantucket’s Shipley has gone over thirty knots kiteboarding himself.

Beyond speed kite boarders also attain flight.  Using winds and waves kiters can launch themselves twenty-feet into the air, perform an array of tricks, and then descend back to the ocean.

However, since it is such a technical sport and so fast, you should not even attempt it without lessons.  Lucky for Nantucket islanders and visitors, the Nantucket Kiteboarding School will be opening its kites the summer of 2011.

“I’ve been trying to open it the last four years and finally have all the paperwork and permits complete.  Next year we will be ready to go,” said Shipley, founder of the school.

Most schools have on fixed location, but the Nantucket Kiteboarding School goes with the wind.  “Whatever spot on the island each day that has the best wind, that we are allowed to go, that is safe, is where we will hold lessons.”  The camp will provide all equipment, as Shipley is also a fully licensed kiteboard dealer.

If you cannot wait until summer 2011 to get more into kiteboarding on Nantucket, have no fear. is a website full dedicated to kiteboarding on Nantucket that covers everything from safety to descriptions of the best places to kite.  There are pictures, videos, and tips from locals who love kiteboarding and sharing the sport with the public.  They advocate two kiteboarding rules: ride safe and ride often.

Two popular kiteboarding routes that Nantucketkiteboarding highlight are the “Southside Monster” and the “Harbor Bomb.”  These routes are described as “Insane Downwinders,” a term in kiting slang to describe a gnarly boarding route.  The South Shore Monster consists of kiting from Sconset all the way to Madaket.  They route is stated to be tricky and that kiters must be well off shore while going past the airport.  The Madaket Bomb is kiting from Jetties to Wauwinet. Imagine telling your friends you got out to the Wauwinet using a kiteboard!

Kiteboarding may seem like the ultimate way to soar to new heights of exciting adventure.  But with every great adventure there are great risks and for kiteboarders they have: “kitemares.”  Kitemares are situations similar to being caught in a rip-tide, when you feel hopeless, and ask yourself why you ever even stepped foot in the water, and dream of being back in bed, safe and snug.  All kiters advocate extensive lessons so you can avoid kitemares like blowing out to sea or getting tangled in another’s wires.

Like any sport there are many dangers to kiteboarding.  However, they can be minimized by getting professional lessons, practicing smart kiteboarding, and by being responsible.  So if you’re the daring type, that likes going after natural highs in life, try kiteboarding.  You can learn to be one with the water while also flying into the horizon.


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