Gone with the Wind

Just beyond Central Maui’s industrial district and a stone’s throw from Kahului Airport lies one of the world’s greatest kitesurfing destinations—Kanahā Beach.

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Maui kitesurfing lesson
Lehia practices “body dragging” through the shallows to gain confidence flying the kite in the ocean-—before adding the complications of a board.

Kristin pulls me back to reality to talk safety, including how to depower the kite by releasing the control bar, or triggering the quick release to detach from the gear completely if the kite gets out of control. She straps the harness around my torso and we pump air into the kite’s leading edge, giving the device its curved shape. We shovel fistfuls of sand onto the sail to keep it from launching prematurely, then head across the beach, unfurling four lines that will eventually connect me to the kite.

Kristin has one more lesson for me before we launch the kite for the first time. She motions me over to a flat spot at the water’s edge, then uses the sand like a chalkboard, tracing a 180-degree half dome to illustrate the so-called “wind window.”

“If you know how this works, you’ll have an easier time on the water,” says Kristin. I’m all ears.

The dome represents the zone where the kite can fly, and the wind’s pull acts differently depending on kite placement. As a novice, I make note of the important stuff: the edges where the kite is least powerful, and the space directly above me where I can remain neutral.

Still on dry land, Kristin clips the kite onto my harness, and almost immediately I’m yanked forward by the wind power. I plant one heel in the sand behind me, bend my knees, and grip the handlebar. This is not like flying a kite in the park. These high-performance wind-catchers can be terrifyingly powerful, as I discover when this one propels my entire 110-pound frame into the sky. With my feet spinning in the air, you’d think it would be intuitive to depower the kite by pushing the control bar away. Instead, I inadvertently gain even more power by pulling it towards me, the words “hold on for dear life” taking on a whole new meaning.

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