A person can see amazing feats standing on the beach at 41th Street in Ocean City here when the weather conditions produce gusty winds and high cresting waves.
Kites can be seen flying as high as 90 feet in the air. Flying lines extend down from the kite to a control bar being held by a harnessed rider. With the riders feet attached to a kiteboard with straps or unattached as if riding a surfboard, you can see practitioners flying into their air, doing flips and riding on top of waves.
"It's the most fun you could ever have with you clothes on," joked Chris Doyle, the owner of Leading Edge Kite School, based in Ocean City. "It's the most fun water sport I can think of, for sure, the most dynamic."
Kitesurfing, also known as kite-boarding, is the most extreme activity a person can do out in the ocean. You simultaneously control the kite above you and the board beneath your feet. You are at the mercy of the winds blowing all around you and the waves underneath your feet, but for people into the sport, the high that comes from doing it beats surfing, water skiing, wakeboarding, windsurfing or Hobie racing or sailing.
Kiteboarding is getting more media attention and becoming mainstream during the last decade, said Marina Chang, the founder and publisher of The Kite-boarder Magazine. References to it are showing up on Billboards and in print advertisements, and more kite-boarding locations are opening up, she said.
Shawn O'Brien, 47, of Ocean City, had already been windsurfing, wake-boarding and water-skiing when he met Kinsley Thomas Wong, who was one of the best kiters in the world at the time, in 2002. O'Brien took lessons with Island Surf and Sail on Long Beach Island, but he was only flying the kite on the beach. Due to the inconsistent wind that blows in New Jersey, O'Brien traveled to the Dominican Republic in July 2002 to finish his learning process with kite-surfing. Since learning, O'Brien has kite-surfed in places that include Miami, North Carolina, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
"In my opinion, it is the most fun you can have on the ocean, and you are usually on a beautiful beach with an amazing view of the water," said O'Brien, who regularly kite-surfs in the area.
O'Brien said it took him three days to learn how to kite in place and go upwind. Anyone with a wake-boarding, snowboarding, windsurfing, skateboarding or surfing background usually learns the sport anywhere within a day to two weeks, O'Brien said. If a person is learning where the winds are consistent every day, he has seen people learn ranging from age 5 to older than 70.
"The best kiting is when the wind is (between) 15 to 30 knots. I'm guessing, we jump about 20 to 40 feet in the air," O'Brien said. "It feels like you are flying. As soon as your board leaves the water, it goes silent, and you are just floating through the air."
Scott Troxel, 44, of the Marmora section of Upper Township, has been surfing for at least 20 years and moved to southern New Jersey in 2002. One year later, he was sitting on the beach and saw people kitesurfing. It looked like fun to him, and he wanted to do it. He started researching about kites. A neighbor taught him how to do it, and he has been a practitioner since 2003.
"When you walk down to Corson's Inlet, there is a core group of 20 guys. This is not mainstream. Anytime it's windy, the guys are out," said Troxel, who added the newer-style kites are more user-friendly than when he learned.
Troxel is the owner of oceancitykiteboarding.com, which sells kitesurfing gear. When it's too windy, it's bad for surfing, but it's good for kiting, Troxel said. On-shore wind is good for kiting, but off-shore winds are bad for kiting, Troxel said, because they can push you out into the ocean and make it difficult to get back to land. People can kitesurf from March to November in southern New Jersey, Troxel said. Only December through February are too cold, Troxel said.
"It's expensive and difficult to learn, but if someone really wants to do it, they will," said Troxel, who added someone can start with used gear for $1,000 or with new gear for $2,000.
If someone is interested in the sport, it's important to learn all the proper techniques and safety procedures, Troxel said. A wind gust hit ThomasWong's kite, carried him out into the water and onto some nearby rocks. ThomasWong suffered spinal cord injuries as a result. Avalon and Stone Harbor already bans kitesurfing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Troxel has concerns that more beach communities will pass restrictions on kitesurfling. The flying lines that connect the kite to the control bar are strong enough to cut a bystander if they were to hit someone, Troxel said.
"It's good to kite with other people to stay safe," said Doyle, who estimates he has taught more than 300 people to kitesurf during the past five years.
A surfing background doesn't hurt, but it is not needed to kitesurf, Doyle said. Doyle learned how to kitesurf by attending a five-day camp. He said he was able to take off by himself and be safe at the end of the camp, but he said he still learns something new every time he is out on the water. When the conditions are too windy for surfing, the kite allows the riders to catch 13 times more waves, he said. Jumping is the original attraction, but wave riding also holds a great deal of appeal, he said.
"The original attraction was seeing people jump 30-plus feet in the air and flying through the air apparently seemingly weightless," said Doyle, 39, who is ecstatic when he is kitesurfing. "It's a one in million kind of feeling. Be careful if you try it. It's completely addicting. It will change your life."