Bank holiday weekend and I'd barely slept. Waking up on a Saturday morning like a 6 year old at Christmas eagerly anticipating a pile of presents at the foot of the tree, I had that little knot of excitement starting to build in the pit of my stomach. No, I wasn't going for a job interview and no, I there were no presents. And no tree.
I'd wanted to try out kite surfing for yonks, having lived in and around the Poole/Bournemouth coastline since I was 5, I remain only too aware about how cool I could have been if I had picked up a kite, added a board and taken to the sea a lot earlier in my life. I always felt, apart from the obvious proximity benefits, that the sport would be quite inaccessible. By that, I mean, there were a lot of excuses and preconceptions that I believed were good enough reasons not to do it.
Cost. It's true that it is not a cheap sport (though what is these days?), and a full kite surfing rig can set you back about £1500.00. Obviously, you can get cheaper and you can get 2nd hand, but always get advice and find the right kite/s for you, your environment and your ability. As a general rule, always spend the money on the kite. Don't buy anything older than 2007, as advances in technology since then are enormous. And always spend the money on the kite. Did I already say that? Well it's worth emphasising.
I always thought that the sport was a bit intimidating. I genuinely had this idea that the solitary surfer attitude would be perpetuated here and that a disdain for newcomers on their turf would be frowned upon. As I'm not one for conflict, this was one anxiety to overcome when taking to the sport.
So, not to be deterred and manning-up to the task, I enrolled on a two-day course with Surface 2 Air Sports (S2AS) of Ashley Cross in Poole, Dorset. S2AS actually has 3 bases in total; Camber Sands in Kent and Brighton completing the line up. We arrived at the store to sign our lives away and meet Simon, our instructor for the course. Among the group were a lively couple from Winchester, who had decided that kite surfing was going to be their next adventure together, as well as a shop customer who had purchased a full rig from S2AS and came along for some help from Simon to get acquainted with his new kit. This is a great service that the store offers to customers and underlines their after-sales support strategy.
The shop is about 5 minutes drive to our first location of the day; Baiter Park. Situated close to the main Quay & Poole town centre, parking can be tricky especially during holidays so give yourself plenty of time and make sure you've got some spare change. The park itself is renowned for kiting in the area and is used by many of the local schools for this stage of the instruction process as well ask power kiters and kite landboarders in general.
Starting, as you would expect, from the beginning, we were given a little theory – wind, safety, kite anatomy, that sort of thing. Nothing too scientific, nothing too boring – when you're chomping at the bit to start flying the last thing you need is the instructor spouting rhyme and verse from the health and safety manual at you as you probably wouldn't be listening anyway!
A short demonstration and soon given the keys to our own 2.4m flexifoil 2-line kite. The design of this particular kite is ideally suited to land-based flying. The problem is that, if flown on the water, it fills up in an instant after crashing and makes it nearly impossible to relaunch. Another interesting fact, in terms of performance, relates to the kites two-layer construction. Our 2.4m flexifoil training kite is the equivalent to a 5m single skin inflatable kite.
As the wind picked up during the morning, as did our proficiency with the kite. We moved on fairly quickly to a 7m Nobilus Leading Edge Inflatable (LEI) kite, more commonly used for kite surfing These kites were straight out of the bag & fresh for the new season. S2AS certainly don't make you learn on any old tat – this was shiny and new, which is just my favourite thing.
The briefing and setup instructions were a little more in depth for these kites, in particular the process for readying the kite – no-crossed lines, correct level of inflation etc. and understanding how to detach yourself quickly should you find yourself stuck on another kite, a passing car or an aeroplane! There is a very logical, straightforward and crucially important process to follow when getting your kite ready. Rush it it, get it wrong and you'll pay for it later. You will notice that even the most experienced kite surfers are on the beach doing exactly the same thing that you are being shown to do. Remember, one knot in just one of your lines weakens it's tensile strength by about 80% - and a snapped line out at sea is the last thing that you or the coastguard will need.
The afternoon session took place at Sandbanks in Poole, which again, is a hugely popular location for kite surfing & windsurfing due to the vast, shallow area in which you can learn. If you know the area, you can park for free by finding the right spots, otherwise bring plenty of nuggets with you, especially during the summer season.
Donning our wet suits, harness, buoyancy aids and helmets, the order of the afternoon was body-dragging. This involves using the kite to essentially pull your limp torso through the water, back towards the beach. It's amazing how quickly you get a feel for the kite, where the power comes from and how to harness it's energy into movement. It's really quite an exhilarating feeling, the spray in your face as your body glides powerfully through the breaking surf.
Unfortunately, the second day of the course didn't live up to the promise of the first. With confidence levels starting out high, hoping to progress quickly onto the boards and the aspirations to be crowned fully-fledged kite surfers by the end of the weekend were dashed when the wind simply forgot to blow.
We tried for a couple of hours, bless us, but a mixture of frustration in trying to just keep the kite flying and then introducing the board (something else to think about), it was all proving too much. A unanimous decision from the group brought a halt to proceedings, made easier with the introduction of a beer and bowl of chilli con carne in the local Sandacres pub.
Such is the commendable attitude to customer satisfaction from the S2AS guys, they offered to write-off Sunday and give the group their 2nd day all over again. To me, that's the kind of thing I hope I'll find when out reviewing. Genuine, honest goodwill to customers. At the end of the day, they will benefit, as those happy experience day customers come back to the shop to buy their first full kit. And guess where they'll go to upgrade a few years later? It's just good business, practiced in the best way.
And my preconceptions? Well, I was wrong, obviously. When you begin to understand the dependencies kite surfers have on one another – help with launching, keeping an eye on their kit left on the beach, raising the profile of the sport, you understand quickly that this is predominantly a sport made up of helpful, selfless and friendly individuals all with a common purpose – harnessing the power of nature for their own enjoyment. And that is a place I'd like to belong.
A two-day course with S2AS costs £195.00, or £99.00 per single day. There are special offers available (at the time of writing, the two-day course was discounted to £149.00) so it's well worth checking the website. If you're considering buying the kit, Jason in the Poole store is the oracle when it comes to prescribing the best setup for you, and as the store stocks all brands, you're going to get an unbiased opinion. We recommend popping in for a chat and a coffee – just make sure he's there first and not out testing the next best thing on the market!