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By Steven Crook Translated by Vicky Huang

      Kiteboarding is somewhat like windsurfing, but instead of using a windsurf sail, the daring enthusiasts who have embraced this fast-growing sport hook themselves up to large kites which pull them across the water at speeds often in excess of 40 kilometers per hour.

      According to some, two French brothers invented the sport in the mid-1980s. Around the same time, an American began waterskiing with a kite, rather than a powerboat, pulling him across the water.

      Riding a board around 1.5 meters in length, the surfer is harnessed to the kite by a line (typically 30 meters long) which he controls with a bar. Some kitesurfers can jump more than 20 meters above the surface of the water. However, the sport can be dangerous. Not long ago, a man in New Zealand was hospitalized after he lost control of his kite, was pulled high into the air, then crashed into his own house, 150 meters from the sea.

      It is possible to travel considerable distances. In 2002, a Welsh woman kitesurfed across the Irish Sea--a distance of more than 100 kilometers--in six hours.


      This is not a cheap hobby. Joe Ruger, an American kiteboard enthusiast who lives in Tainan City, points out that a top-of-the-line kite, plus a quality board, a wet suit and a steering bar, can come to more than NT$50,000. Secondhand equipment is typically half the price, but because of advances in kiteboarding technology, items two years old are "almost obsolete."

      Ruger recommends beginners start with a 12-meter kite. Those who really get into the sport often buy two or more additional kites--smaller ones for use when the wind is strong, larger ones for weak breezes.

      Taiwan is an ideal place to enjoy this sport. "All of the West Coast, from Tainan to the Taipei area, is suitable," says Alex Mowday, owner of Liquid Sports (www.windsurf-penghu.com), a Penghu-based supplier of kiteboarding equipment and lessons. "The best winds are in Miaoli and Hsinchu, in May, June and July."

      "The beaches are wide, which is good for safety." But he warns: "In some places you have to watch out for illegal spikes which have been installed to hold fishing nets."

      Everything a kiteboarder needs can be carried on a motorcycle, Mowday adds.

      Windsurfing or snowboarding experience is useful, but apart from being able to swim, there are no essential skills for beginners. According to Mowday, who likens kiteboarding to "waterskiing without a powerboat," a proper training course will give those who have never windsurfed or even flown a kite the knowledge they need to kiteboard. "Eighty percent of the skill is flying the kite," he says.


      Short instructional videos in English can be found at www.realkiteboarding.com. According to safety guidelines drawn up by the California Kiteboarding Association (www.calkite.org), beginners should have professional instruction from certified instructors, or, at least direct supervision from an experienced boarder. They should always use a kite leash--runaway kites can be deadly--and should yield to any pedestrian or swimmer. Grounded kites must be secured (i.e. weighed down with sand), and kiteboarders should not clutter the beach with their gear.

      A variant of this sport, snow kiteboarding, is catching on in North America, but for obvious reasons it's unlikely to make an impact in Taiwan.


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