Kites and our relationship with them have come a long way in 50 years.
In 1964, when David Tomlinson sang Let’s Go Fly A Kite in children’s movie classic Mary Poppins, flying a kite was a traditional pastime enjoyed by children down the park on a breezy afternoon.
With a little bit of tissue paper and enthusiasm, anyone could knock together a homemade kite and send it soaring. But today things have changed – modern kites are large and sleekly designed, created from ripstop nylon with inflatable chambers and can create enough power to lift a grown man (or two) off their feet.
These increasingly efficient designs are what make the spectacular sport of kitesurfing possible.
With the current kitesurfing speed world record standing at more than 60 miles an hour, kitesurfers can generate massive uplift allowing not just kites but riders too to go soaring up into the air and cut effortlessly through the waves.
As one of the oldest kitesurfing schools in the UK, Airzone Kitesurfing School has introduced hundreds of new riders to kitesurfing.
Run by husband-and-wife team Berny and Zoe Maginn, the school allows the avid kitesurfing couple to share their passion with their students.
‘We were right there at the beginning,’ says Berny. ‘I attended the very first kitesurfing instructor’s course in the UK in 1999.
‘Back then the kite was very basic. It was inflatable but there was no safety and no way to de-power the kite so you had to do everything at full speed.
‘Today kites are a lot safer and more efficient. Last year we had the world record for wind-powered travel on a kitesurf board which was 62 miles per hour.’
As an active kitesurfer Berny knows first-hand the joy that can come from a day on the water.
‘The adrenaline rush is incredible,’ says Berny. ‘Kitesurfing is something totally different, it’s exciting the freedom you feel being out on the water, being out their on your own, relying on the wind. You’re surrounded by the sea being pulled along and there’s no noise, it’s peaceful.
‘You can go out to cruise or go out to really push the boundaries as much as you like. You can do freestyle where there are tricks, course racing which is similar to sailing and foiling which is light wind-orientated and you can go up wind better than anything else on the water.’
With the rapid growth of kitesurfing, proper training has become a must for all new kitesurfers.
‘When we started there were three of us on the beach and now there are 60,’ Berny says. ‘That’s why it’s important to have the basic skills so you can be safe and still enjoy it.
‘Generally we say to people that it takes three days to learn to be able to go down the beach on your own and set all the gear up.
‘That means being safe, understanding the conditions and the equipment and even turning the kite into a life raft so that you can paddle back to the beach.’
He adds: ‘Kitesurfing used to be seen as an extreme sport only for strong people, but with modern kites it’s accessible to everyone. We have people from all walks of life from surgeons to brick layers and you don’t need to be physically strong because it’s all about technique.’
Berny is also one of select group of international instructors who is qualified to train new instructors and is often called away around the world to teach..
‘I can be off to Canada, Vietnam or the Caribbean so it’s a hard life!’ he laughs. ‘I do about eight trips a year with other classes and then you can teach anywhere in the world.
‘We also work in New Zealand for six months of the year. We’re there from October until April each year so we haven’t seen a winter in 10 years.’
Along with his unique lifestyle Berny also gets a lot of pleasure from his work.
‘The satisfaction of teaching people a skill is very rewarding,’ he says. ‘And we’ve got a lot of people who have become close friends just because they’ve come for classes with us.’
Zoe agrees. ‘It’s a very friendly sport,’ she says. ‘You can travel on your own, go to a kiting spot and immediately have a bond with the kitesurfers there. You have an instant connection so it’s very easy to make friends.’
Getting into kitesurfing has also proved to be a life-changing choice for Zoe.
‘I had a corporate life,’ she says. ‘I did university and then a career, I was the director of a marketing company and I didn’t want to do it any more. I wanted the sun on my face and the wind in my hair.
‘It was scary to give up my job and not know if it would work out but it was the best thing I’ve ever done.
‘Living this lifestyle also means I can spend time with my five-year-old son which I wouldn’t have done if I’d stayed in corporate work and I love that the sport enables me to live a lifestyle I used to dream of.’
Zoe is also passionate about sharing her skills with others.
‘It is fantastic to feel that you’re enabling people to kitesurf. Even though we’ve been doing it for so long we’re still clapping and cheering for people – it’s not just for show, we’re really happy for them.
‘When you’ve got a whole beach of people that started from knowing nothing whizzing up and down and jumping you feel like a mother hen, you feel proud of them.’
At a glance: Airzone Kitesurfing School
WHERE: Airzone’s lessons take place at Hill Head near Lee-on-the-Solent on Meon Shore, PO14 4HA.
CALL: 01329 665842
n One, two and three-day classes for all levels from beginners to experienced riders and even kitesurfing international instructor courses.
n In the winter Airzone operates from its base in New Zealand, offering residential international instructor courses and kitesurfing holidays.