Ready for take-off - the thrill of kitesurfing

Kitesurfer Ross Blainey. Picture by Andrew Dixon
Kitesurfer Ross Blainey. Picture by Andrew Dixon
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One minute he’s on the water, among the splashes and shouts of a busy coast, and the next he’s soaring through the air in silence.

That’s what keeps Ricky Cole heading back to the sea time and time again with his board and kite.

Ricky is one of an increasing number of people who love the thrill of kitesurfing, the world’s fastest-growing water sport.

Head to areas of the coast on a windy summer’s day and you’ll see scores of wet suit-clad enthusiasts, skilfully controlling their kites to race across the water’s surface on boards and leaping up to 30ft in the area, performing aerial tricks.

This surface water sport uses the wind to pull a rider through the water on a small surfboard or kiteboard (similar to a wakeboard).

Ricky, who runs shop Airtime Kitesurfing in Lee-on-the-Solent, explains the pull of his beloved sport.

‘I love the freedom of it, the fact that you can go to all these different places to do it. And there’s the thrill of being in the air underneath the kite. People are often surprised about how quiet it is.

‘You really feel like you’re alone but you’re not, you’re out having a great time with your friends.’

Ricky is part of a kitesurfing community that has developed in Hill Head, a great spot for fans of the sport.

Proof that there’s a water sports scene is on the menu of the village’s Breezes Cafe, where Ricky and his friends can often be found. The Kitesurfers’ Breakfast is a substantial full English.

‘I think you’d be best having that after you’ve been out,’ laughs Ross Blainey, who runs Hill Head-based training school Hampshire Kitesurfing.

An IKO (International Kiteboarding Organisation) instructor, Ross has taught in the UK and abroad. And like most dedicated kiters, he and Ricky have travelled to some great spots.

A couple of weeks ago 26-year-old Ricky was out on the Caribbean waters around Antigua. But he and Ross insist they’re always happy to come home.

‘It’s fantastic down here, we have really good conditions. It’s true home is best, I always love coming back,’ says Ross, although he laughs and adds. ‘Mind you I keep threatening to move to the Caribbean.’

But on a summer’s day with just the right conditions, you might see scores of kitesurfers off the village’s shore and at popular water sports centre Hayling Island, impressing passers-by with their speed on the water and tricks in the air.

And you will also see others being taught the basics of kite control and moving through the water.

Training is essential for anyone taking up the sport, to prevent them becoming a danger to themselves and other beach users.

But Ross and Ricky say there is very little to fear from kitesurfing. ‘At the end of the day it’s an extreme sport but a lot of people learn and develop in quite a relaxed way,’ says Ricky. ‘It’s brilliant because the challenges are there. You can do all these tricks, but you don’t have to.’

Of course, at the highest level kitesurfers pull off amazing feats and build up incredible fitness and strength.

A hugely successful member of the local kitesurfing scene is Sam Light, who was crowned British number one in 2009.

He travels the world with the sport and is currently in Australia. But he’s still very much part of the kitesurfing world on the south coast and gives pro clinics for those at a higher level.

What Sam does is awe-inspiring but it is also an accessible activity. One of the Hill Head regulars is 74 and Ross says it’s a misconception that you need incredible arm strength.

‘Some of the people with weaker arms do better actually because if you’re gripping too hard, you can oversteer.’

And although strong legs are a requirement for the aspiring kitesurfer, much of the skill is in handling the kite. Ross says anyone who has flown a normal kite will pick it up relatively quickly.

Ross, 27, loves his work and admits that kitesurfing is a bit of an obsession. It has to be as you need exactly the right conditions to have a good but safe time on the water.

‘It does become an obsession, checking websites for wind speeds and tide states,’ he says. ‘Things change so much so kitesurfers will keep checking through the day, otherwise you might hear that everyone’s been out having a great time and you’ve missed out.

‘Forget Facebook, we’re always looking at the weather.’

But for Ross and his friends it’s worth it. ‘I just love getting out there on a windy, wet day. I think I could be sat in watching EastEnders, but we’re out here having an amazing time.’