"Women are much better at learning to kiteboard than men," Darwin, my kiteboarding instructor at Dare2flyAruba Kiteboarding School, the only IKO-affiliated center on the island, told me as he was adjusting my grip. "Men try to muscle the kite; women use less strength and smaller movements, which the kite responds to better."
Subtlety is sometimes a bit tricky on Aruba, where the trade winds blow hard enough to drag the bathing suit bottoms off your body. To avoid potential embarrassment, it's wise to wear both bikini and board shorts while taking lessons! Thijs, another kiteboarding instructor, admits, "I've seen more naked butts than you can imagine." And Darwin estimates that he only now receives about 20 percent women to about 80 percent men in terms of clientele wishing to learn how to kiteboard.
Over the years, the number of women kiteboarders has changed from when the sport – a combination of wakeboarding and paragliding – was invented in the 90's. In the beginning, only
a handful of women and those thrillseekers who were already in the extreme sports culture would attempt the combination sport at all. Kiteboarding is still viewed as a challenge, athletically
speaking, and rightly so. A good day of controlling kite, board and winds can leave you with aching abs, bulging deltoids and creaky quads that have been in a squat for hours.
But after taking several lessons on Aruba while staying at the Marriott Tradewinds Club, where Dare2flyAruba is affiliated, I realized it is definitely the multiple elements of kiteboarding that are the most intimidating to beginners. However, once she gets the hang of flying the kite, any girl of average coordination older than twelve and heavier than eighty pounds can be on her way.
Fortunately, kiteboarding instruction starts on the land, with an hour of manipulating the fabric in the breeze in accordance to where the wind is blowing. Instructors teach you how to hold and steer the bar to which the kite is attached, and which will eventually be attached to the halter that you wear in the water. In addition, the land practice is where you become familiar with kiteboarding terms and get comfortable with equipment, including a helmet.
At your second lesson, which lasts up to 2.5 hours, you move into the water. Here, you continue flying the kite while you stand on your feet. Later, you as you get more accomplished with directing it, you also launch the kite from a water position and allow your body to be dragged through the waves, which is essentially body surfing with the kite taking you out to sea. This stage is both exhilarating and high-energy. It can, however, result in you being jerked out of the water like a fish on a hook and gulping mouthfuls of seawater as you're dumped back in if you're caught unprepared.
The final lesson, another 2.5 hour stint, includes strapping the board to your feet and learning how to water-start and eventually ride. Sound simple? Not so much. Think about how much a one-year-old falls while attempting to walk, and you've got the picture. Kiteboarding is a 1-2-3 process when you write it down, but learning it is more like algebra, geometry and calculus rolled into one. For someone who has surfed, wakeboarded or sailed, three lessons should do it. But for a complete beginner, a week of lessons might be necessary.
This challenging water sport is quite addicting: Once you master it, it masters you, and you want to do it every chance you get. It's best to tackle it in a concentrated way, in a resort like the Aruba Marriott, where you can stick with a certified instructor who is honest with your progress (beware of resorts that rent kiteboards without lessons or assure you that anyone can learn with a quick briefing).
Once you've mastered the sport – or even just a lesson – you can reward yourself like I did, with a hot stone massage at the Mandara Spa. After all, rewarding yourself for every new physical challenge makes you all the more motivated to try new things to stay fit.
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