What Kiteboarding Taught Me About Persistence

Posted on February 29, 2012 by

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That's me on the left, hucking some huge air!

Yesterday I went on an epic kiteboarding downwinder with a bunch of friends.  The wind was howling out of the west at 35-45mph.  We launched from a skinny spit of sand on Zach’s Bay and spent the next 3 hours flying downwind at speeds up to 35mph and launching 25ft in the air.  After traveling 27 miles over the water we landed downwind on a grassy marsh near Oak Beach, exhausted and exhilarated.

If you practice

Flash back to the summer of 2008 and I didn’t know enough about the sport to even dream up that scenario.  I had just seen a couple guys launch their kites on my local beach and tack back and forth across the bay.  It looked like a cross between windsurfing and para-gliding.  It looked like the most fun sport I had even seen.  I knew I had to learn it.

I hopped online as soon as I got home, watched some videos and began to research gear, lessons and technique.  Before long I had ordered my first kite and signed up for lessons.  Progress didn’t come nearly as quickly as I would have liked.  At first it seemed like 80% of my sessions were spent setting up my kite and lines and then untangling and resetting them after I crashed the kite.  By the time I was able to actually get up on the board and ride it would only last for seconds before I would catch an edge or crash my kite.  Those tiny moments of excitement gave me a glimpse of what was to come and kept me motivated to keep practicing.

Eventually I could consistently get up on the board and tack both directions.  I still didn’t know how to go upwind so after a few tacks I would land on the beach 100 yards downwind and hike back upwind tugging my kite behind me and killing my legs with the exertion.  I would watch other kiteboarders with more experience tacking back and forth without losing ground.  I would feel envious of their skills and that kept me motivated to keep practicing.

Finally I started learning how to jump.  All of a sudden I was spending more time crashing again.  I spent many hours body-dragging though the water to find my board or drifting downwind with my kite in the water as I struggled to relaunch it.  Every once in awhile I would do everything just right; build up speed, send the kite, release the edge of the board, and soar upward like a phoenix.  Adrenalin would rush through my system and as I came crashing down unable to make my landing a feeling of euphoria would wash over me and that kept me motivated to keep practicing.

It will come

Everyone I meet who wants to kiteboard thinks they can learn it in a weekend.  I don’t want to discourage anyone but I also don’t want to under represent how difficult a sport it was to learn.  I feel like they need to understand that if they really want to learn how to kiteboard then they are going to need to put in steady deliberate practice, watch videos, talk to other riders, and invest in gear and lessons.

More than anything they are going to have to put in the time.  Over the last couple years I kiteboarded every opportunity I got.  All my gear was stowed in the trunk of my car and I was constantly checking the weather forecast.  I became what they call, “a wind junkie,” and I would drop almost anything to score a session.  I estimate I practiced about 400 hours during that time and I eventually reached a level I call Good Enough.

When I got in to the sport my original goal was to be able to ride as well as the two guys that had inspired me.  I didn’t know at the time that if I kept putting in the hours of practice I would learn how to:

– kiteboard in a variety of different conditions like flat-water and waves
– jump 20-30ft in to the air and land softly
– fly across the water at 30mph with only the sound of the wind in my face and the spray from my board
– meet a whole community of kiteboarders that would become genuine friends
– go on downwind adventures exploring local waterways only accessible by boat
– make my own kitesurfing video

Now that I have all this time invested and I have the necessary gear I don’t have to go all the time.  I can go when the conditions are right and when I feel like it.  Now that I have the skills I get to use them whenever and wherever.  It was awesome to be able to go out with some friends on a super windy day.  Hit some huge airs.  Go fast.  Bond over how cold and windy and gnarly it was.  That was a product of a lot of hard work and many hours of practice.

This applies to everything

I realize kiteboarding isn’t for everyone.  This isn’t really about kiteboarding.  This is about committing to learning new skills.  To challenging yourself to show up everyday and make progress towards your goals.

What skill are you learning? What goal are you working towards? What experience do you dream about?

Who knows where your new skill will lead you.  The only way to find out is to start putting in the time.  Sure some days will be tough.  You will feel like you aren’t making any progress or are struggling to learn something which seems so simple.  So easy.  You will watch videos or read blogs of people that are better than you.  Don’t let this frustrate you.  Let it to motivate you.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is all about delayed gratification.  In fact, I think that is the wrong way to approach it.  What I am saying is that you need to enjoy the learning process and be realistic about how quickly you can progress.

Realize that you won’t accomplish nearly as much as you want in the short-term but you will accomplish more than you can imagine in the long-term.

You need to keep showing up.  Keep practicing.  Keep progressing.  The path will become clearer over time.  For now, you just need to keep moving forward.