I hate spring.
Ok, sorry, mom, “hate”
is a strong word.
It seems like asking for trouble to loathe one of Mother Nature’s entire seasons, especially the one with all the love, plum blossoms, and fairies. But I live across the street from Ocean Beach. We don’t get plum blossoms or fairies. We get sand in our eyes. Gale force northwest winds hammer our humble homes March through May, giving us bad hair days, poor dispositions, and horrible conditions for surfing, which is more or less my reason for living.
So I’m going to say it straight, pc or not: Screw you, spring!
Rewind. 1987. I’m nine, face plastered to the window as we drive through Bodega Bay. The winds are howling, making the yellow windsock outside at Candy & Kites – a merchant of, yes, candy and kites – stand rigid. This windsock has me riveted. Mom! I must go to Candy & Kites.
And there it is. Inside, hanging above buckets of saltwater taffy, the Pink Eagle, a fluorescent pink trick kite bigger than me. I need the Pink Eagle more than I’ve ever needed anything. I spend my year’s savings, $67, on her.
And for that afternoon I am in heaven: wind roaring through the eagle’s wings, heels making tracks in the sand, frisky looping through the sky.
Then, on our next family beach vacation, I take Pink Eagle to Oregon into serious northwest spring winds, 40 mph gusts. Pink Eagle’s lines are crossed, she is ripped from my grasp, slammed into cold, wet sand – snapped. Mayday Mayday, the Pink Eagle is down! I repeat, the Pink Eagle is…
Screw you, spring!
I’m at the Java Beach Café one morning, when in saunters my surf buddy Paulo. “I’m stoked for spring,” Paulo says, all happy. “Come check out my rig.” Paulo shows me his super cool kitesurfing setup. “I swear, man, sometimes it’s more fun than surfing.”
I don’t tell Paulo that I’m having visions of a snapped Pink Eagle flailing helplessly on the sand. Instead I say, “Nah, too much gear for me, man. All those lines.”
“Just try a class. One class. I need buddies to do this with.”
Ovi doesn’t think spring sucks. This is clear from his very large belt buckle, his lip ring, his little knit cap, his whole demeanor that makes me feel more like I’m going to a club in London than about to receive my first kitesurfing lesson at Oyster Point, just north of SFO. But this is good. Any positivity could be helpful in this therapy.
And Ovi loves spring. He actually comes to the Bay Area from Maui exclusively during the windy months to teach kitesurfing for his company, Kite 415. “Here you can find wind almost anywhere,” says Ovi, in his endearing Romanian accent. “It’s one of the best places in the world for kiting – a great season.”
“A great season to get the hell out of town,” I say.
“We’re going to have fun today, Jaimal. The wind is your friend.”
Ovi spends a good 20 minutes drawing diagrams in the dirt, John Madden–style. You want the wind to be sideshore, he says, parallel with the beach. If it’s offshore (out to sea) you may end up kiting to Hawaii. If it’s onshore, you might eat sand.
“Let’s do this. I’m ready.”
Then Ovi reveals the reason I have hesitated to try this sport for so many years. I knew they would come back to haunt me: those lines, four of them, two more than the Pink Eagle had. It’s not that I’m scared of them. I’m just impatient. And sure enough, the first two hours of my lesson are spent unraveling and unwinding, tying and untying. Ovi is a wonderful teacher, but I’ll be honest – if I don’t get in the flipping water with a kite soon, spring is not getting off my suck list.
Finally, we get to fly the trainer kite on land. Ovi takes great care to describe to me the dangers of flying the kite directly downwind, into the so-called “power zone.” “When you’re in the power zone, you can get hurt,” he says. Instead, I’m instructed to keep the trainer kite at a roughly 45-degree angle to the wind where the force is significantly lessened.
Ovi can be forgiven for all this safety talk. He doesn’t know he’s talking to the former Pink Eagle pilot, a pilot who was obsessed with Top Gun and now has the song “Highway to the Danger Zone” playing in his head as “Highway to the Power Zone.”
“Ok, stay out of the power zone,” I repeat back to Ovi, imagining myself smirking like Maverick.
“The kite is a little baby, yes?” Ovi says, as he uses the bar to steer the trainer. “You never take your eye off it, but you have to be very subtle, relaxed. You see, like this. You try.”
Looks easy. I hook the kite into my harness and take the bar. The kite immediately crashes. This is clearly no Pink Eagle.“Don’t worry,” says Ovi. “Remember, a baby. Subtle.”
Ovi relaunches the kite for me, and this time using his recommendation to keep just three fingers on the bar, I’m able to have the kite do back and forth motions, “power strokes.” I’m just starting to feel the flow when the kite begins drifting downwind of its own volition.
“Bring it back, bring it baaaack!” Ovi is shouting.
But it’s too late. I’m on a highway to the power zone. I feel the kite fill to its full potential, and as soon as it does, I am immediately yanked up from my seated position and dragged a foot across the ground before the trainer crashes.
“Ah, now you know the power zone,” says Ovi. “In the water it will be even more. But, Jaimal, I don’t want to waste your time with this trainer. You are ready for the water.”
“Hell yea I am.”
“Now, I know you like to surf, Jaimal. But we don’t want the expectations to be too high. I’m trying to pack three lessons into one today. I hope you will be able to get a little taste of the feeling. But time is limited.”
I smile and nod. Sure, I wasn’t planning on doing, like, any 360 airs today. I’m cool with just cruising around, getting a feel for the board, shredding some mellow lines.
An hour into my water time and I have been floating without any board, trying to learn how to just keep the kite steady with one arm, a technique called “body dragging.” So far, I’ve kept it up for about 15 seconds at a stretch before crashing. What is going on here? I can last longer than this in bed.
“It’s a baby, Jaimal, light,” Ovi keeps telling me.
No, Ovi, I want to shout. This is not a baby. This is an 8-foot flipping parachute with a mind of its own!
Finally, we change drills to one where I can use both hands on the bar, which I feel a little more comfortable with because it’s how I used to fly the Pink Eagle. I relax and breathe, calling forth the spirit of the Pink Eagle. Ovi launches the kite from his jet ski. Suddenly I’m up and doing those “power strokes.” I’m holding steady. The kite is dragging me faster, faster
I am actually skimming along the water quickly on my belly. This. Is. Awesome! Really, really freaking awesome. We are united, the wind and I together. And she is taking me – no, not that way!
“Come back,” Ovi yells!
The power zone! (Dah dah dah dah dah dahdadadada)
The wind fills the kite. I’m launched fully out of the water and plunged back down on my face. But I don’t lose hold. I have the Pink Eagle’s spirit with me. I grip the bar tighter and try to gain some control. But the harder I pull on the bar, the more power I give the kite and the less control I actually have. For a brief and glorious moment I am riding in the power zone, lifted repeatedly out of the water like a flailing hooked salmon behind a speedboat. Then the kite crashes.
“Whoa, Jaimal,” says Ovi, pulling up on his jet ski. “We don’t want any injuries, ok.”
I nod, grinning ear to ear. This is starting to get fun.
To make a long story shorter, I turn
out to be a miserable kite flyer. Ovi even gives me an extra free hour
and by the end I’m still not ready to stand up. “Your skills are
still fresh,” Ovi says.
I may suck at kitesurfing, but there was a moment out there in the power zone where the northwest winds and I were in love. Spring was in the air. I don’t know if I’ll take up kitesurfing. I’ll have to take another class with Ovi and bring more reasonable expectations and patience. But I do know this: Today the wind gave me a flower to lie at the Pink Eagle’s grave. And that’s a start to a proper spring renaissance.
Kitesurfing isn’t cheap. A three-hour intro class with Kite 415 costs $270 and it would be smarter to take the two-day, six-hour class for $499 if you really want to actually get up. But here’s the bottom line: If you want to kite, take the class. Without it – and my friends who have tried will attest – you will spend five times as long learning and risk both your body and your equipment, probably spending twice as much as your class on kite repairs and chiropractic appointments.