Wind and Wheels: Traction kiting takes off in Seaside.
Thursday, April 29, 2004
In the spring around these parts, howling onshore winds can ruin a perfectly splendid afternoon. For surfers, onshore winds can flatten a nice swell faster than a baker smoothing out icing on a cake. For disc golfers, throwing into these winds can be an extremely frustrating experience. For anyone who wants to show off a new hairstyle, forget about it. Purchase a hat. With chinstraps.
On a recent windy afternoon on the section of Monterey State Beach in front of the Monterey Beach Hotel in Seaside, I stumbled across a couple of guys who actually enjoy the spring’s strong onshore winds. One of the guys is in a small, three-wheeled buggy that is speeding along like a motorized ATV, but instead of running on an engine, the small vehicle is being pulled by a large red-and-white kite that is fluttering high overhead in the blue sky.
The driver is gracefully maneuvering the vehicle over the sand with the accomplished grace of a figure skater—he turns by pushing down on one of two foot pedals. He drives backwards, does a few twirls and then rides along with one of his three wheels off the ground.
In the meantime, another individual is riding a mountain board—a skateboard with off-road wheels and foot straps—pulled by a large red, black and white kite. This young man looks like a skateboarder popping airs on the gravity-free surface of the moon. Every time the mountain boarder ollies, he is suspended in midair for a few seconds due to the massive kite. During his time off the ground, he pulls off method airs and 360s effortlessly. It is quite a sight.
A few minutes later, the individuals take a break to tell me what they are doing. I learn that the buggy rider is 44-year-old David Sabilino, while the boarder is 14-year-old Christoph Riddle. Apparently, Sabilino discovered this sport, known as traction kiting, or power kiting, seven years ago from Corey Jensen, who used to own Windborne Kites on Cannery Row. About two years ago, Sabilino introduced Riddle to the sport.
Both Sabilino and Riddle were into dual-line stunt kites before they attempted traction kiting. The two suggest that anyone interested in traction kiting should go fly a kite first. “I started out on small kites, but I eventually worked up to this point,” Riddle says.
They explain that traction kiting is a general term referring to kite-propelled mountain boarding, kite-propelled buggying (also known as para-karting), kite-propelled skiing, and kite-propelled snowboarding. An offshoot is the rapidly growing sport of kite surfing, where enthusiasts strap into a board and propell themselves across bodies of water with large kites.
Sabilino and Riddle tell me that traction kiting started with George Pocock and his buggy, Charvolant. According to an article on Kitelife.com, in 1826, this kite enthusiast created a lightweight buggy that was powered by two large canvas kites. In 1827, Pocock drove his Charvolant from Bristol to Marlborough in England during a demonstration for King George IV.
Now, 177 years later, the sport of traction kiting is slowly growing. Sabilino and Riddle just got back from the Spring Break Buggy Blast, an event on a dry lake near Primm, Nevada, where 150 people gathered to compete in traction kiting circuit races and freestyle events.
Both Sabilino and Riddle are drumming up interest in traction kiting locally. Sabilino is sponsored by Ozone Kites and passes along brochures to interested spectators. A lot of times, he ends up helping tourists find local attractions too. “We are pretty much concierges for this beach here,” he says.
Recently, Riddle, an eighth grader at York School who just won the 2004 Countywide Spelling Bee, talked about traction kiting and performed a demonstration of the sport on his school’s soccer field for a speech class. He says his fellow classmates were “pretty fascinated” by the demonstration.
In addition to Primm, Sabilino says, other hot spots for traction kiting include Long Beach, Washington; South Padre Island, Texas; and Pismo Beach. But, according to Sabilino, the beach in front of Monterey Beach Hotel is not too shabby when it is a low tide and onshore winds reach eight to 10 miles per hour. “We have an ample source of energy here in Monterey,” he says.
According to Sabilino and Riddle, beginners should start with a three-meter kite. At Windborne Kites, 125 Ocean View Blvd. Suite 127 in Pacific Grove, three-meter kites are sold for $130. Windborne is able to special order larger traction kites. Riddle purchased his board for $300. He suggests shopping for mountain boards at www.kitesurfari.com. Buggies can cost anywhere from $350 to $1,500. Sabilino says to browse www.windpoweredsportslv.com and www.windzup.com.