Learning to kitesurf in Barbados was a true triumph of lady power. Allow me to take you on the ride with me…
Finally, the pain began to subside. I bravely lift my foot out of the hot water bath it’d been soaking in. I wiggle my toes. I closely examine the bloody dotted lines painted around my ankle–these were the only remaining evidence of the Portuguese Man o’ War. I remember now…I had the hardest time removing the tentacles wrapped around my ankle.
The Man o’ War, or “floating terror”, is a colonial organism being made up of specialized individual animals that are unable to survive independently. It’s also beautiful, and that’s why–on a deserted beach in Barbados–I reached down to pick up something blue and shiny, floating to shore. As a designer, I’m naturally obsessed with beautiful things, this time to my own dismay. After the waves peeled back from the shore, I looked down to find this oceanic beast curled up on my foot. My boyfriend quickly started removing it, while I screamed in terror, and eventually ordered him to pee on it (which, did not help as the old wives’ tale goes).
We ran and found safety at a nearby surf shop, where the instructors quickly ordered up a basin of hot water, a shot of rum, and a Banks–assuring me I’d be fine in a few hours. They had all been stung in the past.
So, as the poison ran its last course through my lymph nodes, I recall why I was on this deserted beach in the first place. I look down at my phone, a text message – from Andrea!
I had met Andrea just minutes before stepping on the Man o’ War. She was the reason I had really ventured off to a deserted beach in Barbados: to schedule kiteboarding lessons with a female kiteboarder. This particular beach was known for it’s consistent winds and soft sands, making it a popular location for learning to kitesurf in Barbados. I had heard from the hotel I stayed at, that the “KiteSirens” often taught lessons on this beach, they were right. (Interested in lessons from Carolina or Andrea? Check out Kitesurf Intl)
I first spotted Andrea, with “kite instructor” printed in bold across her rashguard, patiently showing a tall white man how to power stroke. If you don’t know what power stroking is, don’t assume.
From the moment I laid eyes on her, I knew Andrea would be the perfect kiteboarding instructor. As I’m a petite lady, I had this irrational fear that my kite would lift me off into the atmosphere the moment I laid hands on it. But Andrea was the same height, same body type even, as myself–giving me a wave of confidence that this was going to happen–I was going to learn how to kiteboard. I was going to dance on the breeze and cut through the water, pulled by no energy but my own. Learning to kitesurf in Barbados was now my goal. It was time to show off the skills I’d learned on my trainer kite back home in San Francisco.
The most important lesson Andrea taught me during our lessons: the kite is your friend, the kind of friend who’s emotionally (and physically) sensitive. It doesn’t take brute strength to move the kite. At first, it’s a natural human impulse to pull on the control bar when the kite isn’t doing what you want it to. However, you have to fight impulse and release the control bar when the kite starts pulling you into the power zone. Tugging and pulling the kite hither and thither, will quickly land the kite into the bushes and your body somewhere unknown.
With practice, kiteboarders build up muscle memory that helps them control the kite and turn what at first feels like a fight with the wind – into a relationship with the wind.
Another takeaway from Andrea: you are never alone when you kiteboard. Kiteboarders lend friends, and strangers, helpful hands when they see a lone beach landing or an impending death loop. The core reason a lot of kiteboarders get into the sport is because of the social, communal aspect.
Just like a Man o’ War– kiteboarders cannot survive independently of each other.
After a few days of lessons, I got as far as body dragging – and you better believe I’ve already scheduled my next lesson in the icy San Francisco Bay waters. I left Barbados with a Kiteboarder Level 1C Certification from IKO, and the determination to make it to the next level. It’s time now to conquer the board.
I later found out Andrea had also been stung by a Man o’ War, she sat on one after bringing her kite onshore. Ouch.
This blog post is dedicated to my love Collin Burdick, who encourages my fearlessness.
Originally bred in Tennessee, Montana moved to California for college in 2007, and never looked back – mainly because she fell in love with the ocean and the people of this great state. She’s an avid scuba diver and bodyboarder, and is excited to start her new journey into kiteboarding – a sport that can be played wherever there is wind.
Off the water Montana’s talents and dedication continue to push boundaries. As the Principal Designer of LXMI – a clinically proven skincare company with social impact at it’s core – she passionately builds creative teams and designs engaging experiences across all consumer touch points.
Check her design portfolio out at montanamclean.com.