Watersports and kitesurfing did not come naturally to me, not to mention strapless wave kitesurfing. Aged 26 I barely put my head under the shower to wash my hair as I didn’t like the feeling on my face. My swimming skills were woeful (and to be honest still are), and the thought of submerging myself in the ocean was of little interest in my London city-girl lifestyle.
This all changed with a trip to Club Vass in Greece and a new love for windsurfing, which a few years later resulted in my quitting my London job and moving to the sea-side in a bid for a new way of life. Roll on two years and waiting on the beach regularly for the wind to pick up resulted in learning to kitesurf too. Surfing has always scared me if the waves are over chest high and I’ve never liked, or been able to relax into the washing machine effect of bigger waves. I get a feeling of impending doom whilst paddling in and quite frankly petrify and often cry if I repeatedly have to dive under bigger sets.
The fear of sizable waves has traveled with me into my love of strapless wave kitesurfing. Dropping into an overhead wave on a kiteboard as you are already on your feet is easier however, as head high feels literally that not bigger. Only trouble is that as you learn to properly commit to your bottom turn into a wave, they will start to look a lot bigger as you squat down and look up, and heading in backside often results in me outrunning the bigger waves and not bottom turning at all!
So, how to start to quell the fear of waves in strapless wave kitesurfing?
1- Build up confidence gradually: in spots that are safe and more controlled. For me these have included the south coast in the UK, beach breaks in Lanzarote, and Silver Rock beach in Barbados. These have allowed for graduated exposure to increasing wave size. As your skill level builds so does the confidence to actually turn into a wave and try to get some vert or hit the lip, rather than just ride down it.
2- Get tips and tricks from more experienced riders: great instruction and on beach tips from my better half (Neal Gent), and other pros like Kirsty Jones (UK) (e.g. creating a better turn, kite rescue in waves and how to get out over the white water wall), have been invaluable.
3- Practice and more practice: I recommend tack and gybe practice on flat water and on lighter wind days to boost your confidence on getting away from the sets you want nothing to do with.
4- Find favorable conditions: cross shore conditions and a reef that’s not too shallow or far out to sea like Silver Rock, Barbados, have made a real difference to my confidence in the waves. Critically, the dangers are smaller:
- There is no shallow reef or fire coral to deal with if you stack it while strapless wave kitesurfing. You may get rinsed by a few waves in the set but you get spat out on the inside in a calmer deep lagoon where you can sort yourself, your kit and likelihood your bikini out (which will come up later!)
- When your kite goes down you are not heading towards it when the power of the wave pushes you under
- You generally get to body drag down wind and waves to find your board.
Sound credit: http://www.bensound.com
Another aspect of wave kiting and taking a rinsing is needing to readjust even the best of the watersports bikinis on the market. A wet-suit is the most reliable option to ensure your session is focused on your water time not your arse (and more) hanging out. In foreign climates (and admitting on my part at least a small bit of vanity toward tanning and photos), the challenge of what to wear wave kiting is to find something that stays put as well as stays on. Swimsuits and bikinis perform pretty well now that brands like Bajan Cherry Swimwear and MG Surfline have girls who shred at their helms, but I’m still yet to find one that does not need at least a little adjustment regularly to preserve the modesty.
On a recent trip I whooped a windsufer onto the set wave that he had doggedly tacked upwind for and ten minutes later he seemed keen to head upwind for ages to come speak to me. I was hoping it wasn’t for wave rage as, although I had priority on that wave, I conceded it to him as it took me one tack not 15 to get there (see below for IKA rules on wave riding). Once within shouting distance he gleefully pointed out that my bikini top had not been covering what it should at the time and that he got distracted and stacked it!! 🙂
So where now from here??
Taking up open water swimming, getting involved in total immersion courses for those with a fear of being under water, and generally getting fitter and stronger off the water are all on the agenda for 2017. I want to have the confidence to really attack waves overhead, bust out some top spray consistently and get some better vertical turns. I also want to dabble in strapless freestyle kitesurfing, learn to roll tack (see below for my progress to date) and to try out spots like One eye in Mauritius that will push my comfort zone. I know I’m unlikely ever to get out there on the real monster days like some of those I follow on Instagram or my husband below, but I hope to see you out there also smiling, having fun and laughing through the fear and the beatings to find the rides of our lives!!
Works to play as a specialist physiotherapist on the South Coast of England. She lives by the sea with her husband,Neal, and their furbaby Cookie, the Bengal cat. Jessica and Neal are both water junkies in their spare time.
Jessica wave kites, foil kites, paddleboards, surfs and last year entered and won the UK Wave Master’s national Competition (2016). Outside of water time she also practices yoga regularly and has started trying out acroyoga.