Prepare to soar

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 September, 2008, 12:00am

People love to fly kites because it gives them a sense of what it must feel like to fly. But one sport goes further than mere imagination and lets you fly with the kite.

Kite flying has been around for thousands of years, but it wasn't until the early 1980s French brothers Bruno and Dominique Legaignoux considered using kites to beat sailing speed records.

Through the sailing enthusiasts' experiments, kitesurfing - also known as kiteboarding - was born.

They patented an inflatable kite, enabling kiteboarders to strap a board onto their feet, and use the power of the wind to skim the waves and even propel themselves into air.

Although it's an incredibly exciting sport, its popularity in Hong Kong is yet to take off, mainly due to the limited number of instructors and specific weather conditions required.

'You need a stable wind to start with - the best weather for kiteboarding in Hong Kong is an east or southwest onshore wind at a speed from 10 to 20 knots,' says Keith Tang, international kiteboarding instructor and chairman of the Kiteboarding Association of Hong Kong.

'But it's a good winter water sport here, because we have a stable east wind then and shallow water,' he says.

Mr Tang adds wind speeds and directions vary from season to season. The best place to try the sport, from October to March, is near Cheung Sha in Lantau. Lung Ku Beach in Tuen Mun is ideal from April to September.

Windy days make kiteboarding more enjoyable - although it should never be done during a typhoon, as it's nearly impossible to control the kite in such strong winds.

Mr Tang first heard about kiteboarding from watching the Discovery Channel. He finds it offers him the freedom and speed of windsurfing and the energy of wakeboarding.

'You can jump up to 10 metres high and land on the water slowly if you want. It's not only a full body exercise, it also trains you mentally to face challenges.'

If you want to take up the sport, you need an inflatable kite and attached control bar, a kiteboard and a kite harness to attach the rider to the kite. Mr Tang says this can all be rented from instructors - a full set costs about HK$14,000 to HK$19,000.

The Kiteboarding Association of Hong Kong runs a three-hour introductory class for anyone who thinks kiteboarding is for them. It costs around HK$500, including gear rental, safety training and practice on land.

As well as being an exhilarating experience, kiteboarding teaches people more about the world around them.

'You need to learn how to tell the wind direction and analyse the clouds to see how the weather is changing,' says Mr Tang.

'For example, if we're on the water and we see mushroom-shaped cumulonimbus clouds, we know to stay away because that means there's an unstable air current there. This is how we keep it a fun and safe water sport.'

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