January 15, 2005
Let's Go Fly A Kite
DAY 449: Scuba diving has been around for decades, for so long that people have forgotten that technically it should be capitalized as "SCUBA" since it was originally an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus." (The same goes for "LASER," Light Amplified by a Stimulated Emission of Radiation.) Nowadays, the acronym associated with the diving with the diving community is PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), which some say stands for "Pay Another Dollar, Idiot" since it's not a non-profit organization, but a lucrative moneymaking business banking on "certification."
Boracay is not just known for its PADI- and SSI- (Scuba Schools International) licensed dive centers; on the other side of the island, the windier eastern side, there is a completely different scene with its own acronym banking on "certification": IKO, or International Kiteboarding Organization. Some argue that it is kiteboarding, not scuba diving, which is Boracay's number one sport; kiteboarding is especially popular amongst foreign adrenaline junkies since in Boracay it is cheaper to do than in most other places in the world.
A thrilling aquatic sport for years, kiteboarding had become a sport I was attracted to since it combined my joy of kite flying and my love of snowboarding/sandboarding -- plus, unlike kite flying and snowboarding, it often occurred in the vicinity of girls in bikinis. The kiteboarding scene in Boracay, so I'm told, started in 1996, and eventually it grew from hobby to business; Hangin Kiteboaring, the first kiteboarding outfitter in Boracay established by a German named Angel in 2001, was soon followed by many other kiteboarding centers.
"You speak Tagalog?" the Filipino instructor assigned to me asked me that morning.
"Conti lang," ("A little only,") I answered.
"But you understand it, right?"
With that said, he conducted most of the lesson in Tagalog, which was fine and encouraged by me. His name was Merck, and he was a dark-skinned Boracay native who had only been kiteboarding for five months -- but in those five months had become quite the expert at it since he did it practically almost every day, with the physique and skills to prove it.
"[You learn fast,]" Merck said.
"I've flown one of these before." How about that? I thought. Who knew that half-hour with Pascal's kite thirteen and a half months ago would amount to something?
As they say, practice makes perfect, and for over an hour, Merck had me practice steering the kite, from "12 o'clock" (the straight direction of the wind) to the left at "9 o'clock" and the right at "3 o'clock." I managed to go back and forth from my twelves, nines and threes, without crashing the kite once like the average novice kite flyer might have.
"ERR-IIK!!!" Miyong cheered for a confidence booster as she rode down the shore of Bulabog Beach on her mountain bike.
For another hour, Merck just had me practice keeping the kite at "12 o'clock," which got pretty boring after ten minutes -- but later I learned that keeping the kite at twelve is one of the most important things in kiteboarding, as it is the position for stopping and slowing down.
LESSON TWO: "Learn to fly a bigger kite" or "How to make your penis appear larger by the simple use of a harness"
"[Okay, now we'll get a kite with the four strings,]" Merck said. We put the one-meter one away and grabbed heavier artillery: a three-meter one with four strings, a smaller version of the ones actually used in kiteboarding. More exciting than that (at least for new-to-kiteboarding me) was the introduction of new gear that brought me to closer to the ranks of the pros: the harness. Similar to a harness in rock climbing, straps cupped your ass and support your groin, all without any attachment to the all-too-sensitive testicular region, which is a good thing; from the wind power coming from some of the kites I had seen out on the bay (picture above), some gusts might have yanked those suckers right off.
Merck led me through the set-up process, how to keep my lines from tangling and how to organize the outer lines and keep them straight from the inners. The inner lines connected to the front, or "leading" edge of the kite; the outers to the "trailing" edge.
We inflated the three-meter kite on the beach -- the leading edge of the kite was inflated with air to provide the kite's consistent arched shape. I connected the cords to the kite in their respective tie-ins and then we went out into the water under the Boracayan sun. We had to wear aqua shoes of course, for the abundance of sea urchins in the area. Merck had someone launch the kite up and soon he was piloting the bigger kite in the air with the steering bar. He schooled me on the techniques: only steer left and right, don't pull on the bar, and the sort. Afterwards I harnessed into the steering bar device and then gave it a go, practicing my twelves to nines, twelves to threes, threes to nines, nines to threes, and the balancing act at twelve.
"Galing!" I exclaimed.
"Astig!" Merck said. "[Wait until you get on a board.] Ooh masarap!" He was happy another pinoy (Filipino) was getting into the kiteboarding scene; in Boracay, it's dominated by Germans.
"[That] puti [white guy] [is hogging up the training kit. He's all over the place. We have to wait,]" Merck told me. Eventually the Italian trainee from another school was done with the kite and the practice area.
I harnessed into an even bigger kite, a five-meter one for my final lesson in this first day of my IKO certification course. The point of the lesson was to not only steer a kite, but also let the winds overpower your balance and let it drag you through the water. Merck told me to be wary of sea urchins, or I might get a tattoo on my chest I might never forget.
Piloting a five-meter kite was trickier than the smaller ones. I crashed the kite a couple of times, not because of the wind overpowering me, but because at that time in the afternoon, the northern gusts were weakening and weren't catching. I had to practice dealing with this, by letting the kite go with the flow and not pulling on the steering bar as intuition led me to believe. I did fairly well for my first day I guess, especially since I saw that one student had gotten himself in a proverb: he had literally got his kite caught in a tree.
"Astig! [You're good. Tomorrow we finish body dragging and then we'll get you on a board.]"
I couldn't wait. In the meantime I could only marvel at the pro kiteboarders thrashing through the surf faster than any of the lame old-fashioned windsurfers that just looked clumsy. Some of the really good kiteboarders were showing off, letting the power of the wind lift them up high for jumps, spins, and tricks in the air. Merck wasn't up to that level yet, although he impressed me enough by simply zipping off on a board at the end of our lesson, letting the winds take him away.
That evening I thought we'd all get together for dinner, but the tables were turned again; Tito Mike went out for a previous engagement with a friend he met on the island, leaving me with Tita Josie, whose stomach was better enough for dinner. The Filipino in me struggled with keeping some sort of togetherness of our trio, but I was discovering it was a balancing act more difficult than piloting a five-meter kite in a headwind.
DETAILS AND TRAILER COMING SOON...
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