What learning kitesurfing taught me about living life

Tegan Mathews Website Blog - What learning kitesurfing taught me about life

It’s been almost eight years since I began learning kitesurfing. I'll never forget the day I finally, after tons of practice, nailed it. The lesson I learnt that day, still drives me on a regular basis when I'm facing fears. Here's my story of about learning kitesurfing and being able to fly.

Where it all began

My passion for learning kitesurfing came from a flatmate who was an avid kitesurfer. He and his mates would come over and head out on a windy day. I would watch in awe as they got their gear sorted and then headed up the beach darting in and out and up and down at the mercy of the wind.

It was fascinating to me. The speed they could travel across the water. Let alone the heights they could rise in the air with seemingly no effort at all. Usually, I was the designated "collector" at the final beach spot and I didn’t mind as I soaked up every detail of what they did. Looking back I was a bit like a groupie watching on in amazement of something I thought I could never do.

Eventually, as I learnt more about the joys, (as well as the dangers) of the sport, and having never been one to let gender differences get in the way of a new experience, I finally decided this was something I wanted to learn how to master. Keeping in mind my fear of water (and especially the ocean) and having failed miserably at learning how to surf, this was quite a decision to make.

Learning kitesurfing

My flatmate agreed to teach me and I feel compelled to add here that he is an extremely meticulous and careful person (even for an adventurous spirit) and unless you have him as your teacher I recommend hiring a professional. There are substantial dangers involved in this sport and if you rush it you can get seriously harmed or die.

In fact, I often see instructors who guarantee to have you flying through the water by the end of your first lesson. This is not the best way to learn!

Respect nature

With kitesurfing, you really are at the mercy of the wind and you need to have a certain amount of respect for its power. There are plenty of videos on YouTube where you can see what happens if you don’t learn how to control your kite.

Even with control, there are always gusts that can take you in a completely different direction which could be out to sea or up a beach, onto rocks or trees. So it is extremely important to not just know your equipment but also be able to manage it in emergencies without having to think about it.

Be patient

Needless to say, after many, many tireless hours on the beach practicing and practicing how to manage the kite and the wind, it was finally time to add the board into the equation and connect the two of us onto the water.

I remember that day as I stood at the shore and watched the waves crashing in and I kept thinking to myself, “what is going to happen if I fail at this?” and the only thing that kept me going was, “yes, but what if I fly…literally”.

I kept picturing myself flying high above and looking down at the ocean below.  The reason I had been learning kitesurfing in the first place. Together with skimming gracefully across the surface at crazy speeds. This kept me taking the steps forward to the water's edge. It’s what got me to slide my feet onto the board and take hold of the kite.

Falling spectacularly

“Are you ready?” my friend asked with a knowingness of what I was about to experience. “Then go” and off I went…for about one or two metres and then fell flat on my face into the water!

This was not how I imagined it would be I thought. I am supposed to be flying across the water effortlessly right now, not trying to grab hold of my board before it floats away and control the kite at the same time.

Having made the assumption that because I had wakeboarded before I was going to find it easy to connect the controlling of the kite with the same type of board on the water.

I was sadly mistaken and after another twenty or more attempts I was left feeling defeated, embarrassed (there’s always someone watching you kiteboard – it’s a wonderful spectator sport) and utterly disappointed in myself. Not to mention physically exhausted.

Never give up

It was nearing the end of the day and my friend suggested I call it a day and to try again next time but I so desperately wanted to fly I refused. I didn’t want to keep falling, I wanted to be flying! So with the tenacity, I have become known for (sometimes to my detriment) I decided to keep going.

Then it happened! I’ll never forget it. Just as the sun was setting and most other kite surfers had come back into shore, were showering, or had already gone home, I finally felt the pull of the kite, the glide of the board across the water, and it kept going this time. I did it! I was flying across the top of the water at a fairly decent speed. It was magnificent, exhilarating, and just downright fun! I had a smile from ear to ear.

As I zigzagged back and forth in the last pieces of light after the sun had set I was so very proud of myself to have stuck with it and although I didn’t get to experience what it felt like to fly above the water that time, I did eventually and it was every bit worth the trials and tribulations I had had to face to get there.

"What if I fall? Oh but my darling, what if you fly?"   - Erin Hanson

So when I came across this quote by Erin Hanson today, it took me back to that moment when I was learning kitesurfing. Standing on the beach with equal amounts of fear and excitement. Where I had the choice to let the fear of failing (falling) stop me or to focus on the possibility of what it could be like to fly.

I think of how many wonderful experiences I would have missed out on if I had let my fear win that day and I wonder how many other people do let that doubt stop them. Share below if you’ve ever let the fear of failing or falling stop you from the possibility of flying.

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