- The Washington Times - Friday, June 25, 2004

At first glance, the fluorescent arcs gliding over Lake Erie resemble motorboat-driven parasails. Then you

notice the sails are attached to a person skimming across the water, a carefree joy rider who occasionally adjusts his kite’s direction and soars to astonishing heights.

That’s kiteboarding. And yes, it’s in Pennsylvania.

For (mostly) landlocked Pennsylvania, the increasingly popular East Coast sport doesn’t seem an obvious fit. However, more people each summer have been using Erie’s Presque Isle State Park as a launching pad for the wind-driven sport, also known as kitesurfing, that isn’t yet a decade old.

On a recent balmy Saturday, as a dozen fishing boats drifted in the back bay, 29-year-old Chris Durante prepared his kite, an inflatable model, using a large air pump, before heading out into the water. With a little help from fellow kiteboarder Tom Sarell, Mr. Durante got his kite airborne and soon was cutting across the water, moving his kite through the “power zone” where wind would propel him and his wakeboard the fastest.

On days with good wind — 15 mph or more — kiteboarders can shoot themselves as if from a snapped rubber band into the air — 30 feet or more — in an arcing flight that ends in a soft landing.

“It’s like flying, especially when you’re jumping,” says Mr. Durante, who drives to Erie from his Pittsburgh home several times a month. “I love it. I’m totally addicted. My wife says my kites are first, then her.”

Moments later, Mr. Sarell kicks up a good wake behind his yellow surfboard-size board, his lime green sail attracting attention from bystanders.

A windsurfer from Erie, John Orr, stops to watch. Although he hasn’t yet tried kiteboarding, he seems intrigued.

“It is the sport that’s in vogue now,” Mr. Orr says. “It’s a great attention-getter, low impact on environment, and you can kite in winds from 10 mph to 30 mph.”

As Mr. Durante sees it, kiteboarding has only two problems: It’s expensive — board and kite packages range from $400 to $2,000 — and hard to learn.

Although the sport might appear to be extreme, kiteboarders say it’s not, that almost anyone can do it after some training.

“If you don’t know how to do it, it’s extremely extreme,” says Mr. Sarell, 59, who lives in nearby Ashtabula, Ohio, “but for me it’s about technique. Then it doesn’t take very much strength at all.”

One of the best-known places for learning the sport is Real Kiteboarding on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The school taught 3,000 students last summer, and co-owner Trip Forman expects to double that this summer. Students ages 8 to 70 have taken the school’s three-day Zero to Hero camp.

“Basically, in the beginning, the sport was for extreme athletes only,” Mr. Forman says. “Now, because of the teaching methods and gear evolving, we teach people … from every walk of life.”

While the sport is wildly popular in places like North Carolina, the New Jersey shore and Cape Cod, Mass., kiteboarding is an infant sport in Pennsylvania.

With its wide, sandy beaches and marine-environment hiking trails, Presque Isle State Park pulls in 4 million visitors a year. However, few of them kiteboard: Mr. Durante estimates that just a dozen people in all of western Pennsylvania practice the sport. Any kiteboarders in eastern Pennsylvania would likely travel to the Atlantic.

Kiteboarding first appeared in the United States in 1997, Mr. Forman says. The kites also can be used on snow (with snowboards replacing wakeboards). The sport attracts snowboarders, wakeboarders and even people who just love kites.

Mr. Forman predicts rapid growth for the sport and says kiteboarders will soon take to inland rivers and lakes.

Why not? It’s a sport that allows you to rip across the water and soar into the air. Expect to see more of those fluorescent arcs gliding over a body of water near you.

• • •

Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pa., on Pennsylvania Highway 832 (Peninsula Drive) near Interstate 79, is open daily. For driving directions, accommodations or other help in planning a trip, visit www.presqueisle.org or call the park, 814/833-7424; the Erie Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800/524-ERIE, or Pennsylvania State Parks, 888/PA-PARKS.

For kiteboarding school, contact Real Kiteboarding at www.realkiteboarding.com or 866/REAL-KITE. The Real Kiteboarding Zero to Hero, a beginners’ kite camp held in Cape Hatteras, N.C., and in Puerto Rico, costs $895 a person. Accommodations, meals and airfare not included, but students are provided with all necessary gear for their lessons.

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