Kiteboarding is making its way to the Keweenaw Peninsula and Lake Superior. Off the shores of McLain State Park in Hancock, to Keystone Bay near Copper Harbor, kitesurfing and kiteboarding are on a roll.
This past winter, the locals in Copper Harbor hosted their first annual Superior Gales Kitefest, held the first weekend of spring. About a dozen enthusiastic kiters came from Michigan and Wisconsin to shred the frozen, snow-covered lakes.
To execute this kiting venture, a person needs a couple basic tools: a nylon kite attached to their harness and wind. The snowboard, skis or kiteboard come in after the kiter has control of the kite.
The guys I watched during the Superior Gales weekend certainly had wind and control.
Saturday they parked their woodstove-heated shanty and grill on Copper Harbor’s bay for a day of ripping around the Lighthouse, hucking off ice shelves and showing off in front of the town. Sunday the wind was right for a day on Lake Medora, where they built kicker jumps to catch some big air.
That’s another thing about these kiters – they are adrenaline junkies. It’s apparent as they launch and fly 40 feet through the air, woo-hooing when they land upright.
When people drive by and see these huge neon kites sailing in the wind, they often stop and probably wonder, “What the heck is going on out there?” After they see a little person attached below, off in the distance, they say, “Well, dang, honey. Those kids are attached to kites! Look at them skiing around out there!”
This sport has made a spectacle at Lake Medora in the winter, and Eagle Harbor Beach in the summertime. As the crowds get to watch the kiters tack back and forth effortlessly through the snow or waves, they usually end up saying, “I want to try that!”
I’ve tried it myself, starting out with the “trainer kite” which is 5 square meters. This kite is good for practice because it’s small, and the learner has to build their arm strength just to master the control maneuvers.
When I felt I was ready to harness into one of the “big kites,” I strapped on a 12 meter kite, and tried to learn how to control the wind through my sail. I need to keep practicing.
Any experienced kiter probably has at least 4 kites. One small trainer for their friends to practice on, an 8 meter kite for high winds, a 12 meter kite for moderate wind, and a 16-18 meter kite when the wind is low. Keep in mind that the size is in square meters. A person usually doesn’t realize how big these things are until they stand next to one while it’s being pumped up or landing.
As spring and summer approach ever so slowly in the U.P., the kitesurfing junkies are already eyeing up the shores, waiting for them to be clear of ice. Then they squeeze into their thickest wet suit and wade through the frigid water. Kite harnessed and in the air, they slide on their kiteboard, catch the wind, and hopefully catch some waves.
Words and Photos by Amanda Wais. Want to see when the next big kiting event is? Follow along at Amanda’s Copper Harbor blog at www.daharbor.blogspot.com to find a possible fall event and the 2nd Annual winter Kitefest. Amanda is an outdoor adventure writer based in the Keweenaw and travels through the Upper Peninsula.