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A higher power

To fly a kite you first have to unlearn all you know about control and power, and then learn to go against your instinct.

travel Updated: Jan 18, 2010 12:04 IST

The promised gift at the end of the tunnel was in the shape of a surfboard, and beyond it, lay the vast blue sea. Surfers skimmed by while I longingly looked on.

I was dozing in Frankie's shack under the noon sun of another hot day in Goa, when I woke with a start. In another ten minutes I had to meet Philippe Dartnell, my kite flying instructor, and drive down to Morjhim for lessons. I threw my knapsack on my shoulder, gulped down my juice and jiggled my bike keys in my hand.

What would today be like?
Going by yesterday's lessons, the surfboard was still pretty much at the end of the tunnel. Dartnell had walked me through the basics by drawing stick figures on the sand. `Power window, wind pocket, drop zone,' I ticked off the important lessons of Day 1. But I had still crashed my kite every few minutes and got dragged by it in every direction the wind blew.

Around me, a few flyers with kites considerably larger than my six-metresquare green Delta stood their ground and manoeuvred their kites with an ease and grace that completely belied how strong the wind was. Was I just too tiny to conquer the wind?

A taste of the sand...
Day 2 began on a better note, for Dartnell at least. The wind was stronger and he said he'd take me out to sea. I looked at him incredulously. How on earth was I supposed to deal with the water, when I hadn't even mastered the wind? I felt all the angst of a martial art student seeking true knowledge from her Zen master and failing miserably at it.

I turned my back to the wind, dug my heels into the wet sand and launched the kite. Within seconds my Delta took a powerful swoop, dragging me forward by a couple of feet, and I landed flat on the sand. I got up, righted the kite, and launched it again. The winds were strong and the kite leapt into the sky easily. I pulled on the bar firmly to let more wind hit the kite, but didn't account for how much would gush in. The kite tugged sharply and, instinctively, I pulled the bar closer in a bid to control it. Doing that only opened the kite out further and powered it. This time I fell and scraped my elbow.

Dartnell ran towards me shouting, "Forget everything you know about power. Unlearn it!" The thing about kite surfing, he explained, is that it's completely unlike any other sport because you need to do the exact opposite of what your instinct tells you to do. The trick is not to control the kite, but to guide it.

... And then of the wind
Gradually, my eyes began to leave the Delta and my hands responded automatically to the sudden shifts and turns of the kite. ("In the beginning, you'll look at nothing beyond the kite," Dartnell had said. "Avoid that.") I began to discover how to make the kite dance to the merest flick of my wrist. The elbows straightened out and energy emerged from somewhere around my stomach.

I played with the wind pocket, letting my kite pop in and out at whim. As the setting sun played truant on the waters of the beautiful Morjim beach, I began to hang off my bar instead of hanging on to it, and learnt to bend my knees every time I felt the kite trying to drag me.

And then I dipped the Delta, giving it the power I'd denied it all along. I could hear the lines creak in protest as the wind took over, but all I could feel was the rhythm of the swaying kite on my arms. I was finally flying my kite.

Wetting my toes
Apprehension is perhaps the least of what I felt when Dartnell, keeping the kite directly above our heads (in the least power zone) walked into the sea, asking me to follow him on Day 3. There was no surfboard in sight, but that was hardly a relief. Somehow, though I had mastered the art of flying, I wasn't too keen to try it out on the sea just yet. "Just hang on to the hook in my harness," Dartnell told me. Then, in a moment, he powered the kite and we were off -- letting the wind drag us through the sea.

At that moment I realised what Harry Potter must have felt on his broomstick when he flew for the first time. The waves parted as we skimmed furiously through the sea, measuring our distance not by miles but by the number of waves we swam over and those that we escaped by changing the direction of our kite.

The sun was setting as we let the wind guide us back to shore. The cold wind dried the water off our backs but left the grit and salt. Tomorrow, said Dartnell, I'll put you on the land board and show you some wheelies. Sounds like a plan, I replied.

Extreme action with a kite
Power kiting: The sport of flying a power kite in and out of wind pockets, using a bar attached to four or six lines of the kite.

Kite surfing: Your feet are strapped on to a surfboard and you use the power of the kite to surf over the sea.

Land boarding:
You stand on a land board (which looks like a skate board). Using the power kite, you let the wind guide you over land.

Body dragging:
You take the power kite to sea and let the wind drag you while you lie flat on the water, facing the kite.