While bears, salmon and glacier-enrobed mountains might be synonymous with Alaska for many people, for me, Alaska is synonymous with kiteboarding. Although the water can be a little chilly, the price of admission is little more than a sturdy wetsuit and an adventurous disposition. And the perks are many: 44,000 miles of coastline; lots of beaches, some of them hundreds of miles long; loads of wind; no crowds and unbeatably scenery. These are some of the reasons over 100 future and existing kiters turned out for the fourth annual KiteFest Alaska this past weekend in Homer, Alaska.
Alaskan weather is fickle so when Friday, the first day of the event, dawned cloudy, we anticipated a windless and wet weekend. But as screws were sunk into demo boards and kites were inflated at the high tide line, the low overcast started to fracture and the glossy ocean bristled with the first fingers of wind. By noon it was cranking 20 and kites darted around under a bright blue sky with soaring snow-capped peaks in the background––it was on!
Four years ago Trace Carlos and I were getting some lunch and doing what we did a lot of in those days: lamenting the lack of local kiters. We had the wind, the water, a great beach, but on a blue-bird day with 20 knots of wind there were still never more than a few kites in the air at one time. We knew there were other kiters in Alaska but in such a big state, how would we find them? Besides Trace, a guy named George, myself and the occasional transient kiter, there were only three of us and we craved the comradery, talent and gear of the kite scenes we saw in magazines. We each had one board, one kite and one move and no one was going anywhere fast with so little stimulation. After throwing around a number of ideas, most of which revolved around us moving to Maui or Cape Hatteras, it hit us: why not have a kite party to bring in kiters from around the state and to train new ones?
That first festival lacked advertising beyond a few calls and emails and any organization beyond Trace and I hanging out at the beach waiting to see if anyone would actually show up. A few hardy kiters did show and we got kites in the hands of a number of beginners as well. The following year George came onboard as an organizer but in order to get his help we had to organize the festival around his commercial fishing season. That second year we had a poster, some media attention, well over 50 people in attendance and we became not only the first and only kiteboarding festival in Alaska, but probably the only kite festival in the world organized around commercial fishing seasons.
While the weather didn’t always cooperate (OK, it never cooperated), we watched our festival grow and attendance soar to near 100 participants by its third year. We started to see kiters on the beach we had trained and often rocking tricks twice as hot as ours. We had connected with kiters from around the state, had taught many new kiters and when the wind blew there were a few more kiters to call up. Our local kite scene was on the verge of exploding.
It all came together at this year’s Kitefest and our original dream of forming a local kite scene worthy of telling people about when we left Alaska was realized. During our four day event we hosted over 100 participants, a full roster of psyched sponsors, classes, demo gear, a live auction and raffle, great weather and, that one thing so elusive to many kite festivals: wind. When George came up to me Friday evening and told me he had counted 17 kites in the air at once (a Homer, Alaska record), I knew that, while our kite scene may not have exploded, it had certainly taken a big step forward.
This year’s KiteFest ALASKA was, without a doubt, the best KiteFest yet. And after four years, that’s really saying something! The first day of the fest, Friday, started with some light clouds but that soon burned off and brilliant blue skies brought us 17-21 mph of the best clean wind we have felt in weeks. Beginners started to show up and we set them up with trainer kites and a professional instructor out on the beach. Kiters from all around Alaska started to show up and pitch their tents right there at KiteFest HQ. That night we headed up to Homer’s own kiter-owned restaurant, Cosmic Kitchen, for a great meal.
Saturday was a little chilly but 15 mph kept the larger kites flying and beginners learning on trainer kites all over the beach. We put on 3 or 4 trainer kite classes, a couple of more advanced intro to LEI classes and worked with students individually in the water. That evening we built up the bonfire and raffled off 2 harnesses, a number of trainer kites, kite leashes, kite lines, shirts and more. After tossing some additional free gear to the crowd, we started the live auction. With so many new kiters at the event, there was some fierce competition for many items. Anders did a great job of keeping the auction fun and making sure it was a worthwhile fundraiser. The auction included a brand new Cabrinha board, 3 harnesses, a couple of trainer kites, impact vests, kite leashes, 2 kite bars and more. Everyone walked away with a great deal on gear they need and they did their part to support the event. That night we got down with Tom’s home-brewed beer!
Sunday was another blue bird day with 15 mph and again the larger kites prevailed. Some of the kiters that were just getting going on Friday hit the water with confidence and made some of their first runs on the board. After more classes, clinics and a killer 2 hour session I had on the buggy with the HQ Montana 9.5m, some of us crashed the Cook Inlet Keeper party.
Monday brought more blue skies but this time with some good wind. By 3 pm the wind was blowing 18-20 mph and kiters hit the water on thier 12m and 14m kites. After a few more lessons and beginner kite clinics, the organizers decided to hit the water themselves. Trace, George and I all grabbed kites and had a great session on our 12m kites, trying all the amazing new boards our sponsors shipped us. While George tore up the small waves on the F–One Fish, I tried some moves on the CrazyFly Pro Tour Model 130cm followed by another freestyler, the F–One Acid 130cm. What amazing rides these decks were.
While we always have great people at our event, this year was made so much more special because the wind and weather were so good too. Thanks to all our sponsors and to everyone who came out and helped or just had fun.
KiteFest Alaska is an annual gathering of kiteboarders from around Alaska. Every year over 100 kiters descend on Homer to kite, learn to kite, trade or buy gear, meet other Alaskan kiters and to just generally have an amazing time. Now in its fourth year, KiteFest Alaska has really grown and now brings kiters in from around the country. The event’s sponsors include many leading manufacturers in the kiteboarding industry. Our event is one of the only kite events out there were beginners can come and be introduced to kite sports for free by certified instructors. The event is also a wonderful place to get your first gear or improve your existing kit.
You should come to KiteFest because:
>>It is the only kiteboarding event in the state.
>>It is run as a not for profit (organizers are volunteers).
>>Those interesting in kite sports can come with no equipment or knowledge and learn the basics for free.
>>Gear auctions, raffles, giveaways, etc.
>>Kite movie night.
>>Bon fires on the beach.
>>Kiter dinner & party.
Wonderful 2011 Volunteers:
Auctioneer – Anders Gustafson
Photographer – Tehben Dean
–Gavin “The Kiwi”
And many many more.