For anyone who doesn’t know this already about me…I love kiteboarding. It is one of the main reasons I chose Bonaire as my landing spot when I left the US. There’s wind here nearly year-round, and we have some incredibly flat, warm water. Plus, the local community of kiters is fairly amazing (mostly…but there’s is that one guy…).
Truth be told, if I’m not at home writing, my local kite beach is usually where you can find me. At least when there are no crowds (my affection for kiting in a crowd has drastically waned over the years). Which is why I try to get my sessions in early in the morning, before any of the schools (and their rescue boats) or the typical crowds arrive.
Why do I get up so early and make the 30-minute drive to my sandy little slice of heaven? Because there is a freedom and solitude of having that bit of ocean to myself or sharing it with the few other kiting friends I know well and trust implicitly. No worries about keeping track of other sketchy kiters and what they’re doing (why can’t people look before they turn?). No stress about somebody else doing something stupid (no, attempting a jump when you’re five meters upwind of me is not a good idea…especially when you cannot jump or stay in control). In short, kiting alone or with kiters you know is a much more relaxed – and usually safer – experience.
And this early-morning arrangement has served me well for many years. Maybe too well. Because after so many years of doing this without any negative consequences, I became very complacent. Overconfident. I stopped thinking anything bad could happen, because…hey…it hadn’t yet. The odds were in my favor.
Until they weren’t.
Because you see, part of the whole “kiting without available rescue” arrangement is that if something goes wrong, it can go south really fast. Especially with the strong offshore winds we have here. And when things go to hell in a handbasket – with no third-party rescue in sight – you only have yourself to rely on. Which can be scary as shit. It can also be a catalyst to gain sudden clarity about exactly what you’re capable of.
I won’t bore you with the details of what happened that morning. Suffice it to say I did something stupid, took an unnecessary risk. The end result being a snapped chicken loop, a tangle of lines and a kite that plunged viciously into the sea (if you are a non-kiter confused with the terminology, suffice it to say it was a clusterfuck…an unrecoverable clusterfuck). Most definitely not how I envisioned my session ending that day, especially at 8:15 a.m.
But it was what it was, and I needed to sort things out. I had two options: try to self-rescue or give up and float out to sea, clinging to my kite until one of the school boats arrived and set out to find me. Because I’m stubborn, I chose the first option. An hour later, I finally had my feet back on terra firma. A slightly sunburned face, a medium-sized rip in my kite and one giant bruise to my ego.
But in between the crash and making it back to shore, I had some time to think about lots of things. Not the usual, zenlike kitesurfing self-reflection that I love when I’m flying across the water…but still a chance at gaining insight. And here’s what I discovered.
It is easy to get comfortable with something familiar. Whether it’s your favorite sport, your work or even your relationships. And it is also easy to start taking everything for granted, to slide along with minimal effort and little regard for possible negative outcomes. Until something unexpected occurs. Like a kite crash. Or a job loss. Or a painful break-up.
As I bobbed around in the ocean that morning, I realized that being oblivious to possible outcomes is not a very smart move. While I would never advocate avoiding all risks (what fun would that be?), what I will do in the future is not be so damn cavalier about them. I will still take risks, they will just be more thoughtful and calculated. And my actions going forward will be more deliberate – in all facets of my life.
During this little incident, I spent a lot of time gauging my progress against two things – a random road sign on the shoreline that aligned with my then-position in the water and a point along the bay further ahead that, had I drifted out past it, ensured I would not be getting back to shore at all. I did a lot of kicking and one-armed swimming that morning in an attempt to avoid drifting out past the point and to make forward progress beyond the damn sign (which I’m fairly certain was taunting me).
Progress was slower than I would have liked. While I am a strong swimmer, it was something else altogether to swim against an off-shore wind while laying on the leading edge of my upside-down kite. It was also incredibly frustrating mentally to feel like I was covering no ground (I was…just not as fast as I hoped). In hindsight, the mental game was probably harder than the physical one.
But what I confirmed that morning was that when you have few options left, you will dig in and find the inner strength to handle whatever is put on your plate. Whether the challenge is mental or physical (or both), your inner reserves are bigger than you ever imagined them to be. Even if your leg muscles say otherwise.
Saying I self-rescued isn’t completely accurate. Luck was on my side – as were two friends. A local foiler I know sailed past just as my kite crashed. He checked on my well-being and stayed to keep an eye on the situation. His encouraging presence was very much appreciated. As was his help in towing my husband (who up to that point had been playing the role of shore support/frantic partner) out to me, after I drifted too far offshore for my beloved to swim the distance.
Together my husband and I got us and my kite back to shore – nothing says love like someone willing to join you in a potentially dangerous endeavor, right? Even when they are a self-proclaimed weak swimmer. Yikes!
The point is, even when you think you can do something on your own, it is always better to have a friend along to share the load. So be nice to people and don’t take friendships (or relationships) for granted. Sort of goes back to my first point, actually. Life can most certainly be lived in a perpetual solo state, but it’s much nicer with people who care about you – both in good times and bad.
So in light of all this…you might be wondering if I plan to stop my early morning, no-rescue-available sessions. I don’t think so. My kite is patched up, my muscles recovered and my knowledge of self-rescue fully refreshed. I will undoubtedly keep grabbing those “first on the water” titles whenever I can. I’ll just be more appreciative of the risks involved. And remember to apply extra sunscreen…just in case.
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