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Thrill rides pump up boomers

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Living in a small town near Worcester, Mass., Bob Christian is just about equidistant between Cape Cod and Old Orchard Beach.

Aside from the fact that Christian has been visiting Old Orchard since he was kid, there are more tangible reasons he chooses Old Orchard to do his kite boarding. The prevailing winds are better for the sport, he says, and there are fewer people.

“That’s where we go most of the time,” Christian said. “So many people go to Cape Cod, so it’s two hours to go to the Cape and it’s just as easy to go here. It’s much better here.”

Christian, 51, is among baby boomers who enjoy daredevil water sports such as kite boarding. According to the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, the ones on the beach kite boarding and whizzing by in their personal watercraft often have gray hair. As described by writer Jen Wieczner, “the current fleet of beach paraphernalia has been designed to go easy on creaking bones and let even the most safety-conscious boomer dip a toe into the world of extreme water sports. Makers of personal watercraft (think Jet Skis) are now offering machines with cruise control and suspension systems for a less spine-jarring ride. Not sure today’s love handles can squeeze into yesterday’s wet suit? The latest suits have stretchier fabrics and welded seams that fit even those without surf-god bodies.”

“Most of the people I work with are in that age group,” said Zebulon Jakub, who runs his own kite boarding program and also works for the International Mountain Equipment and Climbing School of North Conway, N.H. “The baby boomers are sick of working and they want to kind of like, reclaim their lives.”

Christian had just finished four hours of kite surfing, as he called it, on Old Orchard and Pine Point.

“I rode up to Pine Point and went back upwind,” he said. “You need room, and you have it here. There are too many people at Cape Cod. I go about a mile north of the pier. When the tide goes out, there’s 600 or 700 feet of sand. It’s great for setting up, and for launching and landing your kite.”

Christian says he soars about 20 feet up with his kite, glides for perhaps 100 feet, and lands on his board in the water. He soars at about 20 miles per hour.

To explain how he becomes airborne, Christian refers to the hands on a clock.

“To get back in the air, you turn your kite from about 1 to 11 o’clock, time it with the wave and carve with it as the kite crosses to 12 o’clock,” he said. “You just launch up into the air. It’s really amazing.”

Christian said he spends the majority of his kite boarding time on the water. He doesn’t go out unless there is a good wind. Surfing, ideally, is at a 45-degree angle off the beach.

“Old Orchard Beach is shaped like a ‘C,’” he said. “It has a southeast orientation. Any wind from the southeast or the northwest works. You have so much control over the kite. You go over the waves, and tack.”

Christian and his family rent cabins when they head to OOB.

He has been kite boarding since 2002.

“This is a very individual sport,” he said. “I’m into skiing and mountain bike riding. I’m not into golf or volleyball.”

Christian, a heavy equipment operator, says he loves the interaction among the kite, the board and the waves.

“There is so much going on,” he said. “Everything else disappears – all your problems.”

In the winter, Christian goes out with Jakub 30 or 40 times to the Conway area, and replaces his board with skis.

Winter kite boarding is Jakub’s primary focus, but this time of year he also goes to Maine often for the summer version. He loves Pine Point.

“You can do well with the prevailing winds there,” Jakub said. “The way the winds are angled there, you have a north or west wind. Pine Point’s really neat because if we have a west wind, it’s really easy to go out into the water, or it’s really easy to go back in. If you can’t get back into shore, you’re kind of stuck.”

Jakub said he prefers spring and fall conditions at Pine Point.

“I teach this stuff because it’s enjoyable – it’s fun,” he said. “Kite boarding is kind of like sailing. You have to read the wind.”

Jakub explained that the kite has the power, and the pilot both rides and steers it.

“It’s a multi-tasking sport,” he said.

The kites range in size from 1 to 5 square meters for beginners, to 7 to 11 meters for experienced pilots. The larger kites start at around $1,000, but the beginners’ kites are cheaper, Jakub said.

“They’re way bigger than a car, and they can definitely pull a car,” Jakub said. “The harness hooks in it and gives you the control. Generally speaking, you set the kite up on the beach, or on the water’s edge. You can intentionally or unintentionally generate an enormous amount of power.”

People began taking up kite boarding in the mid-1980s, then it “really kicked in” during the mid to late ’90s, Jakub said. Kite boarding lessons range in price from $80-$150 an hour, Jakub said.

“It’s a technical challenge, it’s a physical challenge,” he said. “These baby boomers know how to work hard, and they want a challenge. It’s a release. They also have the money.”

Larry Grard is a staff writer at Current Publishing.

August 2014When Bob Christian kite boards in Maine, he says, “everything else disappears – all your problems.”  

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