On an unusually warm April afternoon, with the wind blowing both angrily and calm as it does at Lake Hefner, Morocco native and Oklahoma City resident Ali Abdelali lounged in a camp chair to watch wet-suit clad men attached to kites speed across the rocky waves.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
"It's called kite boarding," he said. "Once you try it, once you get that high, you want it every day, every day, every day. It's pure adrenaline."
And on every day the wind decides to bluster across the lake, the kite boarders are paying homage, sometimes sneaking out of downtown offices to exchange business suits for wet suits in order to ride the wind for an hour or so.
As one of the fastest-growing extreme hobbies to come to the city, kite boarding is taking hold, but is still exotic and risky and terribly hard to learn. With interest sailing high, more and more Oklahomans are trying their hand at kite boarding at Lake Hefner, and some are even finding enthusiasts who offer up lessons.
For those wanting to learn the sport, lessons and skill are hard to come by.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
Abdelali was one of the passersby who braved wind and inexperience to take up kite boarding. In 2000, fresh to Oklahoma from Morocco, he was, frankly, bored.
"I was bored, thinking there was no other sport to practice except for football or jogging. After work one day, I was at Lake Hefner and I saw two guys kite boarding," he said. "I thought, 'Wow, that's what I've been looking for.' I never saw anything like that before. My heart starting beating fast, especially when I saw them jumping out of the water like that. It was amazing!"
Abdelali bought a "crappy kite," took it to the lake and leapt right into it with no idea of what to do. The kite caught the wind and, without warning, it jerked him at least 40 feet up in the sky and slammed him back down to the water.
"I remember that first day. I had no idea what I was doing. After that first day, I realized that kite boarding is an extreme sport, and I was an idiot to try it with no experience. I could have killed myself," he said.
Abdelali ended up spending several thousand dollars on lessons at South Padre Island, but it was an expense he said was worth it.
Asa Voyles, 22, is another who started kite boarding with no experience.
"I've been sailing here for 13 years, and one day, I hear this 'Woosh!' and this kite boarder jumps over the boat," he said. "I'd never seen that before. I said, 'Dude, how much?' I bought two kites and a board that day for $600."
Voyles is a self-taught kite boarder. He started out riding downwind and on land.
"It's hard to learn locally," he said. "There's no formal school. I was the punk everyone hated for a while."
Nick Tubre of Oklahoma City was among the first in the metro to take up the sport in 2000, but even he said learning how to kite board safely is the biggest challenge facing enthusiasts.
"The first time I did it, it was crazy," he said. "The technology has changed so much on the kites since then. Back then, it wasn't user-friendly. Today, it's a lot safer and easier to handle."
Hardly anyone locally offers lessons, due to the liability of the sport. The wind has known to be mean and dangerous to beginners and experts alike. Tubre said learning to kite board safely is vital.
"We've got our own little beach area out there and you don't want a bazillion people out there getting hurt. If you start to get a lot of injuries, then the city has to do something about it," he said.
"I usually tell people if they are interested to get on the Internet, do their research, get a practice kite to mess around on land with and get the videos. Even if you go to South Padre for a one- or two-day lesson, the winds here in Oklahoma are different. You have to take more time to learn."
For those who do the research and invest in learning the sport safely, the rewards are superb. The same winds that make kite boarding risky can be rewarding as well.
"It grows on you. It's the simplicity of getting out there, getting rid of all your frustrations. It's a lot like meditation, and it's a good high. You forget about all the frustrations when you fly," Tubre said. "But it has to be safety first." "Heide Brandes