Drive down Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach on a windy day and you'll see massive, colorful kites bobbing over the ocean. If you could see through the dunes, you might be surprised to see a person controlling a kite, skimming across the water's surface. You've just gotten a peek at kiteboarding.
The graceful sport involves harnessing yourself to a large kite, grabbing a control bar, strapping a board to your feet and using the wind captured by the kite to fly through the air.
"I remember when I became hooked," says Ryan Behan, 30, of Blue Point. "A bunch of us surfers were sitting on the shore at Robert Moses, waiting for a wave. surfing was garbage. All of a sudden, this kiteboarder comes into view. He was doing all these jumps and loops. Then, he just drops to the shore, makes out with his girlfriend for a little while, then right back up he goes. Kiteboarding just looked way cooler than surfing at that moment."
Start on land
Behan, a sailor and surfer, recently completed his first lesson at NY Kite Center in Amityville. Using a midsize trainer kite in a field, he learned safety, got a feel for the kite and learned how to control it once it was airborne.
"I can't stop thinking about the kite pulling me off the ground," says Behan as he grasps the control bar.
While he did get tugged onto his tiptoes a couple of times, instructor Rob Sereny, 40, of New York City, demonstrated that just by dropping the control bar, the kite collapses safely. "People think you have to have a lot of upper-body strength, that you have to muscle the kite," Sereny explains. "This is a finesse sport."
John Pereira, 35, of Amityville, owner of the center, explained that anyone who can swim likely can kiteboard. "It is about use of your core," says Pereira, who adds that the center has students younger than 10 and older than 70. August is an ideal time to take up the sport because of the mild winds, he says.
Advance to the water
While the basics are important, it is the loops and jumps that excite both kiteboarder and spectator. "Starting out was really nerve-racking," says Mike Robley, 20, a self-taught kiteboarder from Stony Brook who flies at Gilgo Beach. "The kite dragged me around the beach. It was scary and thrilling at the same time."
Looping the kite is what often catches the attention of passersby. Or, it is the bobbing that happens when a kiteboarder traps the wind in his kite and launches himself into the air. "That's what gets people hooked on the sport when they see you do it," says Mike Rusoff, 39, owner of Cosmic Kites Kiteboarding in Long Beach.
"You get this pop where you lift up," says Paul Dalia, 41, of Plainview. "When you're up there, it feels like you have wings and you're flying through the air. If you ever wished you could fly, this is the closest you could get to it."
Nuts and bolts
Expect to pay $500 to $1,000 for a series of five to 10 hours of lessons. Rusoff and Pereira agree that newbies can expect to spend about $1,000 for used equipment to about $3,000 for new gear.
Lessons generally start on land with safety procedures, as well as learning to launch and control the kite. Eventually, you'll advance to in-water lessons and finally airborne lessons.
Kiteboarding isn't allowed at state or county beaches. Nor is it allowed in areas with lifeguards or where swimming is permitted. And, if you're not a resident, expect to pay a nonresident parking fee. For example, nonresident parking at Gilgo is $30 weekdays or $40 weekends. Tobay Beach parking is $50 Monday through Thursday, and resident-only otherwise. At Long Beach, you must have advance permission through the lifeguard headquarters, and pay $12 a day admission. You can kiteboard at any of the Southampton Town beaches, but parking restrictions apply.
WHERE 74 W. Park Ave., Long Beach
INFO 516-882-5232, cosmickites.com
COST $120 an hour, five hours of instruction recommended
WHERE 1688 County Rd. 39, Southampton
INFO 631-283-9463, hamptonwatersports.com
COST $150 an hour, with six to eight hours recommended
LESSONS Mecox Bay, Bridgehampton; Cold Spring Point Road, Southampton
WHERE 334 S. Bayview Ave., Amityville
INFO 631-691-0793, nykitecenter.com
COST Center recommends the following: $199 preflight class on land; $399 three-hour in-water class and $399 three-hour over-the-water courses
LESSONS Land lesson in the park next to the center; water lessons in the Great South Bay.