Paul doing a run in light winds. He sees a positive spin off from developments for speed runs for lower end kiting in time.
I've been talking to Paul Menta of The Kitehouse on and off about his GPS speed runs down in Key West in recent months. He had a custom board put together by Dereck at DC Boards and more recently had a new hi tech, top secret (not really) board fabricated by some NASA techie up state. The Flats areas at low tide provide some unique truly flat water conditions for record attempts. Waves or even wavelets are not your friends in speed runs. Water depths in the channels can be 6 to 8 ft. but inches over the turtle grass. He tells me that the turtle grass flats can cushion wipeouts to some degree due to all the soft marl and voids. Still, if you find the odd rock out there, ouch!
The day of the record attempt around dawn. Paul calls this shot "Heaven," wonder why?
Looking opposite the sunrise, there is this narly system moving by. Apparently this sort of system in Paul's experience in the cooler months doesn't do much but boost the winds slightly. When it goes near land or over warmer water in spring or summer, different story, BIGTIME. Read don't be anywhere near it with a kite under those conditions! Paul calls this shot "Hell," makes sense now. Looks like a shelf cloud to me, these things spit out tornados on land and waterspouts. As a rule in most areas avoid clouds of this type like the plague.
The run shown in some of the still shots and in the video clip occurred around dawn in late February 2007 in the Key West Flats around low tide. The wind was about 25 kts. and there was some storm activity in the distance as you can see in the shots. He was on an 8 m Cabrinha Switchblade II and his speed board.
Doing a warmup run, only hitting about 39 knots.
Another warmup shot. Checkout that unusually shaped wake, it tells some of the story about this board.
Paul tells me the most wind he has had on his speed runs to date has been around 30 kts. compared to substantially higher winds used by racers in other parts of the world. Despite this he has been turning in some good times. He is hoping for more wind which along with his new board should allow some faster times. He has been looking around for a helmet suitable for these runs. They have to fit particularly well, have excellent retention and very low drag. All the factors that effect normal kiteboarding can be substantially amplified in speed kiting water wipeouts.
Some of the more common ones can get a bit narly with wipeouts approaching 40 to 50 knots. He usually can feel when things are about to go south. In the case of the wipeout shown on the video clip, he was hit by a gust when he was already on the edge of control. The kite was suddenly carried closer to the zenith, not what you want at speed. Coming from a lot of time barefoot skiing, as the wipeout is looming he leans back on to his back, kicking off his board. This puts him feet up and spinning in something resembling a barefoot water start on spin cycle. So it goes until the kite power eases off.
Building up speed
Here's a video clip of a recent attempt Paul down on the Flats. The video quality is poor but a still image of the racing area appears below for perspective. At one point he hit almost 54 knots, unfortunately the record is based upon average speed over 500 meters instead of instantaneous velocity which makes it much harder to achieve.
A shot in the area of the speed runs in clear weather for comparison.
The DC Boards speed kiteboard
Hey Paul, what is it like traveling that fast on a kiteboard? The sensations and sense of fragile stability and imminent wipeout have to be unique.
Good luck and try to stay safe out there.