Caribbean Getaways: Kiteboarding, San Juan, Puerto Rico

January 4, 2017
Candyce H. Stapen

If you want to include kiteboarding in your next Caribbean vacation, all you need is a patient instructor, some encouragement and good equipment.

Sometimes, you have to try something different. That’s why I asked myself if a middle-aged woman of average athletic ability and no previous experience snowboarding or surfing could fly through the waves on a kiteboard? Absolutely, I discovered during a two-hour lesson with 15 Knots on San Juan, Puerto Rico’s, Isla Verde Beach.

Forget-about requiring bulging muscles. “That’s one of the biggest myths about the sport,” my instructor Felix told me. “You don’t rely on strength to control the kite and you won’t be blown out to sea,” another concern for never-evers.

What you do need: clear and patient instruction, much encouragement plus good equipment. Felix and 15 Knots provided that. In explaining the equipment, Felix pointed out the safety systems that enabled us to slow the kite’s speed quickly and if necessary, disengage completely from the kite. And just in case, Felix also showed us how to turn the kite into a life raft in the unlikely event that the wind died suddenly and we had to float back to shore.

The Isla Verde beach, long, wide enough and often blessed with steady winds of 10-15 knots that parallel the shore, is a prime place to learn. We began on the sand by launching a training kite, a small foil version with only two lines. After Felix got this kite airborne, I placed my hands next to his on the bar, feeling the wind.

Instead of brute force, as I imagined, controlling the kite, at least at a beginner’s level, required a series of gentle maneuvers that resulted in the kite executing figure eights in the air. This kept the kite flying at the edge of the power zone, that dead-ahead position in which the full and formidable force of the wind would fill the kite.

After mastering basic control, our group donned harnesses and practiced some more. Then, Felix pronounced us ready for the body drag. Much more fun than it sounds, body dragging is using the kite to move on the water’s surface.

As Felix held the kite steady in the air, we headed into the sea. As instructed, I grabbed hold of the bar on his harness and another student grabbed onto my harness. All of a sudden, we floated through the water effortlessly and swiftly as I imagined mermaids might. The feeling was extraordinary. We took turns controlling our ride. To show us just how fast we could go, Felix pointed the kite into the power zone and we zoomed on top of the waves. It was hard to believe that we used just skill and the wind to “fly.”

We couldn’t take another lesson because of time, but if we did, we would be on boards similar to those used in snowboarding. 15 Knots offers a variety of courses. Most beginners opt for the six-hour package delivered over two or three days.

I asked Felix what he especially liked about kiteboarding? “It’s eco-friendly. You are not contaminating the environment. There’s no boat or motor.” Added Juan Carlos Morales, 15 Knots founding owner, “I love to feel the power of the wind in my hands.” So did I.

A note about Zika. Puerto Rico appears to have a handle on the problem. The number of confirmed new cases throughout the entire island has dropped considerably, from an October 2016 peak of 5, 317 to 502 cases on December 16. Nonetheless, avoid Puerto Rico if you’re pregnant or if you and your partner are thinking about becoming pregnant. Travelers should heed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice that includes using mosquito repellant and wearing long sleeves. Those are things I do anyway while at the beach because I dislike bug bites and I burn easily.

You need to make your own informed decision about visiting Puerto Rico and other affected Caribbean islands. If you do decide to travel, you will find plenty of good deals.