Saturday, July 12, 2008

Kitemares

In my recent "letter to the editor" printed in the July issue of the the New England Windsurfing Journal (NEWJ), I described the incident of a windsurfer in Assateague, Md. who tried to rescue a lost kite, and in the process, lost all his gear when the kite powered up and drug his equipment beyond his reach and out to sea.

On the heels of that letter, I have received many requests to, for the betterment of society at large ;), recount my own personal close encounter with kiting.


This Kitemare occured on October 29, 2006 and for which I submitted a story for the December 06 issue of the NEWJ entitled: "Kiter Hits Van, Both Survive".

The damage:


Paramedics in the background. Kiter Finally landed 20-30 yards behind the van in the thick brush off to the left:


Helicopter for evac in far corner of the lot:


Here is a story:

As I neared the shore, I noticed a glare on my windshield. I thought to myself, its just all the magazines, maps, books, clothes etc. causing the glare. Then I noticed that a ton of people where milling about around and behind my van. As I got closer, it became apparent that it wasn’t a glare, but a smashed windshield. I didn’t see it happen because I was out, minding my own business, blasting on my 4.5. My friend Bob Ramsey, a windsurfer, was there to fill me in on the events and help me sort through the drama. An experienced kiter, George Hammond, was trying to launch his kite around noon, in heavy onshore winds, when no sooner than he launched his kite, a heavy gust came through. I was told that as soon as the kite went up, he left his feet like a cruise missile headed straight for my van, totally destroying the windshield.
The kite continued to power up and I’m told he went up another 10 feet or so before he slammed into the parking lot. The kite powered up again, taking him up higher, before he dropped into the woods, where upon I'm told several people jumped on him. The next stop was the highway and power lines. He was laying the woods with several people trying to make him as comfortable as possible until help arrived. He was conscious, but not lucid, and he looked to be in severe pain, with possible life threatening injuries. Paramedics arrived in matter of minutes, and the medi-vac helicopter a few minutes after that. His wife Cindy, arrived just before he was flown to the hospital, and after seeing her husband off, she gave me their contact information and assured me that they would pay for the damage In addition, Mike Littlejohn, manager of the local shop East of Maui, was very helpful in trying to help me out with my logistical nightmare. Unfortunately, all the glass shops where closed, and I wasn’t about to spend the night on the coast, not with work responsibilities the next day so Bruce Sheppard helped me duct tape some sections of the windshield. Around 2.30, I unrigged, and drove home. It killed me to leave that wind on the table. But with the impending darkness about to fall around 4.30pm, I needed to get home. I was fortunate not to pass a single police cruiser, and made it home without incident. The windshield was replaced by Wednesday, and while the entire incident was a mild inconvenience, it is certainly nothing compared to what the injured kiter is dealing with. I was told he had a fractured pelvis, as well as assorted bumps and bruises. I heard he plans to continue kiting. My friend Ken Kellar witnessed a similar incident at terrapin park on the Chesapeake bay just the week before, complete with the dispatch of a helicopter. Again, there were heavy onshore conditions. I actually had an out of control kiter come from behind me and nearly take off the nose of my board last summer when he lost control and clipped the front of my Gem. I actually have that one on video. Is this enough to extrapolate a trend? My advice? Don’t park in the front row of a beach where kiters are, and try not to put your self in the position of being downwind of them without power in your sail. I want to personally wish George Hammond my sincere hope that he gets well soon, and hope you can get back onto to the water asap.

Duct tape was good enough for Apollo 13 right?

Left a pretty deep impression I'd say:

Try driving home 110 miles with a windshield like this:


Next day:


Its been over two years since that event occured. George Hammond was an avid kiter, and I assume he's still kiting, although I don't know that for a fact. If anyone has first hand knowledge, please leave a comment here.

There are more and more accidents like this one and access issues like this that I fear may one day threaten beach access to all board sport enthusiasts. Some areas in New York and Florida have already take draconian steps .
Safety industry studies have researched and quantified the rate of kiting injuries. I'm not suggesting that windsurfing isn't a high risk endeavor, just that the incidents of severe injury are much higher w/kiting, and that I fear that those incidents may one day cast a negative light on all boardsports, with negative repercussions.

Simply from a resource standpoint, what is the cost to dispatch a helicopter? In just the past four years, I personally have seen a helicopter dispatched three times for an injured kiter. In over 20 years of windsurfing, I've never seen that happen once for a windsurfer. I suspect there are quite a few others who have their own kitemare story to tell. My main concern is losing access to the water because the local authorities are fed up with the drain on limited resources.

Nearly all kiting accidents occur during the launch or landing of the kite. I tell you what, I'd rather you not ask me for help putting up your kite. Nothing personal, I just don't want your widow suing me.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for skilled kiters. The guys in hatteras, and a bunch up here in Deleware are damn good at it. More power to em. You guys are amazing. Its that kook majority that puts us all at risk.

We all are entitled to access to the water, and I'm all for everyone enjoying their own thing. But if push ever comes to shove, don't lump my sport in with Kiting.

1 comment:

Nabirasch said...

I wonder where we all are with this today? This winter at La Ventana we had 2 kiter deaths within a month or so, besides lots of other injuries at least one of which was a life breaker. One of the bodies washed up just by my table as I was about to have dinner at a restaurant downwind of the launch. I did NOT appreciate the negative shift in the ambiance. I don't know about so-called 'expert' kiters; they all seem to be in denial, intent (in the absence of formal regulation) in making everyone else share their risk. The beach is chaos, there are all sorts of dumb. luc dependent launches.
Last summer, one of my colleagues corrected my presumption that kiters are in conflict with everyone else who uses a beach. He changed his mind this winter. Another pro-level sailor I know is more progressive; he's developed a U-shaped knife attachment for his masthead which apparently he's already used quite skillfully against kite strings.
Maybe this is a trick we all should be learning?