Kite-Crazed Dudes

This wet, hot extreme sport combines the thrill of flying with the threat of grievous bodily harm

"What happened was one guy, our doctor, didn't have a passport. He thought it was like going to the Caribbean or something. This is not like going to the Bahamas. We got there and they decided that either none of us could stay, and we had to go back right away, or they'd put us under marina arrest, whereby none of us could leave the marina, which kind of sucked. 'Cause I kind of wanted to check out Havana. Everybody was pretty wrecked. I mean about three beers and you were done.

"But long distance isn't what this sport's about at all," he emphasizes, returning to the present. "It's about the freedom and the freestyle and the jumping. And the lightness. You put everything in a small backpack and your board fits under your arm."

Jonathan Postal
Jonathan Postal

Things first began getting heavy on Hobe Beach, which stretches along the causeway on the westernmost isthmus of Virginia Key. Riders like the site because when winds are westerly, which they often are, they blow into shore, which means kiters don't have to fight the wind to return to the beach. Marinkovic credits fellow pioneer Victor Hernandez with the first major Hobe Beach accident, in 2002. "You have a beach that is very narrow, trees, and then you have the causeway, with intense traffic," Ribot explains from a plastic chair set up near his ten Hobie Cats. "And one day -- it happened often actually -- a squall comes and the guy loses control; the kite just went into the causeway. And there was one picture in a magazine. The kite is wrapped around a traffic light up there. And you see MAST Academy."

And Hernandez? He managed to unhook the leash that attached his waist to the kite and then let go of the whole contraption. "He was lucky. He had a quick-release system," Ribot notes. "He was okay. The kite was not."

That year a female kiteboarder was not as fortunate. "The same beach, same type of wind conditions, same type of weather. She got lofted against a wooden post, and then another one, and then a car. That was the second accident," Ribot recalls. She was hospitalized with internal injuries. County authorities banned kiteboarders from Hobe Beach.

Ribot's worst accident occurred the next year, far from Hobe Beach. A fine ring of scar tissue circumscribes the base of his left index finger and serves as a souvenir of the mishap, which occurred off the Venezuelan islands of Los Roques. "A beach squall came, and I saw it coming but I pushed my limit a little bit. Big mistake. It was a jump," he recounts. "It's always overconfidence that kills us. So the squall came, and I was overpowered by the kite -- the kite was just pulling me up. I let go of the kite and my finger gets stuck in the line and I almost lost the finger. We were one hour by boat from the little village of Gran Roque. I was holding my finger just by the bone. It's pretty sharp, it's a nice cut. See the line right there? No blood, just strangulation.

"I depowered the kite, actually, but even depowered, just the flapping of the kite was pulling on the line and my finger was stuck in it. The line broke, which never happens. For some reason the line broke. In just ten seconds. My finger was already cut. Took me six months to recover all of the sensation. And I only fixed it with aloe vera because there was no doctor or no hospital. No medicine, and it just came up by itself."

Ribot says the number of kiteboarding accidents began to diminish in 2003, when most kite manufacturers added emergency quick-release systems. "So that whenever something goes wrong, it activates like an eject system and then it depowers the kite completely," he explains. "You are still held by the leash on your waist, but the kite has no more power and is not running away from you. But you need a half-second or a second to hit the quick-release system. Sometimes you don't have the time to do that. That's what happened to Alex. Alex Caviglia."

Caviglia, a 47-year-old Pinecrest resident and president of Adventure Sports, suffered severe head trauma at Matheson Hammock Park on Tuesday, November 12, 2003. It was a very windy day, with gusts exceeding 30 miles per hour blowing directly toward the parking lot, whose northeastern perimeter virtually abuts the water's edge. As Caviglia was preparing to launch (without a helmet) only a few paces into the shallows, a squall filled his kite. A witness said that in seconds Caviglia was picked up and slammed down three times, first onto the narrow strip of sand at the shoreline; then onto the edge of the parking lot, where his head struck a cement parking buffer; and finally onto the asphalt alongside his parked BMW. Unconscious, he was airlifted to the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He remained in a coma until his death a few weeks later. This past January his widow, Silvia Caviglia, filed a liability lawsuit against Adventure Sports and its owner Neil Pryde, Ltd.

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