Kite-Crazed Dudes

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

Marinkovic remains incredulous about his former business partner's death. "The wind was almost unkiteable. Twenty-five to thirty-five knots, dead onshore. And a launch that took place within six feet of the beach? You can't do that," he says with exasperation. "I mean, geez, we have buoys there that say you have to launch on the outside of the buoys. Everybody's aware of it. The rules are clearly placed in front for everybody to see, and you walk your kite outside of the buoys. Plain and simple. You do that, there's no problem."

Marinkovic believes it was "overconfidence" that killed Caviglia. "It's a classic thing. You've been doing it for a long time and you think that you have control of something that maybe you don't. You would never, ever, ever do that," he stresses. "He also had way too large of a kite. Two guys just came in off the water with smaller kites than he had and said, 'Don't go out.'"

Jonathan Postal
Jonathan Postal

Ironically, Matheson Hammock remains a model for harmonious kiteboarder self-regulation. A small group of dedicated riders drafted a list of rules and posted them several years ago. The most important rule requires that launching and riding take place beyond a marker that is located about 500 feet offshore. Despite Caviglia's accident, wearing a helmet is not on the list. Nor do park authorities restrict the number of kiteboarders at Matheson.

"There are a couple of guys who are always there, local riders. Everyday they are there, so they reinforce their guidelines that they developed together and most people follow them," Ribot submits. "If it works in Matheson, that means it can work everywhere. As long as you have the right people who set the right rules and reinforce them."

The Matheson Hammock site has been free of an additional danger at Crandon: one kiteboarder's fist slamming into another's face. Tensions between Ribot and Escudero simmered for years as the two ran rival kiteboarding schools. Each claims to have opened the first one. Emotions erupted this past November during the Kite for Girls competition on Crandon Beach. Ribot says he confronted Escudero because he was "putting too many riders at the same time in the same spot." Escudero did not concur. "Eventually we meet again and we talk again, and one day he just lost his temper and got pissed off and knocked me on the face," Ribot claims.

Ribot called the police. "I wanted to scare him a little bit, more than send him to jail, to get him to calm down. But the guy is a hothead. That affects the business," the Frenchman explains. By the time the police came, Escudero had left the scene. "[The police] asked me, 'Do you want to go further?' and I just dropped the charges."

Escudero prefers to teach in what he calls a "reality-based environment." "Let's say a guy from Indianapolis, from somewhere in the Great Lakes, comes down and learns on the beautiful sandbars off Crandon Park," the voluble 32-year-old begins. "He gets driven out on a boat. He doesn't learn the basic setup of everything, he doesn't learn how to do a good site survey. He just gets tossed out on a little beautiful sandbar, like a pool, and learns the sport. Then he goes back to the Great Lakes, has a difficult launching area, onshore wind, launches his kite, ends up in a tree, loses his life or has a serious accident. I actually sometimes even like to teach at Hobe Beach because you've got a bunch of drunk people, a bunch of kids hanging around, you got Jet Skis right next to the buoys, you've got all this, like, hostile environment. So I say, 'Hey, how can we get out there and have some fun today? How can we observe these kids? How can we see these drunk people as a menace? How can we get out there, have some fun in the bay, come back in, wrap up our kite, have a wonderful day kiteboarding without obstructing anybody else?' So that really brings awareness of the reality of the sport and what to look for so you don't have a bad accident."

So far county authorities haven't bought Escudero's approach. Nor have some of the most accomplished kiteboarders. "There were too many people being taught there and it made it difficult for the performance guys to kite there. So there might have been kind of a clash," Marinkovic opines diplomatically. Regarding Escudero, he adds: "I like the guy, I get along great with him, but he's a hothead."

Ray Garcia, one of a few riders who tend to kite off the relatively uncrowded beach at 87th Street in Surfside, says that when Escudero teaches in that area, it has been difficult to convince him to do so away from the Jet Ski concession. Still he admits that accidents on an abandoned beach can jeopardize people hundreds of yards away. During his worst experience, he released himself from his kite, which ended up descending safely into the swimming pool of a Surfside condominium complex.

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