Kite-Crazed Dudes

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

Emotional outbursts aside, Escudero, Marinkovic, and others hope the problems at Crandon Beach Park will blow over. "It was so perfect, and had we as riders managed it just a bit better, that would be a world-class location that could draw world cup events, lots of extra people coming, a spotlight on Miami as a water-based community," Marinkovic says.

Escudero envisions a kiteboarding destination in Crandon Beach Park tantamount to a world-famous ski resort. "I've been fighting for this dream for a long time and I feel that Miami deserves a good kiteboarding center, an area where people can do the sport safely, where I have clients from all over the world coming in bringing me their kids from twelve years old all the way to guys who are as old as my grandfather," he says. "Crandon has all the elements that can work. It's kind of like the Heaven [of kiteboarding]. It's like saying this is Vail, Colorado; this is Whistler for kiteboarding."

Ribot doesn't think so. "It's a nice park, it's a nice beach, but I don't think Miami will ever become a very high-density kitesurfing destination, because the wind is not steady enough for someone to invest in coming to Miami," he says. "In the winter you can have a good wind when a cold front comes down. But we don't have a regular flow of wind as consistent as the trade winds." He recommends the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, North Carolina, Hawaii, or France.

Jonathan Postal
Jonathan Postal

But some do come even in summer. During a recent afternoon on Crandon Beach, a miniature red kiteboarding kite hovers in a light breeze over a stand of trees. It is a training kite, about three feet long, too small to actually pull a rider. Sandy Heck, a 26-year-old medical student at Cornell University, is twisting a little control bar to make the kite shift directions. A fellow student, Victor Esenwa, looks on. Heck had wanted to deploy a larger kite and hit the waves, but there wasn't enough wind. Now the light breeze sustaining the training kite vanishes and it drops pathetically into the branches of one of the trees. Heck begins yanking on it, but it's stuck. Esenwa has to climb the tree to release it.

"It's intimidating at first," Heck says.

"You always hear stories -- of people's arms getting broken," Esenwa adds. "We were coming back from the D.R. a couple of months ago and saw a guy in a cast." They hadn't heard of Caviglia's death or Silva's incident. "Those are the guys who would go out in at least 50 miles per hour," Esenwa offers.

"Those guys really need to push it, I think," Heck speculates.

"Yeah, they push it," Esenwa echoes.

"We wear helmets," Heck continues.

"We wear leashes -- and life vests," adds Esenwa.

"We don't want to die doing this," Heck says. "I haven't seen anybody hurt by it though -- so far."

If they stick around and get good enough they might. "Uh, that was my boat," Marinkovic confesses when asked if he had heard about a collision involving a kiteboarder and a boat in Stiltsville this past spring. The rider was his friend and business colleague Matt Cohen. "Total operator error," declares Marinkovic. "He didn't actually run into my boat. He was with me in my boat, and we were doing a photo shoot. Any time you bring cameras -- video and stills -- into the realm of kitesurfing, there's that possibility. The wind picked up, it was perfect, we had two photographers on the boat, a video and still.

"You know, you're jumping a little closer to the boat than you should and the wind kind of switched directions, and I just came by the back of the boat to say, 'Hey this is over. We're done,' because there were other boats that came [into the area]. And right when I was going to say that, Matt came flying between these two boats a little too fast, kind of caught an edge, and hit the side of somebody else's boat. And he ended up breaking his femur and shattering his elbow. It definitely looked painful when we loaded him into the boat. You know he's my buddy, but that was a bonehead move."

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