British Columbia·Photos

High-flying kiteboarders clash over title in Squamish

This weekend, some of the best kiteboarders in the world will be taking off in Squamish as they compete for the Canadian title in the Kite Clash championship.

'It is very much like flying, and you can be in the air for six, seven, 10 seconds, sometimes'

High-flying kiteboarding in Squamish, B.C.

7 years ago
Duration 1:00
Some of the best kiteboarders in the world will be taking off in Squamish as they compete for the Canadian title in the Kite Clash championship.

Action sport athletes are drawn to Squamish like moths to a light. The area is popular with mountain bikers and has long been recognized for its world class rock climbing, but increasingly, it's the kiteboarders who flock to the town at the end of Howe Sound.

This weekend, some of the best kiteboarders in the world will be descending on Squamish for the Kite Clash competition.

"The reason why Squamish is such a good kiteboarding location is here on the Howe Sound, we're at kind of the the end of an inlet of the ocean coming in," said local professional rider Sam Medysky, 26, who is the six-time national freestyle kiteboarding champion.

Local Pro kiteboarder Sam Medysky holds six national freestyle championship titles. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"Pemberton gets really warm in the valley there and it sucks the wind through the corridor here in Squamish, and so almost every day it's clockwork here, kind of 10:00, 10:30, you can see a wind-line come in and the wind goes from an outflow to an inflow."

Medysky was on the water practicing on Wednesday, demonstrating some of the technical tricks he's working on as the large kite pulled him several metres above the water.

Jack Rider performs a stunt on his kiteboard. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"We're using a power kite that can basically generate the same amount of power that a ski boat would have. So when we're riding on the water, it's almost as if we're driving the boat and riding behind it," said Medysky.

During the three-day competition the riders will be competing in a variety of disciplines including freestyle, big air and more. Winning riders will be crowned in each event, with the Canadian freestyle winner being crowned as Canadian champion.

Lewis Crathern, 31, has travelled from New Brighton in the United Kingdom to defend the big air championship he won last year.

Professional Kiteboarder Lewis Crathern has returned to Squamish to defend his big air championship. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It is very much like flying, and you can be in the air for six, seven, 10 seconds, sometimes. You feel very connected with the kite, you're never scared," said Crathern who can be seen in a video online floating high over the Brighton Pier.

"The real dream is that the cloud sucks you up, but you're very in control," he said. "It's a very peaceful experience, because for that one time in your kitesurfing session, you actually travel with the wind when you're airborne, so it all goes quiet, and you look around."

Kiteboarder Brett Wilson lands with a splash. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Crathern's highest recorded jump took him 21.4 metres into the air, just shy of the 24 metre world record.

"It's definitely my biggest passion about the sport — it's the height," he said.

Risky sport

But Crathern's pursuit of massive airtime nearly killed him earlier this year at the Red Bull King of the Air contest in South Africa.

"I had a very serious landing and that put me in an induced coma for a week. It was quite serious, I hit my head and knocked myself out," he said.

Sam Medysky soars with the Squamish-area granite mountains in the background. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Despite the risks, the sport has become much safer since it starting out in the 1990s, according to Medysky.

"Kiteboarding, initially, when it first started out, it was almost a stunt, so to say. People would go out — there were a lot of accidents and there were some deaths in the initial stages of kiteboarding," he said. "But since then, the gear has improved, the safety has improved and now it's a lot easier to learn and a lot safer for people to learn."

Kites dot the water near Squamish, as ideal winds regularly blow through town. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Crathern said that, while in 50 knot winds it's a constant struggle with the elements to stay on the board, it's reasonably safe for the average kiteboarder who isn't pushing the limits of the sport.

"I would stand by this sport being 20 times more safer than even driving your car, for instance," he said.

Sam Medysky soars above Howe Sound. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Not just for the top athletes

Riders like Medysky and Crathern will be trying to push the sport of kiteboarding forward this weekend in Squamish, but there's room for people of all levels to take part.

Jordan Tulk's father is the event organizer, and the 13-year-old is considering competing.

Kite Clash event organizer Steven Tulk poses for a photo with his son Jordan. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"I'm not really sure yet. If there's, like , maybe like five juniors, I may go out, just for the fun of it," he said.

Tulk said his favourite part of the sport is jumping, though he doesn't get the airtime that pros like Crathern experience.

"I'm just like a couple seconds. Some people can be up there for, like, 10 seconds, it's pretty cool," said Tulk. "You kind of just like, it's almost like you're floating, kind of feel like flying,"

Kiteboarders cruise along the emerald green water of Howe Sound on Wednesday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Sierra Bentz, 23, from Hood River Oregon is planning to compete this weekend.

"This will be my first competition," she said, noting how impressed she is with the conditions at Squamish.

Sierra Bentz, 23, plans to compete for her first time at Kite Clash this weekend in Squamish. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It's the steadiest wind I've kited in, and we have the flat, buttery water in here. It's just amazing."

The competition begins on Friday and runs through Sunday.

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker