Winter play: Snowkiting on White Bear Lake
For the last week and a half we have been having a lot of fun with our "Winter Play" series.
We asked members of the MPR News staff to go out and try some winter activities which were new to them. So far we have had fat tire biking, ice-climbing, dog sledding, ice-dipping and winter birding.
And now, it's the turn of our intrepid north central Minnesota reporter, Mathew Holding Eagle III, who joins us from our Bemidji bureau.
Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.
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Hey, Matthew, how are you?
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: I'm well. Thank you.
CATHY WURZER: Good. What did you try?
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: Well, why don't we listen to some tape of me in action, and see if you can guess.
CHAD DOBSON: Turn it back up. Turn it back up!
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: Argh!
CATHY WURZER: OK.
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: Hey!
CATHY WURZER: That does not sound positive, Matthew. What were you doing?
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: So that's me kiteboarding.
CATHY WURZER: OK.
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: I was riding a snowboard while harnessed to an enormous kite, which pulled me across White Bear Lake-- at least that's the beginning of the audio. The first big grunt was me falling. And the second yell was me letting my instructor know I was OK.
CATHY WURZER: OK. Is this what you see down in Florida and Mexico, like, kite surfing in the ocean? I mean, obviously, it's different. We're talking about ice.
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: Yeah. When I decided to try this, I thought to myself, if I fall, it'll be OK, because snow is soft. It was only when I got there that I really focused on the fact that snow on top of a lake-- ice is really hard. That makes it great for boarding across, but not so good for wiping out.
CATHY WURZER: Yeah. So any bumps, bruises, broken things?
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: I didn't break anything. So that was good.
CATHY WURZER: Good.
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: But I definitely had some bruising, especially across my thighs, where the harness had been. I joked with Euan Kerr that I was glad it was cold out so my internal organs weren't liquefied from all the crashes.
CATHY WURZER: Oh.
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: But other than my pride, nothing hurt too bad.
CATHY WURZER: Good. All right. So you had instructors, yes. Who was there?
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: Well, I drove down to White Bear Lake to meet Chad Dobson. He's the owner of Dynamic Kiteboarding. He explained what we were going to do. And he had me sign that all-important legal release, in case I did do some damage to my body. We got along really well. He told me he moved to Minnesota from Montana in the summer and missed skiing. And then, one day, he saw someone riding behind a kite across White Bear Lake, and he knew he wanted to try it.
Here's what he said.
CHAD DOBSON: Ever since then, it's just been an absolute love affair-- kiting. And then I've been teaching since 2006. And I love giving back to the sport. I love seeing people get those first rides across the lake. Whether it's snow or open water in the summer, it's just fantastic.
CATHY WURZER: OK. So you're there on this lake-- White Bear Lake-- big sheet of ice there. How did you get started?
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: The first thing was to learn how to handle the kite. It's kind of rectangular, but is made up of several vertical cells which catch the wind and fill it with air. We started with a practice kite. And Chad had me launch it into the air and started tracing figure-eight patterns in the air. I controlled it with a handlebar, with a line on each end attached to the sides of the kite-- kind of like a bicycle. I also learned about the third line, which I could pull and collapse the kite if I felt it getting out of control.
I also practiced using the wind to raise me from a sitted position to a standing position, which I learned is really vital for this sport if you are using a snowboard.
CATHY WURZER: OK. I'm assuming this kite is pretty big.
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: The one I used was 14 meters.
CATHY WURZER: OK. Yeah, substantial. Substantial, right?
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: Yes.
CATHY WURZER: So that area of White Bear Lake is a pretty big body of water, right? So I'm assuming the wind, as it whips across the lake, is pretty powerful.
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: Oh, yeah. It can pull. I'm pretty solid. But it was gusty out there in the middle of the lake. I got pretty good at reaching for that center line as I found myself getting pulled out across the lake. You can see a picture of me being yanked off my feet on the MPR News website.
CATHY WURZER: Nice.
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: And remember, I was still in my snowboarding boots without a board. I was really beginning to appreciate the importance of the helmet on my head.
CATHY WURZER: I bet. All right. So you got airborne. I bet that felt pretty amazing.
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: It was a little unnerving, but at the same time it was exciting. So they both cancel each other out.
CATHY WURZER: OK. So what happened?
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: OK. So I have to come clean here. Chad strongly suggested that I start by wearing skis. He told me it was easier. But I snowboarded a few years back in Colorado. So I told him I wanted to go straight to the board. Against his better judgment, he said OK. And I stepped into the bindings, and Chad attached the kite to my body through a harness. And I was good to go. Or at least in theory.
The first few rides were not easy. First of all, there was that challenge of moving from the seated position to standing. Then there was learning how to balance my body weight against the pull of the kite. Too far back, and I wiped out that way. Too far forward, and you risk being dragged across the ice like a can tied to the back of a car with a Just Married sign. I did both a couple of times. I was really glad for my crash helmet. But then I got smart.
CATHY WURZER: I would hope so. Did you switch to skis?
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: I did switch to skis, like Chad suggested. And it was like night and day. Soon, I was whizzing back and forth across the snow. And I was really riding the wind.
CATHY WURZER: Now, that had to feel great.
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: Oh, boy, it was exhilarating. I used to buy those little cheap 99-cent plastic kites that would break after a couple of crashes. And sometimes I would pretend I was flying along with it in the sky. This was like that times 10. On the snowboard, I didn't last too long. But on the skis, I feel like I could have gone as long as there was wind.
CATHY WURZER: OK. I want to know what Chad said about your trips. I mean, does he think you've got promise as a kite boarder?
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: Well, Chad said what I went through was typical for a new kite boarder. If you focus on the kite too much, you forget about the board. And that's a problem. If you focus on the board, you can forget about the kite. And that's a problem. But eventually, he says, you learn how to multitask.
Here's what he said.
CHAD DOBSON: Things start to click. And as you progress, everything starts to slow down. I don't mean you physically slow down, but the whole movement of the kite and your reaction time-- because so much of it becomes muscle memory and it falls into the background so you're not having to think about it-- and before you know it, you'll literally be riding around one-handed and watching the other kiters or watching the sunset or watching the eagles fly by, or whatever, and you realize, I'm not even paying attention to the kite anymore.
CATHY WURZER: Oh, wait a minute. Riding one-handed. Oh, really? I would like to see that. Say, I want to know-- we've got about a minute and a half here-- is this expensive to learn how to do this?
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: Well, it is. Price is probably the biggest limiting factor for people. It's $270 for the first lesson, which lasts about 3 to 3 and 1/2 hours. After that, it's $100 an hour, with a two-hour minimum. If you'd like to buy the equipment yourself, it can run anywhere from between $1,300 and $2,200 just for the kite. Most of the equipment was adjustable. So it was like a one-size-fits-all-type deal when I went.
CATHY WURZER: OK. And then, as we go here, would you try this again?
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: Ew, I would definitely try it again. But for my lifestyle, all the preparation and planning, which you should absolutely do, isn't practical for me. It's a time commitment, especially like with anything if you want to improve and get better. For me, the price would also be an issue. Yeah, it's expensive.
CATHY WURZER: Yeah, but you did it. And that's what counts, Matthew. I'm happy you did that. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Take care of yourself.
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: You're welcome.
CATHY WURZER: Talk to you later.
MATTHEW HOLDING EAGLE: You have to do kiting.
CATHY WURZER: Matthew Holding Eagle, III, of course, is our news reporter in our Bemidji Bureau. He's now our kiteboarding correspondent. You can see all the Winter Play stories at mprnews.org. Thanks for listening to Minnesota Now.
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