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Jeff (The Boss) Gets Crushed

The Boss Man Jeff's personal close encounter with a kite mare

Jeff Kiting Before it went Bad
Jeff Hoxtell Kitesurfing Before it Went Bad!

Almost every kiteboarder has had at least one kitemare. I (Jeff) have been lucky over the past 10 years and have not ever been scared to death or had a really bad kitemare, until Thursday - October 28th, 2010. I made bad decisions and was not prepared with the proper kiteboarding safety gear, which ended up costing me dearly and also ended up changing the way I think and approach each kiteboarding session in the future. I believe that memories of days of youth long past allowed me to believe that I was still a strong swimmer as I was in my twenties. I can say for sure now that I am not.

The place was home, South Padre Island, Texas, in the waves of Gulf of Mexico. The first strong Norther' of the fall season started to come in slowly in the morning and by lunch time the gusts were well above 30 knots. By the time late afternoon came, the waves were well double overhead and inviting many wave junkies out on tiny kites. I have not got my small kitesurfing kite yet for the season but I thought that at my weight a Wainman Hawaii Smoke 9m was well within it's wind range.

After launching and working my way out through the inside breaks I noticed that there were some random sections crumbling way farther out. I proceeded to head farther away from shore than I should have, and enjoy the 8 mile downwinder a couple of friends and I were doing. Everything was great, for a while. The beginning of the end happened when I was charging down the line, went a bit too far and slacking the lines to the point of no return. Kite down, usually this is not a problem as I put the kite in the water at least once every two or three sessions. This time the kite inverted and relaunched flying semi-controllable but inside out. I have never seen anyone fix this with the kite in the air, nor did I think I could. I decided to put the kite back in the water and see if I could get it flipped back. Mere seconds after the kite hit the water, a random wave jacked up and broke right on my kite. I prepared for the high speed submarine ride that often follows yet never came. The wave was too big for my gear to handle. My Ozone Kite bar, which was brand new a few months earlier, blew apart just above the chicken-loop. Because I was hooked in suicide the kite leash blew apart as well. Kite and board are both gone at this point. Not good.

I was riding a bit ahead of my two friends and luckily one of them saw my kite go down, while later the other friend saw my Wainman Hawaii surfboard drifting, so both of them knew I was in some kind of trouble and they started to tack through the outside break looking for me. What they didn't know was that I was much farther out than where they were looking.

After gathering my wits I wanted to get a glance of the shore line to see how bad off I was. A few big swell passed me by yet the waves in closer to shore were so big that I couldn't see past them. I could see far enough to tell I had a very long swim ahead of me. I started swimming breast stroke but big waves keep breaking on me and holding me under. Between the swimming and the waves I started to get tired very quickly. I changed my tactics and switched to side stroke so I could see breaking waves before they got to me. This allowed me to dive into them the same way surfer does. I quickly realized two things; the chances of my friends finding me was very slim, and swimming all the way without a floatation device was going to be a serious physical test I was not sure I could even do. With a wife and a two year old, I was overcome with guilt for putting myself into this situation. Thoughts of my son growing up without me kept me motivated to keep on beyond exhaustion.

After an eternity, my friend had caught up to me. I thought they were going to ride on by. I then noticed that they stopped going down wind and appeared to be tacking around in me area, yet much closer to shore. So they were looking, but I didn't think they would find me for a long time as I was too far offshore. Finally one of them took a tack farther out, and I could tell he wa heading straight at me. I switched my side stroke to only swimming with one hand, and raised the other hand into the air so I would be easier to spot. Amazingly he saw me and dragged me into shore.

The guilt I felt that day was crushing. I still feel guilty. So many bad decisions. I will never again go out whale watching without a life jacket, or impact vest at the least. If I don't wear a life jacket I will stay much closer to shore. I will ride closer to friends and respect the buddy system rather than rigging so fast and racing off on my own. I would like to think that without the rescue I could have made it in. Memories of swimming to the end of the jetties in heavy surf seem more distant now. And the guilt I still feel is further evidence that I am not sure if I had it in me to battle my way back to shore. I was always too over confident to have heeded the warning of many who came before me from similar situations. Perhaps you are smarter than I am, if so think about consequences, make safe decisions and live to kite another day.

Learn more ways to safe while kiteboarding, such as the all important self rescue; check out Air Padre's kiteboarding tips page.

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Related News Items:

Learn How to Self Rescue - Jeff Teaches How to Properly Self-Rescue a Kite.
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