The life of a Central Oregon athlete includes a dose of adaptability. A surfer takes to a river wave or carves a bank of winter powder, mountain bikers adopt fat tires for snowy trails, or kiteboarders explore alpine lakes instead of heading for the Columbia Gorge or Oregon Coast. Living in Bend, there are tell-tale signs of the wind as it kicks up along the river and fills flags along the parkway and Old Mill. Folks visiting mountain lakes attest to weather systems that often set in about 1 p.m. in the afternoon, with thermal conditions that suck air from the cooler mountains across bodies of water as they are drawn to the warmer desert. On days of the strongest wind, a kiter might get lucky and hit a jackpot at higher elevations where wind, space for a safe kite launch, and water meet—at Wickiup Reservoir, Crescent or Odell Lakes. “You get hooked on the power of the wind pretty quickly as a free resource from nature,” says Michael Giebelhaus, founder of KiteLine, the online resource for all things related to wind sports he founded in Bend more than 20 years ago.
Michael’s excitement for these sports began in 1999 when he saw power kites pull three-wheeled buggies across the Alvord Desert, and he has watched an evolution of wind sports. Kiteboarding also has deeper roots in the sport of windsurfing. Peaking in the 1980s, windsurfing combined the thrill of board sports with the dynamic power of the harnessed wind. While waiting on shore for peak wind speeds needed to windsurf, innovators soon imagined and designed long-lined, hand-held kites to replace the sails anchored to a windsurfing board by mast and boom. Untethered, kiteboarding pioneers were daredevils, because launching from land with 12 meter-plus kites in 20 m.p.h. winds could quickly take a sportsman up in a gust up and down in a precipitous drop. With the advent of inflatable, leading-edge bow-style kites in the mid-2000s, the safety of depowered kites created a more accessible sport and gave rise to the sport taught today. Taking it further, kiteboarding has expanded to include foiling and wing kiting. Just several years old, wing kiting is even more accessible as it gives the rider a smaller, hand-held kite to propel them on a board, whether a more advanced hydrofoil or an easy stand-up paddleboard, for “instant satisfaction,” says Giebelhaus.
It’s no surprise that in Bend, with a large group of athletes, adventurers and transplants from coastal areas, the kite community is strong. Even without a lodge, beach or local wave as a place to congregate, it doesn’t take long to find common threads between a skier, snowboarder, or surfer to the sport of kiting—whether a person has been kiting for years or is hoping to learn.
For this group of intrepid, and patient, kiteboarders in Bend, making mountain work for their sport includes a fair share of science. To estimate if a day is “kiteable,” a person must understand wind meters, atmospheric science, and in essence “be their own forecaster,” says Giebelhaus. The payoff is clear, white-capped waters set at the base of snow-topped peaks for one of the most dramatic kiteboarding settings around. A bonus: Wickiup Reservoir is less than an hour’s drive from downtown Bend.
Wickiup Reservoir can provide ideal conditions for kiting: wide expanses of water, a sandy launch from the dam or southern campsites, and of course, wind. Timing is everything though, both for wind and water. The window for water is spring through early summer, after which water levels lower and can reveal stumps and dangerous submerged obstacles. Bet right and the win is a frequently wide-open reservoir, except for a few curious fishermen in boats or sitting on the dam. Ideally, kiting from any lake includes a partner either on land or in the water for safety. Zachary Price of Bend estimates he was able to kite at Wickiup 1-2 times per week this past year, and he was often the only one on the water. “It’s a really special place to kite, surrounded by trees and in pure, pure water compared to the Gorge,” he says.
Kiteboarding today is a gateway to a whole family of wind sports including foiling, land- and snow-kiting, and wing foiling, all of which are accessible in Central Oregon depending on the season. However, it’s important to respect the power of natural elements by taking lessons from a certified professional before heading out on the water for the first time. “It’s exciting to be your own speedboat,” Michael Giebelhaus says. “With a kite, you can be both a passenger and driver at once.”
Learn to kiteboard. Go fly a kite.
Kite-flying skills are at the core of the sport. Learn with a specially-designed trainer kite on a windy afternoon in Central Oregon. Open spaces with strong winds include Big Sky or Pine Nursery Parks. Trainer kites available at Kite-Line.com
Ready to combine kite skills with water and the board? Head to Floras Lake on the Southern Oregon Coast for a friendly lesson from the Brady Family who have run the local windsurfing and kiteboarding school for 20+ years. FlorasLakeKiting.com
For more advanced lessons, or to watch talented riders exhibit the latest new trends in the sport, including foiling and wing foiling, head to the Hood River Event Site, 2.5 hours from Bend. PortofHoodRiver.com