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Nicoya Peninsula Day 11: Kitesurfing at Playa Hermosa

Destination: Santa Teresa

Few kid-activities in life are more enjoyable than flying a kite. Watching the comet as it dances in the air, obeying every command of the wrist is a reward in itself. Fast-forward ten years to the adult version of this simple pastime: kite boarding. Only now, that harmless kite from your childhood is 15 times larger, and you are strapped to it by a harness, riding on a surfboard. They call them extreme sports for a reason.

Today I had a pair of European kite boarders prepared to teach me the basics: instructors Franz Kandler, with seven years experience, and Juan Carlos Lascaroy, with five. Before our lesson, Juan Carlos had asked me to search "kite surfing accidents" online, to demonstrate the respect surfers should show for the wind. This instilled a bit of fear in me, and I was nervous.

Fortunately, as soon as we met my worries faded, and it became clear that my teachers were knowledgeable and good at what they do. They have surfed scenic locations all over the world, and between me from the USA, Vincent from Costa Rica, Franz from Austria, and Juan Carlos from Spain, we made up an international group with an interesting array of accents.

Before snapping me into the harness, an hour-long kite theory class was held. The experts explained the difference between kite boarding and kite surfing: the first can be done anywhere, like on sand or a lake, and the second only in the ocean with waves. I learned about the kite's makeup of one parachute attached by five lines to a harness with handle bar. We contemplated which wind windows and power zones I needed to seek out or to avoid.

Juan Carlos explained that if the kite gets out of control, I should let go of the bar and disconnect immediately. This would take a great deal of self-control, as instinct is to grab onto something solid when you sense danger. "A broken kite can be replaced or fixed. The same is not true for people," he said wisely. It normally takes at least three, four-hour sessions to grasp the primary concepts of kite surfing, but I was catching on quickly.

Next, we visited Playa Hermosa to fly, where the wind was at 14 knots. Ideal winds for beginners are around 12 knots. Because today's gusts were a bit stronger, Franz and Juan Carlos took advantage of the ideal conditions to hit the water. They demonstrated their skills with impressive tricks and jumps.

Meanwhile, I practiced on land flying a miniature kite. The kite was different and easier to maneuver than the one-stringed toys of my youth, with two cables and no metal pieces. A friendly Dutchman taught me how to perform kite circles. I was overwhelmed with youthful nostalgia and completely lost track of time. The shoreline was secluded, and apart from our group we saw only one other family riding a wind-powered beach mobile.

When the wind died down, Juan Carlos motioned me over to the large kite. He taught me how to inflate it, ribs first and then the backbone. We attached the kite's four strings and a fifth down the middle, a system allowing the kite surfer to easily launch the parachute back in the air should it fall into the water. He snapped my harness to the device, and I felt the power of the kite. Scared and excited, I couldn't take my eyes off it. I didn't want Juan Carlos to move away from me should the lines accidentally drift into a dangerous wind zone.

Still on the sand, I began to toy with the wind. I was enjoying myself, and got a thrill every time I let the wind pick me up for a few moments of flying. I was careful to remember that if I got careless the gusts could just as easily drag me into the trees or the road. Each time I jumped I was defying gravity, as if I were on the moon. I would bounce with enough energy to lift off the ground one foot, and the kite would propel me four or five feet. The sensation was new and exhilarating.

While I was learning rapidly, I still wasn't ready to try the water. Kite surfing is really not something you can learn in a day, and I had already accomplished two days' worth of work in one. For safety's sake we left the lesson there, and next time I will be that much closer to kite surfing in the ocean. Meanwhile, I participated vicariously through Franz and Juan Carlos, who had returned to the sea for more.

Nicoya Peninsula Day 11: Kitesurfing at Playa Hermosa in Pictures