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CAO reaching new heights as kiteboarding takes off in White Rock

The sport, which has seen a spike in popularity, is to debut at the 2024 Paris Olympics

Part of the job of a city’s chief administrative officer is to weigh risks and present options to council.

But when Guillermo Ferrero is not sitting behind his desk at White Rock City Hall, he tends to throw caution to the wind.

And the harder that wind is blowing, the better.

Ferrero is one of the new faces to join White Rock’s growing kiteboarding community. Participants of the extreme sport harness the power of the wind with a kite and a modified board to glide across the water and soar through the air.

When there’s a decent breeze on the waterfront, Semiahmoo Bay is typically dotted with colourful kites and ‘kiters’ cruising the shoreline. When there’s a storm, however, beach-goers can be treated to a spectacular show of skilled kiters flying dozens of feet into the air. Ferrero’s jump record, for example, is 26 feet. The world record is about 114 feet.

Prior to accepting his job with the City of White Rock, Ferrero visited the city to see what was available recreationally. That was his first introduction to the world of kiteboarding.

“I went to East Beach and I saw a couple of guys kiting. I asked them about the sport. I didn’t know anything about it, but I had an interest in it. Immediately, they said just come down, learn, take a few lessons and we’ll help you out…. And that’s exactly what happened after I took my classes,” Ferrero said.

PHOTOS: Kite-surfers put on a show near White Rock Pier

Ferrero has since formed a network of friends through the kiting community. He spoke to Peace Arch News as a way to promote White Rock as not only a destination for kiters, but one that is backed by a strong kiting community.

What’s unique about kiteboarding in White Rock is that the shallow water makes it a great place to practice.

“The fact that it’s shallow provided me with a lot of confidence in terms of practicing things. When I was learning to jump, normally you drop the kite… It’s a lot easier to get the kite back in the air if you can reach the bottom,” Ferrero said.

“Another great advantage of White Rock is the proximity to the businesses,” Ferrero wrote to PAN, adding that a cold pint is a suitable cap to a day on the water.

At first glance, the sport may seem like a physically exhausting, ‘young guy’s’ activity, however, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

“It’s really easy on your body. People think you need to have a lot of strength for this sport,” Ferrero said. “The bar pressure, we only handle the bar with two fingers on each hand.”

Women, Ferrero added, might have an easier time getting over the steep learning curve than men, which was the case with his girlfriend Juli Halliwell, who is the CAO for the Village of Anmore.

“She has a lot of finesse with the kite. She doesn’t fight with the kite. Where men, we try ‘no, we’re just going to force it.’ The more you muscle the kite, the worse it behaves. The kite always wins.”

The three kiters PAN spoke to, a veteran, a beginner and Ferrero, all recommend that people interested in the sport take classes before trying it on their own. Ferrero said it took him several classes before he felt comfortable, while White Rock’s Carl LaBreche, who is also new to the sport, said it took him three classes to get up on the board. Veteran Chalmers Caldwell, 74, who has been kiting for 12 years, said nobody should try the sport without taking at least one class.

“The kite handling, it looks very complicated from the outside. It definitely has a steep learning curve, but once you get it, it becomes super easy,” Ferrero said.

Aside from lessons, LaBreche recommends that beginners purchase used equipment to save on cost, then upgrade as needed.

When describing the sport, both LaBreche and Caldwell said the adrenaline rush is “addictive.”

“You know, we shouldn’t be allowed to have that much fun out there, but we do,” LaBreche said.

Caldwell, who lives near the beach, sends a text to fellow kiters whenever the conditions are right. He said a good portion of the local kiting community are “people of maturity.”

“We have some young guys, there’s no question and it’s great to see them. But the preponderance of people here in White Rock are kind of older guys… We’ve got a bunch of us that are retired,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said while the sport has grown in White Rock, the hobby requires a degree of commitment and patience.

“I don’t want to bad-mouth the situation here, the problem we have in White Rock is wind sports need wind. The reality is, particularly in the summer months, we don’t really get a lot of wind in White Rock,” Caldwell said. “You’re going to be waiting for, you know, sometimes even a week or two (in the summer) before sessions because there’s no wind.”

Up the coast in Howe Sound, Squamish tends to have more consistent winds during the summer, while White Rock has more reliable wind in the spring, fall and winter.

Kiting isn’t only growing locally, it’s also making moves internationally. Kiteboard racing is set to make its Olympic debut in Paris 2024.

The sport is constantly developing, Caldwell said, which is one of the reasons he switched from windsurfing to kiteboarding about 12 years ago.

Safety features of the equipment have also dramatically improved, Ferrero added.

“We don’t buy any kites that are older than 2012 or 2013. The safety features on the new kites, designs on the new kites, on the bars, and the boards. It made the sport a lot easier. Safety wasn’t great 10 years ago,” Ferrero said.

But even with the improvements, the sport does come with risks. Last June, a kiteboarder needed to be rescued about 4 kilometres off-shore after the wind died down.

RELATED: Stranded kite surfer rescued 4 km off White Rock shores

“You can hurt yourself and you can even kill yourself and you can hurt other people, of course,” Caldwell said. “We certainly do encourage people to take at least one lesson. Just if only to find out what you don’t do. There are guys that have taught themselves, but I think they’re taking a big risk.”

One other disadvantage White Rock has when it comes to the sport – the city’s only certified coach recently relocated to Vancouver Island. Squamish, it appears, is currently the closest place to take kiteboarding lessons.

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About the Author: Aaron Hinks

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