The Seed of an Idea: American Phil Midler Breaks Kiteboarding Long Distance World Record
Copyright Marina Chang/The Kiteboarder Magazine
Little did we know that a random comment made at a kite shop last year would be the inspiration for two Americans to attempt to break the kiteboarding long distance world record!
Last summer, Phil Midler, 30, co-owner of XL KITES, contacted The Kiteboarder to see if we would cover his first annual downwinder event in Houston, TX. We told him it was a great local thing, but it needed to be something ‘big’ for us to do more than a quick news blurb online or in the printed magazine.
Phil’s curiosity got the best of him and he looked up the kiteboarding long distance world record. Together with Mitch Andrews, 40, a pilot for Continental Airlines, the seed was planted for the two friends to try what would become the most challenging endeavor that either could have ever imagined.
Phil and Mitch contacted the Guinness Book of World Records to get the necessary information and paperwork needed for the world record attempt. In the meantime, they researched routes that would meet their goal and decided their best chance for success was to kite from South Padre Island, TX, to Houston, TX, a distance of 257 nautical miles.
Attending the South Padre Island Kite Round Up, the forecast looked excellent on their last day at the event and the two decided to go for it early the next day.
On May 10, 2010, starting at 4 a.m., the two Americans quietly set out to break the world kiteboarding distance record. We interviewed Phil about their attempt and below is his account of what went down.
What: Kiteboarding World Record Broken by Phil Midler
Where: Texas Coast between the XLKITES shop in South Padre Island (SPI) and Sargent, Texas, next to Highway 60.
When: Monday 10 May-Tuesday 11May, 2010
Who: Mitch Andrews and Phil Midler (Phil was the only finisher)
Equipment: 10m 2010 Slingshot RPM kite, 5’4” Slingshot Celeritas surfboard
Distance Covered: Unofficially 236.51 statute miles (205.5 nautical miles) in 15+ hrs of riding. Previous record was 178.5 nautical miles.
Monday we started out at 4 a.m. getting our gear ready and making sure the chase crew had everything they needed. Our chase crew consisted of our friend Pepper for the southern portion of the ride and my wife Alesha for the finish area.
First off, Pepper is the coolest chick ever and flew down from Houston to chase us using Mitch’s car. She left SPI for Corpus at around 5 a.m., which would be the first area she would see us.
Mitch and I geared up and had a send-off by a few brave souls: Dave Horn, Chris Summers, and Norberto Ponce (local Deputy Sheriff). Dave Horn is an ordained minister so he gave us a quick prayer and we hit the water, working our way downwind.
It was 6:20 a.m., the sea breeze was averaging around 20 mph out of the south-southeast, so it was almost directly side-shore and the going was tough. Mitch was on a 12m kite and I was on a 10m because the wind was going to get much stronger as the day went on.
The First Leg
The first 70 miles were very difficult due to the wind strength and direction, so we were constantly jibing back and forth in the surf and averaging around 10-14 mph. It was slow going. Mitch felt that I had a better chance to make the record alone so he stopped south of Corpus at around 11:20 a.m. at the first place we met Pepper.
From that point forward it was a solo mission. Once I got near Corpus, around the 100-mile point, the coastline started to curve so that the south-southeast wind was more side on-shore allowing me to make better time (still constantly pumping the kite for power but making a better angle down the beach).
For this stretch, the wind was averaging in the high twenties and was gusting well over 30 so I was glad I had made the 10m size decision. Corpus to Port Aransas was the fastest leg of the ride with a great side on-shore wind. I averaged 22 mph and had a max speed of 38.4!
This was the best section for me, flying past people swimming in the surf and blowing by all the kiteboarders at Bob Hall pier. I even managed a high-speed high five from one of the boogie boarders as I rode by.
After 100 miles my legs already felt like jelly and I knew it would be a rough second half to finish that day. Neil Hutchinson, one of three riders who established the first record at 94 miles when they kited from Key West to Cuba in 2001, had given me some pointers from his journey and told me a lot of it would be mental.
He was right. The next five to six hours of riding would be a brutal test of my mental toughness.
The next point I saw the chase crew was in Port Aransas before the jetties. The time was just before 4;25 p.m. After that point I would enter a very remote section of the Texas Coast called Matagorda Island.
These are a set of barrier islands about 65-70 miles long with no access, no people, and nothing resembling civilization. I met Mitch and Pepper at Port Aransas after about nine hours of riding and made the decision to go for the record riding solo across the Matagorda island section.
After a short break to cram down a cookie and drink some water, I left and started the process of cutting upwind to get around the half-mile long Port Aransas jetties. This was no small feat on a surfboard set up for downwind riding and in 15 foot breaking surf!
After 30 minutes of struggling, I finally made it around the jetties and entered the most remote part of the ride, the Matagorda barrier islands. For the next 65-70 miles, I would see no other vehicles, people, or buildings.
By this time, the coastline had shifted enough so that I was now edging on my board, cutting slightly upwind to stay with the coastline. I was still making great time, but the direction made getting around the inlet jetties and debris in the surf very difficult.
The toughest jetties to navigate around were just past the Port O’Conner inlet to the east. I was cutting hard upwind, riding parallel to huge breaking surf, when I was actually thrown onto the granite jetty because I was too close. I was very tired, and the heelside tack was so much easier that I kept getting closer and closer to the jetty on my heelside before switching to toeside to get around it.
I landed board first and managed to escape to the other side of the jetty with only scraping the skin off the front of my right shin. I stopped on the other side after clearing the jetties to inspect the injury and was surprised to see that despite all of the blood it was only a flesh wound.
By now I was approaching 12 to 13 hours of riding and it was starting to get dark. I knew that I had one more set of jetties to get around and I was worried about doing it at night. I rode for about an hour after dark and finally stopped.
The wind was blowing about 25-30 mph and was directly onshore, if not slightly onshore in the wrong direction. I had been riding upwind hard for the last two hours.
I committed to spending the night on this remote spit of land until it was light enough to finish the ride. This was about 215-220 miles (via GPS) from our start point in South Padre Island.
I wasn’t worried about my night on the island and knew I’d be fine. I’ve been in much worse situations while climbing remote mountains around the world. I set up camp by digging a hole in the sand and putting my kite over it to protect me from the wind.
I had taken a space blanket with me on the trip in case of something like this, but little did I know that it was sized for an elf! Nevertheless, it was still useful and I used it to keep my upper body warm until it was light again.
I knew the chase crew was worried about me and I didn’t want them to scramble the authorities, so after a short reprieve I left my makeshift shelter, got my cell phone from the dry bag and tried to climb around on the dunes to find a signal and get them a message.
After an hour or so, I was able to get a short text to Mitch and Alesha telling them I was fine.
Daylight came slowly as it had been a cold, windy night. At around 4:30 to 5 a.m., I started gearing up for the final push to safety. After lying down for so long my whole body ached from the previous day’s accomplishments.
I remembered a talk I had with Neil about his trip in the open ocean and was just thankful that I was able to make it to shore for a safe night sleep. I had run out of food and water overnight so I was pretty anxious to reach the finish.
The last 10-12 miles was upwind riding in a crazy shorebreak and it took me a long time, close to two hours, to make it. I finally got to the last set of jetties and, after a battle, made it to the inside of the inlet and the end of my trek.
The beach where I landed was smack in the middle of a construction zone with a woman named Dorothy monitoring the site to keep people out of the area, due to the large machinery. She said, “Hey, you’re not supposed to be here,” and I said, “I’ll only be a second, I just broke a world record!” She replied, “Where did you come from?” and I said, “South Padre Island.”
Dorothy decided to let me stay in the end and even signed an affidavit to the fact that she had seen me come ashore here.
I’m also an avid mountaineer and have encountered many challenges but this long distance crossing was as mentally and physically demanding as many of my 20,000 plus peak climbs.
Three days later my legs still burn and feel like noodles. I’m glad we made the attempt and am proud that I broke the record but I don’t know if I’ll ever do something like this again!
Phil’s unofficial record is 27 miles ahead of Steen Carsten’s current record of 178.5 nautical miles. Pending Guinness Book of World Records verification, Milder beat the current record at 8:15 am armed with a 2010 10 meter Slingshot RPM and a 5’4” Slingshot Celeritas surfboard by completing 205.5 Nautical miles from the XLKITES shop in South Padre Island to Matagorda, TX.
Phil Midler Facts/Background:
- Started kiteboarding at the end of 2004.
- Regularly does local endurance runs with Mitch Andrews and many other locals of 30-80 miles in length
- Co-owner of XLKITES (locations in Fort Walton Beach, Houston, Dallas, and South Padre Island)
- Finished second in pro division of downwind race at SPI Round-Up two days before his record ride
- Competitive collegiate runner
- Completed the Boston Marathon in under three hours
- Sponsored climber/mountaineer with multiple 20,000 ft. peak climbs
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