When I was 13 years old I vividly remember a kiter telling me about avoiding the ‘sushi wrap’ while kiting in waves. I’m not sure if he made that term up, but I didn’t have to ask many questions to understand that this was a situation I wanted no part of.As a sales rep and pro kitesurfer, I’m constantly telling beginners and onlookers that kiting is safe these days and that the ridiculous kitemares you’ve heard about are a thing of the past. For the most part that’s true; our gear is so safe that riding back and forth takes less effort than mowing an actual lawn. However, with the advancement of high depower surf kites, we are able to push our boundaries further into areas where the best wave of your life can also deliver the biggest punishment you’ve ever experienced.

Over the years I’ve traveled back and forth to Indonesia and on those trips I’ve encountered gusty launches, nasty terrain and dangerous waves—the kind of textbook scenarios that even the most clueless beginner would avoid; yet access to the perfect wave requires some risk taking and necessitates a bit of overconfidence. I never really blinked an eye in many of these sketchy encounters until the unthinkable happened last December, far from the jagged, shallow reefs of Indo, in the far more forgiving waters of my home in Maui.