There is a solid groundswell hitting the reef as we pull off the highway. Dane, my 16-year-old son, has only been kitesurfing for a little over a year so after-school sessions are a new thing for us. The sets are double overhead plus and this time, my usual stoke of anticipation is mixed in with some concern. “Dane, you don’t have to kite today if this is a bit much,” I say as we pull our wetsuits out of the car. It seems like there are good lulls between the sets and it might be the right day for Dane to conquer his first big reef break. My mind races through a list of crucial advice, “Just steer clear of the bombs,” I add. But to make matters a bit dire, from the cliff I can see the shore pound is seriously violent: tons of water unloading with a wicked rip running south. “Whatever you do, stay north of the middle of the beach.”

I know he can handle this. My wife has made multiple pleas with me to keep Dane out of the big stuff until he is ready. I think he’s ready, but there’s no guarantees on what happens to any of us when we put ourselves into the chaos of large surf. We head down to the beach to rig. Ok, I think to myself. In between sets it seems like getting outside is manageable but I have the luxury of footstraps. Dane is new school, no straps. “Listen Dane, play it safe today. No need to push your game to the edge when it’s this size.” Dane is focused and up for the challenge. That’s part of being 16—the biggest poundings are ahead of him, which means he’s still short on ocean experience and certainly operating without fear.

Honestly, I’m now regretting this decision to take my son out here. As we pump up our kites a huge set blows through. A few friends are on the beach and from my sense of things, they are impressed with his courage and appalled by my poor judgement. Am I an idiot for letting it get this far? Yeah, we’re already in wetsuits and rigged up, but I could still call it off. I bite my tongue and Dane makes the call. “Launch me dad, I’m ready to go.”

We hit the water. I’m keeping an eye on him. Ok, this is working out. He drops in on a decent sized ‘tweener’ that rolls through—yeah, he’s got this! I’m so stoked but still nervous because we haven’t seen a big set yet. He gets another one. Damn, how did he get so good so quick? I told him only a few years earlier that learning this sport requires a lot of patience. Dane is very patient, but with that said, he bounded through the learning curve with huge strides. It’s not just me, everyone’s noted his progression; it’s clear he’s ready for this.

Growing up mere feet from the Davenport Landing, Dane has pushed the bounds of progression while quickly mastering the basics of performance kitesurfing in the hallowed reef breaks north of Santa Cruz. // Photo Tom Kelly

Oh shit . . . I catch sight of a huge set looming on the horizon. Where’s Dane? I spot his kite on the inside, he’s just kicking out the back of his last wave. There is a lot of west in the swell, with that direction and this size, sets can wall up and close out across the entire bay. Not good. Waves are stacked to the horizon. Mountains of water are piling up and in vain, I wish Dane was safe back on the beach. What the hell was I thinking? If I could only tell him to tack back and race to dry land, but his kite is still heading out, racing out to sea as big water races in. It’s a game of high stakes chicken. Damn, I wish he had footstraps—he could air over each wave. I really wish we were back home watching surf videos. Please stay focused Dane. Don’t fall. Panic is your enemy. The truth is that I have enough panic for both of us.

The ocean can be very scary, particularly when your kids are challenging it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my days as a surfer, tow surfer and now kitesurfer, it’s that the ocean always wins. We simply survive it. Dane survived the monster set that day and kited to the horizon, halfway to Hawaii before jibing on the outside. What didn’t kill him made him stronger (and full of adrenaline). As the sun lowered in the sky that evening, the magic hour was upon us. Dane and I closed it down with perfect 10-footers coming through with an occasional 12-foot set in what may be the best kitesurfing day of our lives so far.

It all unfolded for me that day—Being a parent is a trade-off between allowing your kids to take risks and guarding the brake pedal for their protection. You prepare them for these challenges, but eventually you have to let them jump into the thick of it without a safety net. I am truly blessed to share the sport I love with my son, but it was an adventure that started only when he was ready. Our shared experience has evolved so fast in the past two years; from his first body drag to driving bottom turns and now boosting airs. Passing the obsessive torch of kitsurfing to the next generation was just a natural progression; Dane was always in the driver’s seat and I was riding along for assistance and encouragement. They learn so quick and one day they kite down the line right past you on the road to stoke. Now he’s teaching me stuff. Who knows, maybe someday soon I’ll chuck the footstraps.


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