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Vol. 18, No. 2: The Park In Flux

Amidst one of Baja’s most pristine cardon forests, Noè stabbed a short yellow- handled shovel into the estuary bank of Choco Lake, displacing a healthy payload of sand and muck in an attempt to actualize our mental concept of an untapped potential within kiteboarding. Moving sand like an underfunded Army Corp of Engineers in a foreign country, we shoveled endlessly, our wetsuits peeled down halfway as our vision for a transition pool took form. What could have taken minutes with a backhoe took us a full day of hard digging in the blistering heat, accentuating the calluses on our hands caused by weeks of clinging onto our kite bars. Through it all, our only sustenance was two desert-warm beers graciously donated by an interested or perhaps sympathetic passerby. Anyone who has ever been involved in the construction of a kite park will tell you it doesn’t come easy, especially when your primary material is sand. The power of water, wind and long, tireless sessions keep the grains in flux and the park features on the move. Each morning, we began reconstructing our sand-based park, sometimes by the day and sometimes by the hour. Although frustrating at times, this impermanence is what helped sear constant change and innovation into our Choco sessions.

Sequential tire hits are much smoother with lots of speed and a bit of Mexi dish detergent. // Photo Noè Font

Down a sandy, rutted jeep track outside of La Ventana, there’s a remote estuary that, in the dry months of Baja’s winter, becomes isolated from the Sea of Cortez, forming a shallow body of water with immaculate surface tension. Even on the windiest of days, the water remains unbroken, elegantly mirroring the dunes and infinite sea of cacti that fortify this muddy puddle and sustain its buttery flat conditions. During Baja’s notoriously windy winter, this small lagoon has slowly gained a quiet yet solid reputation as an uncharted freestyle playground. The Sea of Cortez and its sandy shoreline became our home for a month-long stint of manual excavation and structural manipulation. Like aspirational kids in a sandlot, Noè and I rolled back the clock and embraced the fascination of our youth, excavating, sculpting and rearranging in an attempt to dispute the fact that sand does not innately possess properties of structural integrity.

The muted colors of Baja’s coastal landscape come alive in Choco’s blossoming beds of Salicornia. With a medium to hard flex pattern, Xander lays his might into a high-speed tail press, pushing the Gambler up against its limits. // Photo Noè Font

However, the malleability and erosive composition of Baja’s ethereal desert sand did not deter our feverish commitment to build and exploit our wildest creations. We scavenged the small Mexican town like two decrepit pirates; our galleon was a midlevel rental car, and our glimmering treasures were objects that possessed structural promise—which coincidentally, most locals considered trash. Exploring back alleys and the outer edges of town, our eager and easily excitable eyes delivered us victors of our explorations, securing plunder of worn-out truck tires and heavy logs of Durango pine. We combined our scavenges with a plastic culvert provided by the local park riding crew, and grain by grain, we transformed the petite estuary of Choco Lake into a diverse kite park that reflected our elaborate visions.

Having my foot in both kiteboarding and snowboarding, building features surrounded by dunes and towering green cardon cacti turned out to parallel long days shoveling snow in the backcountry for the promise of an immaculate white cheese wedge with a soft powdery landing. Moving truckloads of material like snow or sand for the sake of creating faux terrain to hit with our boards is an extensive commitment, but this is the kind of creativity that pushes progression and introduces a new dimension to what we can do with a kite and a plank of Paulownia wrapped in fiberglass. In many ways, we are merely following in the footsteps of those who came before us. It’s a narrow path, hard-worn by only the legends of our sport—those who spent their youthful years pushing kiteboarding in a specific direction and injecting the early kite scene with the fundamental values of core boardsports. Guided by unspoken principles, skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding have sustained the purity of their cultures through multiple generations. The concept of legitimacy survives as an ongoing recognition of particular techniques, attitudes and styles that guide the continuation of progression and dismantle that which undermines this undying pulse. For this reason, localism thrives in surfing while aggression and angst are pumped through the veins of each subsequent generation of skaters and snowboarders without apology. Without a quiver of hesitation, these three boardsports are driven by their fiery culture of legitimacy. On the other hand, a sport like kiteboarding has been guided by its roots in windsurfing and sailing, historically, both cultures that have never obsessed over the purity of style, form and the authenticity of grabs; fundamental components of other boardsports which are written in stone. Kiteboarding has never truly been guided by those same central principles of legitimacy until a youthful movement lead by a modest group of luminaries laid a small but solid foundation for kiteboarding’s place as a core boardsport.

Trailblazing across a homegrown tire feature; lots of digging and a helping dose of suds keep the rubber side up and slippery. // Photo Noè Font

The humble origins of park riding got started with Andre Phillip, Jason Slezak and Mauricio Abreu, just to name a few. Small pipes gave way to large and dangerous wood structures, but those earliest attempts curated the foundation for the second wave of riders to build upon, those of which shaped my inspiration and redefined the standards of their predecessors. This second wave of riders influenced the direction of kiting’s boardsports progression and did so as a collective power—they were known throughout the industry as the Freeride Project in the UK and the NA Blend crew here in the Americas. This elite group of riders deviated from kiting’s association as a sailing sport and brought kiteboarding into parity alongside the iconic boardsports of skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding. When the world came to an abrupt halt in the spring of 2020, isolation became the standard and facilitated many of kiteboarding’s park riding pioneers to reset their focus and enter the business side of the industry. These days, riders such as Aaron Hadlow, Brandon Scheid, Craig Cunningham, Sam Light, Sam Medysky, Alex Fox, Tom Court and James Boulding help sew the threads that keep the industry operative. These are the riders who helped materialize the existence of slider parks and seared park riding and its core boardsports association into the archives of what will be recognized as kiteboarding history. The combination of travel bans and the revised career roles of these park heroes created what we saw as a void in the kiteboarding industry and introduced the opportunity to regroup and organize a targeted trip to sustain the momentum, proudly stepping up to ensure the survival of the park movement.

 

Colorful mugshots of Colleen, Noè and Xander. // Photos The Flux Crew

In an effort to reinforce kiteboarding’s status as a core boardsport, Noè Font, Colleen Carroll, Lucas Arsenault and I began to circulate idealistic plans for a long-awaited trip. Typically, a trip with high-minded goals requires its riders to travel to the far reaches of the globe and claim their stakes in a new, unfamiliar location. However, amidst a global pandemic, such a fantasy quickly proved to be a delusion as our group had to find a location feasible of convergence from three different countries; Noè was departing from Spain, Lucas from Canada, and Colleen and myself from the United States. After weeks of planning and assessing the constantly changing global travel restrictions and guidelines, La Ventana, Mexico, became our most viable option. As a premier kiteboarding destination during North America’s winter offseason, La Ventana’s backdrop has been thoroughly exploited in visual media by mainstream kiteboarding, but for this trip, we fixated on the small estuary outside of town, a misplaced corner that hasn’t been over-saturated with coverage.

Colleen Carroll sets into a styled frontside boardslide using the park’s existing corrugated up tube. It’s best to mind the ridges and your rail. // Photo Xander Raith

Unfortunately, a week before departure, Canada revised its pandemic travel guidelines, forcing Lucas to file for reimbursement and make the most of riding in Canada’s frigid waters. For Noè and myself, it was our first time in Mexico and upon arrival, we both quickly succumbed to the allure of Baja’s deliciously affordable Mexican cuisine and local hospitality. We were further dumbfounded by the fields of cacti that covered the mountains with mixed desert scrub extending as far as the eye could see. While Noè and I blissfully supported the town’s tourism by renting quads for sightseeing and exploring, Colleen, having visited La Ventana a handful of times, watched our curious wanderings from afar with the experience of a seasoned veteran. Prior to arriving in Mexico, Colleen kindly warned Noè and me of the possibility that La Ventana could bare light wind and that we should be prepared by packing our largest kites. Coincidentally, the famed ‘El Norte,’ a pressure system that circulates wind through the region, began blowing when we arrived and its momentum continued through the entirety of the trip. The only kites to come out of our bags were two trusty 9m Vegas models for Noè and me and an 8m Dice for Colleen.

A view of South Beach; the once quaint fishing town turned windsports mecca of La Ventana sits at the foothills of the Cacachilas Mountains. Noè Font slips into the bay for a few passes and grabs. With a month of incredibly consistent winds, his 9m Vegas was the only kite to come out of its bag. // Photo Xander Raith

For those who have yet to experience La Ventana, the wind is consistent, the bay is turquoise blue and it is a quintessential wintertime destination for any watersport enthusiast. That being said, Noè, Colleen and I were not particularly interested in mowing laps out front with the herd. Instead, we found ourselves spending nearly every day in the small lagoon known as Choco Lake. However, a more accurate description may be a stagnant muddy puddle. This shallow mud pit was certainly not a turquoise paradise, but it did provide us with the exact conditions we were hoping for. The lagoon offered flat water, and because it was only a few inches deep, it was the perfect location for building features and constructing a park-inspired playground. Thanks to the dedication of local riders before our arrival, the lagoon was already home to a few round PVC pipes and a long, corrugated tube. During the first few days, we enjoyed the preexisting rail setup, rode with the local crew and filmed as much as possible, acting collectively as a one-man band and swapping hats between riders, park builders and media personnel.

Xander and Noè take a break from their transition pool project to snap a high-altitude self-portrait of one configuration before moving the pieces of the park puzzle. // Photo Noè Font

“Noè and I became human excavators, moving and rearranging enough sand to seemingly fill every pothole in all of Baja.”

We found ourselves conjuring up more elaborate features that would bring distinction to Choco’s existing layout. As we sat on the edge of the lagoon, fantasizing and pitching ideas that we hoped would pacify our ambition, we both settled on the erection of a transition pool, utilizing two shovels and the resources at hand. In the days that followed, Noè and I became human excavators, moving and rearranging enough sand to seemingly fill every pothole in all of Baja. Unlike factory-built park features that are smooth, our garbage-inspired setups were largely primitive and anything but slick. Objects like tires are not celebrated for their slipperiness, so we improvised. The secret ingredient to our success was none other than the Mexican equivalent of Dawn dish soap, whose ocean-safe suds acted as a lubricant for the grippy rubber tires and the rough bark of the Durango logs. Although Duotone’s standard-issue Gambler deck comes with a renowned grind base designed for the beating, Noè and I took our fair share of abuse, becoming victims to the brutality of our own creations. Sliding sideways across all-terrain radials or leaning into a nose press on a corrugated pipe with deep ridges is no easy feat, and we both became very familiar with the poundings that were inflicted by the shallow water despite our most thought-out and intricate calculations. While every setup we constructed dealt us its own unique complexities, jumping over mounds of sand, sliding across bushes, tires, logs and pipes was worth every ounce of effort we poured into the process.

As a means to an end, Xander uses the kite’s horizontal pull to frontside boardslide the twin Durango logs on his way out of the transition pool. // Photo Noè Font

The rewards of our vision paid off in full and embodied our attempt to keep the flame burning and help secure the standards of park riding as a core boardsport. Noè put it plain and simple, nailing the legitimacy problem in kiteboarding on the head: “Some people ride their board, and others hang off their kite.” While I acknowledge that the kite-focused disciplines in the sport draw crowds and spark the interest of a large array of enthusiasts, it is our goal as park riders to bring awareness to this distinction and promote a technical niche that is vital to progression and the attraction of younger generations into the sport. Like the shifting sands of our Choco Lake features, the fate of kiteboarding’s recognition as a boardsport continues to transmute and will only be determined by those who help direct the industry and inspire the next generation of riders. In an effort to turn sand into stone, our intention is to carry the torch, share our perspectives and keep the momentum of park riding alive.

This article was featured in Tkb’s Summer 2021 issue, Vol. 18, No. 2. To read more from this issue click here.

 

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