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FEATURE: Kitesurfers hit the water off Pismo Beach every spring from March through June 


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Wind whips across the sand, particles pelting the orange canvas kite flapping in the hands of California Kiteboarding owner and instructor Jason Lee, who’s got his back to the Pismo Beach Pier.

“You want to go straight downwind, man,” Lee tells Gabe Silva, an employee he’s teaching to kitesurf on one afternoon in May.

Together they situate the kite in the right direction, from upwind to downwind, strings reaching up toward the dunes at Pismo State Beach and the kite stops thrashing, settling into silence and a full arc that takes flight. Silva backs into the waves, holding onto the bar attached to the kite strings with his right hand and the board with his left.

“It’s not that windy yet, but it’s starting to get a little bit windier,” Jason says. “If you look out there, you can see the whitecaps starting to form. That’s what we look for. … And then he’s got to sit down and get his board on.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

“That’s the hardest part of kiting.”

Once Silva gets up, he stays within 50 meters of the shoreline and cruises the long, flat, windy stretch of Pismo Beach. He’s about a month into his kitesurfing adventure and is starting to get comfortable in the water.

“I think the first few times my body got kind of fatigued. But you just have to hold on. You’ve got no other choice,” Silva said earlier.

Lee heads back to the Addie Street parking lot near downtown Pismo, hops in his rig, and heads for the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area entrance on Grand Avenue. About a half mile down the beach, he parks next to a cluster of rigs on the sand where a local crew of kitesurfers is getting ready. Silva cruises by a few minutes later. When Lee finally launches his own kite and heads into the water, he rockets down the shoreline, catching the wind easily and popping into the air, floating in the sky before feathering back down to the ocean.

click to enlarge California Kiteboarding owner Jason Lee has been kitesurfing in Pismo Beach for more than 20 years. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • California Kiteboarding owner Jason Lee has been kitesurfing in Pismo Beach for more than 20 years.

Scott Franklin clips his kite strings to the rack on his jeep, debating whether he should fly with a 7-foot kite or a 9-foot one. He decides on the 7 and unfurls his setup toward the dunes, waiting for the wind to hit its stride.

“You’ve got be firefighter ready,” Franklin says. “You’ve got to be ready to harness the wind.”

When the wind is steady and blowing hard (but not too hard), Franklin says you don’t want to miss it. Kitesurfing season in Pismo Beach runs from March through June with April and May being the most dominant. When the conditions are right, you can find Franklin, Lee, and other members of the local crew of kiters here or out in the water—mostly in the afternoon between 1 and 4 p.m.

It’s Franklin’s 11th consecutive day out on the water, which broke his previous record.

“This has been an outstanding season,” he says.

Twenty years ago, the multi-sport athlete who skied, played soccer, surfed, and is an avid outdoorsman, was at a beach in San Francisco and witnessed someone out in the middle of the water launch 30 feet into the air.

“I thought, ‘What the hell was that?’” he said later. “That was the spark.”

That moment changed his life.

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“What’s neat about kitesurfing, is now you’re in command of the ocean, rather than being at the mercy of the ocean. You really feel like you have an upper hand, with the power of the kite really being like a throttle you can turn on and off, your speed, you’re ability,” Franklin said. “To be in the ocean moving through the surf, maneuvering as this little vessel is just out of this world.”

It’s like walking on water, he said.

Similar to fellow kitesurfer Lee, Franklin has kited all over the world and up and down the Central Coast, but Pismo Beach is one of his favorite spots. It’s wide and flat, without many obstacles in the water. The wind is pretty steady and “just comes shooting down from Avila,” he said. He wakes up in the morning at his place in Grover Beach, and checks all the weather websites.

When he sees small-craft advisory warnings, he knows.

If the wind offshore is 20-plus miles an hour, “we know.”

“We know it’s gonna smoke, it’s gonna crank,” Franklin said. “You can only go as fast as the wind. … You need wind.”


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