Experience the thrill with safety in hand
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Extreme sports can be dangerous and even deadly to both the untrained and experienced, but for some people the dangers are outweighed by the thrill.
According to Senior Airman Shawn Kelley, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron emergency management journeyman, kiteboarding is freedom.
Kiteboarding, also known as kitesurfing, is a surface water sport combining aspects of wakeboarding, windsurfing and paragliding, said Kelley. A kiteboarder harnesses wind with a large kite, known as a power kite, to propel themselves across the water on a kiteboard or surfboard.
"It's the coolest sport I've ever done," said Kelley who has been doing it for 13 years. "It's using the power of wind to jump, being lifted into the air and softly descending as if weightless. It's the perfect mixture of tranquility and thrill. With a kite about 100 feet in the air and enough wind, I can jump 30 feet up off flat water."
The kite itself is inflated so that it stays afloat if it ever lands on water, said Kelley. The kite is attached to a control bar by four lines which are attached to the body harness.
There are different kites for different strengths of wind. The more wind there is the smaller the kite should be and vice versa.
Kiteboarders experience many dangerous situations, including heights and speeds that can seriously harm a thrill seeker, and because of this, kiteboarding is considered a high-risk activity, said Tech. Sgt. Kevin Dotson, 35th Fighter Wing Safety technician. High-risk activities are anything that increase the chance of a serious mishap. Some common high-risk activities around Misawa during the summer months are hiking, jet skiing and surfing.
Kelley knew from personal experience just how bad kiteboarding can get when something goes wrong. Something as simple as a gust of wind made him lose control.
"Back in high school I had an incident where a gust caught me and threw me out of control," Kelley said. "The gust took me through some mangroves on the edge of the water and then into a gazebo where the kite finally detached and I fell to the ground. I covered more than 100 feet in about ten seconds. I broke my wrist, fractured my femur and was covered from head to toe with cuts. It wasn't a lack of skill or knowledge that caused the incident, just bad luck."
Prior to participating in any high risk activities, members of the 35 FW are mandated to be briefed on the dangers involved with extreme sports and what precautions to take. Members are also highly encouraged to bring a buddy and to inform someone of their plans.
"The buddy system is crucial," Dotson said. "There is safety in numbers. Always have someone with you that is familiar with the area and activity, and always let your supervision, friends and family know where you are going and when you expect to return."
There was an incident in the past where four individuals had rented three kayaks for an afternoon outing, Dotson added. They failed to communicate where they were going other than one letting their babysitter know what time they would be back. They did not return at their expected time and were reported missing. The four individuals were found clinging to two kayaks after nearly 24 hours in the frigid Pacific Ocean waters. The kayakers were found suffering from hypothermia, but were fortunate enough to be found alive.
Making sure the equipment in use is properly cared for is another must. Seek professional training when trying an extreme sport for the first time. Check equipment for wear and tear; be sure to perform any necessary maintenance; and do not hesitate to replace older equipment.
"Inspect your gear," Kelley said. "There have been times when I knew something should have been replaced but used it anyways. I put myself in danger and unfortunately lost a kite which can retail around $1000 or more depending on the size and brand."
So as you begin to plan for your extreme sport adventure, be sure to consider how well you know yourself and your gear. Overcoming personal challenges can be empowering but should not be done at the expense of your health and well being.
"By all means there are a lot of things to do around here. Japan is a beautiful place," Dotson added. "If you want to engage in high-risk activities do so properly and educate yourself ahead of time."
For more information about high-risk activities and safety concerns contact the safety office at 226-2702.