Finding yourself on a kiteboard thousands of miles from land sounds like the stuff of surfing nightmares, but to six brave kite surfers, that was just another day on the job this past December.
The HTC Atlantic Kite Challenge concluded December 17 at Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean when the relay team touched land for the first time in nearly four weeks after setting out from the Canary Islands on November 20. The boarders were greeted at the Blue Haven Resort and Marina by a welcoming committee and congratulated by Turks and Caicos premier Rufus Ewing.
The team, in which members rotated on two-hour shifts non-stop for 27 days, was supported by a professionally staffed 50-foot catamaran, where the resting team members ate and slept during the 4,000-plus-mile journey. During his or her shift, each team member was strapped to a board similar to a wakeboard while holding onto a 46-foot to 56-foot parasail, or “kite.”
This first-ever kiteboard crossing of the Atlantic was the vision of participating boarder Filippo van Hellenberg Hubar, 30, of The Netherlands, and was organized by his Enable Passion Foundation. His teammates included three other Dutch kiteboarders, the group’s only woman Camilla Ringvold, 33, of Norway, and Eric “Pequeno” Little, 30, of West Bloomfield, Mich., who won a spot on the team through a Facebook competition.
The boat was helmed by Dutch sailing champ Erik van Vuuren.
For Little, the team’s only American, the magnitude of his commitment only hit him on the second day when he realized he was far from land, but not alone. “Seeing [a] shark on the second day definitely impacted my mentality—more than I would have even liked it to,” he said. “Seeing one so close … made it very real: we were in their home.”
Wildlife wasn’t the only danger. Huge mid-ocean swells, night surfing and storms were only some of the challenges the boarders faced during their adventure. “There have been so many nights when the big swells are coming, and they’re 5-, 6-meter waves, and it’s really dark—you can’t see more than a couple meters in front of you,” said Ringvold. “I might have some nightmares [about] those nights later on.”