Kite surfing: close to the wind

Kite surfing (photo: www.moeglichkiten.com)
Kite surfing (photo: www.moeglichkiten.com)

On the island of Föhr, enthusiasts teach kite surfing and buggy driving to people with disabilities.

Every day the HANDICAP editorial team receives press releases and information about fantastic activities carried out by and for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, we can't cover them all and sometimes a rather creative approach is required to catch the editorial staff's attention. In May, we received a parcel containing an outline of a project and, to our astonishment, a portion of honey, just like the ones you see in hotels at breakfast time. The covering letter stated: . . . a little sweetener which you can administer yourself as we don't want to take up your valuable time with a lot of words. Although it broke all the rules of professional journalism, it was rather sweet and appeared to demonstrate the kind of self-confidence inherent only in those people who view extraordinary things as perfectly feasible. In short, it aroused our interest and made us eager to find out more.

Island retreat

Visitors to the beach at Nieblum on the North Friesian island of Föhr can simply breathe in the sea air or let off steam in a wide range of water-based activities. Stroll through the tidelands and let the clean, iodic air fill your lungs. The Gulf Stream guarantees a mild sea climate all year round, while the bracing breeze swiftly banishes clouds to the mainland, restoring the sunshine.
Until 2001, Nicolas Lanquetin was a water sports instructor at the Nieblum windsurfing school. The 23-year-old Austrian, known to all simply as Nik, came to Föhr for the summer to have fun and teach. However, in 2002 a snowboard accident resulted in paraplegia and he found himself in a wheelchair. Last year, his friends Björn Hansen and Dirk Hückstädt, fellow instructors at the windsurfing school, persuaded him to come back to the island to see just what he could do.

A new challenge

"It was obvious that as a wheelchair user traditional windsurfing just wasn't feasible," explained Nik. "However, kite surfing was a possibility." Kite surfing is a challenging new water sport where the surfer is pulled across the water on a small surfboard with a kite. Professionals can reach some very high speeds and can accomplish some spectacular jumps by lifting the kite.
Nik had brought a specially adapted seated water-ski designed for wheelchair users along with him. Björn (32) and Dirk (31) screwed it to a kite board and borrowed a beach wheelchair from the surfing school to transport it to the water. "Setting off was physical torture, but after the first 25 meters it was great," recounted Nik. He has returned to Föhr for a few weeks this summer to improve his technique and work with Björn and Dirk to optimize the equipment. "Of course teaching requires more patience and empathy, but seeing the results and the sparkle in Nik's eyes makes us forget all the tribulations," said Björn.

Source: Gunther Belitz, HANDICAP magazine, the Magazine for quality of life, Issue 2/2005.