Becoming Kiteboarding Instructors: The Ups and Downs of our Journey

Sam and I recently journeyed back from the vibrant shores of Cabarete in the Dominican Republic, where we embraced the winds of change with the IKO Assistant and Instructor Certification.

For those who might not know, Sam has been a kiter for over two decades, though his adventures began on snow rather than sea. Before YogaSlackers was even a twinkle in our eyes, Sam crisscrossed the vast plains of North Dakota—not once, but twice! He was raising awareness about wind energy long before it was a hashtag trend, and even made headlines nationwide. (You can learn more about Sam’s thrilling To Cross The Moon (2XTM) Expedition on our blog).

Since our paths crossed in 2012, Sam has been nudging me towards the kite. My first encounter with the sport was in 2013, guided by our dear friend George Pare from True Progression Kiteboarding. Despite George’s expert instruction, I couldn’t seem to catch the kiteboarding bug, dabbling in the sport merely once a year. That is until we encounter way too much wing to go surfing in a trip to Bali last August.

That ‘failed surf trip’ turned into a great opportunity to ignited my passion for wind sports. I took two kite boarding and three wing foil lessons. Recognizing that sporadic lessons weren’t cutting it, Sam and I set off for Vietnam, settling just 15 meters from the beach. A week of daily practice was all it took for me to finally ride upwind and, more crucially, fall head over heels for kiteboarding.

Lessons Learned Along the Way

  • Kindness and Compassion as a Teaching Pillars

    George exemplifies what it means to be an exceptional teacher, with kindness and compassion standing out as his most defining qualities. These traits underpin his methodical approach, which seamlessly integrates detailed instruction covering theory and practice. His patience ensures that every student not only understands the 'how' but also grasps the 'why' behind each action, making the learning process both enlightening and enjoyable.

  • Emphasis on Self-Sufficiency

    Kiteboarding, while exhilarating, comes with its share of risks - strong wind, sudden weather changes, and equipment failures, to name a few. All of these risks can be mitigated with proper preparation before you even step into the beach. But things can happen. From our very first lesson, George instilled in me the crucial skills for safety and self-rescue. Learning to handle these situations independently is vital; it transforms the ocean from a daunting expanse into a playground of possibilities. This self-sufficiency breeds confidence, empowering a kiter to explore further and with greater peace of mind.

  • Mastery in Communication

    Amidst the constant roar of the wind and the rhythmic crashing of waves, communication can become one of the biggest challenges in kiteboarding instruction. George’s ability to project his voice clearly over these natural noises—without ever seeming like he was shouting—is nothing short of remarkable. This skill is essential not only for effective teaching but for ensuring safety on the water. His communicative clarity meant instructions were always heard, understood, and could be acted upon immediately, which is crucial during fast-paced, dynamic kiteboarding sessions.

Lessons from Bali

Bali’s experiences were enlightening in more ways than one, teaching us crucial lessons about teaching styles and the power of perspective.

  • Challenging Instructional Styles

    The lessons in Bali involved shouted instructions and contradictory guidance, all delivered with a frustrating 'why can’t you do this yet?' attitude. Despite the instructors being fantastic individuals off the beach—people we'd gladly hang out with—their teaching style on the beach provided a stark example of how I never want to teach. This experience reinforced the importance of nurturing rather than demanding, creating an environment where students feel encouraged and supported, not judged.

    Sam and I are advocates for compassionate teaching that involves positive, clear, and concise instructions. In our classes, we might ask our students, "Can you extend your leg?" instead of simply saying, "Avoid bending the knee." We prefer to ask about the specific body mechanics we are looking for, like "Can you fully extend your leg?" This approach helps reinforce correct body mechanics and encourages students to explore their capabilities and understand their limitations. We acknowledge that we are all learning, and making mistakes is a natural part of the process. While we may 'know' something mentally or understand it theoretically, developing the mind/body connection takes time. Positive reinforcement is crucial in this process, as it builds confidence and helps integrate learning effectively.

  • Embracing the Absurdity

    Being in Bali with three fellow teachers allowed us to collectively experience and reflect on the teaching styles we encountered. We found humor to be a vital tool in navigating the challenging learning environment. By joking about the harshness of the instructions, we could lighten the mood and open up more constructive lines of communication with our instructors. For instance, in a playful exchange, I told my instructor, "Of course, I don't control, you control, until I control"—a humorous way to highlight the confusion caused by their erratic instructions. This not only brought a light-hearted moment but also subtly conveyed our need for clearer guidance. We laughed it off and reassessed our approach, which helped make the learning process more bearable and ultimately more effective.

    This experience highlights the importance and privilege of encountering great teaching. If people are not aware that different teaching methods exist, they tend to mimic the styles in which they were taught, perpetuating any inefficiencies and harshness unintentionally. Many of us have likely experienced subpar teaching at some point and may have harbored negative thoughts about those teachers. However, these instructors were often kind individuals with positive intentions, merely reflecting the teaching styles they had been exposed to. They were likely doing their best within the scope of their experience.

    As teachers, our goal is to break these incorrect patterns. We strive to replace harsh directions and demands with intuitive learning methods and kind inquiries. This shift is essential for fostering an environment where students feel valued and supported, encouraging them to engage more deeply with the material and explore their potential without fear or hesitation. By introducing and modeling these positive teaching techniques, we can influence future generations of teachers, promoting a cycle of continuous improvement and compassionate education.

Vietnam’s kiteboarding scene brought some profound insights, especially regarding the inclusive nature of sports and the community aspect of learning.

  • Inclusion in Action

    My lessons in Vietnam were notably impactful because it was conducted by a woman whose presence resonated with me deeply. She mirrored my own physicality and brought a level of empathy and understanding that was both empowering and comforting. This experience underscored the importance of representation in sports - a diverse array of instructors not only enriches the learning environment but also promotes a more inclusive culture that encourages participation from all backgrounds. Seeing someone who looked like me at the helm of the class shattered some invisible barriers and reinforced the idea that I too can excel in this sport. This inclusivity is vital for broadening the sport’s appeal and ensuring it grows healthily and holistically.

  • Community Learning

    The atmosphere in Vietnam was unlike any other, characterized by a communal spirit where learning was a collective endeavor. Not only did the instructors at Phan Rang Kite Center provide valuable insights, but fellow kiteboarders were also keen to offer tips and share their experiences. This communal approach helped demystify aspects of kiteboarding that seemed intimidating when tackled alone. Observing others in action and replicating their movements was incredibly beneficial, as I'm a visual learner. The support didn’t just come from formal instructions; it came from the camaraderie on the beach, the shared struggles, and triumphs. This environment made me truly fall in love with kiteboarding and highlighted the importance of a nurturing community.

  • The Value of Time and Repetition

    Practice makes progress, and nowhere did this prove truer than in our time in Vietnam. An entire week dedicated solely to kiteboarding provided the consistent practice necessary to cement skills and build confidence. This kind of immersive experience can be a game-changer, although I do acknowledge this experience is not always feasible due to constraints like time or financial resources. This time at the beach taught me the importance of patience and perseverance in the learning process.

    It also reminded me that I showed up to the beach with a lot of knowledge and experience. I just needed more time to connect them further. This was a reminder that every practice is a worth while effort. For those times when intensive training isn't possible, embracing slow and steady progress is key. Every session, no matter how brief, builds upon the last, gradually leading to significant improvement over time.

    Wind sports are particularly tricky. If you don't have the privilege to live in a constantly windy location, you will either have to travel or be okay with sessions when possible. As long as we show up and do our part we will be moving forward. Slower than others? Very likely. But as fast as we can for our situation. This is a lesson I like to bring with me to everything I do. Handstands, acroyoga, slackline yoga, mountain biking, running, climbing, and now kiteboarding and wing foiling. I like to do a lot of things! And that means I need to allow myself to progress slowly and gently. Be one sport or multiple sports like me - we all need to remember that it’s okay to take small steps as long as we keep moving forward.

Lessons from Malaysia

A few months after our stint in Vietnam, Sam and I found ourselves planning a visa run from Thailand, where we had just hosted a YogaSlackers Teacher Training. Looking for new places to explore, we decided on Malaysia, with a triple goal in mind: kite, climb, and connect with the acro community. We managed to achieve all three.

Our kiting journey solidified our desire to keep doing what we love: traveling to meet new people, kite, climb, and share our passions for slackline yoga, handstands, and acro. Motivated by our experiences, all our teachers and the people we met, we headed to the Dominican Republic a few months later to become certified kiteboarding instructors.

Lessons from the IKO Course

As I’ve completely fallen for kiteboarding and wing foiling, and since Sam is equally thrilled, we’ve begun to envision integrating kiteboarding retreats into YogaSlackers’ offerings. With this exciting prospect, we opted to enroll in an instructor course to ensure that, should we ever find ourselves with a kiteboard instructor whose teaching style doesn’t align with ours, we’d be equipped to step in seamlessly. Our vision is to craft retreats that blend kiteboarding with yoga, slackline, acro, and handstands, weaving the various disciplines into a cohesive experience. While others might lead the kiteboarding sessions, we’d handle the YogaSlackers teachings, leveraging our strengths.

  • Revisiting the Basics

    Acknowledging that revisiting the basics could help bridge the gaps in my learning accrued over the last five years was crucial. No matter how effective George's teachings were initially, there's a limit to what one can absorb in the first few lessons, and details inevitably slip away over time. The IKO Instructor program was an intense journey of relearning and refining. The course was exceptionally intimate, consisting only of Sam, myself, and our dedicated instructor, Charly Roche. Charly's commitment to keeping the course open, despite the small number, resonated deeply with us; it mirrored our own philosophy of valuing every teaching opportunity, regardless of scale, because each participant is there for a meaningful reason.

  • Deep Dive into Theory and Practice

    Over two weeks, we delved deeply into the theoretical underpinnings of kiteboarding, learning far more than we had anticipated. The days were long, and the nightly homework was even longer, but every minute was a valuable part of our learning curve. This rigorous training allowed us to draw parallels between IKO’s methodologies and our own YogaSlackers teacher training, which, though more modest in scale, shares similar commitments to our teaching style, attention to detail, and the balance of theory with practical application. The structure of IKO’s course, with its manuals, lesson plans, and progression steps, reinforced the rigor of our own program.

  • A Flexible Path to Certification

    One of the most enlightening aspects of the IKO program is its realistic approach to certification. Like us, IKO doesn't assume that mere attendance guarantees passing; instead, it provides a framework for those who may need additional time. This policy underscores a commitment to high standards and acknowledges that improvement is a continual process.

    I knew I was stepping into this training without the necessary prerequisites. Although I have been kiteboarding in one way or another for over five years, I haven’t accumulated a lot of time in the water. We often ask our students not just how long they’ve been practicing, but how many cumulative hours they have. Ten years with 40 cumulative hours is very different from one month with 40 cumulative hours. This perspective helps in understanding that the depth of practice can vary significantly regardless of the span of time. What is important to us and the IKO is that you are - as I am - focused, interested in learning, and dedicated to practicing afterwards.

    Our teaching philosophy at YogaSlackers mirrors this approach. We welcome trainees without all the prerequisites, confident that with dedicated theory and practice, anyone can attain the necessary skills. Post-training, we provide a year for our teachers-in-training to refine their techniques and complete any outstanding requirements, similar to IKO. This approach ensures that individuals with limited access to prior training can still participate in our teacher training. They learn the theory, solidify their foundational skills, and leave with a clear understanding of what they need to focus on to finalize the prerequisites back home.

    Come as you are, and we will help you get there - if you are willing to do the work! I am committed to finding wind and continuing to work on my skills. In the meantime, I am happy to be Sam's kiteboard assistant, learning and growing alongside him as we move toward our shared goals.

Looking Forward

As for my personal journey, the next challenge is to master the art of jumping! – tasks I hadn’t initially desired but are part of the pre-reqs set by IKO. So yeah, I am in the process to learn to jump and land effortlessly, just like Leo in Malaysia.

So, what does this mean for you?

Soon, you’ll have the opportunity to join our kiteboarding retreats and experience this exhilarating sport alongside our other disciplines. You can also order kiteboarding gear directly from us! We offer Ozone and Nobile products.

And remember, you too can join our Teacher Training program. Our training is designed to support you pre, during and post-training, ensuring that you have the time and resources to develop into a fully certified YogaSlackers teacher.

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