Samantha Chilvers: Badass Kiteboarder

Feature profile on Samantha Chilvers, kiteboarder and artist.

This young pro kite surfer and talented artist is living her life to the fullest!

The first time I walked into Ocean Freaks, the main kite school in Santa Mariantia, I was greeted by a petite white girl who immediately and enthusiastically asked me, “Are you here to kite?” I told her I hadn’t started my lessons yet, and she expressed her excitement that another girl would be joining her on the water. She even offered to teach me, “To see if I can even teach,” she said. “It would be a new challenge for me.” She said her name was Sam, and that she is a semi pro kite surfer who lives in Cabarete, Dominican Republic. She came to this beach for Fly Fest, a kite surfing competition that Ocean Freaks hosted a few weeks ago. Her sponsors, Star Kite, sent her, their only sponsored female, along with 10-15 other riders to compete.

“I don’t get a salary or anything, but they pay for my gear and my flights, so that’s pretty cool,” she said with a smile.

Using lots of big hand movements and in a loud, excited voice, she told me that she is also an artist who traded a painting with “this dude Pepe who’s kind of a babe” for the use of his house on the beach. Sam said that living there has been a good marketing promotion because people who follow her art are thrilled with the romantic idea of this young artist shacking up on a beach in Ecuador to paint and kite surf.

Sam’s art supports her kiting, and her kiting supports her art.

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“Let’s be honest. There’s no money in this industry,” she said, looking at me through big black sunglasses as we sat among the hammock chairs at Donkey Den. “My surfing promotes and motivates a more organized professional life. I’ll sell a painting to cover a kite trip.”

Sam sells about a painting a week, which can range in price from $300 to $1000. She gets a lot of inspiration from the sport, and much of her work is based on her experiences on the water and images from her GoPro camera. Watching her on the water, it’s easy to understand how her actions translate to her beautiful, colorful paintings. You see her kite before you see her, a bright orange and green 9 meter Star Kite that she shares with Frainin (my instructor and Sam’s teammate). One second it’s at a slight angle, the next it descends sharply. There’s no denying that Sam is in control of the kite’s movements, doing tricks and dips, one hand ripping through the water as the other steers the kite.

Chilvers is a unique beach babe. You’ll find her walking back from the water, expertly pulling her kite with one hand and supporting her board with the other. Her brown hair with the hint of an hombre dye is constantly windswept, and her freckled cheeks are streaked pink with zinc to protect her from the sun. The dry clothes that she changes into usually consist of short jean shorts and colorful, tribal patterned sweaters and leggings. While she’s an obvious hottie (she’s even sponsored by Salt Water swimwear, a company that trades her bikinis for photos of her doing cool stuff in said bikinis), she expressed frustration with female riders who highlight their looks over their talent. It makes it more difficult for more serious female riders, like herself, to be taken seriously.

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“At the end of the day, we do get the short end of the stick, but we only have ourselves to blame,” she said. “Girls tell themselves that they can’t ride like the boys, so they don’t try, or they’re scared of getting hurt. I want it to get to the point where guys and girls are all throwing tricks together.”

Sam said most people are really stoked to see a female rider, and would like to see more. She was one of the only girls to compete in Fly Fest, and since there wasn’t a category for females, she had to go up against the boys.

“I feel like I won for just showing up,” she said.

Most competitions don’t have a female rider category, so she’ll have to get used to competing with the big boys to fulfill her contract with Star Kite, who promised to send her to two to five PKRA (Professional Kiteboard Riders Association) events in the 2015 season, beginning with Panama and Morocco. But hey, maybe she’ll meet the love of her life. Sam has said that she doesn’t think she could be with someone who isn’t as obsessed with kite boarding as she is.

“He can be butt ugly, but if he can throw a handle pass…” she said, erupting in a girlish cackle. It doesn’t take much to make her laugh. “All I want is to date another pro-rider who can teach me tricks and bring my kite back when I crash.”

Of course, that’s not all she wants. Above all, she wants to progress as a rider, consistently landing all tricks in any conditions. Sam has stayed in Santa Marianita so long after Fly Fest because the riding conditions, like the wind and the current, are the exact opposite to those of in Cabarete. She often finds herself going back and practicing smaller tricks because the wind here forces her to challenge her weaker side. She feels that training in opposite conditions, versus Cabarete where the conditions are ideal for tricks, is essential to help prepare her for competitions in other countries where she is not familiar with the wind.

One trick that she’s dying to land is called an F16 Handle Pass. She described it, staring off into space as if she were picturing herself doing it not watching someone do it, as unhooking from the kite, then going into a back roll kite loop, and throwing a handle pass before you land. Sounds like cake.

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But Sam is confident in her abilities to tackle new tricks, despite her slow start to learn the sport three years ago. She had originally moved to DR to work on a series of art and took lessons because it was the thing to do.

“I sucked. I was the worst student ever. The kids on the beach were 100% confident that I would never stand up,” she said laughing at the memory. “I had never seen the ocean before, never been on a plane, and never heard of kiteboarding.”

Chilvers admits that she actually lied to her instructor at Dare 2 Fly about having nose problems when she had to put her face in the water because the foreign salt water was so brutal to her as a girl from the Ontario, Canada suburbs.

The murder of her dog, which she found with his neck broken in her front yard, was the catalyst for her deciding to truly learn the sport. In her depression, she turned to kitesurfing, physically and mentally exhausting herself to take her mind off her loss. Within a month, she was doing tricks, which she said came naturally to her because she would snowboard as a kid. When she started going out every day, and not just once or twice a week when the conditions were perfect, she progressed incredibly fast.

“I’m a very aggressive rider. I don’t have many physical fears in life,” she said.

Sam attributes her success rate with trying new tricks not only to her badass attitude, but also to her small physical stature and to yoga, which she says has changed her riding. When she started doing yoga, every morning at 8:15, she found that she got less riding injuries, and that she was able to build strength and flexibility while releasing muscle tension. Yoga is the perfect conditioning outside of actually practicing to kite surf because it isn’t too physically demanding and doesn’t leave her too tired to put her all into the sport.

Her dedication to progression is what allowed her to throw the trick that defines you as a professional. Sam said that 80% of riders, male and female, cannot throw a handle pass, which is when you pass the bar behind your back. Sam boasts that she is the only female rider in her part of the world to be able to have landed that trick, which is probably why Star Kite went for her.

She began her contract with the team on October 1 by going to Fly Fest and using Star Kite equipment. She chose them out of other big names because of the personal attention she received from them during their courtship.

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Since Sam is Star Kite’s only female rider, she hopes that she will be able to be more of a public figure in the Ocean Community. Her advice to new riders?

“Just practice. Take your time on the water and challenge yourself with little tricks. Every day you’ll progress a little more.”

Chilvers admits that there’s a slow learning curve at first, and a lot of people simply don’t have the time or the patience to learn. But you’ve got to crawl before you can walk.

“It’s all about being crazy enough to go for it.”

*All photo credit to Samanta Chilvers

Stalk her life:

Www.chilvers.ca

instagram: @chilversart

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chilvers-Art/145926011954

 

by Rebecca Bellan

Kite Surfing: The Obsession

Kitesurfing on Santa Marianita beach, Ecuador

 I have fallen in love, and his name is kite surfing.

Once you stand up on that board, there is no going back.image

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I feel like I’ve just fallen in love with the boy of my dreams, and I have to leave him. Yesterday, after a week of waiting for my kiting instructor to give me the OK, I took a board out on the water, and I stood up! Now that I’ve finally felt the true potential of this sport, I can think of nothing else but where and how I can be reunited with my love again. In a panic last night, I scoured the internet for good kite surfing locations in Peru, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia. Anywhere. I am addicted, and will cut back on other expenses just so I can pay for a few hours here and there of lessons, and maybe pick up some gear along the way. I’m even researching flights to the Domincan Republic because my new pro friend Sam has offered me the use of her Star Kite-sponsored gear and her place to crash in.

After breakfast yesterday, I looked out at the shining sun and the kites starting to decorate the sky, and I thought, If I don’t make it on a board today, I’m giving up. I strolled over to the kite school to see if I could maybe get a lesson, not truly caring anymore and starting to think that maybe me and kite surfing weren’t meant to be. My instructor looked over the schedule. “Are you free right now?” he asked.

I ran back to Donkey Den to change, excitingly telling everyone there that I would actually have a lesson today. I threw on a sports bra and shorts and bounded out of the gate as guests and staff alike wished me well. They had all heard me bitch endlessly about how bad I wanted to stand up on the board before I left. I half ran, half skipped back to the kite school, rubbing sunscreen on my face and shoulders on the way.

Frainin and I did the usual stuff, setting up the kite and walking upwind with it. He had me body drag down the beach two times before he deemed me ready to get on the board. Actually, he said, I should have body dragged one more time, but I annoyed him so much that, thankfully, he decided to skip the third. He took hold of the kite and I held the board as we walked downwind for the third time that day. Even though I was wearing a helmet and a life jacket, I felt pretty cool as I passed other newbs in helmets still learning how to hold the kite or body drag. I was walking with an actual board with the actual intention of riding the fucker. On the way I passed other kiting friends and acquaintances. Jooast, a Dutch instructor who cooks meals at Donkey Den with his girlfriend Lillian, gave me a high five. His pupil, a guy from Switzerland who drinks beer at our table sometimes, wished me good luck. I saw Doc, AKA Javier, another instructor at the school, and he, too, wished me well. Annette and Juliet, my fellow volunteers, were handling their kite and shouted out, “You go girl!” I nearly moon walked the whole strip of the beach.

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Frainin stopped and looked out at the waves pensively. He then demonstrated in the sand how I would get on my board in the water, then had me mimic his movements. I laid on my left side, with my left hand holding the handle on the board. He told me to press down on the board with my elbow. Then I had to come upright and move the board in front of me, using my left hand only as my right was on the bar, pretending to hold up the kite. Once the board was in front of me and I had my feet in the straps, I bent my legs and scooted my butt forward, flexing my feet to bring the board up on an angle. Frainin grabbed the lines and, acting as the kite, pulled hard to bring me up to standing. As he continued to pull, I felt my body go into the familiar stance of a kite boarder trying not to fly away with the kite. I straightened my left leg, bent my right knee and leaned back, holding the bar in front of me and trusting in the strength of the pull. Frainin gave me a mischievous smile and let go of the lines, letting me fall onto my back in the sand. He explained that to get the kite to pull me up, I’d have to bring it down to 10 o’clock and quickly back up to 12, repeatedly. This would put my left foot forward and take me out to sea, similar to body dragging. 12 to 2 would put my right foot forward and take me to the shore.

Into the water again. My left arm clumsily supported the board while I held onto Frainin’s harness as he and the kite dragged us out past the waves. He attached the kite to my harness. Ah, that familiar pull in your gut. I angled the board in front of me with little grace as my instructor held onto the back of my harness. I tried to keep the kite neutral at 12 with my right hand and use my left to hold the board steady enough to slp my feet in. OK, I was in the right position. Now all I had to do was move the kite. Tentatively, slowly, carefully, I brought it down to 10 and back up to 12. “Faster,” said Frainin exasperatedly. I told myself to stop being a wuss and brought it down hard to 10 and fast back up to 12. Push the bar up on the line a bit to depower, pull it closer to you to power. Relax. Loosen your grip on the bar a little. And suddenly I was standing up. And just as suddenly I was back down and Frainin was telling me to keep the kite at 12. “OK, good. Again.” 10, 12. Depower, power. I’m up and trying to keep my body straight, but my ass keeps dipping threateningly close to the water. My legs are shaking with the strain, but my brain is starting to understand what it has to tell my body to do. After a couple more soft crashes, Frainin tells me to face the beach and do the same on the other side. Let’s just say, my right side is not my strong side. 12, 2, I’m standing up and falling immediately back down. Right, I’m supposed to switch my legs. Straighten the right leg, bend the left. I tried again and ate it hard enough to lose the board. Frainin grabs a hold of it and tells me to body drag out of the water. The waves crash behind me and on top of me, but the kite pulls me out of harm’s way and makes me feel invincible. Obviously, I make it out way before Frainin and experience a sensation of glee and freedom at holding onto the kite without an instructor around. I feel like it makes me better when I have to listen to my instincts instead of Dominican-accented Spanglish. When he made it over to me, he told me I did a good job and asked if I was happy. I answered honestly. “Sort of. I need to try again. We’re going back out, right?” He tells me that we’ve already been gone an hour and a half when I only paid for an hour, an he has another lesson to go teach. Something about the way I stomped my feet and pouted like a child must have either softened his heart or scared him because he granted me another half hour.

Out past the waves, and already my body was learning how to deal with the board in the water. I got my feet in, gave a little practice 12 to 10, and then swung the kite hard, bringing me to a standing position. I was soaring for a while, cheesing hard as I watched my board cut through the impossibly blue water. Then I looked around and realized that I was pretty far out to the ocean, and brought the kite back to 12 so I could rest and get my bearings. I looked back and saw Frainin a ways away, pointing toward the shore line. Reluctantly, I angled my board the other way, brought the kite back down to 2 and made it a few feet before I crashed and lost my board again. Clearly my success rate is pretty low on my right side. I tried for a while to have the kite drag me to the board, barely hearing Frainin yell instructions at me over the surf. I soon gave up and just body dragged out. Frainin met me at the shore and took the kite from me so he could go back in for the board. Before he headed into the water, he seemed genuinely impressed that I was able to stand up for so long. “You went at least 20 or 30 meters. It takes most students a whole day, maybe two, to stand up like that.” Maybe he was just flattering me because he knew how much it meant to me, but I was in the clouds for the rest of the day.

I’m heading to Peru today. I hear Mancora has good kite boarding….Stay tuned!

 

by Rebecca Bellan

Any Way the Wind Blows…Kind of Matters To Me

 Read about my first lessons learning how to kite surf!

Controlling the kite and the wind is a real challenge, and one that I am more that up for.image

“Do you think the wind will be good today?” We here at Donkey Den Bed and Breakfast on the remote Santa Marianita Beach outside of Manta, Ecuador live in anticipation of a constant gust of wind. Every morning, the guests, visitors, and gringo locals around the rectangular, tapestry-clad dining room table ask each other the same question. Sometimes we whistle to make the wind blow (an old sailor trick), sometimes we look out on the horizon for white caps on the water, sometimes we hope the shining sun will cause thermic winds. You can hear it before you see it, your eyes usually on a book or your phone to distract you from the disappointment of still air. The seashell wind chimes start to clang together and the palm fronds hiss as they sway. You look up and scan the horizon, and with the blessing of the wind god, you spot a kite in the air. Soon the sky is littered with kites twisting and turning and pulling their surfers along the warm Pacific waters. The other volunteers at Donkey Den and I look imploringly at our boss, Cheryl, as she sips her third cup of black coffee and says, “Go ahead, girls. The wind’s picking up.”

Sunscreen. Sports bra. Harness. Pump. Kite. And we’re off. My Dutch girls Annette and Juliet are far more experienced than I am. Their blue eyes shine vibrantly on their impossibly tanned skin, a couple of sun kissed Amazons sharing a board and an F1 kite that they bought in Peru. They learned in Brazil have been more or less making their way around Central and South America, alternating between simply traveling and staying in kite surfing meccas like Corn Islands, Nicaragua or Mancora, Peru to up their kiting game before heading back to the Netherlands. They have had about three solid weeks of experience all together, but to me and my three hours of lessons, they look like pros.

Juliet on the left, Annette on the right
Juliet on the left, Annette on the right

Each day, I nearly sprint the length of the beach to the kite school called Ocean Freaks for a lesson, a combination of excitement and hot sand on my bare feet adding a pep to my step. However, the past few days have gone as follows: I see my instructor outside, his afro tied into a bun. Frainin Santana is a 24 year old, Star Kite sponsored, Dominican who came to Santa Marianita to compete in Fly Fest, a kiting competition that took place here a few weeks ago, and who is sticking around for a bit to practice kiting and teach.

taken from his fb page
taken from his fb page

He sees me walking up and shakes his head at me. Instantly my spirits fall. “No wind today,” he says. Or, “Waves too big today. You could get hurt.” I look around at the few kites I see in the air and start to protest. He insists that it’s no good for learning, that the kiters on the water are pros, that he doesn’t have a big enough kite for me to practice on for me to catch the wind, or I won’t be able to make it out past the crash of the waves with a kite in my hand. Yada, yada, yada. So instead I grab a boogie board from the school and set to work riding the warm pacific waves and skimming on my stomach on the shallow surf. Or sometimes I just sulk back to Donkey Den.

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Back at home base, I watch the hammock chairs sway in the wind, eager to get to my next lesson before my help exchange ends (It is now Saturday, I leave Monday) so I can finally learn to stand on the board. Frainin has promised me that I will be kiting on my own before I leave, but he doesn’t control the wind, so I don’t know what his word is worth. My first two hours weren’t as thrilling as I had hoped. I paid $108 for all three, a discounted price provided I bartend for the surf school this weekend. After harnessing up and putting on an embarrasing helmet to let others know that I’m a beginner, I set to learning the language of the wind. Frainin taught me how to feel which way the wind was blowing, which way was upwind and downwind, like a stream. He then instructed me how to blow up the kite, a 9 meter Slingshot, how to untangle the lines, and how to attach them to the kite. All the while, he barely lifted a finger. He told me that I needed to do it on my own because when I have my own kite, no one will be helping me. I like this philosophy. After we set up the kite, he held onto the bar and told me to launch it for him. I flipped the kite to an upright position, holding it tight to my body so it wouldn’t hit me in the face, and when he gave me the thumbs up, I let go and watched it soar. I had gathered from watching other kiters that the universal symbol for launch is a thumbs up, and the universal symbol for catch my kite is a few pats on your head. Frainin expertly held the kite at its zenith with one hand, then leaned in the sand and drew a half of a clock with his finger, explaining that when the kite was directly overhead, it was at 12 o’clock, and so forth. He attached the kite to my harness, and I instantly felt the pull in my core as he explained things about the line that I didn’t fully understand and wasn’t fully paying attention to at the time. I just wanted to get my hands on that bar. After he attached the safety line to me, he continued to hold onto the bar and then, to my dismay, lowered it to the ground. He made me practice pulling the quick release and safety leash about ten times until he was satisfied that I could unhinge myself from the line in case of emergency, then relaunched the kite.

Steering a kite in the wind is about subtlety. Grasp the bar too tight, and you put too much pressure on the lines, which tightens the fabric of the kite against the wind and makes it harder to control (for me). Pull too hard on either side, and the kite will move quickly and could crash. The closer the bar is to your body, the more power you give it. It is a dance of power and de-power, light pressure on the left to bring the kite to 11 and 10 o’clock, and light pressure on the right to bring it to 1 and 2 o’clock. Keep your eyes on the kite. Bring it back to 12. De-power, tug the left a little, and power to hold it at 12. All easier said than done. Frainin was constantly telling me to relax my grip and shoulders, holding onto the bar above my hands and moving it how I was meant to move it. When I felt it through his movements, the wind making the kite do a figure 8 from 2 to 12, I thought Oh, I get it. He let go, and I nearly dropped it. Two hours of looking straight up, and my neck was killing me. I tried to look down for a second’s respite and crashed the kite at 3 o’clock. My instructor talked me through launching it myself, lightly pulling on the left until the wind inflates the fabric, then yelled at me to depower so I don’t pull too hard and send it crashing at 9 o’clock, then urged me to power so the kite stays at 12. I was starting to get the hang of it. I practiced steering the kite to left and right, holding it in different positions and walking with it, and learning how to turn my body and feet with the pull of the harness, changing my stance every time the kite threatened to lift me into the air. Just when I started to get cocky and allow my neck a rest, the kite went wild. In an attempt to center it, I powered hard, despite Frainin’s shouts to let go of the bar. This action sent me flying into the air and crashing onto the wet sand a few feet away. I giggled at the rush of taking off into flight. My instructor lifted me up by the back of my harness and admonished me to learn to let go. I lost control of the kite a few more times during my lesson, and it dragged me by my heels around the sand before I realized, reluctantly, that I’m new and can’t always control the kite and need to let go and let it crash.

After two hours, the sky was overcast and the wind was dying. Frainin promised me that I would get in the water the next day. It was noon when I went back for my third hour. After setting up and launching the kite, I squinted up at it, the sun bright above my location so near the equator. A night’s rest made controlling the kite easier. After warming up a bit with the kite, Frainin had me hold the it with one hand at 2 o’clock and walk upwind for quite a while. I tried to alternate between looking at the kite and not steeping on rocks as he zigzagged me into and out of the water in an attempt to teach me how I’ll be moving in the water. A kite won’t simply take you in a straight line from Point A to Point B; you’ve got to move diagonally. When we had made it all the way back to Donkey Den, he hooked the kite to himself and we started to go into the water. I didn’t really understand what we were doing, and he didn’t really explain. I was instructed to hold onto the back of his harness with my right hand. He held the kite at 2 o’clock with his right hand. With our right hands otherwise engaged and our left arms pointed straight towards the sea, it fell to the kicking of our legs extended towards the beach to get us out past the crashing waves to calmer waters. I nearly choked to death on the water and was struggling to stay afloat without the use of both of my hands, so I let go of his harness. He instantly whipped his head around as I started to drift away from him and sternly told me that I needed to stay attached to him. Reluctantly I held back on, but I only had to struggle with the waves for a moment longer because soon Frainin was angling the kite in the ways he taught me to angle on the sand and propelling us in zigzags through the water. The kite lifted our upper bodies out of the water as we soared downwind to the right then the left. After a few joyous minutes of being a passenger, Frainin held the kite at 12, then, waiting for the right wave to take us home, quickly angled the kite to 2:30, pulling us to the shore, the waves crashing behind me. I expected nothing like this. My surprise at how nice it felt to glide through the water and at how fast we were going made me laugh hysterically as we walked the kite back down the length of the beach.

Now it was my turn to control the kite. I didn’t see how I would create the same effect. After nearly drowning on my way back in, this time with myself holding the kite with one hand while Frainin held onto my harness, and after trying to get used to the salty sting in my eyes, I finally made it out to softer waters. I put two hands on the bar and powered, holding the kite at 12. I took a deep breath and tried to remember my lessons. Once you realize how to hold your body, with your feet either to your sides or behind you, never in front of you, it’s not so different from doing it on land. With a squeal of delight I realized that powering hard at 12 will lift me out of the water. Soon, it was back to square one, proving to Frainin that I could bring the kite down to whatever time he told me. I started bringing it down to 2 and back up to 12 faster and more fluidly, making figure 8’s in the wind. Like so many other things your body learns to do, you can feel when you’re doing it right. Oddly, my mind went to the time I learned how to throw a football, and how good it felt to feel the old pigskin spiral off my fingertips. Soon Frainin was giving less instructions and only offering a few words of praise as I felt myself being uplifted and dragged happily through the turquoise water. I created figure 8’s with the kite on the either side, zigzagging through the water, looking nowhere but up at my kite, until my instructor told me to bring it down to 3 and take us to the shore. Again, I giggled the whole way, sand pouring into my shorts as the water became more shallow. We completed this exercise one more time, and then my hour was up.

Now it’s Saturday. The conditions have been abhorrent for learning the past three days. Everyone tells me to be patient, to which I animatedly reply that I can’t because I’m leaving in two days and I need to get on a board TODAY.

Unfortunately, as I sit and write down my recollections, I am in charge of watching the bed and breakfast for the next few hours. Cheryl is playing bridge, and the other two volunteers, along with any of my potential instructors, are on the water. I can only hope that the conditions remain ideal in the next few hours so I can get a lesson and some practice in.

 

by Rebecca Bellan