On most days, you can catch Carlsbad-turned-Pacific-Beach local Jeff Raney teaching art classes at Pinot’s Palette in Liberty Station, but on days when wind speeds reach 15 mph or more, you can find him out on the open ocean soaring above the waves on his kiteboard, taking in the sights.
“The addiction is so real,” said Raney of his love for kitesurfing, “it’s crazy!”
Kitesurfing, a term which is often used interchangeably with “kiteboarding,” although technically the former is done in open ocean waves while the latter takes place on flat water, is an extreme water sport that’s been growing in popularity since its origins in the 1980s.
This hybrid sport takes the best and most epic aspects of windsurfing, wakeboarding, surfing, snowboarding, paragliding, skateboarding and sailing, and combines them to create a next-level water experience.
Raney told PB Monthly he caught the kitesurfing bug while bartending in Carlsbad 17 years ago, after a chat with one of the bar’s regulars.
“He came into my bar one day and he said, ‘Jeff, I was at home watching TV, and I saw this guy — on ESPN or whatever it was — flying through the air with a surfboard attached to him and a kite,’ ” Raney recalled. “And I’m like, ‘OK, are you talking about windsurfing?’ And he was like, ‘No! It was a big kite, high up in the air, and he was riding through the water and soaring through the air.’ And I thought ‘Wow!’ and it fascinated me.”
After taking some “quick-like partial lessons,” as he put it (coupled with an intense amount of personal research), Raney officially fell in love with kitesurfing. Seven years later, he began giving kitesurfing lessons to friends, family and acquaintances. Today, he teaches one-on-one kitesurfing regularly off 1750 Fiesta Island Road, to anyone 12 and older — $75 per hour, $60 per hour if the student has his/her own gear.
Though it’s common for hotels and resorts to rush tourists through kitesurfing lessons, Raney said he’s meticulous in his teaching methods. Beginners must start with land lessons first, which is essentially just learning how to fly the kite. Once windspeeds reach a solid 12 mph, he can begin the land lesson.
Each person’s learning window is different, but Raney reports it usually takes about three to four hours of land lessons before a newcomer is ready to try the kite out on the water. Students are encouraged to get their own equipment if possible so they can practice outside of his lessons.
Every facet of the sport is covered, from kite set-up and maneuvers, to self-launch and landing, to “body dragging” (the act of a kitesurfer using their kite to drag themselves through the water downwind to control the kite, or upwind if they get pulled off their board) and self-rescue (which requires using the sail to bring the kitesurfer back to land).
“As long as you get lessons and you’re smart and you’re not doing dumb things, then you’re gonna have a blast out there because kitesurfing is just an amazing sport,” Raney insisted. He added that the trouble happens when people attempt kiteboarding without lessons or proper instruction.
According to Raney, the more experienced levels of kitesurfers tend to keep an eye out for inexperienced and uneducated kitesurfers; an entire kitesurfing location could potentially be closed down if a bystander is injured by a wayward kite.
“You don’t want to be that beginner who goes somewhere you really shouldn’t be, where it’s more intermediate or advanced,” Raney cautioned. “It’s a very fragile sport right now.”
Individuals who wants to jump into this extreme water sport should be in good physical condition, advised Raney, meaning no severe back, knee or shoulder problems.
And while some surfing, snowboarding or skateboarding experience can be helpful, it’s not a prerequisite. Some beginners have no experience on a board of any kind, he shared.
“I ask them, ‘If you’re going to get on a skateboard (and skate) down a sidewalk, which foot is in front?’ And they don’t even know,” Raney stated. But that’s alright, he assured; it might just mean a little extra time spent on water lessons.
Interested? Raney has this advice:
1. Get thorough lessons from a qualified instructor who has good references and lots of experience.
2. Don’t buy gear on your own; get recommendations from your instructor.
3. Do your homework, watch informative YouTube videos and join Facebook kitesurfing/kiteboarding groups.
“If you really want to get into kitesurfing, it doesn’t happen overnight,” Raney stated. “It’s not like surfing where you sign up with a surf school on the beach and, hopefully, within that hour you’re gonna snap up and then you could ride home back to Kentucky and say, ‘I went surfing!’ Kitesurfing is way more entailed and detailed; it takes time to do it.”
Due to wind variability, Raney checks in regularly with an app called iKitesurf, which gauges the best times to both teach lessons and indulge in his own kitesurfing fun for the day. iKitesurf monitors windspeeds at given locations based on wind sensors at kitesurfing locations. There’s one at Silver Strand, on the PB pier, on the end of PB’s jetty and one at Fiesta Island.
“We’re relying on Mother Nature; it’s a wind-dependent sport,” he observed.
The winter season can be the most dangerous season for kitesurfing because the wind speeds change instantly; the more extreme the winds, the more extreme circumstances kitesurfers might find themselves in.
Though the sport does have a danger factor to it, Raney said the equipment has been made increasingly safer since the sport began. The updated design of the safety release, which allows the kitesurfer to release the kite from his or her body in an instant, is something Raney wishes he had back in 2007 when he broke his ankle kitesurfing in Carlsbad. “I learned from that,” he said, “and I really wish I had just a little bit more know-how in that situation.”
In addition to the nearly two decades worth of experience under his belt, Raney totes two medals for competitive kitesurfing. In 2017, he won second place in the Southern California Kiteboarding Association’s Big Air Contest at Belmont Shores in Long Beach. The next year, he “came back with a vengeance” to take home the first place prize for flying 12 meters up into the air while kitesurfing. (Heights are measured by a device called a “woo,” which is placed on the kiteboard.)
Success stories aside, Raney recalled one of his most fun excursions out to Baja California, when he and a group of fellow kite surfing-enthusiasts decided to make a game out of jumping over a capsized boat during low tide.
For Raney, the trip was a positive experience and garnered him some of the best footage for his YouTube channel. His friend, however, was not so lucky; a too-early jump landed him directly on the hull of the boat.
“I got it all on video, and I put it on Chive TV because I didn’t want him to ever hear the end of it,” Raney said with a chuckle.
But it’s not an unsympathetic response; Raney explained that although the back of his friend’s leg had been badly bruised and scraped, the impact vest he’d been wearing saved him from suffering more significant injury.
Despite the danger, Raney said kitesurfing is “his love.”
“Get yourself so almost-addicted to it, and indulge in it,” Raney urged passionately. “Because it’s a lifestyle. Kitesurfing becomes a lifestyle.”
• IF YOU GO: The Beginner Zone is on Fiesta Island. The Low Intermediate Zone is on Sail Bay. The Intermediate/Advanced Zone is the open ocean — from Tourmaline Beach to Ocean Beach. During the summer, make sure to kitesurf in the surf zone only.
• For details about Raney’s lessons: Visit “Kitesurfing Lessons San Diego” Facebook page, e-mail email@example.com or call (760) 840-0028. Students must be age 12 or older.
• Editor’s Note: This is PB Monthly’s second profile of a kitesurfer. We chronicled Helen Spear’s love of the sport in a story you can read online at bit.ly/surferhelenspear