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The history of kitesurfing before it became a trend

by Gabriele Ferraresi
Today, being on the beach watching a kite surfer glide over the waves is nothing unusual. In fact, it's almost easier than seeing someone windsurfing. Getting dragged into the sea on a board, moved by the energy of the wind and by a sail/kite has become a real water sport for everyone in the last ten, fifteen years. Kitesurfing has a very recent history, even though it has its roots in ancient times.

Without going back too far in history, it is certainly worth mentioning the British teacher and inventor George Pocock, who in 1826 patented the "Charvolant", a carriage moved by two kites. The tests of his "flying carriage" are flattering, with some passengers on board traveling at around 30 km/h on roads that are certainly not those of today, it goes even faster than the postal carriage, which at the time was very fast: but the patent of Pocock, however brilliant, has not followed. Today, sensations similar to those of the "Charvolant" are experienced by those who dedicate themselves to the kite buggy, where a three-wheeled vehicle is driven by a sail and by the wind.

How kitesurfing came about

The true modern history of kitesurfing begins about a century and a half after Pocock. The first patent was issued in October 1977, when the Dutchman Gijsbertus Adrianus Panhuise registered a water sport in Amsterdam where, standing on a surfboard, you are pulled by the wind thanks to a parachute harnessed to the pilot.
Despite the fact that Panhuise's invention was not commercially successful, the drawing that can still be seen today on the last page of the documents that it records speaks for itself: he is the father of kitesurfing. Great minds think alike, however, so many in the world are trying the same road as Panhuise and the real baptism of air (and water) for kitesurfing comes just a few years later. Not in the United Kingdom, nor in Holland, but in Brittany, at the end of the 70s. The brothers Bruno and Dominique Legaignoux, still young, are already sailing champions, they sail with a dinghy on the windy Breton coasts, they win youth championships, but they lack something; certainly not the spirit of inventiveness.

They think of a new way to exploit the strength of Eolo and their choice falls on the kite.

Not that it was the first time in the history of mankind that the wind was used in this way to move on the water, indeed: beyond the patent of Panhuise, the Jacob's Ladder - a small boat the size of a pedal boat pulled by a series of fifteen black kites one above the other - just in those years had shown that the idea was realistic.
The real merit of the Legaignoux brothers will still have to be developed. Their intuition that would later become a popular sport around the world and in Paris 2024 will also be an Olympic discipline. After the first tests - in which they combined the kite structure of the kite with water skiing - they perfected their invention, patented it, and in 1985 presented it at the International Speed Week in Brest. In this case too, however, luck does not help the daring, because of course, the idea works, it is fun to glide over the water moved by the wind, but there is no company willing to invest in it. And the Legaignoux don't have the necessary liquidity to produce their idea in series.
As Bruno Legaignoux - who moved to the Dominican Republic in 2000 - recalled, they won't find a lender even in the years immediately following, and perhaps it was better this way, because kitesurfing develops experimentally and independently from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, both in Europe and in the United States.

Kitesurfing in United States of America

In the USA, another couple of brothers, Cory and Bill Roeseler, are studying how to fly on the waves thanks to the wind, but it will be necessary to wait until the '90s for the critical mass of technique and enthusiasts explodes and kitesurfing becomes a truly mass water sport, practiced on windy beaches around the world. The explosion of kitesurfing still bears the signature of the Legaignoux brothers, this time with a new patent put on the market in 1997, a sail with inflatable tubular structure, the Wi.P.I.K.A., Wind Powered Inflatable Kite Aircraft. At the same time, other lovers of the sea, wind and flight, such as Robby Naish and Don Montague, also designed new systems for moving a board on the sea thanks to the air, and in 1998 also came the tricks, signed by the legend Lou Wainman - for many one of the greatest kiteboarders of all time - among the first to be carried by the wind not only on the waves, but also to fly over it like on a flying skateboard, in an infinite pool like the sky.
The idea behind the kite seems simple, and it is basic: but the variables at stake are as many as the problems to be solved by gliding over the waves, both in terms of maneuverability, safety, and restarting once the sail has perhaps ended up in the water. Time and experimentation, however, slowly solve everything and kitesurfing becomes a mature sport.

Today the Global Kitesports Association divides the races into four categories, kite-surfing, freestyle, parkstyle and racing, but if you want the disciplines there are even more. From the most competitive ones, such as the speed specialty, which is practiced on asymmetrical carbon boards on 250 or 500 metre courses where the objective is simply to go faster than the others, to others that are more relaxing, such as freeriding, or moving gently around the sea, helped only by the wind that blows up our kite.

Where to practice kitesurfing

Wherever there is water and wind, you don't even need too much, at least with the latest generation sails with which 5 knots of breeze are enough to move. The Hawaiian islands are perfect, as well as - more accessible to European enthusiasts - the Canary Islands, Tarifa or Fuerteventura, Marsa Alam and El Gouna in Egypt, or Rhodes in Greece.

In Italy? In our area there are about 30,000 practitioners, and they are spoilt for choice: between Castiglione della Pescaia in Tuscany, Porto Pollo in Sardinia, the Stagnone - between Marsala and Trapani, in Sicily - without forgetting Vieste and Porto Cesareo in Puglia, or even the fresh water, perhaps on Lake Como. The spots suitable for kitesurfing in the Peninsula are everywhere.

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