Kite Surfing: Interview with Mario Bari

The idea of using a kite to boost speed and gravity for the surfer may seem like a novel challenge, yet the art of kite surfing actually dates back to 13th Century China, when the fundamental idea was used as a simple mode of transportation. It was in 1992, however, that two Breton brothers – Laurent Ness and RaphaĆ«l Salles – began kite surfing in Languedoc-Rousillon, France. The popularity of the sport skyrocketed, and by the late ‘90s, Laird Hamilton and Manu had taken kite surfing to the Hawaiian coast of Maui. Today, more than a quarter of a million people engage in Bali’s latest craze. In this blog, we had the interview with Mario Bari, from the Rip Curl School of Surf in Sanur, to find out more…

So what is the lifestyle or philosophy behind kite surfing?
Kite surfing allows you to travel; it’s very mobile because you only need a small bag. The equipment doesn’t require much space. You can easily go around the world. Before, when there was only windsurfing, you had to carry a board which was about two to 2.5 metres with a mast and a boom and sail, so there was a lot of weight. That’s the life. Travelling with wings in your bag.

How has the sport evolved over the years?
In the beginning, everybody was using a wake board, but then it spread into different styles of riding. These days we have foot straps instead of bindings, so that you can perform tricks by removing the board, enabling you to jump very high in the air. Later, it became more like a surfing phenomenon, because you could do kite surfing on the waves. Now everybody wants to ride waves with the kites, so they just use a surfboard with four straps. It gives the surfer more possibility to enjoy many waves. The experience of doing the kind of sport that utilises the wind is just amazing.

How long has kite surfing been around in Bali?
It’s been here for the last eight years.

Is it dangerous?
Kite surfing is considered to be one of the dangerous sports in the world. It was even more so before, because the quality of the equipment wasn’t really safe. Because it’s a very new sport and it has attracted so many people, manufacturers have started making improvements to the types of material and quality of construction of the kite. Every three or four months over the last six years, they’ve been coming up with new equipment. At the moment we’ve reached a level where it is kind of safe to kite surf, if you learn in the proper way. It is definitely not a sport to learn by yourself. That’s when people get hurt.

How did you learn to kite surf?
I taught myself how to kite surf and nearly killed myself twice. Some people are not as lucky as I am. When I started to kite surf, there was no kite surfing in Indonesia, so I went to Italy and saw this guy kite surfing on TV. When I saw that I knew that I had to have it, so I bought it and brought it here six years ago, but nobody could teach me. There was no instruction manual and there were no teaching methods at that time, so I had to teach myself.

What kind of equipment do you need?
Before we used two-line kites. You can steer with this kind of kite, but you can’t change the power. Now we have a four-line kite that allows you to steer and change the power, so it’s more reliable in gusty wind conditions. This is connected to a control bar. There is also a board, which can be one of four kinds: a wake board, twin tip or bidirectional board (exactly like a wake board except with four straps instead of bindings), and a directional board, which only goes in one direction, and then there’s a mutant board, which is in between a twin-tip and a directional. It’s got a front and a back so, if you want to, you can ride it backwards. There are also two types of harnesses, either a waist or a seat harness, which you hook yourself to. It’s also good to have sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun and the splashing water. Some people think it’s a good idea to wear a helmet, because the board can hit your head or you can crash on the reef. Many riders wear impact vests, because when you land the wrong way from a 10-metre high jump, the water can be pretty hard.

What kind of board would you recommend for a novice?
That would depend on wind strength. For example, if there’s a very light wind, I’d prefer to give you a directional board because it gives you floatability. If the wind is strong, a directional board becomes difficult because you can’t edge much and will end up getting dragged downwind, so you need a smaller board. It really depends on the wind situation and what you want to do. Basically when you start, you learn first to go in one direction and then how to perform turns. It would be easier for you to start on a directional or mutant board when you go in one direction, but when it’s time for you to improve your turns, it’s better to use a twin tip.

How does kite surfing fit into the range of other water sports on offer in Bali?
Unfortunately Bali isn’t the best wind destination in the world, so kite surfing is limited to those months when we actually have wind. This is usually from the middle of May until the middle of September, when we have more constant wind, so we can do it on a daily basis. Whereas with surfing, rafting, snorkelling and other water sports, you can do them every day. You can still do, for example, wind surfing, if you have just one or two knots of wind, but with kite surfing you need at least eight knots. If you don’t have eight knots then you’re kind of struggling. To really enjoy it you need 13 knots or more.

What can someone expect to experience when kite surfing?
Excitement, very good fun and a lot of action from the first time you get into the water.

What is the story about the local ‘fly boys’ who are into kite surfing?
I have a lot of staff working for the club and they have started to learn because they see me going out and are excited to do it. The sport is kind of expensive because of the board and kite, so it’s not really affordable for many people. But now that kite surfing has become more popular, there are many people kiting, so there’s lots of people second-handing. Many people come to Bali and when they leave they just give their kites to the local guys. Thanks to this club, lots of locals started getting into this sport.

How many competitions do you hold throughout the year at your kite surfing schools?
In the last three years we’ve managed to do one a year. This year, we’ve already had a ‘Hot Air Third Edition’ and another one for the Sanur Village Festival in August.

What is the best thing about kite surfing?
You can learn very quickly and you can enjoy yourself from the start, because without trying you’ll be performing jumps.

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