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Young People Taking Traditional Sports to Extremes


Surfing has fascinated Americans for decades, and in some parts of the country has given birth to its own surfing culture and dialect. Some people grow up surfing, while others come to it from other sports like skateboarding or skiing.

Jamy Donaldson spent much of his childhood in downhill skiing and ski jumping, and has now been surfing for 10 years, in part to satisfy his love for speed.

"I've always liked to go fast, if I'm on skis, or on a snowboard, on a motorcycle, in a car, you know, just going fast, something about it makes me feel really good," he said. "I love having adrenaline and I like it when I'm at speed and things slow down for me, so I feel comfortable at speed."

Recently, he has been testing new limits with the sport of kite surfing, in which a surfer holds onto a large kite to steer and pull himself across the water.

"I pretty much took all those skills that I got from skiing and snowboarding and just kind of applied them to kite surfing," said Jamy. "It pretty much takes all those skills and adds a new element in a third dimension. You can kite on the snow, you can kite on a pavement, you can kite on grass, you can kite on dirt, you can kite on the sand. I think my favorite is kiting on the water."

Kites also are being used by snow skiers and snowboarders to generate more speed and create entirely new extreme sports. Many credit the French for being the first to use inflatable kites with water skis and other watercraft, and advances in kite technology in the 1980s have helped the sport become more popular among people of all ages.

Jamy says the equipment for kite surfing costs about $1,500, and then all you need is water and some good wind.

"You want to be in a place where it's just unobstructed wind, you know, where the wind can just flow freely, and it's just wide open space," he said. "You can travel really quickly, really efficiently and it's free, you know, you just hang on the wind, and there's plenty of it."

Jamy says he can go as fast as 50 kilometers per hour, and has traveled distances up to 160 kilometers in one day. He has kite-surfed all over North and South America, from Chile to Mexico to his hometown San Francisco.

Sometimes he gets lost trying to find a place to launch, but he says that is part of the adventure.

"There's places to go skiing, there's places to go play tennis, places to go play golf. But with kite surfing, you know, we're just looking for new locations all over, you know," said Jamy.

Jamy warns there is a risk that kite-surfers can be arrested for crossing private property to reach the water. Other risks include high-speed accidents, which have caused serious injury and even death in the Netherlands, Germany, Taiwan and other places.

Despite the concerns, kite surfing is growing in popularity and may be included in the Olympics or an extreme sports competition known as the X Games, which Jamy says could be a mixed blessing.

"I'm kind of sitting on the fence about that. In one respect, I want it to be popular and I want to have established spots all over the place that people already know," he said. "I hate to see like a governing body, not destroy the sport, but just give it tons of rules, because what's cool about it is that there are no rules."

More people are being drawn to kite surfing, and schools are popping up all over, with 10 in Britain alone. The American Kite Surfing Association says its membership is anticipated to reach 30,000 before the end of the year.

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