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SA Record Explained E-mail
Written by Basil Cambanis   
Wednesday, 22 December 2010 03:55

Updated : 7 Feb 2011

Setting a new South African record of 50.72 knots on 28 October 2010 was unexpected, but it holds a a lot of meaning for me as all the odds were stacked against this happening.
Since I've lived in land-locked Johannesburg all my life, it would seem that pursuing speed kiting as a sport makes no sense at all, but I'll explain my motivation and how I got to this point.

I've always loved the sea and spent as much time in it as possible during our annual holidays as a child. I started body boarding at an early age and spent hours at the back line waiting for the elusive wave at Umhlanga.
It began in the early 90's while I was still studying, and I needed an outlet but was not intrigued by conventional sports. I then caught a glimpse of a sailing mag at CNA and saw guys shredding on short boards (windsurfers) and knew this was the sport for me as it was the closest I could get to surfing inland.
I then went through the classified section of the newspaper and found a secondhand Masterclass sailboard. I was not working yet and had very little cash, but the board priced at R250 was right up my alley.
I then went to Alverbank sails and bought a 6.8 sqm sail from Tony Kitchen.
Next step was to find a body of water to sail on, so I went through the Johannesburg street guide and Germiston Lake looked like my best option.

Through ignorance I thought I would simply climb on and rip it up, but I spent 3 months of mostly sinking and swimming instead, as Joburg has some of the lightest wind in the world and I'd bought a semi-sinker.
But being a stubborn bugger and determined to "surf" no matter what, I persevered until eventually I got wind strong enough to get up onto a plane (August 1990), and that was it; I was hooked !
After learning how to balance on the board with water up to my chest in the lulls, and how to water start and carve gybe, I now wanted to seek out a bigger dam with cleaner wind.
After much asking around and consulting of map books, I discovered "Grootdraai".
I shared a Ford Escort 1.4 with my brother at the time, and after some negotiation, I was off to Sanderton (185 km away).
As I neared the town it was apparent from the dust everywhere and the car veering at times that it was blowing like mad. There were no fancy forecast models like today, so this was pure chance.
I had no clue how to gain access to the dam or where to sail from, so I drove up the water affairs road, did some explaining at the gate in Afrikaans and continued on to the Northern shore.
I eagerly rigged and then attempted to sail in what must have been 30+ without a harness or proper wetsuit. Needless to say, I got slammed in every which way and luckily didn't even manage to get more than a few meters from shore.
With my tail tucked between my legs and my pride in tatters, I drove all the way back to Joburg empty handed and with a new respect for mother nature.
After licking my wounds and pondering over what had happened, I plucked up enough courage to go to Grootdraai again a few weeks later, but this time armed with wetsuit, harness and friend.
It was blowing East on this day and we managed to find another entrance which meant the wind angle was sideshore this time.
The wind was lighter than my last trip and the wetsuit and harness made a huge difference. This time I was able to almost step onto the board and plane from one bank to the other (2-3 km).
I was shrieking with joy as this was the steadiest wind I'd ever sailed in and the longest I'd ever planed. Grootdraai became my new fascination and I was to be found there almost every weekend thereafter.
There were no tools like Windguru in those days, so I went regardless on most weekends and made the most of it. Grootdraai gets much better wind than Johannesburg as it's near the edge of the escarpment, and this allowed me to progress at a rapid rate.
Not too long after this I met Hennie Bredenkamp who lived there at the time. We used to drag race often and pushed one another to the limit at times.
Hennie was more experienced, and I learnt a lot from him; he also helped me make my first speedboard, which we made in his barn when he still stayed North of Joburg.
We made these speed boards for the Walvis Bay speed week in 1992. 

This was my first attempt at speed sailing and I was clueless, but loved sailing along flat water at Walvis from day one and was hooked.
Due to the lack the wind inland I couldn't sail more than once or twice a month, but all the while I tracked weather systems and pondered ways of going faster.
I improved through perseverance and became the ultimate die-hard when it came to chasing wind, and sailed in anything from a zephyr to storm force wind, and would sail from dawn until dusk on the good days.

Right Hip X-Ray

After a few years I began to experience pain in my hips after a strenuous session. This progressively worsened until I went to have a check up.
Initially no one could pin point what the problem was and I had physio to counteract the pain, but still none the wiser as to what the cause might be.
After several months the pain worsened and I decided to get another opinion, so I took my previous x-rays to another orthopedic surgeon (Dino Kastanos) and he immediately picked up that I had a condition known as "hip dysplasia".
This is when the hip socket and/or head of the femur are malformed which causes early wear and damage. In my case the hip socket is too shallow which causes the head of the femur to ride out the joint. I have 50% normal coverage on my right hip and 25% less coverage on my left hip. The hip problem causes knock-on problems such as back pain.
The prognosis was not good, and he said I'd eventually need bi-lateral hip replacement surgery and was to avoid impact sports.
I was naturally very sad and disappointed to hear this and ceased to windsurf in a bid to save my hips, but the lack of sport and following my passion caused me to fall into further depression with each passing year.
I eventually realised there was no point to it as life was passing me by; so I decided to start sail again regardless of the consequences.

This resulted in a chance meeting with a another sailor (Angelo Angelos) at the Vaal. A few months passed until I ran into him again and he'd started kiting by then. He told me how much fun it was and that the safety had vastly improved since the early models. This coupled with my desire to go all out made me decide to start kiting. So I bought a second hand 10 sqm Airush Halo (2006 model) bow kite and twintip from Gunter at Joluka and went to Sterkies shortly after that to learn how to kite, this was on 23 September 2006. 

I was super keen to get started when I arrived, but the instructor (Anton Nel) told me (correctly so) there was too much wind to learn in (30 knots), but I was not going to be denied.
So a good friend of mine (Mark Kerrigan) helped me rig and launch the kite for the first time. We both knew squat about kiting and took a while to get ready with the kite flapping around furiously in the strong wind.
I luckily stood near the waters edge when he released the kite for the first time, as it was too far upwind and immediately swung downwind and hauled me some distance into the water; the first of 4 swims ensued.
I then decided it was time for the board and I managed to get in a brief 50m run (mostly downwind) until my toeside rail bit and a longer swim followed. I called it a day after that but had learnt a lot despite being put in my place solidly. I kited at Grootdraai a week later in lighter wind, but this time things went much smoother and I was able to kite out and back again without issue.

The kiting bug had bitten me, and I tried to kite at every available opportunity thereafter.
A few months later I read about a waterproof GPS (Locosys) and managed to get one from Rob Munro. I thought it would be great to keep track of where I'd been and log my speed and distance per session.
I used the GPS for the first time at Grootdraai, and I recall being fascinated with the constant speed readout, as this was only possible with a fixed camera timing system previously, and this was only available at distant locations and during organised speed events.
The first time I used it at Sterkies was a pleasant surprise though, as I was used to speeds in the low 30's, and almost immediately managed to improve on my previous best speed. This spurred me on to try and go faster and faster in the small bay to see what speeds I could reach. After a short while I managed to reach a 38 knot peak using 145 x 42 beginner twintip and 10 Airush Halo kite in about 20 knots.
This intrigued me as I was still a complete novice, my best 500m at Walvis was 37 knots using a purpose built speed board.

It's then that I realised the vast speed potential of kites, and was motivated to try and kite in stronger winds. I tried kiting at several inland dams after that, but none could compare to Sterkies for both its frequency and strength of wind.
There's a vast difference between the wind in Joburg and Sterkies, so in March 2008 I installed a weather station there so I'd know when it's blowing, and look for the early signs of wind if I was in two minds as to whether I should go or not. 
The weather station has been a valuable tool over the years and has helped me pin point some of the windiest days on record. As such, I've been right on the money with every Sterkies speed event thus far.
I been speed kiting since June 2007 and have loved the experience. Living inland, I tend to track weather systems and spend more time planning than actually doing the sport; but it also means I really appreciate it when a good blow finally does arrive.
It works out best in my case anyway, as I couldn't spare the the time away from work and my family if we did get wind regularly, and it would degrade my hips faster. 

Speed kiting gives me the motivation to train during the Winter months as the windy days at Sterkies usually blow 30+, and the fridged waters really take their toll if you're not in good shape. 
Besides speed kiting being great fun, an added bonus is that it's done on flat water and in strong wind, so most of my body weight is suspended in the kite which relieves some pressure from my hips.

I am self taught when it comes sailing (both windsurfing and kiting); learning this way means I did things the hard way and made several rookie mistakes, but these were lessons well learnt. 
In the early stages, I searched the Internet for information about speed kiting, but found very little. So I created this site to document what I'd learnt and publish live Sterkies weather information.
The most useful speed site I found at the time was GPS-Kitesurfing, as I enjoyed reading the speed posts from around the world and it gave me benchmark speeds to aim for. 

My progression was fairly rapid once I focused on speed. 
Here's some key sessions (5x 10sec) from the start until present :

  • 31.82 : 1st speed session at Grootdraai dam in June 2007
  • 40.34 : 3rd speed session at Sterkies in November 2007
  • 44.07 : 1st time at Luderitz in October 2008. Found it tougher than I'd thought.
  • 41.52 : 1st 50+ knot peak ever record inland ! Here's the article
  • 48.36 : 2nd time at Luderitz in October 2009. Getting the hang of it, but no wind during 1st week of official event.
  • 44.91 : Best session at Sterkies to date in May 2010. Good average as the run is very short.
  • 50.49 : Best session at Luderitz to date in October 2010. SA Record ! Download GPS Tracks HERE, read more about the Luderitz event HERE
  • Who knows what 2011 holds, there's no wind yet as it's our quiet Summer months.



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