Wet, Wild And With More Thrills Than A Rollercoaster

Rick Jensen straightened up inside his wetsuit, pushed his broad shoulders back, and looked at the sky. "It's blowing about five. Just," he said. "It'd be better if it was more." A northwesterly wind is pushing clouds southeast and their shadows race across the beach on Sylt, Germany's northernmost island.

Jensen caps his air pump. Only a few strokes and the colorful canvas in the sand has changed into a kite, in the shape of a giant C. At each corner, the 21-year-old tied his flying lines, with which he would steer the kite. Then he attached the "control bar," a sort of handlebar, to a harness which hung low around his waist, skimming his hips. A helper raised the kite, Jensen pulled quickly on his lines and 10 square meters of canvas wafted silently skywards. Bent over a little against the wind, he dragged his monster kite toward the water.

There, where the waves were breaking, Jensen dropped his board onto the sand and climbed boots mounted on the board. Then he leaned backwards -- his entire 90 kilos, all muscle. The kite began to nose dive, then stopped, then caught the wind and started to scud powerfully out to sea. Jensen pushed the edge of his board into the surf and raced away, following his kite out to sea.

Spectacular Sport That's More Popular Than Windsurfing

This is kite surfing. A spectacular sport that's a mixture of kite flying and wind surfing. Ten years after it was invented, kite surfing is almost more popular than wind surfing. An estimated 30,000 kite surfers now shred the waves around Germany's coasts and on German lakes. And of those, a mere 20 can call themselves professionals.

Jensen is one of them. Over the past six years his kite has barely hit the ground. Sun and salt water have bleached his golden hair even blonder. In surfing circles he's known as one of the best -- he has been German junior champion twice already. And he plans to prove it again at the end of this month, when the best kite surfers on earth meet at the world championships in St. Peter-Ording off the north coast of Germany.

Jensen's kite flew relatively flat over the sea; this way he gets the most pulling power. It swept Jensen along as though it were a jet boat and he a water skier. And Jensen maneuvered the wakeboard through the waves as though it were some kind of converted mono-water-ski. Jumps are a specialty of his. He whipped the board out of the water, twisted into a back flip and did a complete 360 degree turn without stopping, while passing the handle from one hand to the other behind his back, before hitting the water again in a spray of foam.

High Winds And Acrobatic Skills Required

With kite surfing there are two classic kinds of competition. One involves running a straightforward race on a set course. The other is a race with a thrilling difference, known as "freestyle." The winner is the surfer who can put together the fastest, most acrobatic and most artistic run. This is why Jensen is currently trying to learn the "Mobe 7." Wakeboarding Web sites describe this complicated move as a Backmobe (which involves several aerial backward rolls) "followed by a 360 degree frontside handle pass." It is, they say, "one of the most advanced handle pass tricks, where the rider has to pass the bar two times before landing." Such a move will score big points in competition.

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