— -- Even under a helmet, behind dark sunglasses and clad in a pair of swim trunks, the man is unmistakable. But strapped into a board and gripping a kite out on the open ocean, the surroundings are a bit unfamiliar.
In a scene that would’ve made Secret Service agents cringe if it took place just over two weeks ago, former President Barack Obama took up kitesurfing while on vacation with billionaire businessman Richard Branson. The 44th president and former first lady Michelle Obama were invited for a post-transition respite on Branson’s private Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands.
Branson, the British founder of the Virgin Group, described Obama’s exploits in a post on his company’s website, explaining that he challenged the former president to learn to kitesurf.
Kitesurfing is a cross between surfing and flying a kite, in which the surfer allows his or herself to be pulled on a board across a body of water.
Branson said Obama was told by his security detail to give up risky water activities upon assuming the office of the presidency.
“One of the first stories Barack told me when he and Michelle arrived … was how, just before he became president, he had been surfing on a dangerous break in Hawaii,” wrote Branson. “When he came in from an exhilarating session, the new head of his security team turned to him and said: ‘This will be the last time you surf for eight years.’”
Branson goes on to describe Obama’s journey from flying a kite on the beach, to using it in the water, to finally strapping into the board. Meanwhile, after a few crashes, Branson got up on a foilboard and managed to cruise along the water for 50 meters. (In foilboarding, one's surfboard utilizes a hydrofoil to leave the water, appearing almost to levitate as it travels.)
But just as Branson thought he won their wager, he looked over to see Obama “go 100 metres on his kiteboard! I had to doff my cap to him and celebrate his victory.”
“After all he has done for the world, I couldn’t begrudge him his well-deserved win,” wrote Branson.