2011-08-20 / Top News

Straits of Mackinac Winds Offer ‘Incredible Ride’

By Lauren Gibbons

Keith Croghan practices the sport of kite surfing on a windy day Wednesday, August 10. The Straits of Mackinac is one of his favorite places to kite surf. Keith Croghan practices the sport of kite surfing on a windy day Wednesday, August 10. The Straits of Mackinac is one of his favorite places to kite surf. The average person wouldn’t consider kite surfing in the Straits of Mackinac, but Keith Croghan isn’t the average person.

Kite surfing, a sport that uses the power of wind to direct a person’s travel on a surfboard with a handheld kite, has grown in popularity in the last 10 years, making windy places all across the world popular attractions for those who practice the sport.

The idea of using kites and harnessing wind to travel distances is thought to have originated in England, when carriage owners would sometimes use large kites to drive carriages across fields and have races on land. Since then, it has evolved to focus more on water and surf, and in Michigan, the activity has become particularly popular in areas such as Traverse City and Tawas City, where there are sandy beaches, shallow water, and consistent wind.

But for Mr. Croghan, the activity began in an unlikely place – the shallow waters near Arch Rock one windy summer day, when he and his cousin taught themselves how to kite surf with a kite and a few lessons under their belts.

While kite surfers have quite a bit to focus on while riding and driving kites, such as wind speed, waves, weather, and keeping control of the kite itself, Mr. Croghan said the activity is very relaxing once the rider becomes comfortable.

“It really is kind of meditative – you’ve got a lot going on the board and the kite and the lines and wind direction and speed,” he said. “It seems like a lot going on, but if you can stay relaxed and calm, it’s just so much fun.”

Likening kite surfing to horseback riding, Mr. Croghan said the kite and the way the strings are held are comparable to a set of bridle and reins, and the wind, in essence, is the beast a rider is attempting to direct.

Mr. Croghan has since made kite surfing a large part of his life. He teaches the sport in North Carolina during the summer season, and this winter, Mr. Croghan will be traveling to South America to teach kite surfing and explore new windy areas of the world.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.

Teaching wind surfing has given Mr. Croghan new insight into his sport.

“New concepts and ways of expressing your ideas come up, and it just helps tremendously,” he said. “My riding has developed so much since I started teaching. It’s really helpful just to observe.”

Mr. Croghan doesn’t think the sport will ever become a popular one on Mackinac, because of the rocky shores and lack of consistent wind speed above 15 knots, the minimum speed required to effectively use a kite for travel on the water. When he comes back to the Island and is able to ride, though, he said he loves the experience and considers it one of his favorite spots to kite surf.

“To come home and ride here is really one of my favorite experiences in the world. I just love to be on the Island and out in the Straits. There’s nothing like it,” he said.

Mr. Croghan said being involved with kite surfing has been a wonderful experience for him.

“It’s been an incredible ride. I’m really loving it,” he said.

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