Catch a wave, lots of air with kiteboarding

If you go to the beach, you might see them on the water - men and women flying kites with boards attached to their feet.

Called kiteboarding, sometimes kitesurfing, the sport is gaining popularity.

Bellingham Kiteboarding owner Andy Holmes, 29, of Bellingham talked recently about kiteboarding and why it's so fun:

Question: What is kiteboarding?

Answer: It's similar to windsurfing, Holmes explains, except participants fly large powerful kites while riding boards that are similar to wakeboards. The wind pulls them out over the water and also up into the air, allowing for jumps that are 20 to 30 feet into the sky.

"One of the big appeals of kiteboarding over windsurfing is that you can jump so high easily," Holmes said. "(The kite is) kind of a parachute (so) your jumps are floaty and you come down nice and soft."

Q: How big are the kites?

A: Made of ripstop nylon, they measure 16 square meters down to seven square meters. A 16-square-meter kite is 30 feet to 40 feet wide. Bigger kites are used when winds are lighter, smaller kites when winds are heavier.

Q: Why is it good to be in shallow water?

A: It makes for warmer water. It makes it easier to rest if kiteboarders get tired; they can simply stop and put their feet down, rather than having to kiteboard in. It makes beginners feel more secure. "You can go out and you can ride but have the security of knowing you can walk back in if need be," Holmes says.

Q: Why does he love kiteboarding?

A: "You get the thrill of snowboarding but you don't have to pay for a lift ticket."

Plus, you can get out on the water and go about 20 mph without having to pay for a boat or gasoline.

And it's quiet while kiteboarding. "I feel connected to nature that way."

Then there are the tricks. "You can jump and do spins or you can jump and do upside-down tricks. You're just free out there."

Size matters: Kiteboarding's other appeal is that it doesn't require lots of bulky equipment, or a big vehicle to haul your stuff around. Kites can fit in backpacks and boards can fit in small closets.

Q: Flying a kite? That sounds easy.

A: It isn't, according to Kyle Breakey, a 21-year-old Western Washington University student who flew a trainer kite during one of Holmes' lessons.

Until you get a feel for flying a kite with two lines, it's confusing, says Breakey, who wants to add kiteboarding to a long list of outdoor activities that includes soccer, windsurfing, biking, climbing and slack lining.

"It's a lot of fun, but it takes a lot of getting used to," he says. "I had a blast. I was able to fly it and learn pretty quickly."