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Why the extreme sport of kiteboarding is addictive

Hill rides a board that is lofted into the air by a nylon kite. Kiters, he says, are always praying for wind.

STEPHANIE BERNSTEIN

This launches a weekly series that unveils Canadians' hidden passions during the hot season.

Graham Hill is seriously hooked on kiteboarding, or kiting, an extreme sport that swaps water skis for a board, a boat for a nylon kite - all the better to get so airborne, you wet your suit from the inside. The Sutton, Que.-raised designer, entrepreneur and environmentalist is the founder of Treehugger.com, the online hub for all things green, sold to Discovery Communications for a reported $10-million (U.S.). Now based in New York, the 39-year-old Mr. Hill works half-time and virtually from wherever the wind takes him. The Globe and Mail caught up with him kiting around British Columbia.

I have many questions about kiting. For example, how do you not fall and break your face on the board?

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It's hard for you to hit the board unless your feet come out of the bindings, but you can take a good spill. The main challenge for a beginner is when things start to go a little sideways. The natural reaction is to start steering wildly and that's when you really go flying. If you're near land, you can hit rocks, cars, trees. The kite can go into a death spiral and pull you through the parking lot.

And this is fun?

You learn to be subtle and calm. Now I'll tumble and be inside the wave, upside down and twisted, but one hand is still steering the kite.

Can you kite one-handed while eating a baloney sandwich? Or do any other tricks?

I can do 15 to 20 foot jumps and ride "fakie"- that's kiting backwards. I can do two 360-degree spins called "back rolls."

Kiting seems like such a dude-ish hobby. I might have expected the founder of Treehugger.com to be into, say, organic gardening.

It's a human-powered sport - just me and the wind - the caveat being that if you're flying or driving places it has an impact on the environment.

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What do you do with your gear when it's worn out? Presumably, your board doesn't turn into compost.

That's a good question. I haven't gotten rid of anything yet. I gave some gear to my brother that still has life in it. There are people who make bags and shower curtains out of the kites. My wetsuit is made of limestone and has no oil in it. It's supposed to be slightly better for the environment.

What's kiter culture like?

It's a culture of addicts. Kiters are always praying for wind. Even in places that have a windy season you might only get a few days per week. It's the intermittent reward that keeps you hooked.

You recently sailed from San Francisco to Sydney on the Plastiki, a boat made of 12,000 water bottles, to spotlight alternative uses for plastic waste. Do you have a love of water or risk?

A little of both. I love water - I'd grow barnacles if I could. My friend David de Rothschild [creator of the Plastiki]invited me and it sounded too crazy not to do. It's a very important cause. There's tons of plastic waste in our oceans, and they're in real trouble. And I never had a misspent youth, so I think I'm trying to make up for lost time.

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Do kiters sit around talking wind speed calculations and board synthetics?

Yep, and all the various "kitemares" - stories from out on the water. There are the young trick-surfer types, but most kiters are … it's a sort of nerdy sport. The tech community is pretty huge into kiting.

How does your mother feel about your passion for extreme pastimes?

I'm low key compared to my brother Greg. He's set a bunch of records backcountry skiing and is aiming for two million vertical feet this year. He's constantly out in avalanche land. I'm the least of her worries.

Special to The Globe and Mail

This interview has been condensed and edited.











































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