MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Social distancing has us keeping our space, but also spending more time outdoors.

And maybe even trying something new.

Kitesurfing and hydrofoiling have been in Minnesota for about 20 years, but this year more people are trying those sports than ever before.

It’s a force of nature you can’t see, but you can feel. And on Medicine Lake in Plymouth, the wind is always welcome.

“It’s an all-encompassing feeling. If you get into kiting you’ll never look at a flag the same way again,” said Mike Kratochwill.

Kratochwill is a kitesurfing teacher at Lakawa, but he was once a student – back when the sport was getting started in Minnesota.

“I was a terrible student,” he said. “I would say I was the worst student out of everybody out there that day.”

You’d never guess that watching him today as he gracefully navigates across open waters, and sometimes above them.

“Patience is a brilliant word. I also use finesse,” said Kratochwill.

Those two words are the kitesurfing keys to gliding and getting air. It’s what he’s been preaching to all his students during what’s been his busiest year ever. Students like Paul Erickson.

“You don’t realize it when you watch somebody but it’s all about driving the kite,” said Erickson.

That’s something he is still working on and he’s far from alone. Conditions have to be just right to even try. Wind speeds should be at least 14 miles an hour with gusts that double that speed. Once you have that, then you are tasked with trying to essentially develop a sixth sense.

“You’re connected to the control bar, the lines, and the kite and we’re manipulating all this while using a board to carve up into the wind just like sailing,” said Kratochwill.

Kratochwill tells his students that the learning curve is anywhere from 30 to 50 hours. But he truly believes it’s something anyone can learn.

“It’s just, how do you explain it? Why do people like to ski? It’s speed. It’s a thrill,” said Erickson.

No motor. No noise. And a chance to go whichever way the wind blows.

“In golf it’s a good hit. In tennis it’s an overhead slam. In volleyball it’s spiking or digging. For kiting, it’s the same deal. Sometimes you don’t have the timing down. But when you do it keeps you coming back for more,” said Kratochwill. “Having an activity I can do the rest of my life, it’s a good feeling to pursue.”

Kratochwill says he teaches students of all ages and all walks of life.

He anticipate snow kiting will also be a busy activity on Minnesota lakes this winter as people practice social distancing.

John Lauritsen

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