3 South Florida Kiteboarders Who Know The Sport Is All Passion And Perseverance
Three local kiteboarders share their passions for the sport, and encourage other women to give it a try.
Kiteboarding, one of the most popular extreme sports worldwide, has kitesurfers flocking to Jupiter each year to take advantage of the winter winds and tropical blue waters.
With a myriad of styles available (freestyle, foil, racing, wake and wave riding), adrenaline junkies can enjoy the sport on most days, with just a little wind.
Top kiters in our area can be seen propelling themselves off waves, attaining heights over 50 feet, all the while performing jaw-dropping stunts. When the winds are kicking, the best of the best in the sport perform for large crowds mesmerized by their talent and the beauty of colorful kites.
Initially a male-dominated sport, more and more women are entering the field and setting the bar for others to follow. Jupiter is home to three such kiting stars: Melissa Gil, Marina Marselli and Alexandra Menk. Here, we look at how they fell in love with the sport.
Melissa Gil — World Champion
“Women have their own riding style, they can be powerful and technical, but there is always grace and beauty in their style.”
Thirty-one-year-old Melissa Gil began her love affair with the ocean as a baby growing up in Costa Rica and Miami swimming, surfing and diving. Expanding that love into a career as a marine biologist, she applies her studies to protecting our natural resources. Gil chose to live in Jupiter because of the small hometown feel and widespread opportunities to pursue her favorite water sports. Key among those are kitesurfing and surfing. Discovering the sport while attending college in Miami, Gil quickly excelled, becoming a world champion and holding the outright U.S. Speed Sailing record. She is sponsored by Cabrinha, Dakine, NPX and Transcend Kiteboarding. In addition, Gil created a swimwear line (MG Surfline), exclusively handmade in Costa Rica, to provide women with quality products that reflect “our love for Mother Nature.”
Have you always pursued extreme sports?
I started body boarding in Costa Rica when I was young and fell in love with riding water. Later on, I learned how to surf, and my favorite thing to do is kitesurfing on waves. I could never do the gym thing. Adrenaline is beneficial but can also be addicting. Extreme sports give you a natural high—a feeling that nothing else can. As a woman I am cautious, but I am not afraid of the ocean or extreme sports. Fear is sometimes the one thing that holds people back from learning. If you can't get over your fear, you can't progress. I am the kind of person who thinks positive, and I never think something bad will happen, therefore I am always willing to try.
How fast and how high do you go?
Kite speeds depend on the wind speed, the conditions and the equipment. The fastest I have gone is about 44 mph, over 500 meters, spiking almost 50 mph when I broke the Outright U.S. Women's Speed Sailing record at 38 knots in Lüderitz, Namibia. The fastest kitesurfer in the world can go over 55 knots, that is more than 63 mph. Speed Sailing is just one discipline of the sport, which is meant for going as fast as you can. On average we go much slower, 15 to 20 mph. The height depends on the wind and conditions. I recall one jump that actually scared me. When I looked down it felt like being atop a five-story building, and heights scare me.
What should people know before they kitesurf?
You don't need to be the strongest and most athletic person to learn. Anyone from a young girl to an old man can learn when instructed. You are attached to the kite by a harness, and the kite has the power to lift you up in the air and drag you across anything like a rag doll.
What role do women play in this sport?
Women have their own riding style, they can be powerful and technical, but there is always grace and beauty in their style. I think women play a big part in the sport, and many people are inspired by women who ride. ... The level of riding has increased through the years, as more and more women get into it. There is more advancement, more competition and more female accomplishments in the sport.
Alexandra Menk — From the boardroom to the ocean
“My biggest interesting moment was landing a trick and finding myself on top of a BIG bull shark.”
Born in the mountains of Colombia, Alexandra Menk did not feel the pull of the ocean or adrenaline rush of kitesurfing until later in life. An accomplished businesswoman at the top of the advertising world, Menk was introduced to kitesurfing by a friend in Miami and was hooked immediately. She had never been involved with extreme sports prior to this, but soon excelled at the sport and is now sponsored by Cabrinha.
What intrigued you about the sport?
One thing that really pushed me was my love, respect and admiration for the ocean and all of the beautiful living creatures. I just wanted to spend more time in the water than on land. Once I felt the ocean was my home, I started to look at it as my playground and kitesurfing as just the perfect sport to enjoy it.
What is it like being a female kitesurfer?
It is a beautiful sport, and women add graceful style, making it even more enjoyable to watch. The competition part is harder, just because there aren't enough local events to promote at the competitive level. I feel girls today are taught to be stronger, and when they see other women accomplishing their goals, it gives them the confidence to try. Women are fearless, competitive, driven and I'm sure we will see more in the sport doing great things.
What advice would you give someone who's interested in trying the sport?
I encourage all girls and women who feel comfortable in the water to try it. The sport is challenging and takes time and perseverance, but with lessons with a certified instructor, you can be riding in no time. My advice on lessons is to never take them from friends or worse your boyfriend, husband if you want to keep the relationships.
Have you had any scary moments?
I have had some scary moments, which I call “interesting moments,” but nothing life-threatening. My biggest interesting moment was landing a trick and finding myself on top of a BIG bull shark. I think it was just as scared as me since it took off with a giant splash. But, kiting is my therapy and a vital part of my life.
Marina Marselli — The Renaissance Athlete
“It's an extreme sport and crucial that people get the proper training so they aren't a danger to themselves or others.”
Italian-born Marina Marselli has always excelled at sports, dominating on the ski slopes in the super giant slalom and downhill. A ski instructor at Gressoney, the young athlete loved nothing more than the adrenaline rush she felt speeding down Alpine mountains.
Switching gears, Marselli's next athletic pursuit took her into the world of golf—first as a Class A teacher in Italy with the IPGA, then Class A with the LPGA. She played on the European Tour for two years, the Asian Tour during the winter months, and the Symetra Tour in the U.S. for two years while trying for the LPGA Tour. She also played events in Canada, where she set a course record in Edmonton. She has been teaching in New York and Florida for the past 10 years.
Living in Jupiter, Marselli was mesmerized by the kitesurfers, and was inspired by professional kiter Damien Leroy to push the limits. She began training with Jeremy Lund of New Wave Kiteboarding and was immediately hooked. Marselli's kiting took her the route of racing, where she competed in the World Championships in Italy and the European Championship the following year. Today, she's a team rider for Ozone Kites and serves as an ambassador for the sport.
What do you love about the sport?
Kitesurfing felt so natural to me and fulfills my quest for adventure. Most important is the feeling of freedom and being connected with the wind, ocean and nature. Kitesurfing is the closest feeling to skiing that I've found. It is so peaceful. It is a trip within my mind—a secret relationship between the wind, the ocean and myself.
Explain the transition from a land-based to a water-based sport?
Learning to adjust to a water sport was initially scary. The power of the kite was intimidating, and I remember thinking I was just going to fly away. It's an extreme sport and crucial that people get the proper training so they aren't a danger to themselves or others. It's a steep learning curve, but with new teaching techniques and material available it becomes easier all the time.