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Instead of traveling this midterm break, I opted to stay in Dar for the week. When the opportunity arose to learn to kitesurf, I jumped on it. Living on the coast for the past two and a half years, I’ve seen plenty of people kitesurfing, and so assumed it wasn’t terribly difficult. In some ways, I was right. Kitesurfing, at least at a beginner level, is not physically demanding. However, I found it to be a challenging reflection of the state of my heart/self.

The first day, I started with a practice kite, crashed it only a few times, gained confidence, then moved to a full-size kite. Immediately, I crashed. When the kite started to drift to the right instead of staying at “12:00,” my corrections were never soft enough and I crashed every time. Controlling the kite is harder than it looks. When I watched from the shore and saw people zipping past, I didn’t realize the subtlety of their control of the kites. When I turn my arms incorrectly and “drive” the kite instead of turning it, the kite inevitably crashes. When I get distracted for even a second and take my eyes off the kite, it invariably swoops down towards the sea, throwing me into the ocean, and often crashing. When I overcorrect or tense my shoulders or make too harsh a movement, the kite crashes again. And again. And again. The lesson was fun, but it was incredibly frustrating.

Reviewing the basics of kite control during the second and third lessons came surprisingly easy. Even with the larger kite, the frustrations of the first day melted away, and I crashed only a few times in comparison. Still, as I was put in the position of student (a place I don’t often find myself these days), I realized how difficult it can be to understand instructions and correctly apply them to my actions. Time and time again I had to consciously control my natural urge to react rather than respond. Kitesurfing only exaggerated my typical inclinations towards reaction and tension under stress. But still, I felt successful. I was learning to stay relaxed, and even made a few “saves” by managing to keep the kite in the air when I thought surely it was going to crash. By the end of the third lesson, I was able to direct the kite well enough to get up on the board, ride a few meters, then sit back down. I had high hopes for being able to actually “ride” by the end of the week.

Then day four (today) happened. I crashed the kite before I even finished reviewing the previous lesson. And then I crashed it again. And again. And again. Over and over I found myself being dragged through the water, completely incapable of doing anything correctly. The salt water flowing from my eyes was not entirely from the ocean as even my best attempts to cope with the frustration failed miserably. Halfway through the lesson, we moved to the beach to practice simple landing and launching, as even walking with the kite was proving to be too much. My shoulders hurt, not from exertion, but from being clenched so tightly. The repeated gentle reminders to relax were fruitless as my best attempts to drop my shoulders lasted only a few seconds (until the kite wrenched itself from my control yet again). We ended the lesson thirty minutes early, considering a few consecutive successful landings to be enough for the day.

When I got home after running a few errands, several hours later, I was still trapped in the frustration and failure, to the point where even my puppy’s attempts to play were pushed away in anger. Normally, I would blame a lack of sleep, but I had slept close to thirty of the past 48 hours, so the only remaining culprits could be the antibiotic I’m taking for a bacterial infection, or my own inability to cope with pressure/failure. This may well be the sport that keeps me mindful of the value of struggling. If everything comes easy, then I won’t appreciate it, won’t grow, and won’t push myself to be excellent. Its not that other sports have necessarily come easy to me, but usually, there is room for solo practice where I can work out the rough spots without being under the eye of a coach. Its also not that I haven’t let other sports get to me–volleyball, my very favorite sport, is one that can still push me to tears on an especially difficult day. But maybe, just maybe, this will be the sport that teaches me to deal with pressure in a mature way. One can hope, anyway.

I have one more lesson later this weekend. My hopes are not terribly optimistic for being able to ride solo, but I’m not giving up on kitesurfing yet. How can I? Its essentially the perfect combination of water, sun, and flying.

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