St. Paul, Minn. — Winter kite surfers are basically after two things: speed and air. And even though the winds were light on Saturday, the competitors found plenty of both.
The kites they fly are bright orange, yellow and blue and stand out against the white lake. And they're huge; two or three times as big as the athletes themselves, so even a light wind goes a long way.
"There's a lot of things going on there with the speed and feeling the power of the kite and then releasing the power of the kite, being pulled in the air, floating in the air and then coming down, hopefully nice and soft," says Vojta Cervenka of Golden Valley, one of kite surfing's biggest promoters.
He learned to kite surf on water in the Hood River Gorge in Oregon, but prefers kiting on Minnesota's frozen lakes, because it's faster. Cervenka built the Lake Minnetonka competition course, a wide expanse of terrain that includes a jumble of different kinds of jumps.
The athletes speed up to the top of a three foot jump, launch 10 or 20 feet in the air and execute spins and flips while holding onto massive kites. Cervenka helped judge the day's event.
"We're looking for smooth transitions from trick to trick. The balance of their body on their skis, being able to fly the kite, control the kite, using the power of the kite, and the difficulty of the tricks, obviously; how high they go and the difficulty of the manuevers in the air."
Anna Levins, 32, was one of only two women competing. She started winter kite surfing on White Bear Lake with her husband a few years ago and was instantly hooked.
"When you're in the air, it's like floating; it's really neat," she says, adding that like most extreme sports, women have largely stayed away from kite surfing. She thinks thats changing.
"Hopefully in the next couple of years, more and more women will start picking it up. I mean it's a really easy sport to learn, especially on the snow. If you know how to ski or snowboard, you can go out in minimal wind and just go along gradually."
An early form of winter kite surfing has been around since the 1980s, but the sport only really started catching on about three years ago when summer kiters realized how much fun it was in the winter. They fell in love with the speed and control that snow and ice offer compared to water.
The winter version of the sport is also taking off in Europe. Three athletes traveled from France to compete on Lake Minnetonka.
Jion Shastonyol says he wanted to see how the sport was evolving the U.S. "Someone sent us an e-mail and said, 'You have to try in United States, there is something happening there. It's getting big too.' So, here we are."
No one knows exactly how big winter kite surfing could get, but Vojta Cervenka gets excited when he thinks about the possibilities. "It's growing, it's growing extremely fast, almost as comparable to when snowboarding came into the skiing scene," he says.
If he's right, the languid sport of ice fishing will have to start sharing the lakes with a few adrenaline junkies. And Minnesota's winter landscape will never be quite the same.