Sun, breezy skies and calm waters: The conditions on Friday morning were perfect for students from the Youth Empowerment Project to learn windsurfing and kiteboarding. Throw French Olympic gold medalist Charline Picon into the equation and they had a day worth remembering.
Windsurfer Ms. Picon and kitesurfing instructor Eloy Derze led a group of eight students out onto the waters of Hodges Creek during a two-hour lesson that lasted until noon.
It was a four-part effort to put the event together, beginning with charter company Sunsail. The Virgin Islands office, one of 25 around the world, worked together with the Sunsail office in France to invite Ms. Picon on a 12-day sailing tour. Sunsail reached out to the BVI Tourist Board and the BVI Olympic Committee, both of which welcomed Ms. Picon, along with her family and some friends, on Feb. 5.
It was Ms. Picon’s last day in the Virgin Islands as she wrapped up a 12-day Sunsail tour, including a stop at the Anegada Kite & Paddle Festival on Feb. 11 and 12. Spending time with kids, she said, was a great way to wrap up the experience.
Ms. Picon waited eagerly with Mr. Derze at Hodges Creek Marina before the lesson, chatting before heading to a spot where Mr. Derze frequently teaches kitesurfing.
Craig Chomiak of BVI Stand Up Paddleboard Co. was already there, waiting for them with all the equipment needed for the adventure: kites, boards, shoes and sails. Mr. Chomiak partners regularly with Mr. Derze with kitesurfing equipment. His company also rents out floats, boards, chairs and even guitars.
Mr. Chomiak, Ms. Picon and Mr. Derze walked down the dock, scouted out a good spot, and started setting up the equipment with the kids. First, Ms. Picon showed the students how to unfurl a sail and attach it to the board. She also gave some surfing tips before going into the water, stressing the importance of keeping the knees bent while on the board.
Mr. Derze let students inflate the kite while securing the four lines attached to it. After grabbing some water shoes and putting on white water shirts, they were off into the water to begin training.
Windsurfing, which combines sailing and surfing, uses a sail attached to a board. Windsurfers have to manoeuvre the sail to catch wind and surf.
In waist-deep water, YEP students split into two groups: one with Ms. Picon, and the other with Mr. Derze. The first thing Ms. Picon taught her group was how to get onto the approximately six-foot-long board.
“You have to keep your feet in the middle,” she said.
She demonstrated by hoisting herself onto the board, stabilising her feet, and keeping her knees bent. Mrs. Picon took the students through the motions slowly, step-by-step, and let each have a turn.
Once students were comfortable getting on the board, the next step was to raise the sail by pulling a rope. The tricky part of this was to keep balance while lifting the sail, and then placing hands on one side of the sail. Most students spent the hour working on the technique of getting on the board and standing up.
When Ms. Picon got on the board, she showed them how to stay balanced and catch the wind to make the board move. Though there was a slight language barrier, it didn’t stop Ms. Picon from doing her best to show the kids the ropes. She was impressed with their perseverance.
“It’s nice to share the passion,”she said.“It’s very nice to see the enthusiasm.”
Ms. Picon learned windsurfing in her home country, France, and won a gold medal during the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Summer Olympics. On Sunday, she left for France to resume training for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
As the only kiteboarding school on Tortola, Kitesurf BVI is aimed toward tourists but it also works with residents. The sport is “a little expensive,” Mr. Derze said, but it’s starting to catch on in the VI, especially with schools already in Virgin Gorda and Anegada.
Mr. Derze said there are only a few kite-boarders on Tortola that he knows of, but he sees a growth in the community.
During the lesson, Mr. Derze and the students decided to ditch the board and just focus on controlling the kite. There are four lines on the kite: two control the power and two control the direction. These lines connect the kite to a handle attached to a kiteboarder’s harness.
Kimon Lewis, a YEP instructor, said such sports are a good way to keep kids active.
“Water safety is big,” he said, adding that having more experiences in the water helps kids get accustomed to it.
Ken-Noris Pit, one of the students at the event, agreed.
“We need more of it because it’s fun and it’s watersports,” he said.
Ken-Noris’s classmate Kijana Callwood, who tried her hand at windsurfing and kiteboarding, said she’d do it again.
“You should be able to swim [to do both],” she said, adding, “I think we should do more of it.”
At YEP, Kijana enjoys practising archery and attending special events.
“I think I want to be growing up and being a teacher [there],” she added.