WS4WW or Wind Sports for Wounded Warriors is a retreat to bring together kiteboard instructors and wounded veterans. By introducing wounded warriors to the active and healthy lifestyle of wind sports, the WS4WW organization hope is to impact their lives in the most positive way. Kiteboarding is a perfect activity because it’s a sport that requires more mental aptitude than physical strength. We were lucky enough to be chosen to help with the instruction for this years retreat on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
We volunteered to lead the ground school on Friday and work with the warriors on the water Sunday. The forecast for the event was east winds 10 – 14 kts on Friday, light winds on Saturday and 30 kts out of the NW on Sunday.
For months we were excited about volunteering for the event, we didn’t know who exactly was going to be in it, what their conditions were or if we were going to have to switch up our teaching method. The coordinators and instructors met the night before ground school to check in and go over the itinerary that organizer Bernie Saboe put together.
When kiteboarding, you’re at the mercy of the wind. The original plan for Friday was to do the ground school at the hotel followed by kite control at Sand Key. We thought it would be more valuable for the warriors to meet us at the beach of the Clearwater Sailing Center for ground school and to make the most of the gusty onshore wind conditions there.
The plan for Sunday was to get the wounded warriors out on the water, however, 30 knots of wind is a bit extreme even for an experienced rider. We pulled all the volunteer instructors together and then decided a strategy to safely and strategically teach the warriors in a safe environment. We collectively decided that small kites with short line length bars would be the safest way to teach in these conditions. We staggered the five wounded warriors upwind and to the side to stay a safe distance from the beach and other riders. The plan worked and we were able to get all the wounded warriors out onto the water.
Anthony Franchi and Frances from Adventure Sports in Miami worked with Anthony Radetic who’s a former army helicopter pilot whose now a paraplegic. Anthony R. was the perfect student. He had zero fear of the water and the conditions. He listened and trusted us and followed everything we taught him. We communicated and worked together to get him to use the 6m Cabrinha Switchblade kite with regular 22m lines to position himself where he wanted to be. He stayed relaxed the whole time and developed excellent kite control skills despite the gusty conditions.
Kite control is the most important part to kiteboarding, which is what we focus on in our lessons, and Anthony had it. We felt comfortable enough to get out the small Imagine SUP with a seat in the middle. Frances was positioned on the back and Anthony F. on the windward side of the board. We continued to work on power strokes and getting proficient at being able to trim and find the sweet spot along the bar to control our speed and angle. Anthony R. was able to make that 6m Switchblade work and give the three of us rides all over Sunset Beach Park in Tarpon Springs.
We’re going to kiteboard with Anthony R. again and next time we plan to rig a setup where he can ride on his own. The challenge was creating a comfortable enough platform that can efficiently go upwind. Anthony Franchi collaborated with Damien LeRoy to come up with a setup that will be able to get Anthony R. flying upwind on his own. At the end of the afternoon the wounded warriors and instructors came together and agree that we all need to do another WS4WW retreat together.
There were a lot of people involved to make the Gulf Coast WS4WW retreat possible. Between the wounded warriors, the organizers and the instructors, this years retreat was a huge success. The organizers did a fantastic job by covering everything from having a place for the warriors to stay, providing food for each day, getting volunteer instructors, providing activities at night, getting donations and so much more. There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes and they did a fantastic job putting it together. This was all made possible by the wounded warriors who showed up. They all had a different story but came together and were enthusiastic to learn. Despite being labeled “wounded warriors” they are all capable of learning how to kiteboard and we are enthusiastic to volunteer again in the future.