Downtown Adventures | "People Who Can Fly" by Vicki Totten (8 Photos)

This was the view I saw from my porch - not realizing the driver was in the water.

Seeing a kite flying up in the air is something that brings a smile to most people's faces. Maybe it is our secret desire to be up there with it. Or maybe it is a memory from our childhood when flying a kite seemed like such a magical thing. Or perhaps it is just an appreciation for what it takes to achieve such a feat.

Whatever the reasons for our admiration of kites flying high above, when you look up to also see a person flying in the air with that kite, it is enough to bring you out of your comfortable chair on the porch to go explore the source.

Rocky Chatwell guides his sail effortlessly down the harbor.

That was exactly the scene that occurred last weekend in the Rockport Harbor.  Usually what you see coming in and out of the mouth of the harbor are either shrimp boats leaving or returning from their daily haul, or people going out sailing for the day or coming in from a day of fishing.  But on this particular evening, not long before sunset, what I saw instead was this beautiful kite speeding out of the harbor.  As I watched, trying to figure out where the person was who was guiding that kite, I suddenly saw behind it, a person appear out of nowhere, flying about 10 feet into the air before doing a somersault and then disappearing again below my sight line.  If that isn't enough to get me out of my chair, nothing will.  I was soon headed toward the long fishing pier at the end of Market Street to explore a little more closely. 

The concrete and rocks at the entrance to the harbor didn't seem to phase this experienced kiteboarder.

Luckily, I ended up at the end of the pier at the same time as the flyer I had just seen disappear from my view.  And what I had been observing was national kiteboarding champion Rocky Chatwell.  This 28 year old has traveled the world competing in and winning at this fairly new sport that seems to be picking up speed, if not sponsors.

When I spoke with the incredible athlete, who was born and raised in Rockport, he said he had retired from the sport after competing for around 10 years. 

Seriously flying in the air while doing flips.

While it may not look like it, Rocky is in total control of his kite.

While he may make it look easy, he has been working at it since he was around 10 years old.

According to Rocky, it is such a young sport that it is still hard to make a living at it, even if you are winning, which Rocky was doing.  But clearly, he still keeps up with the sport, as evidenced by the ease with which he went back and forth through the harbor and even braving the larger waves to kiteboard out into the choppy waters of the bay itself.  In kiteboarding, the person is harnessed to a hand controlled kite, with his or her boots securely attached to the board, while guiding the kite through the water.  Most of the kites are also inflatable, which makes it possible to transport them from place to place. 

Rocky said it was the first time he had tried kiteboarding in the harbor area.  When you look at the fairly narrow width of the harbor with its rocky border on one side and a concrete wall on the other, you can understand why this might be something most people would not attempt.  Whenever we bring our sailboat through the harbor, we are always going at a snail's pace as we come through the mouth of it.  Rocky, on the other hand, was literally flying through it.  While he was going much faster than the boats that travel through that narrow strip of water, he clearly was in total control and could quickly turn and go in the other direction whenever he got too close to either side.  He could even stop more quickly than any sailboat I have ever seen.  While I don't know how fast he was actually going, the average speed for a kiteboarder is 10-15 mph, and the world record is a whopping 50 mph. 

Rocky Chatwell getting ready to go back out again.

According to an article on the Surfer Today's website, there are over a million and a half kiteboarders in the world.  People often use the terms kiteboarding and kitesurfing interchangeably.  The distinction may be in how you view the sport - is it the wind from the kite or the movement of the board in the water that powers the driver? Some people think it is more akin to sailing than to surfing, although Rocky said he had never even been sailing in a boat.  When you can move through the water and in the air like Rocky does, who needs a boat anyway?

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