THE NEW YORK TIMES GO FLY A KITE

here they are, 20 or 30 feet above the water, hanging by a thread, doing backflips, front loops,| twisting and dipping in the wind like airborne dolphins — the kiteboarders. ”It is more fun than windsurfing or snowboarding or anything,” swears Kent Marinkovic, who at 34 is one of the Miami pioneers of the art, if kiteboarding can be called an art. It is certainly pretty. These guys, and they are for the most part aging boys who have gone through all the extreme waterborne steps, from surfing to wakeboarding to water-skiing, have the sunny, windblown glint of eternal thrill seekers. They are like Gatsby yachtsmen, above the fray, immune from the gravity of ordinary jobs or worrying debt; they don’t even seem to fear the inevitable tab that accrues to the artistes of such a high-impact sport. ”When I come home in pain, when everything hurts, my girlfriend knows I’ve had a good day,” says Oliver Butsch, a professional tennis instructor and model who is half-Austrian and half-Brazilian. Butsch has lived a peripatetic life, sleeping in his car, chasing whatever wave or wind keeps his spirit aloft. He has sailed or surfed around the world, from Hawaii to Brazil to France. The serious kiteboarders, he says, are in Hawaii. It is off Oahu, where the waves are huge and the winds are warm, that kiteboarding is the best. But the beaches and people in Miami suit him fine. And more and more, kiteboarders from Europe and South America are flocking there as well. ”Those Germans, man, they come here with all the great equipment 2/3 the best impact belts, and they approach it very, very seriously. They attack it, you know? But the guys from Argentina, they just show up. No kites, no equipment. Just ready to go.” The global kiteboarding community has one thing in common: ”We party,” Marinkovic says. ”I may not win the competitions, but I always win the party.” ”It is true,” Butsch agrees. ”He is a great partier.” Like the sport, the parties are extreme and of long duration. Drinking, singing and camaraderie go on long into the night. That makes the morning after a little tricky. Not that Marinkovic isn’t game. On a good day — when the wind is right — the call comes at 5 in the morning. “You going?’”Butsch asks Marinkovic. It’s not really a question. No matter how late he has been up, no matter how hard he has partied, Marinkovic is going. By 5:45 they meet at Virginia Key just off South Beach. They go before dawn so that they can get some kiteboarding in before Marinkovic goes to work. Fist they inflate the kite, which is about 45 feet long, then they lay out the four flying lines and hook them up to the harness. It takes a lot of work and a lot of room. Preparing a launch has been compared to setting up a base camp at Everest. With his control bar in one hand and his board in the other, Marinkovic heads into the water while Butsch launches the kite. It takes some acrobatic skill to get it all up in the air, to get the balance and control of the kite, but once aloft, Marinkovic experiences the sweet bliss of silent flight. The air time, the fliers all agree, is precious. Butsch admires Marinkovic’s technique, which he describes as ”a catlike finesse.” Meanwhile Butsch, a more powerful flier, launches his own kite, which draws praise from Marinkovic: ”His style is so cool.” In fact, Marinkovic’s admiration for Butsch extends to active support. Through Adventure Sports, where he is national sales manager, Marinkovic sponsors Butsch in the growing international kiteboarding competitions. “‘Oliver’s style is rougher than mine. He comes off the air, does his stunts, then slams into the water like a bull.” They are competitive, but ”overall,” Marinkovic concedes, Butsch ”is better at it than me.” Marinkovic has his own proud record. He was a member of the national windsurfing team and placed high in the Olympic trials a decade ago. Once, on Dec. 21, 2001, with two others kiteboarders, he surfed 100 miles from Key West to Cuba in a little less than nine hours. Kiteboarding is easy, he says. Anyone can do it. With the right equipment and the right wind, he says, “you can stay in the air forever” By KEN GROSS

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