Kiteboarders make 100-mile crossing

Kiteboarders and their supporters wave marine flares and victory flags as they arrive by boat at the Cayman Islands Yacht Club on Sunday. The kiteboarders completed a 100-mile journey from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman. - PHOTO: TANEOS RAMSAY

A team of athletes made history Sunday as they traveled 100 miles from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman by kiteboard.

The 10 kiteboarders overcame challenging wind conditions, seasickness and the psychological stress of traveling across the open ocean, driven by their cause: Kiting for Cancer.

Before their trip, the team raised nearly $130,000 for the Cayman Islands Cancer Society. That community support – and the knowledge of what those funds would mean for cancer patients in Cayman – kept the kiters going during moments when they thought they were ready to give up.

“Everybody just pushed themselves to their physical limits. If it was one mile more I don’t think I could have made it,” event organizer Amy Strzalko said. “The fact that you know the local community has confidence in you, that makes you finish it, and then you think of the reasons why you’re doing it.”

Damian Davis, one of the kiteboarders who made the trip, said that the community displayed just as much teamwork in coming together to support the Cancer Society as the kiters did on their crossing.

“It really does make it worthwhile, and to hear immediately on our return people talking about how stoked they were that we’ve been able to raise this money … it was really fulfilling,” Mr. Davis said.

Mr. Davis said he has always wanted to do the crossing and the experience of actually completing it was the highlight of his 15 years on the island – but it was tougher than he expected.

The kiters anticipated the trip would take six to seven hours, assuming they traveled on a day with ideal wind conditions.

Kiting for Cancer team, back row, from left, Damian Davis, Jon Dobbin, Hope LeVin, Cora Schwendtke, Tristan Relly, Jeremy Walton, and Carlos Barroso. Front row, from left, Andre Slabbert, Derek Serpell and Amy Strzalko.
Kiting for Cancer team, back row, from left, Damian Davis, Jon Dobbin, Hope LeVin, Cora Schwendtke, Tristan Relly, Jeremy Walton, and Carlos Barroso. Front row, from left, Andre Slabbert, Derek Serpell and Amy Strzalko.

The team monitored weather conditions for weeks before deciding Sunday would be the best day, but Mother Nature had other plans.

On Saturday, during their practice in Little Cayman, the team encountered winds of 25 knots and 10-foot seas.

“We had such a scary training day on Saturday, it really made our faces turn white when we saw the waves,” Jon Dobbin said. “We were all shaken from that, but I think it knocked our cockiness out … and we got pretty serious that night.”

Fortunately, the seas calmed the next day, making it safer for the boats that were traveling along with the kiteboarders for navigation and safety purposes. The winds, however, calmed down too much.

Mr. Dobbin said 16 knots would have been perfect, but the wind only picked up to 13 or 14 knots.

As a result of the poor wind conditions, the kiteboarders had to change their parachute-like sails, switching to bigger ones to get more power. The conditions took a heavy physical toll on the athletes, too.

“Kiteboarding is not normally an upper body physical sport, but everybody I know this morning, every guy and girl, has tired arms from cycling the kite back and forth trying to generate power, and that’s all we were trying to do for eight hours,” Mr. Davis said.

“There’s a time where you have to dig deep and do whatever you need to do to make it happen,” he added.

After eight-and-a-half-hours on the water, the team finally had Rum Point in their sights. Hovering above, the police helicopter greeted them, and the encouragement helped the team make the final push into Grand Cayman, Ms. Strzalko said.

“We were all just physically exhausted,” she said. “As soon as we saw the chopper, everybody got super emotional.”

After landing at Rum Point, they traveled by boat to the Cayman Islands Yacht Club, shouting, shooting off flares, horns blaring as a welcome party waited to greet them.

“The elation getting there, you’re just on an absolute high,” Mr. Dobbin said. “What an epic day.”

Ms. Strzalko said she was “blown away” by the support from the crew and everyone who helped the team complete the journey, including the many businesses and individuals who donated money to the cause. She hopes the community will come together again on Thursday at the Kiting for Cancer wrap-up party at Morgan’s restaurant at the Cayman Islands Yacht Club and help the team reach its goal of $150,000 for the Cancer Society.

The wrap-up party starts at 7 p.m. with drinks and canapes. A live auction starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 and can be ordered from Epic Day Entertainment or purchased at the door.