When Philipp Schonger describes kiteboarding, it comes across as almost a religious experience.
“When you’re out there on the water it’s just you and nature,” said the 41-year-old internet program security manager from Kirkland, who’s also the president of the Puget Sound Kitesurfing Association. “There’s no noise around you, you’re just powered by the wind, you are the rider and the driver at the same time. It’s not like when you’re wakeboarding behind a boat, it’s just you and the wind and the water, and it feels like complete freedom.”
This weekend — weather permitting — Everett’s Jetty Island will be all that and more.
The third annual Jetty Island Light Wind Olympics, the Puget Sound region’s premier kiteboarding event, is scheduled for this weekend on the man-made island just off Everett’s waterfront. And on display will be some of the best kiteboarding skills the area has to offer.
The Jetty Island Light Wind Olympics are the brainchild of Schonger and fellow Kirkland resident Jason Sperling, who began the event in 2017. Kiteboarding is a sport in which athletes tether themselves to large kites, allowing the wind to prop them up on their boards and guide them as they ride across the water.
The competition is considered “Light Wind” because the specific geography at Jetty Island tends to produce steady but moderate wind — Schonger said the ideal wind for kiteboarding is between 20-30 knots, while the wind at Jetty Island tends to be more in the 15-knot range.
“There was always the thought in my mind that it would be awesome to get the community of kiteboarders together for a fun day of trying new gear, as well as competing against each other,” Schonger said about creating the event. “In the Seattle area there was a pretty large kiteboarding community for not having a big event. So I said, ‘Hey, let’s get it done.’”
This year’s Jetty Island Light Wind Olympics are expected to draw 30-plus competitors from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia who will compete in four disciplines designed to measure their skill and speed. The disciplines are:
■ Freestyle, where boarders jump into the air, perform X-Games-style tricks while airborne, and are given scores by a panel of judges. Tricks can include rotations, rolls, board grabs, unhooking the harness and holding onto the kite with one’s arms, or any combination of those.
■ Big Air, where competitors jump and try to gain as much altitude as possible. Schonger said heights are expected to be in the 30-40-foot range, though he recently had a jump reach 80 feet in a competition off Maui, which ranks third in the U.S. The height is measured by a device attached to the board.
■ Strapless Freestyle, which is just like Freestyle, except the competitors are not bound to their boards.
■ Foil Race, a speed event in which competitors ride specialized boards — they have a three-foot rod with an airplane-like device at the end attached to the bottom of their boards, which lifts the rider above the water — race around the circumference of Jetty Island. Schonger said he believes it is the only Foil Race in the Northwest that goes around a physical piece of land.
There are divisions for men and women. Competition is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, with Sunday at noon being the back-up time should weather conditions be unfavorable Saturday — Sunday will be a demonstration day if competition takes place Saturday. If the mid-week forecasts for the weekend call for little or no wind, then the event will be rescheduled for June 29-30.
While wind is always a concern, the first two Jetty Island Light Wind Olympics brought both sunshine and high winds, making for ideal kiteboarding conditions.
“(The first two years) were great,” said Stephen Sibborn, a 55-year-old contractor from Everett who won the Men’s Freestyle competition last year and will be part of the judging panel this year. “It’s been a really good time, and it’s a huge community builder for us.
“We have a wide-open beach, the water is pretty warm relative to the Puget Sound area, and we get a nice steady breeze in the afternoon,” Sibborn added about Jetty Island. “The site has become quite a popular place in the Northwest for kiteboarding, and we’ve really watched it grow.”
Spectators are welcome to attend the event, but will have to get to Jetty Island by their own means, as the ferry to the island does not begin operation until July. Most competitors get to the island either by kayak or stand-up paddleboard, as the equipment is easy to contain as it consists of just the board (about five feet in length), a backpack with the kite, and a harness.
“We have a blast every year,” said Matt Ewing, a 42-year-old resident of unincorporated Snohomish County who is a kiteboarding instructor. “I didn’t get to actually compete in the first couple, so my goal is to compete this year. Otherwise I just want to see a successful event where everyone stays safe, where families and kids can have fun, and where we get wind. Anything beyond that is a bonus.”
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This story has been modified to include Jason Sperling.