SCARBOROUGH — Come winter, most kitesurfers in Maine, like most beachgoers, put their gear away. But for several years now, three Portland area kitesurfing buddies have ignored the freezing temperatures, racing their boards on the ocean’s surface and twirling in the sky.

Crazy as it sounds, Scott Furr, Mike O’Flinn and Charley Friedman think the off-season sport is growing. This winter, more kitesurfers are venturing out, they say. As many as 15 kitesurfers showed up at Pine Point Beach on Jan. 11, a  record-breaking, 63-degree day. But even on days that aren’t unseasonably warm, the three predict winter kitesurfing will grow.

“It was an army last weekend. It was just surreal,” Furr said. “That’s never happened in the seven years I’ve been kitesurfing. There are more and more people getting hooked.”

On more typical winter days, when the temperature is below 40 degrees, only about a half dozen kitesurfers go out, Furr said. He thinks he is the “lone nut” on the water when the air temperature is below freezing. (His Instagram handle is @Mainewindnut).

Scott Furr kitesurfs at Higgins Beach on a 41-degree day in December. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“I ski and I mountain bike. But this is the most fun thing I do, tenfold,” Furr said. “When you get the wind to make a mighty jump, you get to be a superhero for a few hours.”

Kitesurfing, or kiteboarding, combines surfing, snowboarding and sailing. A giant sail — or kite — that resembles a parachute attaches to a handlebar, itself secured to the surfer’s waist by a harness. The wind pulls kitesurfers across the water, then lifts them into the air. They typically fly up anywhere from 2 to 20 feet in the air, though the most experienced surfers can jump as high as 70 feet. Many turn and flip in the air, executing tricks that mimic those of snowboarders.

Over the last decade, the sport has gained followers in Maine, and come summer, as many as a dozen can be found kitesurfing at Pine Point Beach, a favorite spot.

WINTER WARRIORS

Advances in wetsuit technology have made kitesurfing in Maine winters possible, too, Furr explained. Cold-weather suits that were once thick and constraining now let surfers be far more agile.

Among his friends, Scott Furr has set the record for coldest day out. He once kitesurfed when the air temperature was 22 degrees. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“Black Friday there was a really good wetsuit sale,” he said, adding it could explain the kitesurfing crowd earlier this month. “There was a big group chat about it. That changed it for a lot of people.”

It’s smart practice for winter kitesurfers to stay in their wetsuits even after they emerge from the water and to head straight for a hot shower. It’s the wind chill is that really makes you cold when you’re back on land, Furr said.

“Once the air temperature gets that cold, you’re wearing thick mittens and gloves. Holding onto a kite line gets pretty cold,” Friedman said of the surfer-specific synthetic rubber gloves.

Furr likes to push the limits. He once kitesurfed when it was 22 degrees out — the record for coldest day out among the three. (The water in winter is warmer than the air; the average ocean temperature off the coast is 35 degrees). Ice kept forming on the kite bar, making it difficult to hold and operate and forcing him to repeatedly dip the bar into the ocean to melt the ice. Controlling the equipment is also harder when the temperature is below freezing.

But empty beaches are the most dangerous aspect of winter kitesurfing, Furr said. Should anything go wrong, there may be no one on the beach to see or help. Furr, Friedman and O’Flinn use the buddy system when they’re out.

FAMILY OF FRIENDS

In winter, the friends look for days when warmer temperatures coincide with adequate wind — to get airborne, the wind must be at least 12 mph. Fortunately, all three have flexible schedules. Furr is a stay-at-home dad and online salesman; O’Flinn renovates and sells houses; and Friedman runs Flowfold, his Gorham-based outdoor gear company.

Friedman, 31, grew up on Peaks Island wind surfing around Casco Bay. He learned to kitesurf 10 years ago in North Carolina. He lives a play-outside ethic year-round that includes encouraging his employees to surf at lunch. O’Flinn, 34, learned to kitesurf five years ago in Florida. He also skies and surfs. He enjoys the spectator factor; the little-known sport can draw a crowd in Maine. “Once at Drakes Island, Charley and I were kitesurfing in front of a crowd of 40 to 50,” he said. Furr, 41, is such an enthusiast, he persuaded his wife and three children to try kitesurfing with him in the Caribbean for his 40th birthday. (Only 15-year-old Ethan Furr stayed with it).

The three friends use forecast apps to chase pockets of wind along the coast. They text each other when they see a promising forecast and then watch it hour by hour until the wind and warmer temperatures sync up. Finding those windows is magical, Furr said, like seeing a rainbow. They can mean a chance to top his best jump.

His highest recorded jump is 39 feet. Last Saturday he set a personal record for distance, zigging and zagging 65 miles by kite, equal, were his outing stretched out end to end, to the mileage from Kittery to Freeport.

Over Christmas week, the three kitesurfed together at Higgens Beach on a 41-degree day. A half dozen beachgoers watched, spellbound, and shot video on smartphones. As Furr flipped 15 feet in the air at sunset, Thomas Mullen, on vacation from Italy, marveled. “It’s just wild,” he said. “It’s just them and the water. It’s nutty. Who would do that? But they are exploring their limits. It must be exhilarating.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.