Only in Hood River

June 4, 2005

Hood River is one of the only cities in the world where middle school students can receive school credits for learning to kiteboard.

For the third spring in a row, Hood River Middle School, with the help of teachers Eric Cohn and Joe Dolan and local kiteboarding businesses, offered students kiteboarding lessons as part of a semester-long physical education class called Wind Sports.

This year about 150 students signed up for the class, which had room and resources for only 35 students.

After months of classroom, pool, and trainer-kite instruction, the class culminated this week with open water body-dragging sessions from the Hook to the Sand Bar. With instructors and a Hood River Sheriff’s deputy trailing in jet-skis, students harnessed-up, launched their kites, and dragged themselves, with instructors in tow, up the cold grey Columbia.

Clad in thick wetsuits, waiting for their turn in the water, students Kristie Thomson and Ashley Kastner offered their thoughts on the class:

HR News: What do you think about this class?

Thomson: "This is great. We get to leave school, come out here, and do something lots of other kids don't get to do."

Kastner: "I like the class because I'm trying new things that I have never had a chance to do."

HR News: How do you like Mr. Cohn?

Thomson: (Laughing) He's really funny. He teaches great though and is a fun teacher to have.

Kastner: He's great. He lightens up serious subjects and makes them fun for us to learn.

HR News: What is your favorite part of this class?

Both: Body-dragging?

Kastner: We definitely want to kiteboard this summer.

HR News: What is the worst part about the class?

Kastner: My wetsuit is choking me.

Thomson: I'm scared of swallowing too much river-water.

HR News: Do you think this class is unique?

Thomson: Definitely, We're lucky we are here in Hood River and not in Iowa or somewhere like that where they could never do something like this.

Kastner: We're lucky. Most kids in our school would not get to kiteboard if it weren't for this program.

A unique element of the class is that students who excel and express serious interest in the sport have the opportunity to take on a summer internship with New Wind Kiteboarding.

Each summer New Wind offers up to four internship positions to middle school students from the class. As a result of the program, students are now teaching students. Some of last year's interns returned to the class this spring as highschoolers to help teach their predecessors the basics.

Two young students, new to the sport, dragging up the cold, rough Columbia on their bellies by the power of a large inflatable kite might sound like a bad idea, to some.

"They're fearless," said Cori Bison of New Wind Kiteboarding. "The difference of how fast they learn compared to adults is like night and day. The kids pick up a kite and in ten minutes they have it mastered. They let the kite fly instead of trying to control it like adults do."

As fearless and fast-learning as the youngsters may be, instructors and a Hood River Sheriff's deputy, circled the students in jet-skis and a small boat for safety.

A handful of local kiteboarding businesses provided equipment and instructors to help run the class and supervise the body-dragging sessions. New Wind, Big Winds, Best Kiteboarding, Slingshot, Naish, and Hein, along with the Hood River Sheriffs department, all chipped in resources for the kids.

“The support from the community has been incredible,” Cohn siad. “Thank you to everyone that has helped make it possible ... And the kids have been a total treat. They understand it’s fun but pretty serious so they are incredibly well behaved. They just can’t get enough of it.”

Aaron Sales of Slingshot commented on the program:

HR News: How have local kiteboarding businesses come together to make the program possible?

Sales: I think it's in everyone's interest to offer the kids something fun and exciting to do after school or during the summer, so a few kiteboarding schools hooked up with school to make it happen.

HR News: Have you ever seen a program like this before?

Sales: I'm starting to see more kids programs pop up as the sport grows, but to offer the program as a class is something you will only find in Hood River.

HR News: Are the kids having fun?

Sales: The first day the kids went out to the water it was cloudy and cold. They didn't care. One of the boys just got done body dragging for twenty minutes in a shorty wetsuit and he came out of the water making sure all of his friends saw him and new how rad it was.

HR News: From an instructor's perspective, other than a fun class for the kids, what benefits do you think the program will have?

Sales: The class they went through was quite thorough. If they weren't learning kite skills, they were paying their dues in the pool. If you want to learn to kiteboard, you have to feel comfortable in the pool.

One of the main benefits of the program was teaching them a skill that gets them outside with other fun and athletic people. Now they can take advantage of what the wind and Hood River has to offer.

HR News: How do the kids compare to older students as far as their learning curve?

Sales: Kids learn so much faster. A lot of adults think they know everything before they even get started. The kids, they actually listen, plus have very little fear to keep them from progressing.

HR News: Anything else you want to say about the program?

Sales: I think it's great that the Hood River School District supports such a positive activity. The people we have putting these courses together are what make this area so desirable.

The kids really did get a first class experience, with top of the line instruction from pro kiteboarders. The kids all thought it was great to be taught by some of the best.”

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