Kiteboarding is a challenging enough sport if you have all of your senses. Most of us take for granted that we can arrive at a new spot and talk with another kiter about the location. We assume another kiter will hear us when we yell something at them on the water. Even if we don’t speak the same language, we know that a terrified scream will get most people’s attention.
Now imagine being a deaf kiteboarder with limited verbal communications skills. All those communication methods — talking, screaming, at times cursing…none of these things are available to you. So what do you do? How do you communicate? And, more importantly, how to you find an instructor who can teach you to kite loop…or even do a transition?
I recently got a chance to sit down with Matt Loschen—a deaf kiteboarder from Nebraska—and a SmartPhone and asked him about his kiteboarding experience. Read our Q&A with this amazing, hilarious kiter who will make every excuse you’ve ever made for not progressing seem…well, not worth hearing.
Q: Matt, how long have you been kiting?
Matt Loschen: I had my first water start in 2013 at the local lake. I was using a 13.5m Best Kahoona with my brother, who can communicate with sign language. It did not go well, but that’s another story that has nothing to do with being deaf!
Q: What was the biggest challenge for you when learning how to kite?
ML: My biggest learning challenge was staying upwind. After a while, I figured it was just an issue with being underpowered. The midwest doesn’t always bless us with good winds, but one day it finally all clicked and I fell in love with the sport!
My other learning challenge was communicating with the instructor while out in the water. This wasn’t a big issue for me when I was learning to snow kite, which I did for two years before learning to kite on water. Snow kiting was more enjoyable for me because you aren’t floating downwind and walking back up the beach.
I think my snowboarding experience definitely made learning how to kite on water a lot easier as well.
Q: What types of precautions do you have to take in order to be safe on the beach and water?
ML: Since I’m deaf, of course I have to depend on my vision more than “hearing” kiters, especially in crowded areas. I did not know about the Right of Way rules at first, so I might have been yelled at once or four times. After more time on the water, I learned the rules and now I’m less of a hazard on the water!
Q: Do you have any funny stories about interactions with “hearing” kiters?
ML: I don’t have too many funny stories, but there is one that stands out for me. I was on a trip with two hearing kiters in Turks and Caicos. They weren’t kiting, but they wanted to check out an old abandoned ship two miles off the beach. They had walked to the ship when the tide was low to take pictures, and I wanted to try to ride there on my 14m once the tide came in. I was underpowered half the time, but I managed to make it to the ship. I was distracted by the two “pretend pirates” when my kite dropped dead out of the sky and started floating directly towards me. My lines were a mess, and I had to start wrapping. The two of them jumped in and swam towards me, and we ended up making a sail out of my kite. This was two miles from shore, so we were sailing for a good while before we were picked up by a rescue boat. We were all glad to be rescued before the sharks came out to play. All in all, it was a fun learning experience.
Q: Do you have advice for other deaf people who want to learn to kiteboard?
ML: My advice for other deaf people who want to learn how to kitesurf/board is to BE PATIENT! This sport is not something you can pick up on the first day. It’s very challenging, so please do not be afraid to ask for help! More experienced kiters are always happy to help new kiters. They want you to be safe and enjoy the sport. The kiting community is pretty close, mellow, and awesome.
Q: Do you have any advice for “hearing” kiteboarders about helping deaf kiteboarders? Are there signals or signs that we should know?
ML: My advice for hearing kiters and instructors who want to help deaf kiters is to use as much gestures as much as possible. Deaf people depend on it, especially if you don’t know sign language. We use the same launch and land signals as everyone else, but other than that, using gestures makes communications much better.
Q: Are there any specific products or equipment that you use as a deaf kiter? That maybe a really stupid question…but I don’t know! I have to ask…
ML: That is a stupid question. Ha ha ha, but seriously, there aren’t any specific products or equipment that I use to off-set being deaf. I could use a lighter board and a better light-wind kite, but doesn’t everyone?
The take-away from my conversation with Matt is that deaf and deaf-mute kiters have the same challenges that all kiters do. Matt is a modest guy who doesn’t think being deaf is a hinderance to any of his learning. And after watching him rip and boost, I have to agree. He told me that there are a lot of deaf organizations and networks for other sports; unfortunately, there isn’t one for kiting. But Matt didn’t let that stop him from learning to kite. He’s out there, every windy day, riding as hard as anyone else on the water.
Here’s a video of his trip to Turks and Caicos if you’d like to see him in action.