In Altus, kitesurfing is not exactly a well-known sport. It seems like something only reserved for coastal areas with beautiful expansive beaches and bodies of water that go on for miles.
The reality is Altus is just about perfect for the sport.
Those who do not know much about kiteboarding and think it is a sport strictly reserved for water, but water is only one of the surfaces that can be used for kiteboarding.
Kiteboarding involves the use of a large power kite that is tethered to a person by way of a harness. The kites are designed to provide significant pull to the user and allow them the maneuverability they need to get where they want to go and typically much more easily than in a boat.
Of course, kitesurfing can also be used with a snowboard for snow, a skateboard for land and any other way the athlete sees fit and can make it work.
Altus resident kiteboarder, Air Force 1st Lt. Keith Harris, started kitesurfing four and a half years ago, when he was living in Chicago. He first took notice of kitesurfing through YouTube and it was also through YouTube that he learned the bulk of what eventually convinced him that kitesurfing was exactly what he wanted to do.
“I found out that you could steer the kites and how they pull you,” Harris said. “I saw people doing huge jumps where they are twenty or thirty feet in the air and just decided it was something I wanted to do.”
Harris mostly uses the reservoir for kitesurfing. He uses the grass field to the north of the reservoir to get his equipment set up and walks over to the water and then the fun begins. He has also kitesurfed at Lake Altus, Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City, Tom Steed in Snyder and in Galveston, Texas, this past New Year’s.
Harris kitesurfs as often as he can and says he generally does it whenever the wind blows. Days where there are chances for high gusts of wind are not ideal, but there are plenty of days in Oklahoma that are perfect for his sport of choice.
He prefers kitesurfing over other water sports because of the affordability and peace he feels one can only get with kitesurfing.
“I learned to wakeboard about a year before I learned how to kiteboard,” Harris said. “The problem with wakeboarding is you need to have a boat and that adds to the expense. You can get used kiteboarding gear for around $1,000. Lessons are a bit more expensive because you want to do it safely. Also, with wakeboarding, you need to have someone driving the boat. You have to pay for gas. With kiteboarding, I can jump thirty feet higher for essentially one-fortieth of the price. That is why it was appealing to me. It is quiet, it’s a simultaneous adrenaline rush and Zen with nature. It’s so relaxing when you’re out on water that’s butter smooth.”
Harris is considered a small watercraft and that there are a lot of sailing principles that come into play when kitesurfing.
“The kite is telling you what it wants. The board is telling you what it wants. You have to pay attention to where you’re going. You have to pay attention to the wind and the water,” Harris said. “There is so much happening that it forces you to be sort of like hyper focused to where you’re almost zoned out. The state of mind for me is so great because you can’t take any other cares out on the water. It involves a lot of planning. There are wind directions that are better in Altus than others. Typically north and south winds are the best.”
Kiteboarding is Harris’ passion, but not the only thing he is involved in. He also helps out as the pitching coach for the Navajo baseball team, the co-president of the Altus Running Club and he belongs to a bicycling group on base.
Harris was a certified instructor for kitesurfing in Chicago and he cautions against kitesurfing without first taking lessons. He says people need to be aware of their equipment and that any gear bought before 2010 does not have the necessary safety systems and are dangerous.
Anybody interested in kitesurfing at the reservoir will have to get a sailing permit. While swimming is not allowed at the reservoir, non-motorized watercraft are. Since kitesurfers are considered sailboats, one will need a permit before hitting the calm waters of the reservoir for a little kitesurfing.
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.