June 2008

To the Extreme: Adrenaline Pumping Sports

Author: Kate Hanzalik | Photographer: John Brackett

Rush. It is experienced by nearly every human being. It is either embraced or abhorred, and always relentless. It is what drives some people to act and yet robs others of self-control. Climbing Mt. Everest, participating in a triathlon in the desert—it’s plain to see that extreme sports ultimately reveal the character of the athletes themselves. And for four Hilton Head Island thrill-seekers whose extreme sports are in peak season, they experience the rush and describe it in the same way: euphoric, peaceful, and a state of childlike bliss. What are these sports, who are these characters and would you dare try what they do nearly every day of their lives? See for yourself.

Kitesurfing

Names: Abri Kruger and Rod Godoy
Age: 35 and 35
Sport: Kitesurfing
Describe the Rush: AK: “Your mind is filled with total sublimia. You surf across the water so fast and then you jump!” RG: “When you hit the water, your heart is pounding from the excitement.As you come off the water on a thirty-foot jump and look down at the beach, the rush becomes peaceful as you hang for seconds before the landing.”

Jibing. Looping. Tail Grab. No, these aren’t words to describe Uncle Billy’s late night at the Tiki Hut. They’re actually techniques for an extreme sport that has been steadily rising in popularity since the 1990s—kitesurfing.

“It’s like wakeboarding behind a speed boat, but instead of being pulled by the boat you are now being pulled by a powerful 12-meter kite. What makes kitesurfing more extreme is that you could launch yourself out of the water and easily jump 30 feet and higher. The kite is designed to create high and low pressure like an airplane wing. As the wind blows over the wingtip of your kite, it creates lift and forward motion. This creates the power to launch a kitesurfer out of the water and into the air. By harnessing the power of the wind and ocean, your board can reach top speeds while you fly into the air,” said long-time kitesurfer and HHI local, Abri Kruger.

If you’re wondering if you can just steal your toddler’s kite and use that, you can’t. Basic kites simply don’t work. A special inflatable kite is used, which floats as soon as it hits the water. And, because the cost of equipment has gone down in recent years, more and more people are trying it out—and they’re getting hooked.

“Thirty feet above the water and eighty feet downwind, over five seconds of hang time, there’s nothing like it, riding the wind. It’s an integration of speed, action, adrenaline and this floating feeling of total freedom. You think of those dreams you have of flying, that’s what its like when you’re kiteboarding,” said Kruger, who practices with his best friend Rod Godoy a few times a week on Dolphin Head beach, and another secret local beach whose name Kruger asked not be revealed. The two practice between two-four hours at a time, depending on the wind conditions. And according to Kruger, the ideal day to surf includes low tides, flat water and strong northeasterly winds.

“We also sometimes do ‘down winders’. We are currently planning to Kitesurf from Hilton Head Island across to Bay Point, close to Paris Island, and back. We will have someone follow us in a boat, just in case the wind dies and we are stuck floating around the Port Royal Sound in shark invested waters,” said Kruger.

For both Kruger and Godoy, the notion of fear is delicately approached.

“I have always being somewhat fearless. But now that I am married to my beautiful wife Etresia and have three beautiful kids, Isabella (four), Ava (two), and my son Gianni who was born prematurely and died a couple of months ago; I do have fear—fear of getting hurt and not being able to support them,” said Godoy.

“Strong wind combined with a 12-meter kite is extremely powerful and should definitely be respected. The wind is very intimidating. It is something you cannot see, it’s purely going off of feeling. Respecting the power of the kite will keep you from getting injured,” said Kruger.

Beginners mostly try initially to surf over the top of the waves, leveraging the pull from the kite for speed. With a little bit of practice, more advanced tricks can be done, such as a lifted 360-degree turn or jibing, which involves using your feet to change directions on a board when it is aloft. Practicing with pros is a great way to learn.

“We have a handful of people doing it on the island, and it’s always nice to kite with them. Everyone has their own unique style of riding, and you always learn something by watching what they do. There is a great camaraderie between the local kite surfers. They will always try and help if you are in trouble in the ocean or need to be helped,” said Kruger.

According to Godoy, the most difficult aspects of the sport for novices are trying to find the wind power zones, learning how to fly the kite and getting up on the board. But once the techniques and safety features are mastered, the possibilities are endless. Godoy also has a new perspective on the sport altogether since the death of his son; it is not so much an extreme sport as it is a spiritual, cathartic experience.

“I have extra motivation to go out and kitesurf. It heals my pain when I am out there on open water listening to the sound of the board slicing through the ocean,” he said. “Catching air has new meaning to me now. It used to be, ‘Lets see how high I can get.’ But now it’s ‘Lets see how close I can get to my son who is in heaven with my buddy Jesus.’ I am waiting for the perfect conditions to go out there and let my son’s aches out deep into the ocean.”

Skydiving
Name: Dave Bear
Age: 48
Describe the Rush: “It never goes away. You get used to the fact that when you have some experience it’s not to the point where you’re afraid of jumping, but the rush never goes away… Once you reach that speed it’s almost like you’re floating.”

Jumping out of a plane at 10,500 feet and 125 miles per hour is no challenge for Sea Pines resident and tandem skydiving instructor Dave Bear. In fact, because this is prime skydiving season, Bear averages about 20 jumps a day on the weekends in Walterboro, South Carolina, for Skydive Walterboro.

“It’s really hard to explain to somebody what free fall is like, because you could tell [someone], but you can’t really make them understand until they do it,” said Bear. “You get a huge adrenaline rush, but you don’t get that rollercoaster thing in your stomach where your stomach is coming up in your throat.”

There are two ways to fall: tandem with an instructor and solo in a sport canopy. Both types fall from the same altitude of 10,500 feet. The flight itself takes 20 minutes to get to the right altitude. The doors open, and the free-fall itself lasts about 45 seconds at a terminal speed of 125 miles per hour, which remains the same the entire trip down. At 5,000 feet, the instructor deploys the parachute, slowing the travel to 15 miles per hour horizontally and 30 miles per hour vertically. The landings are said to be nothing more than stepping off of a five-gallon bucket, because the parachutes are designed to open extremely slowly, softening the impact upon hitting the ground.

“Most people on their first jump say it seems like five seconds,” said Bear. “A lot of people on their first jump, even a tandem passenger, will tell you they just want to lie down and go to sleep; they are exhausted just because of the adrenaline rush.”

Common thrill-seekers at Skydive Walterboro include vacationers from Hilton Head Island, college students, and members of the military. But, Bear says the sport is not exclusive to young individuals or athletes. He often skydives with men and women celebrating their 80th birthdays, and every year he jumps with a friend who is paralyzed from the neck down.

“As a tandem instructor, the toughest thing is having people to do exactly the opposite of what you told them. They can make the jump real easy, or they can make it a lot of work,” said Bear. “And if they do some things they’re told not to do, it can get crazy.”

While he has only suffered small scratches throughout his entire career, Bear doesn’t worry about injuries. Each passenger wears a radio so that instructors both on the ground and in the air can communicate with them. The drop is also monitored by video and an additional reserve canopy is worn by all passengers, which never fails.

According to Bear, following the rules will keep people from side spinning, a phenomenon that happens when the passenger puts his feet out in front of him, causing the instructor and the passenger to roll over on their sides and start “spinning like hell,” as he puts it. Experienced divers should abide by the rules because they are the ones who are most likely to get injured from testing out risky moves.

While the risk factor seems moderate to Bear, he doesn’t foresee himself quitting anytime soon. “As soon as you open the door you get the rush, it just never goes away.”

Tandem falls at Sky Dive Walterboro cost $180. For more information on training courses, safety facts, and scheduling, log on to www.skydivewalterboro.com or call 1-800-549-JUMP.

Shark Fishing

Name: Greg Clark
Age: 46
Number of years in sport: 25
Describe the Rush: “I get excited every time I see them. I’m like a little kid.”

Greg Clark’s career happens to be one of the most dangerous sports: shark fishing. His livelihood depends on luring nature’s most violent beasts with blood and cut up fish, coaxing them, and wearing them down—always with a glint of hope that he will stumble upon those fish who are a little bit more hungry than the rest, a little bit more lethargic. That way, he can battle them for up to five hours at a time until they finally give in to him.

“It’s a test of endurance,” said Greg, who has been fishing since he was four years old with his father, and took on shark fishing 25 years ago. Fear doesn’t even enter the man’s mind. He is too focused on the pull of the thick Marlin tackle, and too entranced by the sheer massiveness of the bodies that swim just beneath the glass of the water: Hammerheads, Bulls, Tigers. Take your pick; they are all around Hilton Head Island. “If you take your eye off the ball for a second, somebody’s going to get hurt,” he said.

The prime time for shark fishing is June through September. Tiger Sharks, the biggest of the three, can be found in sunken boats and other offshore wrecks, just 12 miles away from land on Tire Reef. Sizes can range from eight to 15 feet. Hammerheads are closer to land and are quite common to see, but Bull sharks are closest to land. They lurk in the inlets and can be caught at night in the Calibogue Sound near South Beach.

Four years ago, Greg caught an 18-foot Hammerhead less than a mile off of South Beach. He fought all 1,000 pounds of the massive beast for nearly four hours, but then let him go because of the terror in his passengers’ eyes.

“A lot of times people get too tired,” at which point Greg takes over. If he had taken the Hammerhead home, Greg explained, it would have been a new South Carolina record.

At one point, a 25-foot sting ray’s scoop got caught his boat’s anchor and it almost took the line up on his boat and turned it; the engine almost turned them under. He took a knife and cut the anchor line off and the sting ray swam away, but didn’t leave inconspicuously. Several times the next week, Greg’s fisherman friends spotted it, zipping around the waters with a buoy attached.

Another time, in January, he saw a Great White, which was almost 20 feet long, 18 miles offshore at Betsy Ross Reef. “That shark right there made the hair stand up on the back of my neck,” he said.

Greg has a charter boat and gives lessons tailored for both adults and children. Call the Harbour Town Marina to schedule a lesson if you dare: 843-671-2704.

Motocross Racing

Name: Frankie Bellissimo
Age: 31
Describe the rush: “An overload of excitement giving you a jolt feeling.”

Pro-rider and island resident Frankie Bellissimo calls freestyle motocross racing the most intense sport on earth. Intense speeds, massive jumps in the air, the challenge to control the bike are just a few of the highs that keep junkies wanting more.

“Motocross is a very solo sport that requires self-discipline,” said Bellissimo. “You’re not on some team out there; it’s all you. You’re all alone trying to enter a dream-like trance of sheer speed that would normally scare the hell out of you.”

Bikes range in size and are measured in cubic centimeters in the engine. Beginners typically ride on 125 ccs, which is considered safe for most ages. 200 cc bikes and up are forces not to be reckoned with by the weak at heart or the novice. Be sure to wear a helmet, body armor and goggles.

“When you progress to a high level where you have speed and talent, it becomes a big mental game,” said Bellissimo. And when it comes to inhibitions, he is able to manage them. “I use fear to push myself in order to progress further.”

Doing motos, a timed or set number of laps in a race or practice ride, is a great way to get exposure to the sport, but wheelies, slides and circle eights are a few more creative tricks to test out. It’s also important to refine your instincts with the clutch, because this could cut seconds off of lap time.

“Corners and technical jump sections are my favorite to practice,” said Bellissimo. “Really get to know what your body needs to improve on.”

And as with most sports, the better condition you are in, the less likely you are to get injured. It is particularly important to have powerful legs, because when they are used to grip the bike, they will take the strain off arms and shoulders.

During prime racing time, Bellissimo practices seven days a week, all day long. Race weekends, he’ll tone down his routine, but is continually cross-training. Originally from Toronto, he made pro status at age 20, and he now appears in the latest action sports video racers filmed by the pioneer of moto racing, Travis Pastrana (moto.travispastrana.com).

“My dad was a crazy street racer and also used to race at the drag strip with his purple Chevy hot rod… poor mom! Then my brothers had like 10 dirt bikes and they got me a new Honda 50 and told me to ride at the age of five. I remember they would make me go fast and I would crash my brains out and they would have to hide it from our mother,” said Bellisimo. “They always wanted me to be the best at everything from hockey to moto… I love them for that,” he added. “The best part of this all is that I have made one of my childhood dreams my life. I live to ride and ride to live.”

To learn more about the sport, visit differentbreed.tv. To arrange lessons, contact Fuel Skate Shop at 843-842-3835.

Skateboarding

Name: Maxcy Hicks
Age: 29
Describe the rush: “There’s really not too many words to describe it. Euphoria! I guess you feel like you are one with, as odd as it sounds, the forces of nature.

Maxcy Hicks is one of the most reputable skaters on the island. When he was nine years old, his mother’s boyfriend introduced him to skating. He took him to a hill with a really old Gordon and Smith skateboard from the ’60s and showed him how to go downhill on a crazy hill. From then on, he spent most of his days skating.

“In everyday life, people feel like they succumb to the forces of nature,” said Hicks, now 29. “When you are skating, you are one and you use those forces to your advantage. You tap into things that you don’t really understand.”

Sometimes those forces take advantage of him, such as the time he was going up a really big bank ramp when a friend knocked him off and he flew 10 feet high in the air and tripped up on the way, then fell on his head on concrete. He was out for a couple of minutes.

“I got up and did a back flip afterwards,” he said; “but people were like, ‘Ah man…something’s wrong, dude; you need to get to the doctors.’” He eventually started throwing up out of nowhere, which was his cue to finally seek medical attention!

Hicks has skated in numerous hometown competitions and has qualified for a couple of regional Beasts of the East tournaments. He skates less now, but two days a week he’ll go either to the skate park on Hilton Head Island, close to his home, or the Yards in Savannah, or to Beaufort, home to one of the first professionally built skateboard parks in the area.

Hicks is the first to admit that he is afraid of injuries when it comes to skateboarding. He has a lot going for him, including his 3-year-old baby, Eleanor, and his wife, Meghan. He is also going to school fulltime and working, so skating is on the backburner. He is studying physics and math and ultimately would like to build an indoor skate park in Bluffton.

“It’s tough to be a skater and hold down a sufficient job and have all sorts of injuries. You have to explain why you’re limping,” he said with quiet laughter.

According to Hicks, the whole piece of wood itself is a challenge. All of the tricks are difficult, particularly the 360-kick flip, where the board spins around under you. In order to master that, he videotaped himself so he could see where his mistakes were. He also watched pro videos. Occasionally, he has given lessons in the past and offers a bit of advice: “Just don’t get frustrated first of all; it’s totally not worth it. There’s always a younger cat out there who’s going to show you up no matter who you are. Don’t forget why you started skating. It’s only about fun.”

If you’re too chicken to try any of those, these extreme sports are worth checking out:

Paddle Surfing:

What: The sport is a combination of long board surfing and kayaking and is in its infancy in the states. Jamie Maples at Sunny Daze Surf Factory explains the most challenging aspect of paddle surfing is the balance involved and the heavy proprioceptive workout and core workout. He also noted that Hilton Head Island is ideal for paddle surfing because the waves are small.
Where: Sunny Daze Surf Factory just started a program for the sport and offers lessons. They have a couple of rental boards and will rent them out this year, as well as standard board rentals. To arrange for lessons or rentals call 843-682-3293.

BMX Biking:
What: If moves like front flip tire-grab to bar-spin and 360 double-whip sound appealing, then this is the sport for you. Some even have the skill, determination and mental strength to do double back flips. Competitions can earn winners upwards of $15,000.
Where: Pedals rents out BMX bikes (843-842-5522) as does Fuel Skate Shop (843-842-3835).

Wakeskating:

What: Most fans see this sport as wakeboarding evolved. It’s highly technical because there are no bindings on the board, so you are left to rely on your own strength. Falling gracefully is said to be the toughest challenge, according to 23-year old wakeskating expert Jamie Ferrell.
Where: It’s best to skate where there is glass (flat water). For lessons, contact Jamie Ferrell at Outside Hilton Head, 843-686-6996. You can also visit outsidehiltonhead.com.

Cycling:

What: The Island Packet called this seemingly simple, but highly technical sport “NASCAR on Two Wheels.” Cyclists can travel at speeds upward of 40 miles per hour around the island hills, highways and backloads. Tack on average 75-lap race times of more than one-and-a-half hours, and it’s certain you’ll break a sweat.
Where: Hilton Head Velo. For more information, call 843-681-8001.

Beach Bum Triathlon:

What: This heart-pounding race is not for the weak of heart, mind or body. It’s a 500-yard ocean swim, six-mile beach bike race and a three-mile beach run.
Where: The race takes place on June 28, so go for it if you consider yourself in peak physical condition. If not, there are also races on July 12 and August 9. For more information, call GoTriSports at 843-842-IRUN or visit gotrisports.com/gtsp/bbtri.htm.

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