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Old 09-11-2004, 09:15 AM
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Default Red Bull World Record Kitesurfing Crossing From Key West To Cuba

Individual Rider and Participant Accounts of the
Red Bull Kite Crossing - Key West to Cuba
December 21, 2001


Gilles’ Story and End Notes (posted January 18, 2002)


Here is the last account that I plan to post here about the World Record, Red Bull Crossing from Key West to Cuba. I hope that the other accounts have been at least half as entertaining to read as they have been to write. So they are a bit long but hey I am working on that! It would have been best to have posted this account first as it details a lot of the planning and organization that went into the crossing but better last than never. So follows are some of the views of Gilles d'Andrieux, the organizing force behind the Red Bull Crossing. First however a few comments from and about some of the other participants.

Jenn Klassens of Red Bull was there on the 42 ft. racing catamaran from start to finish and the return to Florida. She also worked closely with Gilles to bring all this about with Red Bull as the major sponsor of the event. She wasn't at liberty to say much when I spoke with her but here is what she did say. She said that words can't even describe the experience of the crossing, the conditions were so extreme. She also said that it was definitely a spiritual experience! Without Red Bull's support this crossing never would have come about. Red Bull is truly a very strong proponent and supporter of the sport of kitesurfing as riders and event spectators can attest to around the world. We should all be grateful to them for showing this level interest and investing so heavily in the promotion and showcasing of this excellent sport.

I really opened up this series of accounts with Neal Hutchinson's story but left out some background on this very capable kitesurfer and great guy. Neal has been part owner of Kitesurfusa.com in Ft. Lauderdale for several years. Kitesurfusa.com provides kitesurfing instruction, retail gear and has a great location right on the beach. He has been in seven kitesurfing competitions along the east coast in the last couple of years. He has placed in the top three in every one of these events! He is sponsored by Naish, Hana Crew, Oakley and Excess Clothing. He also was schedule to compete in the Red Bull King of the Air contest in Maui this year which was cancelled shortly before it was to start. That is when Red Bull first approached Neal to do the crossing. Neal plans to continue to pursue kitesurfing competitions and is interested to participating in future extreme kitesurfing crossings. Neal in preparing for the crossing went for a short jaunt down the coast. He kitesurfed from Miami to Islamorada in only 6 hours, followed by a wave runner as a safety craft. Just a 120 mile stroll, what a difference relatively calm water makes! I am looking forward to hearing about your future exploits Neal!

David Calvert was the very able captain and designer of the 42 ft. deep water racing catamaran that was a key support vessel during the crossing. David has done a bit of sailing in his time. First as a pro windsurfer for many years and more recently on deep water catamarans. In fact he is one of the current World Record holders for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic to date. He was a part of the crew on a little 125 ft. cat, the largest one in the world, that fired across the Atlantic in 4 days 17 hours in October 2000. He said that the cat was fast enough to sail at the leading edge of a strong cold front most of the way across. That meant that they had 30 to 40 kt. winds with near FLAT WATER for the crossing. Talk about kitesurfing Nirvana, I wanna go! Well maybe someone will do the Atlantic in the next few years by kite, hmmmm. He said they set a 24 hour speed record as well covering 687 miles at an average speed of only 29 kts! David said the conditions at the time of the crossing to Cuba presented a “textbook situation” of the absolute worst conditions to cross the Straits of Florida under, at least in a boat! David has crossed the Straits in excess of 25 times over the last 25 years and knows well of what he speaks.
He analyzed some of the satellite imagery that presents the width of the Florida Current based on temperature profiling. He said that normally the zone of highest current is a few miles in width between Florida and the Bahamas. Lucky as they were for this crossing, this band of high speed water currents was 10 to 15 MILES WIDE! If you blow 25 kts. into the face of the strongest part of the Florida Current you get nasty, really big, short wavelength waves to ram into. That is exactly what they experienced to excess in this crossing. He thought that the athletes though obviously very skilled and well trained may not have truly appreciated the conditions until they were flying along wily nily in the midst of them. He was both impressed and admired the kitesurfers that made it all the way for their endurance in the face of such severe conditions. He gives them a lot of credit for making and achieving the attempt.

David related one of his highpoints of the crossing to me. With a cat sailing before the wind, if you are too powered up, one of the easiest ways to reduce speed and restore control is to turn more downwind, stall the sail and slow as a result. He did this continuously during the crossing and frequently had to reduce sail to permit the kitesurfers to catch up. Well he had just caught a major puff of wind, was at the helm and performed this tried and true method of speed control. Unfortunately in this case they happened to be riding one of the higher waves of the crossing by odd coincidence. So here they are in a 42 ft. cat blasting down the steep face of a large wave trying to slow down, but only speeding up! They made it up to about 18 kts. when the bows of the cat slammed into the base of the wave trough and were buried 15 ft. along the hull to the mast. So 18 kts. to zero just like that, what happens? Everybody goes flying forward! Paul, Jenn and the other woman from Red Bull, who were trying to keep Paul warm and revive him slammed into the front of the cockpit. The photographer Gwenevere was unfortunately below decks when this all happened. She rocked forward a distance of about 25 ft. through multiple hull sections to a hard landing. David was concerned that she might have some hard explaining to do to her boyfriend about all the resulting bruises! As a foot note, David just won the Ft. Lauderdale to Key West Race yesterday in dramatically lower winds. Calvert Sails knows their stuff!

Now to the account of Gilles d'Andrieux. Gilles has had an interesting life to say the least. He was born in Africa, raised in Asia and followed up by spending time in France and the last five years in the USA. He comes from the film industry where he worked for the last seven years. He has been very active in sports and particularly personal "challenges". Little things, like rollerblading from Jacksonville to Miami in four days and from Tallahassee to Miami in six days. He plans on going from Key West to New York by jet ski in May 2002 for a new World Distance Record! Oh, and while he is at it he plans to rollerblade from New York to Miami. Just think of all the frequent flyer miles he is giving up for those missed return flights! He describes the amazing determination that comes into play in these challenges and the profound feeling of accomplishment that follows their completion. He says it takes 60 % determination and 40% physical skill to accomplish these challenges, I can believe it! Gilles has traction kiting plans for the other side of the Atlantic as well. He likes sharing the challenge experience, hence the Key West to Cuba crossing challenge and more group events to come. How about a tour by eight guys on modified mountain boards with kite propulsion for a short jaunt across the desert in Morocco. They plan to only go 2500 miles from south to north ending on the coast of the Med! He also has more kitesurfing challenges in the works but that is all that can be reveled at this time on that. Gilles’ company is S.E.E. Productions based in Miami, FL and is also involved with Miamikiteboarding.com. As you may recall Miamikiteboarding.com is the kitesurfing school that Fabrice is also involved with.

For those who may have gotten the impression that the Red Bull Crossing from Key West to Cuba was a lightly considered, last minute undertaking let me clear things up. It was a complex project with major sponsorship, a team of almost 25 professionals and incredible planning. Gilles was first contacted by Red Bull in September 2001. Red Bull wanted to do something for the kitesurfing community. They were compelled to cancel both the Maui and East Coast contests shortly following the tragedy in New York. They asked Gilles what sort of distance crossing he would suggest. Crossing from the Bahamas to Florida came up as did Key West to Cuba.
The folks at Red Bull asked Gilles to explore the feasibility of going to Cuba as that captured their imagination and it was what they wanted to set as the challenge. For Gilles his challenge started with this request in September in a major way. He said he didn't begin to feel relief until the guys started to cross to Cuba almost three months later.

Permitting and permissions were a big part of the obstacles involved. He contacted the Department of the Treasury, the State Department, the Department of Commerce, the Coast Guard and others. He retained an attorney that specialized in international law and Cuban-American relations. He ended up obtaining all required permissions including two major Federal permits from the Customs service and Coast Guard. The last of these essential permits arrived on December 17, a whopping three days before the first window of opportunity for the crossing. With Christmas looming, it was go time. The Cuban side of things was a bit easier and was largely limited to obtaining visas and working out logistics at the island. Gilles also negotiated a small international insurance rider in the amount of $10 Million USD for the three support vessels used in the crossing. The coast guard monitored the position of the support boats on radar and by radio from the start all the way to Cuban waters.

Gilles described the final two weeks as extremely tense. I remember speaking with him in that interval and within one week of the actual crossing date. He had no idea at that late date if the required permits would arrive in time or even if at all. Gilles described building a team of four athletes and two alternates who would ride to Cuba. In addition he talked about selecting and building a cohesive team of 23 other professionals, a medical doctor, nutritionist, boat captains, photographers, videographers, safety personal, etc. It wasn't enough to pick these people but they all had to be selected carefully with the anticipation that they would grow together and form a strong union. He wanted to create a team atmosphere of comfort and ambience. From all accounts Gilles was extremely successful in this task not only with the athletes but also with the rest of the challenge team. He did tell me that there is a proverb in France which translates to something like …"impossible is not French!" Someone should email that to me in French. Gilles proved it to be true in this case.

Gilles had special praise for Fabrice or Dr. Fab. Fabrice although relatively new to the sport of kitesurfing was totally focused on training daily for this crossing. If that wasn't enough of a challenge Fabrice was also given the major responsibility of weather prediction and planning. Gilles described it as a strong melding of intelligence, spirit and skill that Fabrice brought to the event. Gilles felt that they were extremely well prepared for the crossing because of Fabrice's very accurate forecast. Unfortunately, the other riders may not have had total faith in his prediction at first but I think that by the end of the crossing they became devoted converts to the school of Fabrice's weather prediction. Fabrice had carefully tracked and modeled weather in the Straits of Florida for ten days prior to the crossing. Gilles said he was very glad that he had put such faith and confidence in Dr. Fab's meteorological capabilities. Dr. Fab even said that the nuking NE winds could shift to the SE within 20 miles of Cuba. He advised that if this happened to work to move upwind as hard as they could to try to maintain the planned landfall. The wind shift to the SE came at about 10 miles offshore and was followed by a painful five mile run upwind run by the overpowered riders in 25 kt. conditions. Fabrice did himself a favor by not only making the forecast but selecting his equipment for these conditions. As a consequence he had the perfect board and kite for the crossing. All the other riders congratulated Fabrice in Cuba on his selection and predictive skills.

Gilles also had substantial praise for the organizational, seamanship and navigational capabilities of Christoph Ribot of MiamiKiteboarding.com. He said that without Christoph’s very capable navigation and planning their arrival in Cuba as a group would have become even more of a remote possibility.

In planning for the crossing Gilles had a goal of making the riders totally independent if necessary for a period of at least two hours. He accomplished this not only with extensive training and dietary preparation but also with safety gear.
Each rider had a special impact vest, water supply, food, compass and flares. They all were to wear communication headsets as well. He had two satellite phones on the support vessels for reliable communications.

Gilles described cursing about 12 ft. away from Paul Menta before his collapse and the wild events that followed. He was keeping a close eye on Paul and staying in frequent contact, as he was concerned about Paul's reduced condition. Paul had just said that he could feel his legs anymore and then he passed out. Fortunately, Gilles was so close that he was able to almost immediately dive into the water to help. Paul's kite had other ideas and so the chase was on for a while. Gilles eventually recovered Paul to his support boat, a 31 ft. Contender. Remember the seas were 15 to 17 ft. so when it came time to transfer Paul to the 42 ft. cat which not only served as the mobile weather station but also the medical center with the Doctor, the challenge wasn't over. The seas prohibited anything other than a swimming transfer with Gilles towing Paul along a safety line to the cat. This was done quickly and the Doctor set to work in successfully stabilizing Paul's condition.

On a very sad note, on the very day of the crossing, a small 25 ft. boat carrying about fifteen Cubans fleeing to the USA floundered and sank with all hands about ten miles off Key West. The heavy seas were too much to take for this small craft. Hopefully, the days of such gambles and desperate crossings will soon come to an end.

Gilles tells me that 600 TV stations around the globe picked up news of the crossing. He will soon be traveling to Paris for interview regarding the crossing. Red Bull is to release a video documentary of the crossing in March or April 2002. I want one! Gilles says that there are lots of opportunities to organize other kitesurfing challenges. He calls it the new sport of the millennium with lots of people focusing on it. He describes these challenges, as going into the unknown and everyone knows creating something that.

So that is the story as told to me by the riders and some of the other team members of this incredible event. Red Bull wanted to do something significant for the kitesurfing community. I think that they very much accomplished that. Gilles wanted to plan and execute a never before
attempted kitesurfing crossing, and he also succeeded. The athletes individually and as a team wanted to both experience and achieve this unique accomplishment. It impresses me what people are capable of both as individuals and as a team. It all makes me wonder what new incredible accounts the New Year will bring.

Rick Iossi


Fabrice’s Story (posted January 13, 2002)

It has been interesting getting to know the riders who took on the challenge of kitesurfing to Cuba from Key West. Neal Hutchinson, although rigged too big and tea bagging much of the way, would not give up and hit it hard until he made Cuba. Kent Marinkovic, who despite having lots of pain and repeatedly being slammed into wipeouts would not let go of the goal until it was achieved. Oliver Butsch was totally set to go all the way and had a bad stroke of luck knocking him out of the crossing minutes before the start, by kite anyway. He was unlucky enough to do the run by boat in very heavy seas however. Finally, Paul Menta who would have been much better off staying in a hospital bed but made the choice to get up for his son, got out and on his
board to shred south towards Cuba. We can be very proud of all these riders
for what they attempted and achieved. Now the story of the last rider, Fabrice Collard.

Fabrice or Dr. Fab to some is just that, a doctor of Meteorology and Oceanography. He did his doctorate in Paris and has been in the USA for about a year. He has been hung up on wind and waves for much of his life being a big wave windsurfer, he isn't alone there.
He however took things a few steps further than the rest of us board heads in developing a model of how waves are formed in three dimensions by wind. Currently, he is doing some high tech tinkering with a sophisticated millimeter hi resolution radar system that tells all about coastal waves, currents and the like at the University of Miami RSMAS marine school in Miami, Fl. I am looking forward
to the day when iwindsurf gets some of those units, (just kidding!). After Fabrice gets the bugs out of the local radar system, he will be off for an extended stay doing more of the same in Oahu, Hawaii for several years. Well I guess someone has to do it! Fabrice has only been kitesurfing for about a year having started in Germany. He has taken to it like a fish, well…to water, needless to say. In fact to occupy his spare time he helped to form and run Miamikiteboarding.com which provides kitesurfing instruction far from land on some shallow flats from a pontoon boat. Fabrice is planning on carrying kitesurfing students and experienced shredders to several day trips
to the Berry Islands in the Bahamas and around Margarita Island off Venezuela for some prime flying. Fabrice had the additional job for the crossing of providing the weather prediction, naturally enough.

I asked Fabrice about what came to mind regarding the training camp in the Bahamas. The camp lasted for about a week and included long inter-island runs in the South Abacos between Green Turtle Cay, Marsh Harbor and Hopetown. He told me about one memorable session. The forecast was for 10 to 15 kts. but developed into 25 kts. after a while. Fabrice had rigged up an Airblast 11.8 m with a rough projected area of 16 m. The course the guys set out on called for them to shred upwind which is very difficult or sometimes almost impossible when overpowered. They managed to do the run anyway despite the overpowered conditions. The ended up sliding into the
shallows just off Hopetown shortly after dark. Several locals well lubricated by some of those fine Bahamian libations ran out in astonishment to quiz these later day drug runners, aliens, whatever they appeared to be to a well juiced observer! Needless to say in the spirit of diplomacy the
guys got pretty well lubricated too but eventually they had to motor back. They had to make it to Marsh Harbor in near pitch black conditions, through some rocky shallows while it was still blowing 25 kts. with a Xeroxed Navigational chart copy with nothing more than a compass light for illumination, not good! They persevered though and made it, the kitesurfer
fairies were working overtime on this crossing.

Neal had the tremendous misfortune of having his kite gear sent off to Botswana or some other place courtesy of American Airlines so he was high, dry and fuming throughout much of the camp. Fabrice although a strong shredder and good instructor hadn't spent time on learning twisty, upside-down, etc. kitesurfing tricks. Neal is a master at these gravity defying moves and gladly spent a day sharing his knowledge with Fabrice. So as a result of the expert instruction and near perfect conditions for tricks Fabrice got the hang of a number of moves.

Not too long before the crossing, Fabrice had pretty soundly injured his knee in a kitesurfing accident. The last time that I saw him was at the first kitesurfing competition in Miami in early November. At that time he couldn't walk much further than 50 ft. without stopping a resting.
Fabrice was quite concerned about the effect of chronic jumping on his weakened knee for hours on the way to Cuba. He told himself that if he could walk, he could make the crossing. Even though the wind at the time of the launch, at the beach anyway, was side offshore and a bit lighter, Fabrice dialed in gear for the actual conditions. The rest of the guys rigged for less wind
but got a lot more than they anticipated. They slammed through things anyway, but guys you should listen to the Doctor!

Fabrice at about 175 lbs. chose a Bump and Jump 185 cm directional board (now retired in a place on honor on his wall), and his smallest kite, an Airblast 8.4 m. All the other guys credited Fabrice has having chosen a near perfect rigout for the actual wind and wave conditions. The wind was out of the NE or roughly from 45 degrees and they guys were running on a course of 165 degrees. Because Fabrice chose a smaller kite he was able to fly it well below neutral well diminishing his tendency for automatically getting yanked into jumps in high gusts.
Also another problem in taking on following mega waves with an overpowered kite in neutral is the tendency to travel faster than your kite, stalling it and starting a whole new set of problems. Also the directional board was helpful in surfing down the extremely steep, never ending succession of heavy waves. As they were almost running before the wind, Fabrice was able to keep his injured leg in the forward, largely unloaded position for most of the crossing, sparing himself some major pain.

He actually thought that the kitesurfers had a bit easier time of it than the support boats. He saw the 56 ft. Bertram almost capsize twice during the crossing! He lost his board once after pulling both of his feet out of the straps and getting hit by a major gust. Body dragging back to it in
major seas was not a picnic with images of the guys in the grey suits swimming heavily on his mind.

I asked Fabrice what is the most indelible image that he will take away from the crossing. His response was interesting particularly coming from an oceanographer. What he described was like being lost in time and space. You seemed to be moving, time was passing but the scenery really wasn't changing, at all. In effect it became easy to feel at some level near the surface that despite all your efforts you weren't really moving at all and the end may never come. Sounds like a wet episode of the Twilight Zone, spooky! He felt like he was in his home alpine hills tearing up and down them by snowboard more than at sea kitesurfing. He commented on the intense nature of blasting down very steep wave faces for hours on end. Fabrice described at hour 7 seeing the mountains of Cuba through the haze and clouds and shouting to Neal "we are almost there!". Of course a small navigational error on the part of one of the support boats had them out shredding a bit longer still and painfully upwind for the last stretch. At this point Kent and Neal perked up a bit and shredded a bit easier. Neal even popped a ton of jumps off the smaller waves. He later told Fabrice that the jumps were not intentional!

Fabrice thought that one of the greatest challenges was having all the team arrive at one time given the different kite sizes and ease of travel. Fabrice had admiration for Paul who took on the challenge despite being ill. He said that Paul has a real strong mind, which didn't fail; his body gave up not him! Kent impressed him by the strength he had to forget the pain and to concentrate and accelerate for the finish. Fabrice said that Neal was amazing and that he couldn't have made it to Cuba on Neal's equipment. Fabrice said that when Neil says he'll make it, no matter what happens, you will find him at the end, Neal is simply not able to give up!

Fabrice described their day of rest, Saturday, after shredding for 8 ˝ hours to Cuba on Friday. He said kitesurfing conditions on the north coast of Cuba near Varadero were ideal. So what did the guys do? The shredded for most of that day and until an hour past sunset! They take a licking and keep on shredding, impressive!

Fabrice was in a hurry once he made it back to Key West to fly out to visit his family in Grenoble, France for the holidays. He had loaner clothes but managed to pull some kit and gifts together in time for his reunion. He ended up windsurfing for a while after visiting Grenoble, in Brittany in the
English Channel, in late DECEMBER, just watch out for those polar bears.

Well that is Fabrice's story. Even though he was injured, taking a smaller kite and a directional board seemed to help him deal a bit easier with the major seas during the crossing. Even though they had trouble with being overpowered on short boards, Kent and Neal still made it against large odds. Fabrice thinks that the record may grow to as high as 200 miles but thinks
hat that may be about it. He closed by saying that they had discovered a new long distance machine!

Rick Iossi



Paul’s Story (posted January 11, 2002)

Well we are moving through the individual rider accounts and gaining some intriguing and impressive insights into the men who accomplished the World Record, Red Bull Kite Crossing - Key West to Cuba. Now for Paul Menta’s story, it is a powerful, disturbing and controversial account.

First, some background on Paul, he started kitesurfing over three years ago in South Florida. He is heavily involved with Kitesurftheearth.comspecializing in instruction and kitesurfing travel and with PASA. Paulstood behind this name in spades over last year as he kitesurfed in 93 locations in 14 countries and 23 states in the USA! He estimates his air miles for 2001 are on the order of 120,000! He said he was looking for nice launches to make a habit of returning to! Paul has and is producing a number of kitesurfing videos including “Get’n School’d”, which is the most complete intro kitesurfing video on the market today in my opinion. His real job until turning to kitesurfing instruction and travel full time was as an Executive Chef. He trained in France and in other parts of the world during this part of his career. He also was a competitive wakeboarder and
instructor for many years.

His motivation for undertaking the crossing particularly after becoming quite ill was surprising, at least to me as a practicing non-parent. Paul’s son, also Paul Menta, 9 years old and moving quickly in his father’s footsteps as a skateboarder and budding kitesurfer, simply wanted him to do it. It became a passion, with questions like, “are we going to be in the Guinness Book of Records?” and the like and father and son formed a solemn pact to do the crossing. Paul Sr. related a “Career Day” experience that Paul Jr. had at school. He brought in and showed one of Paul’s kitesurfing videos and caught some heat from the teacher. She was adamant that Paul Jr.
was to present his father’s occupation not his hobby. The teacher eventually saw the light and later met Paul Sr. at which time she apologized and expressed her jealousy of his career. So Paul Sr. as a proud father decided he would do it for his son, he wasn’t going to stay on the beach; he
was doing it, no matter what!

Paul Sr. (henceforth Paul again) described the training camp in the Bahamas as a valuable learning and conditioning experience. He had just had his wet cast removed from his hand. Oh, did I forget to mention that the cast covered a shark bite recently suffered while kitesurfing? Paul had just landed a jump in Key West, settled into the water and then noticed that his board was stuck. He reached into the water and had his hand CHOMPED ON TO by a shark who had been happy to just munch on his board up to that point. The conditions were pretty powered and Paul started trying to persuade the shark to let go by beating on it. He eventually let his kite slam into the power zone, catapulting both Paul and THE SHARK still hanging on to his hand, INTO THE AIR! The shark like Kent (a.k.a. the Pit Bull according to Oliver), didn’t let go, at least not at first but fortunately didn’t require shooting to release poor Paul.

He described the team landing in the Bahamas and being treated to the plane sliding sideways in the gusts and looking at each other and grinning thinking “here it comes!” They were right! Paul said that the learned how to ride overpowered for hours in the Bahamas as they were all rigged too big for the strong wind conditions. He called it a “bat out of hell ride!” He estimated that they averaged about 60 miles per day and grew together into a strong cohesive team with a common, “must achieve” goal, to make it to Cuba. He said that they knew as a team that they both could and would make the crossing. Paul described blasting along with his kite in neutral, couldn’t
edge his board as that would fire him forward even faster and having to jump just to slow down!

Four days before the crossing, Paul returned from Margarita where he is going to be developing a kitesurfing operation. He felt strange and dizzy on arriving. He proceeded to toss his cookies from Monday to Wednesday with his health rapidly deteriorating. He was admitted to the hospital on
Thursday and given three liters of fluid by IV and another on Friday morning. He was diagnosed as having stomach flu and knew of eight others
who had been on the island who were suffering the same effects. He was in a heavily reduced condition, physically anyway, comes Friday, the day of the crossing. Against the doctor’s strong advice, Paul got out of the hospital bed and checked himself out to do the crossing. He said he was not going to sit on the beach; he was at least going to make 40 miles, no matter what!
Crazy, well maybe but really impressive and there are even more extreme things to come. Paul said that in checking out of the hospital, he knew and trusted the team and that he wasn’t worried, that the team would make it even if only one member. The team had made a deal. He said it was intense and brought home in a big way that your mind can be much stronger than your
body.

He said that they kitesurfed for over an hour before the start, waiting for the rest of the support boats to arrive. Once they moved out beyond the reef tract he said the waves got really big and the wind very strong. Paul at about 150 lb. undertook the crossing with a Prankster 151 cm wakeboard with low profile boots and a prototype Cabrinha 9.4 m kite. He commented that when the support boat would come along side they would say that they were averaging 11 kts. I said but Paul, you had to be humping along at least 20 kts. plus in that wind which he estimated at 20 kts. gusty up to 25 to 30 kts. routinely. He agreed but said riding up and down so much up the
15 to 17 ft. waves they netted out as going much slower. Given that I suspect the actual linear distance far exceeded 100 miles, hmmm. Of course the wipeouts reduced the net speed as well.

Paul said that becoming accustomed to charging before huge roaring breaking white water while pitching at insane speed almost vertically down the face of the waves was unnerving and disturbing, hell it was plain scary! All this on a short wakeboard of course for everyone but Fabrice, the wise meteorologist! Paul said he just focused his mind on the task at hand and
eventually got over it despite the lunatic carnival ride conditions. Like the support boats, the riders had to constantly throttle up and slow down to keep control in the midst of the heavy breaking waves and gusting winds. He said the other riders would frequently move along side and ask if he was still doing ok as they knew that he was there more out of will than in body.

Paul commented on frequently trying to take visual range points to run on based on the support craft. He would see the 56 ft. Bertram only every THIRD WAVE and it would vanish the rest of the time, the seas were so high! What a comfort!

Paul said in his last hour of shredding he was dizzy and his legs were numb because as the doctor later explained, his kidneys were SHUTTING DOWN. Just before the end, Paul had covered over 53 miles in excess of about four hours, five or more including the prestart shredding. He had sucked down his entire camel water pack long before that but was still extremely dehydrated from upchucking nearly the entire week before. Gilles told me
that he was talking to Paul on a remote headset when Paul said, “I’m loosing it…” and then pitched over on to the water face down and unconscious.

The bizarre thing of it was that Paul DIDN’T LET GO of the control bar. Paul quoted Kevin Collins of Kiteboarding Magazine, who was on one of the support boats, who said that Paul was dragged like a rag at high speed a hundred feet or more across the water and at one point was lofted 15 to 20 feet into the air. Paul explained that it was a good thing that HE WASN’T BREATHING through this as … he could have drowned! Gilles jumped into the water twice from one of the support boats to try to secure Paul but the kite kept ripping him along out of control and at speed. Eventually Gilles dove into the water, bodily tackled Paul and ripped the control bar out of his
hands. Then over to the team doctor for some rapid life saving action.

Paul eventually regained consciousness but couldn’t see clearly for about five hours. His doctor later said that he had used up all his body’s electrolytes, the fat was being consumed until heavily depleted and so the vital tissues were then being consumed and organs were starting to shut
down. The doctor said that if it wasn’t for Paul’s intense physical conditioning and original excellent state of health there was a good chance that he could have died from the effects of the ordeal.

Paul had major thanks and praise for the three women of Red Bull who took
custody of him on the 42 ft. catamaran. One woman held his head while one
of the others literally sat on him to try to immobilize him from slamming
around the cockpit. Then the cat ripped down the face of a major wave
burying the bows into the sea up to THE MAST amidships. The deceleration
from 18 kts. to zero or negative sent everyone flying through the air wily
nily at high speed far forward to the deck. Paul with the women of Red Bull
clinging to him in an attempt to save him harm slammed into the deck in
unison. One of the women gouged her knee badly and Paul, well he only
dislocated his shoulder! Paul was generally aware of the tumult and thought
well we are going over as he vaguely made out the rudders sticking UP IN THE
AIR aft. He tried to grab on to some flotation as he went flying and rolled
across the deck, as he didn’t think he could swim.

Paul had major admiration to express for the Captain of the cat, Dave
Calvert of Calvert Sails of Islamorada. He said Dave was rock steady, calm
and at the helm throughout all this. He even thought Dave was enjoying
seeing his baby; he made the cat, show its stuff in conditions on the edge.
Have you noticed a lot of folks drawn to the edge in this? Dave also
apparently won a transatlantic sailing championship in the past. A good
thing, I say!

I asked Paul what was the strongest image that he came away from the
experience with…what a list to choose from! He said it was kitesurfing on
the edge, barely in control and straining hard and thinking he alone was
having this level of difficulty. Neal was off his beam and Kent was
shredding just aft. Paul was suddenly and violently ripped off the water in
an involuntary loft skyward. As he swung out of control he saw Kent airborne
and spinning hard fighting to restore control. He saw Neal get ripped over
the bow of his board and go flying in the same gust. All three riders were
cast airborne into tumult at the same time! Paul came up laughing
hysterically, the reality of what they were ALL dealing with coming home
very clearly.

I asked Paul what he learned, what lessons hammered through to carry away
from the experience. He said it came in three realms. First, he understood
for the first time in his life, what you are capable of doing in the
extreme. Second, he was surprised at a visceral level about the size and
intensity of the seas and at his ability to cope, barely, with the
conditions. Lastly, he learned a great deal about overpowered kitesurfing.
The subtle hard won and learned techniques have altered even his lighter
wind kitesurfing style. He intends to pass on the benefit of what he learned
to his instructors and advanced students in the coming year. If he had it to
do over again he would have done it with a longer, thin twintip with a hard
edge. He said that the list of knowledge that he came away with was really
too long to summarize.

Paul was airlifted out of Cuba back to the states. All he would say was that
it was an “interesting experience”. I gather that it was a special ordeal
all on its own but will not be related here. Paul said it was worth it
attempting the crossing despite the pain and injuries. He told his son,
would he do it again, no. It is up to Paul Menta Jr. to make the next mark
in history of this type for the family name, when he is ready and willing!
Paul understandably is still recovering from all this physically and feels
pretty spent at this point.

So that is Paul’s story, crazy, well maybe, but what a story! Paul and the
rest of the guys impress the hell out of me. Neal said that in completing
the crossing it was like making it to the top of Mount Everest. With each
new account the realization of that sinks in a bit more. Paul will soon
be off to Chamonix, France for some richly deserved R & R. Enjoy snow
shredding but DON’T GO EXTREME PAUL, leave that for Glenn Plake, he has the
hair for it!

Rick Iossi

Oliver’s Story (posted January 9, 2002)


I have been out of town for a while but now that I am back, I wanted to
continue to relate individual rider accounts of the World Record, Red Bull Kite Crossing - Key West to Cuba. Oliver Butsch has been riding for a year
and a half, is a Cabrinha team rider and is also sponsored by Qline (Active
People) and Pro Limits. He has competed in several kitesurfing events in
the Southeastern United States this year.

He has a pretty interesting day job as a successful international male model
specializing in sports ads. He has done photo shoots around the world
routinely for Swatch, Nike Tennis, Levi and others. His job allows him
prime shredding opportunities at some great locales. If you see Oliver at
the beach, he not only shreds well but also looks great while doing it! He is
leading his active five-year-old son in his footsteps into kitesurfing. Hey
Oliver, get that young fella a smaller
kite to play with before he beats your hang time record!

Oliver unfortunately was knocked out of the crossing by an accident minutes
before the start. The riders were in the water at the starting line,
roughly ten miles offshore of Key West. All of the support boats did not
arrive at the same time so the riders ended up waiting in and on the water
for about an hour and a half before the start. Oliver and the others had
been jumping downwind of the starting buoys and boats for much of this time.
Just before the start though they moved the boats to downwind of the
buoys. Oliver had been resting in the water so as not to over do things
before the start but began to cool off too much. He decided to jump a bit
to build up body heat again. Unfortunately, about ten minutes before the
start he jumped near the buoys, now upwind of the boat, landed near the
largest support boat, a 52 ft. Bertram and hit an outrigger with his kite.
He didn’t realize that he hit the outrigger but did hear the sickening noise
of rapidly escaping air telling him that something had gone very wrong.
With only minutes to the start he was compelled to fall out of the crossing
attempt. Oliver, at 175 lbs. was on a 140 cm wakeboard with boot bindings
and a Cabrinha 9.4 m kite. All riders were wearing wetsuits provided by Neil
Pryde. He said he felt so shocked and disappointed he wanted to swim to
shore and say the hell with it. He did board the Bertram for the crossing
but the heavy sea conditions and hours in the tumult of the Straits of
Florida were to prove to be a serious trial for all concerned.

Oliver related to me some of the experiences during their weeklong training
camp in the Bahamas that occurred before the Key West to Cuba Crossing. He
felt that the experience from the camp was a vital learning experience that
contributed to the success of the crossing.
He thought that without the lessons of the camp, some of the other riders might not have made it. He said that they needed to study and modify their style of riding to sustain an
extended crossing many hours in length. Fortunately, or unfortunately
depending on your perspective, the wind was honking during their time in the
Bahamas and they guys were on the whole rigged a bit too big. So it proved
to be great training for an extended high wind crossing as they plowed
through over 150 miles during the camp. They learned to ride with their
boards flatter with less edging and their kites higher in the sky to cut
down on leg strain for the many hours of the crossing.

As a reminder from earlier accounts the seas consisted of nasty, short
length waves on the order of 15 to 17 feet. Oliver said that once they made
it out into the Straits that both the waves and wind picked up with the
wind mounting another 5 to 10 knots into the high 25 to 30 knot range.
Although Oliver and others wore preventative medicated patches all the folks
on the boats were seasick for most of the crossing. Oliver said that he
threw up the whole way to Cuba. He would be at the gunnel feeding the fish
and wretching and occasionally see a kite or support boat. If they passed
within hailing distance of a rider he would holler support at him to keep
going and that he was doing great. He remembered seeing the odd rider
accidentally catch 20 feet of air or more by getting violently yanked off a
wave crest in a gust by flying their kites in overpowered conditions near
neutral.

Oliver had some choice comments on some of his team riders. He was very
impressed by Kent as a tough guy. He compared Kent to a Pit Bull, in that
he would hold on (to completing the crossing), until you shoot him! He also
had words of admiration for Neil saying he was a seasoned and determined
competitor that he thought would see Neil through to the finish. He
described Fabrice as the most well equipped of the team with the smallest
kite and largest directional board, best suited for the very demanding
conditions. It is worth mentioning that when I last saw Fabrice at the
first kitesurfing competition at Crandon Park a few weeks ago, he could
hardly walk 50 ft. without stopping and resting. He had injured his knee in
a kitesurfing accident and was wearing a knee brace and limping for all he
was worth. Oliver thought that Paul would have made it all the way if not
for
his passing out in the attempt due to the effects of food poisoning. I hope
to relate Fabrice’s story soon. These guys are truly amazing!

I asked Oliver what impressed him most about the crossing. He said that for
the first time in his life he really felt and appreciated deep down that
you shouldn’t fear the ocean but you need to really respect it. He hadn’t
been out in or seen seas as high as during the crossing before. It is worth
emphasizing that the Straits of Florida in acting as a channel for a
relatively fast moving Florida current to the north is an idea breeding
ground for nasty, steep choppy heavy seas when northerly winds blast into
the face of it. These conditions were both present and exaggerated during
the crossing setting the table for major heaving seas and capsizing waves.
He also really appreciated that your gear had better be very good and
reliable or in those conditions you will likely pay a very heavy price.
Oliver had praise for Gilles d'Andrieux, the organizer of the crossing for
“thinking ofeverything!” He felt that the planning, procedures, equipment and training
camp played an important part in the success of the crossing.


I asked Oliver what was the most compelling image that he took away from
the crossing experience. He said it was when Kent took off his wakeboard
boot bindings after the finish and reveling bloody shins rubbed to the bone.
He said Kent just smiled and said it was great and a once in a lifetime
experience.

Oliver related an enjoyable shred session off Cuba before their return by
boat to Florida. He said that they made such a foreign sight that they
created a large traffic jam onshore of Cuban drivers checking out the
happenings on the water.

I will say it again, these guys impress the hell out of me and are an
example to all kitesurfers about what can be attempted and succeeded at if
training, equipment, luck and most importantly determination are in place.
I knew that there was to be a press conference after I left town so I asked
Oliver how it went. He said he felt that was for the guys who made the
kitesurfing crossing and not for him to participate in. I disagree but that
was his call. He tells me that they are contemplating even more ambitious
things of this kind in the future. More to come on that in time.

Rick Iossi

Kent’s Story (posted December 27, 2001)

I wanted to pass on some of the experiences described by Kent
Marinkovic during the Red Bull Kite Crossing - Key West to Cuba. I hope to get
comments and perspectives from each of the five kitesurfers and post them to
the group. Kent is a strong all around waterman, as are the rest of the kitesurfers that made the crossing. He is a former US Olympic windsurfer and one of the early kitesurfers in SE
Florida starting over three years ago. He is actively involved with
distribution of Cabrinha, Bic, Neil Pryde gear in the Americas through
Adventure Sports of Miami, FL.

Kent rigged up with a Cabrinha Prankster 150 wakeboard with bindings and a
9.4 m kite. He went into the crossing thinking that it would be “a piece of
cake”. This wasn’t conceit on Kent’s part as I have seen him in action. If
you have the chance to check him out doing funboard tricks sometime, do it,
it is pretty amazing. Anyway, once things got going he changed his opinion
of how easy things were going to be dramatically.

Dealing with the high seas and winds was the main issue. If he had it to do
over again he would have used a longer board. As the wind was howling out
of the NE and the Florida Current was blasting north at 2 to 3 kts.,
conditions were right for setting up steep, short wavelength waves, wet
walls, whatever! He ended up almost running downwind and surfing these 15
to 17 ft. waves for the majority of the 8 ˝ hour, 97 mile crossing. He said
at one point he saw on of the support craft, a 56 ft. Hatteras slide down
the back of a wave and exposed both props to him! He tells me that the
support boat captains refused to return to Florida on Saturday, until the
seas came down a bit given the severity of the conditions during the
crossing.



Wakeboards really aren’t that ideal for surfing waves as Kent proved in the
hardest way possible, especially when you are almost running before the
wind. In addition as he was chronically overpowered in the 25 kt. to 30 kt.
winds, he frequently kept his kite near neutral complicating edging such a
short board. He did keep the kite near the water at times, which as the
wind was from almost behind the kitesurfers, allowed him to rest a bit. Of
course things are very unstable with the kite in this position, even worse
without much edging with a short board in high seas, so the resting part is
relative. He thought that he wiped out at least 40 times during the
crossing. He never dropped his kite into the water although it was easy to
out run the kite and stall it when surfing the waves. These very demanding
conditions called for hard continuous concentration throughout the crossing.
He mentioned one particularly notable incident when he had just crested a
wave and was flung forward into a forward loop by a gust and a 40 ft.
horizontal flight, which he landed! He commented about abundant, very large
schools of flying fish. They would have worried me as I frequently come
close to colliding with airborne fish at speed when I am out shredding. To
think, taking on all that wind, heavy seas and hours of strain just to get
pelted by a pile of fish!

The constant working of the board bindings rubbed the skin off both of his
shins and ankles. His knees with the constant strain also were very
painful. He claimed to have discovered a portable means of short-term
relief for his knees, which I won’t go into here! Also they pretty much
kitesurfed looking into the sun for most of the crossing. Despite having
sunglasses they all suffered vision impacts and headaches.

I asked Kent what he learned from the experience. He said that he thought
that being mentally prepared for the crossing and all the demands was
critical. He thought that even with more training and conditioning, if the
riders weren’t mentally up to dealing with the challenges, it would have
been very hard to finish the crossing. He said that if he had to surf to
Cuba again anytime soon, he would use a longer board next time! Finally, he
thought that the distance record would be surpassed in the future. He
thought however that the crossing to Cuba would remain a very challenging,
very hard to complete run. I said that if I had to do the crossing under
anything near these conditions, that I would rig the smallest kite that
would be feasible and use a longer directional board. He said that was
fine, but they had to make it to the harbor and they were concerned about
not having enough wind at that end. So in effect they dealt with the
punishment and abuse of larger kites for 90 miles to assure making the last
7 miles! These guys are really impressive!

Congratulations go out to all the kitesurfers that participated in the
crossing. A big thanks to Gilles d'Andrieux for all his hard work in
pulling this together and to Red Bull’s sponsorship for making it all
possible. These guys have really impressed me, makes me wonder what next?!
I will be posting more rider accounts in about a week.

Rick Iossi





General Announcement and Neal’s Story (Posted December 25, 2001)

Five guys set out to make history. After over NINETY-SEVEN MILES and EIGHT
AND ONE HALF HOURS of continuous kitesurfing without any breaks, three
riders made it to the destination, after dark, with wind 25 to 30 knots and
seas 15 foot or more. We can all be very proud of these riders. They set
out to do something never before attempted and ended up accomplishing much
more last Friday, December 21, 2001. It was a severe trial against very
adverse seas; high winds, dehydration and cold, but they did it! They are
the first to cross from Key West to Cuba and have set a new kitesurfing
distance World Record!!! Sincere thanks go out to Red Bull for making the
Red Bull Kite Crossing - Key West to Cuba possible despite substantial odds
against it from ever occurring.

One sadly fell out due to the misfortune of tearing his kite in half
following a jump. This happened just before the start of the crossing when
the kite hit a passing sports fishing boat. Oliver was unlucky but if he
made the crossing even by boat, his trial was far from over. Reality
visited the riders early on but it was not done by a long shot in giving
harsh lessons that day.

During the crossing another rider passed out and was recovered unconscious,
face down in the water caused by the effects of severe dehydration and the
extreme exertions of the crossing. This rider had just returned from a trip
to South America where he came down with food poisoning and all the nasty
effects. He was still game and drove it to the edge and beyond. Most of us
would have said the hell with it; I am staying home but not Paul Menta. Even
riding it out on a fifty-foot catamaran after being rescued from the water,
his ordeal wasn't over. The vessel pitch poled in the 15 to 20 ft. seas and
flung everyone through the air hitting hard into the deck. Paul came up
with a dislocated shoulder for the experience. He was later airlifted out
from Cuba and is now doing better.

So Neal Hutchinson, Fabrice Collard and Kent Marinkovic made it all the way.
I have yet to talk with Fabrice and Kent but got some details from Neal's
experience and I am impressed, lets say floored, to say the least. Neal, at
160 #, was overpowered on a 13.5 m kite was forced to leave his kite near
neutral most of the way of the crossing (almost nine hours!). He basically
said he was "tea bagged" most of the way, only 97 miles! When gusts hit he
was yanked skyward 10 to 15 ft. or more only to slam into the water on
occasion. He had a camel pack for fluids but despite that he developed an
overpowering thirst a few hours into things. He concluded well into things
that his camel pack had ripped open and filled with salt water. So he had
been drinking salt water for hours making him a candidate for dehydration and
passing out. The navigation of the support craft was a bit off so the riders
ended up shredding for about two to three additional hours into darkness to
make their destination. Neal told me that during the crossing he was
thinking "he must be nuts", "what was he doing here" as he was tea bagged
and his legs repeatedly gave out. He said he thought of his family, friends
and kitesurfers that were pulling for him and he would go on. He told me
that he was going to make it to Cuba "on his board or in a body bag!" For
any of us who have worked to exhaustion at sea before, we can only start to
relate to what Neal and the others went through. Only they did it for
almost nine hours and nearly 100 miles in heavy seas and high winds. For me
this is one of the most incredible aspects of this effort. It seems that it
was will alone that got them there with all of the skill and conditioning
only helping. They all have injuries for their efforts, some more severe
than others but they made it, which is what counts. The insults weren't
over even coming into to harbor. As the sun had set and no searchlights
were available the riders held light sticks to help everyone keep track of
them. Neal's hand became too tired to hold his light stick and the control
bar, so he put the stick in his mouth. So first he had to drink seawater
then he got a mouthful of red light stick fluid!

All these guys are heroes in my book and a great credit to the sport of
kitesurfing and determination. They include:

Neal Hutchinson
Fabrice Collard
Kent Marinkovic
Paul Menta
Oliver Butsch

It was all put together by Gilles d'Andrieux with some major support from
Red Bull. Red Bull proves yet again to be a strong supporter of the sport of
kitesurfing along with new and exciting things. A big thanks to Gilles and
Red Bull for bring all this about.

Thanks to everyone and congratulations guys on your New World Record! I look
forward to reading and hearing more of the account of this incredible
crossing. If I the other riders consent, I will post more about their
individual thoughts and experiences during this record crossing.



Copyright 2001,2002 FKA, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.


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Last edited by RickI; 06-20-2007 at 01:09 PM.
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Old 07-16-2009, 10:17 AM
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RickI RickI is offline
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Wow, the guys did this 8 1/2 years ago! Decided to move it to the History section. Well done!
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