KITEBOARDING in the Eastern Bay has grown in popularity, thanks to the work of world-class kiteboarder Prawit Buachattur, or Lek, as he is known.
Lek has been in the Eastern Bay for about four months, based at the Port Ohope General Store and Cafe Switch Kiteboard School, owned by Greig Dean. He has been teaching anyone keen to give the sport a go.
Lek finished off his stint in Ohope with an epic ride out at White Island last weekend, possibly the first time anyone has ever been kiteboarding at the island. He returned to Thailand this week, where he will continue teaching the sport.
“It is a very big sport in Thailand, they do it everywhere,” he told Eastern Bay Life before he left.
Lek specialises in the form of kiteboarding known as foiling. Hailing from Phuket, where he works as an instructor for kiteboarding company, Kiteboarding Asia, he has competed internationally for the past eight years.
Lek says he has loved teaching people the sport and Ohiwa Harbour has been particularly good because you can kitesurf there in any wind direction. “It’s a very good place to do it in the harbour,” he says.
About 50 people have been fortunate to have Lek coach and introduce them to the sport over summer. These have included newcomers to the sport as well as those who have some experience but want to take their kitesurfing to the next level.
Lek has also helped teach stand-up paddle boarding, says Greig.
“When we had our SUP festival Lek won the open sprint title. He is a really good paddleboarder as well.”
The 26-year-old has been teaching and competing internationally for about a decade and is ranked number two in the Asian region following competitions in Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
Greig says he discovered Lek while on kitesurfing trips to Thailand with his wife, Ashley.
“We go to Thailand every year and kitesurfing is really big. Kite Boarding Asia is a huge operation throughout Asia. He runs one of the schools in Phuket and has several instructors working for him.
“We got to know him over the last couple of years and so, with that in mind, came back and applied for a special visa so he could come out here on an expert sport visa.”
Lek says one of the highlights for him during his stay has been the harbour.
“In Thailand we don’t have a place like this. In the harbour I can do any wind direction and it is safe and shallow.” In Thailand he kitesurfs in the ocean.
Lek spends half the year in Phuket and the other half in Hua Hin, two hours south of Bangkok. “I follow the wind.”
Greig says Switch Kiteboarding, a Whakatane-based company that provides gear globally for the sport, is now sponsoring Lek.
“Lek is now a Switch Team rider, which means he is sponsored by Switch Kites.”
Greig says they have seen the sport grow in Whakatane over summer. “If you go back two years ago there were only two kitesurfers here, but now we have a community of about 15 kiters.
“We want to grow the sport but make to grow it in a safe way. The idea is we don’t want people to go buy stuff over the internet, look at a You Tube video and then try teaching themselves, because that is dangerous. There are safe practices you have got to adhere to.”
He says the sport appeals to some of the old windsurfers like himself. These days you can get bigger kites, which enable you to ride in lighter winds.
“The technology has got really good. It’s an amazing sport because age is not a barrier at all,” he says. “Foiling, in particular, is well suited for older riders because you can ride in lighter winds and enjoy flying above the water without pounding through it.”
He says Ohope is well-suited to kiteboarding, with both the harbour and ocean providing environments in which to learn.
Lek is keen to come out again. The sport has grown phenomenally in Thailand over the past 15 years and he believes it can take off in New Zealand too in the next decade.