Soaring and splashing

What do you get when you combine wakeboarding, windsurfing, surfing, paragliding and gymnastics into one sport? One extreme sport called kiteboarding.

Kiteboard enthusiast Ervin Braun has no problem pushing himself beyond the limits while some of us take it easy on the couch. It’s a lesson the Old Greenwich resident has imparted to his three children – Scooter, who discovered Justin Bieber and owns two record labels; Adam, who founded the nonprofit Pencils of Promise; and Liza, who’s in her final year of medical school.

I caught up with the intrepid dentist while he was in Vancouver just as he was getting ready to go for a ride, or is it a fly?

Do you kiteboard with your kids?

“Yes, as a matter of fact, we all learned together at the same time when we took a trip together.”

How long have you been kiteboarding?

“It’s been about seven, eight years now.”

What’s so great about the sport?

“The thrill of traveling on the water then launching up into the air, going 20 feet in the air, floating down gently and landing back on the water is incredible.”

What led you to kiteboarding?

“Great question. I was actually a very active windsurfer for about 25 years, and I would literally travel all over the globe looking for wind. I was very passionate about windsurfing and I took a vacation to the Dominican Republic and there’s a place there that’s known for the wind called Cabarete. It’s a beautiful beach with a half-moon kind of bay. On one side were all the windsurfers and on the other side kiteboarders. It was a sport I didn’t know much about. So one morning when the wind wasn’t (strong) enough for the windsurfers, I decided to walk around the bay – about a 20-minute walk along the beach to the other side – and I saw all these kiteboarders. And one kiteboarder came barreling in towards the beach. I watched him jump and as he jumped, he looked at me and kind of winked and turned in what’s called an air jive and went right back in the other direction. It took my breath away. And I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve got to do that.’”

Is it fair to say you’re a thrill-seeker?

“I would have to say yes. I guess I do a lot of extreme sports, I heli-ski. I mountain-bike. I like to do things that are challenging, that give you excitement but depend on your skill level to deliver the amount of excitement you reach rather than just jumping off a bridge with a bungee cord. Yeah, that’s exciting but basically there’s no skill involved. I like to challenge myself in that regard.”

We’re doing this interview over the phone, because you’re in Vancouver right now. Are you there to kiteboard?

“It’s an interesting question. No matter where I go, I always potentially kiteboard. The beauty of the sport, unlike windsurfing where there’s a giant board and a big sail, is that with kiteboarding the kite packs up into a little backpack and the board is a small little board like the size of a snowboard. So you can carry all the stuff you need and literally go anywhere and everywhere. You just need a body of water and wind.”

Have you ever had an accident?

“Yes, I actually almost lost my right eye. I got smashed into some rocks. But with that said, I want you to understand that it’s like any other sport. If you use poor judgment you can get yourself into trouble. I caught around 40 stitches around my eye. But I’m fine. I just now see it as a badge of honor.”

What is your fondest kiteboarding memory?

“My son Adam and I took a special trip to the northern coast of Brazil where we kitesurfed (the difference from kiteboarding being the water has waves) downwind for seven days from village to village. We had guides following us on dune buggies that would travel with our luggage on these pristine beaches with literally no one around, miles and miles of untouched beach. It was an extraordinary trip.”

What would your advice be to someone considering trying the sport?

“One thing I will say with kiteboarding, the key to happiness is when you’re learning, you go to a very good school or instructor that can teach you safety and how to do it properly and you really learn quickly. And that sets you up to be better at it. If you try to do it yourself, it’s really potentially dangerous. I love the sport and I’d love to see more people get into it, because it’s really wonderful.”

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