Actuary Trevor Jack discusses his true love of Kiteboarding.
I grew up very near the Swan River and played heaps of football (Aussie Rules), cricket, tennis and classical music – all of which I loved! Had kite boarding existed then, and given that the Fremantle Doctor makes Perth a great kiting location, my life could have turned out quite differently. Even so, how lucky am I to now work for myself with great flexibility, be able to work remotely, be fit and healthy and be able to kite whenever (well, almost whenever) the wind blows! This is being drafted in the cockpit of my catamaran in Hervey Bay on the western beach of Fraser Island in the pre-dawn light with the water glassy calm. Curlews are making that weird noise they make on the shore line and every few minutes I hear the slap of pectoral fins from whales a few kilometres away and a large turtle taking a breath nearby.
Floating on my back, supported by a vest with a little lift from a large kite in a light breeze, it’s still surprising how a definitive steering input causes the diving, now fast moving, kite to generate so much lift. Pop up on to the board, point if off the wind, get some speed and climb out of the water on to the hydrofoil as the speed builds, then marvel at the smoothness of the magic carpet ride over some small wind chop. Then possibly lose concentration in the calmness, inadvertently trim the hydrofoil for too much lift, fly out of the water and suddenly….oh dear, a cracked rib from hitting the water at 20 knots from a height of more than a metre.
Another time I’m using a small twin tip board and a small kite in a honking gusty winter westerly and looking for ’big air‘ off the flat shallow water downwind of an exposed sand bar….timing it right, I get ripped off the water to a height of 10 metres (measured in the same way as the fish-that-got-away!) for a flight of about seven seconds.
Imagine sharing a performance cruising catamaran in one of the gorgeous lagoons of the Great Barrier Reef with several kiting buddies and your amazing daughter. The SE trade winds are blasting past at 25 to 30 knots – so the normal cruisers and tourist boats are absent. At each high tide some chop makes it across the fringing reef and causes the anchorage to be lumpy for a few hours. A fabulous coffee is brewed early. Discussion turns to whether you have small enough kites to be safe. Equipment is selected, kites are sequentially launched and each kiter heads upwind to the reef. Sometimes it’s hard to cross the reef – glassy waves are rolling over the coral just begging to be used as ramps to be combined with the lift from the kite to go high in the air and land back in the lagoon, 40 metres downwind from take-off point. You delight in the clear views of turtles, fish, occasional small sharks and coral observed from your eye in the sky. Other times you resist the urge to boost off the ramps; you ride past the reef and are suddenly in deep dark water with waves begging to be ridden back towards the reef. After several hours the party returns to the boat. A single icy beer is all that exhausted bodies can manage before resting and hoping to get another session in later in the day. The day ends with simple food, a mature red wine, the breeze abating and kiting stories filling the cockpit…
It is surprising how passionate many kiters are about their sport. There must be other activities that generate similar levels of enthusiasm from devotees – but I’ve not observed it in any of the many other activities, whether sporting, musical or intellectual, that I have experienced. Risk margins perhaps? I think not – and kiting is so much more beneficial to society! I enjoy the sport and sharing it so much that I took up teaching kiteboarding several years ago. I find myself running around like a lunatic on summer weekends instructing students, talking through local risk management issues with recent graduates (yes, kiting can be very dangerous – don’t even think about taking it up without professional instruction), checking rigging and gear or advising on more advanced moves (not that I can do anything terribly fancy myself!). Perhaps I do it partly because, as an actuary working as a sole practitioner, I miss the mentoring and instructing I used to so enjoy as a corporate actuary. I recall how pleasing it used to be to see a junior actuary develop to be able to confidently deliver excellent advice to a product team. But that never quite matched the emotion I now see several times each season when a student, with perhaps less natural ability or relevant background than others, suddenly ’gets it‘, (hopefully at least partly because of my instruction) and rides off in control, safely, under a kite -and I see some enormous smiles!
My pre-actuarial life was largely in classical music and mathematical physics – I may even have had some quite silly youthful disdain for the practicalities of engineering. But I now find hydrodynamics/aerodynamics fascinating. There are various projects around the world, some considerably more serious and well-funded than others (my project is one of ’the others!’), that are developing boats powered by kites. These range from auxiliary power for large cargo ships (with claimed average energy savings of order 15%) to high performance foiling trimarans. Some of these kite boat endeavours are associated with projects to develop systems to generate electric power from kites. These systems generally have a clear kiting pedigree, and many of the team members, being physicists, aerodynamicists, composite manufacturing specialists, avionics/control engineers, etc. in their day jobs, are passionate recreational kiters at heart. But the systems now look very different from surf kites – for example, beautifully engineered Makani carbon composite wings carry direct drive electric turbines and very sophisticated autonomous control systems and will very likely soon produce green electricity, particularly off shore, at a much lower cost and much higher capacity factor than traditional wind turbines.
So, how is a kiter’s work/life balance? I sometimes tell students that kiting can be very expensive, financially. Not because of the cost of gear or lessons. But because you might decide that to kite is way more important than to work! I’m very fortunate to have a terrific business partner who I’m sure doesn’t understand the water sports obsession but nevertheless understands that it is important. I’m even more blessed with a fabulous partner in life who also does not understand my kiting obsession – but she does understand that a smiling kiter tired from a session on the water but exuding an inner glow after communing with nature for a few hours is way better to have around the house than a grumpy, stressed actuary.
Yes, I know it’s all relative – my corporate actuarial career was very cushy compared to many alternatives – but compared to combining being an actuary and a kiter? No contest. Fortunately, my partner and I also agree that being relaxed, fit, and living relatively frugally (financially) is so much better than the pre-kiting alternative.
CPD: Actuaries Institute Members can claim two CPD points for every hour of reading articles on Actuaries Digital.