Kiteboarding is one of the most fun, exciting, and enriching ways to explore the oceans of our planet. Kite propelled gliding and flying across the water to remote locations is fun, but amidst all the excitement we sometimes forget that we are explorers, and guests in an element that is not our own. Many of the waters inhabitants are intriguing and harmless, but there are many which are not. Here is a brief guide to the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly that you are likely to encounter throughout your kiteboarding adventures.
The ocean is full of amazing animals to interact with while kiteboarding. Some of the more memorable are sea turtles, dolphins, whales, and flying fish. Finding any of these animals while kiteboarding will leave you smiling and laughing until long after your session ends. Kiteboarding in shallow tropical waters will reveal schools of fish with myriad colors and behaviors that are fun observe. The shoreline offers crustaceans like hermit and fiddler crabs that may try to nip your toe, but usually hide as you approach. The shallows offer sea birds such as sea gulls, pelicans, plovers, and cranes. You are part of the flock when hundreds of birds take flight off of the water right in front of you. There are more animals that are fun to encounter than i can mention. There are, fortunately, far more good animals to encounter than there are bad.
Do not fear, but respect these animals. After all they are not out to eat us, they are just survivors in a harsh environment, just the same as us. In fact, I only label these animals "Bad" in order to accentuate that they have defensive adaptations, or reflexive behaviors that can potentially harm people. Here goes a crash course on where to look for, and how to handle, some of these animals.
Stingrays: There are many species of stingray to observe in the water. They are quite graceful to watch in their natural habitat. Large fan-like fins propel and glide Rays through the water. Thin, disk-shaped animals with eyes on the top of the body and a mouth on their belly, stingrays have two defenses. Stealth is the premier method. Rays use their fan-like fins to dig shallow holes in sandy locations. Burying themselves up to their eyeballs in sand stingrays lay in wait for prey, or for predators to pass them by. Buried thus stingrays are virtually undetectable to the human eye. Train yourself to look for shallow raised discs under the sand in order to spot the rays while they are buried. If stealth fails, stingrays have one defensive behavior. A long and flexible tail, armed at the tip with a barbed spear, that is often accompanied by a toxin. While this toxin is not usually lethal to humans it will sting and burn like nothing you have felt in years. How to avoid being barbed by a ray. Shuffle your feet in the shallow sands, this will alert the ray to your presence, and it will scuttle away from you to hide. Also keep a sharp eye for their telltale round or rhomboidal shape buried just under the surface of the sand.
If you are barbed by a ray what can you do? Before your friend comes up with the popular cure-all method of "let me pee on it," there is something you should know. The ray venom is a nerve toxin derived from long-strand proteins. Like other proteins heat will break it down. If you are stung, then immerse the wound in hot but not scalding water for about half an hour. Next carefully remove any additional barb pieces that may be stuck in the wound. Finally do not cauterize or sew the wound unless you must stop heavy bleeding. Cover it with antibiotics and a good band-aid. If swelling persists wrap the wound in a sports wrap bandage over the band-aid.
Jellies: Jellies are members of the Cnidaria family. Cnidarians, commonly, are non-lethal to humans and pack less punch than a stingray. Some jellies, however, are potentially lethal to humans. Unfortunately Jellies are hard to distinguish between the good and the bad, and identification is compounded with problems because you are kiteboarding over the water at 25 miles an hour. The best tactic for jellies is to watch your local marine hazard websites. These sites often describe what times of the year, and where in the world, dangerous jellies tend to pop up. Many beaches have kiosks that describe the current local conditions; Undertow and current, marine life, and pollution levels are important to watch closely if you are a kitesurfer playing in the waves. Scanning the beach will also tell you a lot about the happening off the shorline waters.
The Ugly: We all take a risks going out into the ocean. And lets face it, there are some creatures therein that we do not have any advantages over. I'm talking about sharks. I am a believer in that sharks do not normally behave aggressively towards people, and they may very well be harmless. But they are a big bad predator...you wouldn't jump into a snowy Alaskan forest with a pack of wolves albeit cute and cuddly looking, would you? So be wary of sharks in the water and my advise is to wait until they have passed on before you go back out on the water.
If you interested in getting into the amazing sport of kiteboarding / kitesurfing take at least one kiteboarding lesson to get the basics down.
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