Michaela Pilkenton, Naish International Team Rider and Big Air kite competitor, spent part of her winter in Cape Town to train, compete, and give back to her community. In the midst of a busy schedule, she carved out a windy weekend day to host a free women’s Big Air kite clinic.
“There are not a lot of resources out there for women by women in the Big Air space,” shares Michaela. “I did it for free because I’m genuinely passionate about helping women of all levels progress, especially in Big Air. I want there to be access no matter how much money you do or don’t have.”
“I was positively blown away by the fact that Michaela offered this clinic for free as most of the ‘pro’ clinics are not affordable for most of the average kite surfers, and seeing girls in these clinics is super rare,” remarked clinic participant and Woo Sports Project Manager Joanna Sievers.
There is clearly a demand for clinics like this one, as the registration was full within five hours, with many more women added to the waitlist. The clinic, also coached by Lacuna owner and kite designer Su Kay, hosted eight women who all have a strong desire to progress their skills and send it higher. Thoughtful planning was a critical component to the success of this clinic, with solid and consistent communication prior to the day of.
On the day of the clinic, the women, all visibly excited and nervous, showed up at a secret spot in the world-renowned Blaauwberg area of Cape Town, ready to push their limits. The clinic started with one of the most critical components of Big Air riding- safety. “Big Air is often presented as going from zero to 60. You’re either doing small jumps with some grabs or hucking and looping at 10 meters. There’s more to it, though. There is a way to progress into going bigger that’s safe, keeps you injury free, and allows you to continue pushing those boundaries,” says Michaela. “Being safe and injury free also means there is often less fear associated with progression. Staying safe is super important and will help keep women in the sport.”
In addition to safety, the day-long clinic included chats about gear selection, how to start looping, and board offs. All of the women received direct feedback and coaching during two on the water sessions. The wind cooperated beautifully with lighter conditions in the morning that allowed the women to progress, and stronger wind as the day wore on to help them find their limits and send it higher.
“One of the things we talked about was this idea that progress can look a lot of different ways,” remembers Michaela. “At the beginning of the day, we had the women state two goals. I did this in part because the conditions were already strong, and I could tell they were pretty nervous. The first goal was a big goal. We joked that it was ‘to be the first woman to land a doobie board off’ type of goal. The second goal was their small achievable goal for the day. For some, it was to land their first jump to the right as they could only jump in one direction, hold down a bigger kite, or just jump a little higher than yesterday. I wanted to be clear they didn’t need to land a ‘women’s first’ but a first for them, and all progress is important and should be celebrated.”
The day was capped off by an expression session from Michaela in nuking winds to demonstrate higher level skills to the clinic participants. “The main reason I went out at the end of the day was to show the women that we can ride and throw loops in strong wind,” says Michaela.
“The bond women develop through coaching, and learning is super special,” says Michaela. “We’re able to communicate with each other in a relatable way. I feel like it’s easy for the dudes to tell us to just go out there and send and put a lot of pressure on us. Women working together can talk about the fear, share how hard it can be to be a woman in a mostly male discipline, and support each other through the emotional side of the sport.”
After packing up gear, the women all met for dinner and recapped their experiences. “Michaela dedicated her full Saturday plus days before to prepare for this day without asking for anything in return. She shared valuable knowledge and insight on the sport, both generally and individually, when it came to what we were working on. She is an incredibly knowledgeable, talented, and valuable inspiration to both women and this sport. I am honored that I was able to share this day and learn from her,” says clinic participant Caitlin Arendse.
Scott Trudon, Naish Brand Manager, is extremely proud of this clinic. “Michaela is an exceptional human who truly cares about women in kiteboarding and shares her knowledge and stoke every chance she gets. Naish is very fortunate to have her on our International Team not only as a World Class Rider but as an ambassador for women’s kiteboarding.”