Minnesotans are the masters of lakes. We skate and goaltend, swim and boat, surf the North Shore and bother the fish all year round. When someone invents a new way to enjoy our profusion of lakes, Minnesotans must master it too.
Kiteboarding, in which the lake enthusiast straps a board to their feet and lets a crescent of ripstop glide them across the water or ice, appears extremely difficult. Flying a kite is perilous enough on the ground. I still mourn for the Garfield kite I lodged in a tree back in 1992, and I am certain I would have lost one hundred Garfield kites if I attempted to fly them while surfing.
Photo Credit: Murphy Byrne
You need a man like Mike Kratochwill on your side if you want to kiteboard. As the owner of Lakawa he can hook you up with the lessons and the gear you need to enjoy the thrilling all-year activity.
“It’s exhilarating to move 30 miles an hour with only the rush of wind in your ears,” said Mike. “You’ve experienced elements of kiteboarding if you’ve skied, skateboarded, ridden a horse, or done anything else that requires you to make split-second decisions with your body. Kiteboarding’s reliance on the wind, however, adds a whole different element.
“You can feel it on your face and look to the leaves on the trees for clues, but the wind is still invisible. Sailors and pilots both have a huge advantage coming into kiteboarding since they’ve already learned how to read it. The learning curve for the average person is 30 to 50 hours. Still, it won’t feel like you’ve practiced very long before you’re soaring. You can kiteboard during summer and winter, and it’s a lot of fun even while you’re falling down. (Well, not it’s not quite as much fun to fall down on the ice.)
“I took my first kiteboarding lesson in 2004 and got hooked right away. I thought it was a perfect way to get out on the open water, and much more interesting than tired old ‘baseball-football-basketball.’ I left my corporate job to start Lakawa not long after that. Back then I kind of hoped kiteboarding would take off in the same way snowboarding and rollerblading had. That didn’t really turn out to be the case, but passion has always been the main force behind Lakawa anyway.
“We start total novices off with a three-hour lesson. That’s long enough to get familiar with how the wind works out on the lake, learn all the controls and safety systems, and get some experience handling a smaller kite. As your skill develops, you’ll be able to handle a bigger kite to harness much more wind and get tons more speed.
“There’s a huge variety of gear when it comes to kiteboarding and windsurfing, which we also specialize in. Wrapping your head around all of it when you’re just starting out can be difficult – and expensive, if you wind up buying the wrong equipment. That’s why we help our customers tailor their gear purchases to the exact kind of riding they want to do. We also offer repairs, because even the most cautious riders won’t avoid breaking their stuff.
“That’s really what my business is all about: offering access to the most exciting activities that pretty much anyone can enjoy. We were fortunate to help a lot of people find something new and fun to do during the pandemic, a time that put a premium on outdoor activities. But Lakawa is still small, local, and it only exists because I love what I do.”
Lakawa’s brick and mortar store is located at 1890 Whitaker St in White Bear Lake. To learn more about their lessons, kiteboarding and windsurfing gear, and regular meetups and special events, please visit lakawa.com.
By David Scheller