His speedskating strength and sailor smarts landed Red Deer’s Peter Martel on the international podium for kiteboarding.
The Canadian kiteboarding champion placed third in Red Bull Ragnarok, an event described as “the biggest and toughest” snowkite competition in the world.
It was held last month on the mountainous plateau of Hardangervidda in central Norway, the same setting used by makers of the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back film for the ice planet Hoth.
The 28-year-old Martel was the first-ever Canadian to place in the top three at the fifth-annual event that attracted 300 kiters from 28 countries. The 100-km course was so gruelling, only 14 competitors on skis or snowboards, and harnessed to kite-like sails, managed to complete it.
Martel is “ecstatic” about coming in third after four hours of competition — and is hoping for an even better result next time.
For a while, he was hitting speeds of up to 70 km/hr during the race and thought he had it won.
Martel figures he had a 25-minute lead on his nearest competitor when the wind started dying down. Unfortunately, he’d just passed a pit-stop at which he could have traded to a larger kite to keep his speed up in lower wind conditions.
By the time he completed a lap around the plateau and could secure the bigger kite, he was passed by other athletes and had to really apply himself to catch up.
“I had to put my head down and try to go as fast as I could go,” Martel recalled.
“You power-kite as much as you can on the edge of your board. I was constantly on that edge, and I gave it all I had.”
His effort paid off — despite the ever-present danger of wiping out, getting tangled in somebody else’s line, or crashing into another competitor or rocky outcropping.
“I had a couple of close calls and a couple of tumbles during the race and training, but you learn how to fall,” said Martel. who qualified for the Norway competition by being the top snowboard finisher at Red Bull Kite Farm in Regina. The February event had attracted 100 snowkite-ers on boards and skis from across North America.
“It’s a fast sport, but my mindset is to practise so much that it’s an everyday thing for me,” said Martel.
That’s why he harnesses himself to kites year-round on Sylvan and Gull Lakes.
Kiteboarding, which can be done on snow or water, is a “finesse” sport that requires strength and skill.
As a former speedskater who competed with Red Deer’s Jeremy Wotherspoon, and a long-time sailor (“our parents took us sailing when we were kids,” Martel recalled), he has both core strength and wind-harnessing knowledge.
The local electrician, who owns the local shop, Element Kite Paddle Surf, first tried kiteboarding in 1999. But he said, “It wasn’t quite there yet, technology-wise.”
Martel tried it again in 2010 when the equipment had greatly improved, and he seriously took to the year-round sport. “I really like the freedom. You use wind, a natural resource, to propel yourself — so it’s just you and the elements. There’s no motor, no gas. It’s a low carbon footprint,” he said.
“And you get to jump really high!”
Winds gusts can propel Martel 60-feet into the air. “I don’t tell my mother that,” he added, with a laugh.
Martel said it felt amazing to be the first Canadian standing on a podium next to first- and second-place finishers from Norway and Austria. “I’d like to be a role model for the sport.”
He already receives some gear-related sponsorships, and would like to see kiteboarding really take off someday. “I’d love to do it full-time, as a professional.”