Sir Richard Branson: Challenge Accepted

The Idea:
At one point when everything was looking really sketch Nat asked, “Whose idea was this anyway?” Mine. Though at that moment I was kinda regretting it…

I’d seen the picture of Branson with the naked chick before, but one day it it hit me. Mike & I need to do the reverse! I thought about picking someone smaller but decided if you’re gonna do it, do it right – do it with the 200 lb. Mowhawked 6 footer. And Mike is always up for shenanigans.

The Kiter:
Lydia Snider 5’4” 120ish lbs.
Kiting 6 years.
Discovered kiteboarding while exploring Highway 1 just after moving to Santa Cruz.
Favorite conditions: Waddell’s strong winds and fun frolicky waves!

The Monkey on My Back:
Mike Muldoon
Has candy and plays with strangers.

The Kite:
F-One 11m 2010 Bandit III. Strong, powerful clydesdale of a kite.

The Board: 
You’re probably wondering what is up with all the foot straps? It’s an old beater board with dual straps set for dual riders. Our boat Captain Nat of Edge Kiteboarding takes kids out for rides on it. Our first plan was for both of us to stand on a SUP and for Mike to jump on my back. See below for the full story

Photographer:
Michael Beal

Boat Support:
Nat Lincoln of EdgeKiteboarding 
All he knew going in was that we needed boat support for a “kite photo stunt”. In the future he’ll likely be screening our calls.

Location: Sherman Island in California’s Delta. Balmy by Northern CA standards, but hardly tropical. Mike insisted that if he was going to be naked I had to be in a bikini.

To Get the Shot You Gotta Get Naked and Get Wet

I came up with this idea about a year ago. Maybe even two years ago now. Mike’s (aka Doon’s) immediate response was”There’s no way you can even lift me”. He’s 6′ something and hovers around 200lbs. I’m 5’3″ or 5’4″ depending on my mood and my weight hovers around 120 (muscle weighs more than fat!). “Hop on.” I demanded and carried him the length of the deck. Now he could see the possibility.

We talked about it theoretically off and on. Where to do it. The physics of it. How we were both going to get into killer shape for it. This stunt is like life. Theory will only get you so far and talk is cheap. To get the shot you gotta go get naked and get wet. Finally I declared we are doing this by July 30th 2011. Period. From here on out the only discussion was limited coordinating the boat and the photographer.

There’s The Theory….Then There’s The Reality

Our brilliant plan was for both of us to stand on a stand up paddle board (SUP). Once I had gotten my balance he would jump on my back. We had practiced on land. I was able to take him jumping on my back with no assistance from me. I’d be busy managing flying a kite that was way too much power for me but necessary for both of us to ride.

We knew me on an over powered kite could lift both of us from an adventure in Half Moon Bay kiting winter storm winds. The moment I put my thumb up for a launch the wind was fine. The moment my launcher let go of the kite a freight train of a gust came through and launched me. I threw my kite towards the water, hoping to make it. I didn’t as I dropped to the ground I arranged my forearm and leg into a cage to take the impact instead of my ribs. Doon grabbed me just as the next gust came through. It lifted our combined weights well off the ground. That experience made Mike more than a little nervous about my purposely hooking into a kite with enough power to carry both of us.

What we didn’t count on was that the SUP we had access to and could fit in the boat sank as soon as Mike stepped on. Plan B was for me to do a water start from the SUP with him on my back. The new theory was that our combines weight would be enough leverage to push against the board.

First I had to figure out how to water start a SUP. Those first few attempts were pure comedy! Once I was getting it consistently Mike stripped down and joined me in the water. Now the comedy was doubled with our first attempts with bodies boards and kites flying every direction! We actually almost got it.

Sir Richard Branson Never Gave Up…Neither Would We

Suddenly I hit a wall of cold and fatigue. I was flying a completely over-powered kite in a waist harness with an extra 200 lb. that would randomly drop off creating a slingshot effect for me. Getting the kite back under control in those conditions took some doing. My abs were screaming, my body fatigued, I was suddenly cold to the core & ready to give up.

The others circled the wagons. Mike reminded me this was a once in a lifetime chance. Really, when are we going to do this again? I suppose we could. But it’d be like going back and digitally adding new aliens into Star Wars. This was it, this was the once in a life time moment.

And just like Richard Branson never gave up on his crazy ballooning stunts, record company or airline we weren’t giving up on this.

Plan D, No E…..Wait, what letter are we up to now?
Watching our attempts, Nat was sure a big board with footstraps would work better. It pays to have people around who can be objective. Doon and I were so sure of the SUP technique that we didn’t even consider anything else. By now my teeth were chattering and I was shivering uncontrollably. I needed to get back to shore to warm up.

While I got my system back together Nat dug out an old beater board he uses to give kids rides. It has dual foot straps for two riders. That’s why there are all those random extra straps in the picture. Now we had a board known to carry two riders.

Warmed up, I was ready to charge it again. And I put on a shorts harness which brought my reach on the kite much closer to my hips and made it much easier to leverage against Mike and the board.

I had expected the hardest strain to be on my back. The weak point of the system turned out to be where my legs meet my hips. I felt like they were going to explode out of the sockets with the opposite pulls of his weight and the power of the kite. It reminded me of a childhood tour of the Tower of London’s dungeon where they describe in gory detail the experience of being drawn and quartered.

I dug deep, chanting to myself the words of my high school soccer coach as she drove us to do still one more lap, “It’s only pain, It’s only pain, It’s only pain” and held on as long as I could on each run.

Our learning from the attempts on the SUP combined with the right equipment and absolute refusal to accept failure as an option….suddenly it started coming together! Oh, the exhilaration of success! Of actually pulling off this insane stunt we’d talked about for so long! Sir Richard Branson: Challenge Accepted! Yeeehaaww!

Let the Bruising Begin!

Even though we had several shots, for their own amusement, Nat and Mike the Photographer kept giving us the signal for “just one more”. Our wipeouts were spectacular explosions of bodies and board and tea bagged kite.

Now all that was left was the celebratory shot of Don Julio and watching the bruises come in. I knew I was going to have some doosies on my legs because most times when I slingshotted forward my shins slammed right into the board. What I didn’t expect were the ones across my collar bone from the pressure of Mike’s full weight on his arms around me. Doon had a nice set from my harness. Like “Pole Kisses” that would make any stripper proud.