PASCO -- Steve Thatcher rarely misses the chance to be outdoors on a windy day.
Whether it's on land, water or snow, the Pasco man loves harnessing wind power to take a ride.
Kiteboarding is exhilarating, said Thatcher, who oftencan be seen on a blustery Tri-City day at the Pasco Soccer Complex setting up his kite, flying lines and a control bar.
When the kite goes up, you feel the thrill of being pulled, said Thatcher, who also loves wakeboarding and water skiing.
The Columbia River Gorge has long been a destination for serious enthusiasts of kiteboarding and windsurfing, but there also is a dedicated group of Tri-City kiteboarders.
Thatcher, 40, met kiteboading buddy Gabriel Sims by chance last summer, when Thatcher was kiteboarding alone in the soccer fields near TRAC. Sims, 34, saw him from the highway and introduced himself, saying he was a kiteboarder and also flies foil kites on the ground and wanted to try water kiting.
Sims, also of Pasco, said he's been flying kites for about two years.
"It's fun and challenging," said Sims, who also likes rollerblading and skateboarding.
He got hooked on the sport after he bought a Power Kite on a whim for $69.
Sims, who is a nurse, said he thought he should try the "really small kite" for fun.
Kites are made of thin nylon fabric and come in different sizes and designs. Some are designed for more lift and others for more pull, explained Thatcher.
The kite usually has sets of either two or four lines for steering. Beginners generally start with a 3-meter-wide kite, he said.
On the water, Thatcher also uses a harness strapped to his waist to fly his foil kite. Winds of 15 mph to 25 mph are ideal, though trained flyers can deal with winds up to 35 mph, he said.
He started out with bigger kites, but he now uses smaller one for better control. "You don't want more power on land, especially during a launch," he said.
Sims used kites to pull a buggy, surf the water and for snowboarding. He owns six different kites and is training his 8-year-old son Brennen to kiteboard, too.
He's even sold his personal watercraft because kiteboarding is much cheaper than spending the money on gas, he said.
Thatcher agreed. Kiteboarding gives the pleasure of power sports without the expense. You can get started for about $250, which gets you a kite and a board similar to a giant skateboard. And there are plenty of open spaces in the Tri-Cities to practice.
Whenever Thatcher flies his kites, people approach him and want to learn about the sport. The pastor and a real estate agent has even set up a Web site, tckiters.blogspot.com, for those interested in learning more about the sport.
Thatcher has used inflatable kites on the water, and lately he's been learning to use soft foil kites with cells that inflate when launched in the air.
Even a few dunks in the cold Columbia River a few months ago while using a new kite and a board designed for the water haven't dampened his enthusiasm.
High winds almost made it impossible for him to get his feet on the board straps, Thatcher said. "It jerked me off the board. But I was in no danger of drowning," he said, noting he was wearing a life jacket.
But he learned one lesson: Never try the sport alone.
Since then he's also bought a helmet and a leash for his board to minimize possible injuries when he gets on the water again with his versatile new kite that works on land, water and snow.
* Pratik Joshi: 509-582-1541; firstname.lastname@example.org.