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A stiff breeze whips across the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay, frosting the water with small white caps and tugging at the half-dozen kites scattered across the beach. Anchored to the earth by small heaps of brown-sugar sand, the massive crescent-shaped kites billow up like neon butterflies, shuddering and straining in the wind. Against the silent backdrop here at Petobego — a private sun-washed inlet about 15 miles north of downtown Traverse City — the incessant thwap of kite nylon takes on a life of its own. It's an eager sound, a string of audible exclamation points that fuels the handful of students gathered here for Day One of a weekend kiteboarding camp.
Keegan crouches in a small huddle with the students, a crew that includes a Northwestern Michigan College student, a carpenter, a vintner, a Chicago businessman and a lanky teen wearing a shirt emblazoned with the phrase "Chicks dig scrawny pale guys." The vintner is particularly excited to be here — his wife enrolled him in the camp for a Father's Day present — and over the next two days, he eagerly blazes through each mini-lesson designed to teach the components of kiteboarding. He learns wind control with a small trainer kite and practices balance by wakeboarding behind a Wave Runner. He eventually graduates to a big kite and practices "drags," allowing himself to be pulled through the water, face-first, dozens of yards at a time until he loses control and the kite crashes down.
It's an odd scene: the body of a full-grown, respectable man being yanked and twisted across the shallows, the buzz-like flapping as his kite soars overhead, and behind it all, the serene backdrop of Petobego. He and the other students are fired up over getting faces full of freshwater and shorts full of sand, but on a sun-drenched afternoon at a place like this, they're also getting an eyeful of some of the North's most pristine scenery, which, for the Myers brothers, is one of kiteboarding's biggest perks.
"I could never kiteboard all the spots I want to kiteboard in Northern Michigan in one summer," Keegan says. "Northern Michigan has such a unique landscape, you can kite anywhere." The brothers say there are as many as 20 kiteboarding hot spots Up North, including Point Betsie, the Platte River, and other landmarks within the Sleeping Bear Dunes lakeshore — it all just depends on the day and the direction of the wind. Drive down to Point Betsie Lighthouse on a blustery afternoon and those huge, soaring kites are visible over the dunes before your feet even hit the parking lot. "It's basically the perfect sport for this community," Matt says. "It fits really well with the feel of Northern Michigan. Kind of the reason people are here."
The sun is slowly beginning its descent to the west by the time the kites are packed away at Petobego. The breeze slackens slightly, gently ruffling a cluster of cattails as the students traipse up the beach. The Myers brothers lead the way, hopping into the big white Broneah conversion van with Matt manning the stereo and Keegan behind the wheel. A student sitting in the back pipes up about what a long day it has been. The brothers laugh; "That's our life," Matt replies. They're both grinning, because they know it doesn't get much better than this. They're making a living doing what they love: teaching, traveling, meeting people and sharing the magic of Northern Michigan. All in the name of the wind.
Emily Bingham is assitant editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in August 2006 and was updated for the web February 2008.