ST. PETERSBURG — At first, Eckerd College student Alex Moore and his buddies just wanted to take a long kiteboard trip.
"You have heard of a surfing safari,' " said the 22-year-old anthropology major. "Well, we wanted to do a kitesurfing safari."
Kitesurfing, which many consider to be the fastest growing "extreme" water sport, requires a high level of fitness and technical skill. Pinellas County happens to be a hotbed for kitesurfers, and Moore and fellow Eckerd students Tripp Hobbs and Matt Sexton and USF St. Petersburg's Chase Kosterlitz are at ground zero of this movement.
On a good day, an experienced kitesurfer can reach speeds up to 25 mph and launch the board more than 30 feet in the air.
"So we were thinking, why not do the whole state," Moore said. "If we could sail from Jacksonville to Key West … that would be something to talk about."
Quest requires a plan
Originally, the four friends thought about kitesurfing all the way down the east coast, carrying what they needed on their boards.
Moore, who is from Connecticut but has mountaineering experience from climbing in the West, started thinking about the logistics of such an operation and changed his mind.
"We looked at all kinds of backpacks and gear," he said. "We figured out that it would be a lot harder than we originally thought."
So Moore contacted Greenpeace, one of the world's leading ocean advocacy groups.
"We had some things that we wanted to raise awareness about — sea turtles, bluefin tuna, sharks, right whales and marine reserves," said Moore, who like many water-sports enthusiasts has concern for his favorite recreation area. "It just so happened that these were all issues that Greenpeace was working on as well."
The environmental group agreed to provide logistical support for the kiteboarders' quest and sent a support crew to help on land and in the water.
Fast and long
In October, kiteboarding entered the record books when Frenchman Sébastien Cattelan, sailing in Namibia's Walvis Bay, became the first person to hit a top speed of more than 50 knots on a sailing craft.
Inspired though they were, Moore and his gang not only wanted to go fast, but they wanted to do it for a long time.
"We were hoping to break the distance record by logging some rides of more than 200 miles," said Kosterlitz, 22. "To accomplish that, everything has to be just perfect. You need good wind blowing for at least 15 hours straight from the same direction."
The distance record for a kiteboard belongs to Kirsty Jones, who traveled 140 miles, crossing from Lanzarote in the Canary Islands to Tarfaya, Morocco, in about nine hours in 2006.
Last month, the four local kiteboarders attempted to put their names in the record books by kiteboarding Florida's entire east coast, and while they were at it, bring attention to the oceans.
"The weather didn't cooperate," said Kosterlitz, also an anthropology major. "The longest run we could make was 50 miles."
The four are now in a holding pattern, watching the weather, waiting for their chance as they adjust their goal to just making a record distance ride. All the while, they're working toward graduation in the spring.
"We haven't given up," Moore said. "But we figure that if we get one person to think more about our oceans, we have accomplished our goal."
For more information on Greenpeace's Oceans Campaign, go to www.greenpeace.org.