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Surfer's Up!

An immediate obsession with an extreme sport prompted a move to Pinellas County from Illinois and the beginning of a new business for Liz and Ed Tack: Kite-Head kite surfing.

"I saw kite surfing on TV and knew the second I saw it that I was going to make a living doing that. I bought my first kite," said Ed Tack, 31, an elementary school teacher.

He still teaches third-grade and probably will teach for the rest of his life, he said. But he loves the wind and water, as does his wife, so the two are building up the kite surfing business.

"I look at it as our 401(k)," Ed Tack said.

Meanwhile, Liz Tack, 38, trained as a respiratory therapist, is working as a waitress while the business builds.

Kite surfing involves inflating a large kite, taking it to the water, harnessing it to the body and slipping the feet into the cups on the surf board. The surfer then uses body weight and a steering bar to control the kite while trying to get the most power out of the wind, thus the images of surfers and boards hanging from the lines of a kite.

The Tacks decided they had to get to Florida, the second wind spot for kite surfing, and the closest to Illinois. Hawaii is the best spot, but the Tacks feel they will thrive in Pinellas.

"Perfect wind, perfect beaches," Ed Tack said of Florida.

The Tacks became distributors for Wipika, an inflatable kite company, and set up their shop, Kite-Head, in Treasure Island in May. They are in the process of moving to a location in St. Pete Beach. When they first arrived, they were the only shop dealing in kite surfing, Liz Tack said. Now other shops are getting in on it.

One company that uses the local area for teaching and surfing is Island Style Wind and Watersports of Sarasota.

"In the last three years, it has become more and more popular," said Bain Ball, who leads tours and teaches at Island Style. He does not kite surf but said the shop has seven or eight regulars who do.

"It's definitely an extreme sport, a lot more dangerous than wind surfing . . . because a kite has so much lift, it can lift you off and slap you all over the place."

The Tacks' business is selling kite surfing equipment, which includes kites, boards, lines, waist harnesses, leashes, helmets and the like. Kites are priced between $600 to $1,300, while boards go from $400 to $800.

Randy Radcliff works with the Tacks, giving kite surfing lessons for $50 to $60 per hour. He is a lifelong Pinellas beach resident who was introduced to kite surfing four years ago in Oregon. He bought a kite and brought it back to Pinellas, where he and several friends began teaching themselves the sport.

"It's this year's hottest water sport," said Radcliff, 36. He owns a plastering and stucco business so his hours are flexible enough that he can teach kite surfing.

"I do it because I love the sport," Radcliff said.