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Kiteboarder who struck St. Pete Pier is ‘experienced rider,’ friends say

Alex Bloechinger had jumped the Pier amid rough seas once Friday, but strong winds blew him against the Pier’s side on a second attempt.
 
Alex Bloechinger was hospitalized Friday after he lost control of his kiteboard and struck the side of the St. Pete Pier. In this photo taken Aug. 29, 2006, Bloechinger holds on to his surfboard with one hand while performing a move in the air on the beach in Fort Lauderdale amid high winds from approaching Tropical Storm Ernesto.
Alex Bloechinger was hospitalized Friday after he lost control of his kiteboard and struck the side of the St. Pete Pier. In this photo taken Aug. 29, 2006, Bloechinger holds on to his surfboard with one hand while performing a move in the air on the beach in Fort Lauderdale amid high winds from approaching Tropical Storm Ernesto. [ DAMON HIGGINS | ZUMAPRESS.com ]
Published March 25|Updated March 29

Alex Bloechinger strapped on his kiteboard early Friday morning amid rough seas in Tampa Bay.

Forecasters had predicted a risk of severe weather, but the water conditions were ripe for an attempt to jump the St. Pete Pier, he decided.

The stunt would leave Bloechinger in a neck brace with a broken pelvis, fractured femur and damaged ligament in his left knee. The details of his accident were recounted on a GoFundMe page to raise money for his recovery.

Bloechinger cleared the Pier once, according to friends and “riding buddies” who were there. But as he set his sights on a second attempt, the already extreme weather conditions had worsened.

Video from an onlooker shows Bloechinger slamming into the Pier and bouncing off its concrete side. Strong gusts can be seen blowing against nearby palm trees.

“For an experienced rider such as Alex higher winds mean a greater chance to jump high and cover extreme distance making the feat more obtainable,” the fundraiser reads. “However during his take off a gust pulled him from the surface of the water prematurely and swung him into the object he intended to clear.”

Max Upchurch, a fellow kiteboarder who said he helped pull Bloechinger from the water, said Bloechinger was moving too slow and made the jump too late to clear the Pier.

“I grabbed his kite immediately and once secured, I then went to help pull him out of the water,” Upchurch wrote in a Facebook comment. “A group of us pulled him up by the lines, up onto the pier, where we waited for EMS to arrive. The Kiter (in) question is a solid dude, a highly skilled athlete, loved by many, and has made tons of contributions to the sport.”

Bloechinger is no stranger to “high consequence stunts” in his 24 years as a kiteboarder, according to the GoFundMe page.

He started kiteboarding professionally in the early 2000s, first as a team rider with Slingshot Sports, a kiteboarding manufacturer, before becoming a kiteboard designer.

“Alex has been integral in helping bring kiteboarding to the mainstream and has long been someone behind the scenes helping other riders get more time on the water and learn to get the most out of their gear,” the fundraiser reads.

Matthew Sexton, the organizer of the GoFundMe page, declined to speak with the Tampa Bay Times when reached by phone Monday.

“We don’t want to have any more attention than it’s already gotten from the videos that weren’t supposed to be posted,” he said.

Paramedics stabilized and treated Bloechinger before he was taken to Orlando Health Bayfront Hospital in St. Petersburg on Friday. He was in critical but stable condition.

Bloechinger was scheduled for surgery Monday “to start piecing him back together,” according to the GoFundMe. He had not suffered severe head trauma despite being knocked unconscious during the accident.

“According to the doctors it is nothing short of a miracle that he is still with us,” the fundraiser states.