In 1999, windsurfer Michael Percy picked up a new hobby that would grow into a lifelong passion and a business, now in its 15th year of service to Fort Walton Beach.
Percy, an avid windsurfer, became discouraged when he couldn’t ride in the Gulf Coast’s ‘white winds.’ He soon discovered kiteboarding, an up-and-coming sport out of Hawaii. The winds of change began to swirl, and Percy’s new business took flight.
XL Kites began training and providing gear to customers, changing and growing as the sport took shape.
“In the beginning, kiteboarding was pretty dangerous, because the innovators were still figuring it out,” says Curt Palermo, who manages the Miracle Strip Parkway store. “Over the years, the gear has become better and much safer.”
As the gear evolved, so did the clientele.
“Kiteboarding used to be a sport of elite athletes,” Palermo explains. “Today, anyone can do it.”
Of course, like anything worth doing, it takes practice and dedication. You can’t just pick up a kite and expect to ride on the first day. That being said, even visitors to the Gulf Coast could learn to kiteboard over the duration of a vacation.
(Just be careful: Palermo warns the adventure sport will hook you.)
If you do find yourself smitten, you can take your board home with you – wherever you may live. The kites sold by XL Kites can be used on the water, as well as in the snow or on the pavement. You simply change the type of board you use – from surf to snow to skate.
“Last time I checked, the wind is available almost anywhere,” Palermo says. “We’re in the business of giving people a tool to have fun in any environment.”
If you want to get started on the Gulf Coast, XL Kites is the place to go. They provide instruction and lessons, while specializing in sales and repair of your kiteboarding gear.
Be prepared to fall. Palermo likens the learning curve to that of riding a bike as a child.
“It will take some time before you are comfortable enough to practice on your own,” he says. “But then that moment kicks in … and suddenly you’re a kiteboarder. The journey is as good as getting there.”
Palermo describes his job as showing people how to have an awesome time. (Can you think of a better gig?)
“To me, it’s not something I sold you, it’s something I gave you that you can keep for the rest of your life,” he says.
Of course, he’s talking about the rush you get every time you pick up your kite and the wind takes hold. It’s something you can do with friends, or in solitude. Kiteboarding is not an attraction, it’s a lifestyle, he notes.
“You feel compelled to keep doing it, and the more you do it, the more fulfillment you get out of it,” Palermo says.