Kite Surfing: Key West to Havana
By: Paul Menta, Pro Kiteboarder and Chef
I am a water man and an island guy. Key West is my home. I have been blessed in my life to have focused passions such as cooking, spearfishing and - numero uno - kiteboarding.
Everyone sets goals and competes to be the best. For me sport can be extreme and often dangerous.
My love for the Cuban people, their food and culture has beckoned me for years to cross the narrow ninety mile straits from Key West to Cuba. Once I learned that former Key West Mayor, Sonny McCoy, had already waterskied across, I knew my destiny was to be the first Kiteboarder to make it happen.
My kite sponsor, Kent Marinkovic, and a representative from Red Bull formed our team. Each of us would ride the ninety miles, and we would compete as a team.
We trained for months. I rode the length of the Florida Keys in one day to see how I would fare. We then travelled to the Bahamas were we completed 50+ miles a day developing and testing new techniques. The sport was still very new; the record for a crossing was 40 miles on the open sea. We were breaking the rules, forging a new path.
Finally receiving permission from the U.S. government to make the crossing, the team celebrated and began making final arrangements to return to Key West and prepare to forge a new world record. I dreamed of Cuban cooking, the challenge of the waves and currents in the Florida Straits, and began to visualize every mile of the journey. It would be glorious!
Three days before departure, I came down with an intense fever, vomiting, and body-aches. After two days in the hospital, my teammates decided they would make the trip without me. No way! I escaped the nurse's clutches and made my way down to the boats. My family, my son, the town of Key West was counting on me, and I do not quit. We would make it in the record book, or I would die trying.
We left on December 21st, 2001, the shortest day of the year and longest day of my life. To be honest, it was pure adrenaline and the thought of being left behind that got me into the water that day and heading out to sea.
I trusted my team and off we went. The first 2 hours were not so bad, but I was feeling the effects of my sickness — no food in 2 days; just I.V.’s — and started to become dizzy. Six hours into the biggest waves I had ever seen, 25 knot winds and all hell breaking loose, there it was…land on the horizon. We broke the record.
The rest of the story I cannot recall. At some point I passed out and had to be revived several times. This part was not a good scene. My team saved my life that day. We made it all the way to Cuba, and I was treated medically for a variety of selfinflicted maladies. I was sent home by plane to be treated, but claimed a victory no matter how crazy people considered me.
Cuba is such a proud and beautiful country. When the wind is just right, I will return by kite, arriving even faster, achieving a new world record. Then I will begin my Cuban cooking adventure.
Is it worth it? The endless conditioning, the pain, the expense? People always ask. All I can say is, “life is worth it, live and share every second of it no matter what!”