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January 4, 2014

WB resident races in first-ever kiteboard relay across Atlantic

By Cari DeLamielleure-Scott
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Dennis Gijsbers, from Holland, kiteboards a two-hour session during the first-ever kiteboarding relay across the Atlantic Ocean.

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Eric Pequeno, a West Bloomfield insurance and retirement planner, can officially say that he, along with five other international kiteboarders, has done the impossible.

Battling sharks, jellyfish and near-drowning experiences, the six kiteboarders completed a 3,720-mile, first-ever kiteboard relay across the South Atlantic Ocean Dec. 17.

The HTC Atlantic Kite Challenge was an idea of Netherlands-based Filippo van Hellenberg Hubar, founder of the Enable Passion Foundation. The initial concept of the challenge was to demonstrate the mission of Enable Passion, Pequeno said. The foundation was created to encourage individuals to engage in hobbies and passion, and for Pequeno, it was kiteboarding.

Kiteboarding is a means of transportation on snow, ice or water that combines aspects of wakeboarding, windsurfing, surfing, paragliding and gymnastics into one sport.

Pequeno’s full-time addiction to kiteboarding began in 2009 as he would travel to the Great Lakes every weekend to kiteboard.

The beginning stages of the challenge began in September 2012, when van Hellenberg Hubar noticed while in the shower that the shampoo in his left hand looked like South America, and in his right, Africa, Pequeno explained. That sign, along with others, led to the relay from René Egli, Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands to the Blue Haven Resort and Marina in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a distance of 3,720 miles. After watching the challenge video for a week, Pequeno reached out to van Hellenberg Hubar, and flew to California to meet, kiteboard and brainstorm the initial stages of the project.

“I bought a one-way ticket at the airport and thought, ‘What am I doing? I’m going to meet this guy from Holland who I’ve never met before,’” Pequeno said.

Pequeno, 30, spent a week with van Hellenberg Hubar, and after a year of minimal communication, Pequeno received a message from van Hellenberg Hubar, asking him to submit a video for a sixth rider contest.

“Everything was falling into place, and I was so impressed that he was able to pull it off,” Pequeno said.

The Enable Passion Foundation received 78 entries from 23 countries, and following an extensive process to narrow down the contestants, the team voted on Pequeno as the sixth rider.

The team of six consisted of kiteboarders from Holland and Norway, and Pequeno was the sole American rider on the expedition. Each kiter kited two two-hour shifts — one during the day and one at night — ensuring a member was always in the ocean. The kiteboarders were accompanied by a catamaran, a Lagoon 400 called the Double-A, with four crewmembers and Dutch sailing professional Erik van Vuuren as their team captain, according to a press release. What should have been approximately a 19-day journey turned into 27 days due to unforeseen circumstances, like wind speeds and the Double-A losing engine power.

The team used trackers to ensure they traveled the 6,000 kilometers, but in total, they traveled 7,700 kilometers, or approximately 4,784 miles.

Having kiteboarded nearly every inch of the Great Lakes, Pequeno said the benefit of Michigan’s lakes is knowing nothing can eat you. However, while on the Atlantic Ocean, Pequeno faced sharks not once, but twice. His second day in the water, Pequeno dodged his first shark and began traveling away from the boat. After switching directions to return to the boat, the wind reduced, leaving him floating in the water for 45 minutes, looking over his shoulder for the shark’s fin. The second time this occurred was at night.

“I thought, ‘Is this going to be the whole trip, sitting out here being sharkbait?’” Pequeno said, explaining that he also encountered flying fish, which caused instability on the kite.

Pequeno said he came very close to drowning, which was a reality check on how serious the challenge was. Starting at a standstill, he was pulled backwards, underwater, at 10 knots, and the force of the water prevented him from unhooking his harness.

The kiters pushed the boundaries of what they thought they could accomplish, and after 27 days of kiting, the team ventured onto the last stretch toward the resort. Approximately 30 local kiters rode out to their boat to kite the last section of the challenge, according to a press release.

Family, friends and locals flooded the beach, welcoming the team. Having not seen more than 11 people over the course of a month, Pequeno said the number of people was intense, and champagne was flowing everywhere.

The team was greeted by the governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands during the celebration; he awarded them trophies, and they played the national anthem.

“The feat of the Enable Passion organisation in completing this marathon across one of the world’s wildest oceans is awe-inspiring,” said Peter Beckingham, governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands, at their arrival ceremony. “Their remarkable journey deserves the remarkable beach party that I know our friends at Blue Haven have organized for them this evening,” Beckingham stated in a press release. 

The South Atlantic kiting experience is now added to Pequeno’s kiting list, along with Puerto Rico, the British Islands, North Carolina, San Francisco, Cancun, both sides of Florida, Mexico and the Great Lakes.

If you put dedication into your dreams, you can make it possible, Pequeno said.

To see more photos from Pequeno’s experience and to read the team’s travel blog, visit www.enablepassion.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Cari DeLamielleure-Scott at cdelamielleure@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1093.