NEW YORK — Fiona Wedenig spends three to five hours each day soaking wet flying through the sky near picturesque beaches.
As one of the premiere female kitesurfers, the 23-year-old is known for her signature move, The Flying Fifi, a stunt that involves grabbing the heelside of the board while 30 to 50 feet in the air. Her personal style is equally imaginative. Instead of sporting the full-length wetsuit, Wedenig often wears cropped cow-printed pants over the standard attire.
"Even though we often have to wear wetsuits, a lot of people wear funny trousers over them. The wetsuit itself is pretty nasty," she said, during a phone interview from her home outside of Zurich, where she now only spends a month or two each year. "Everyone recognizes me because of my pants. They flash on the water."
Fans are also fond of "Top Hat," a long-bearded California rider, who routinely takes off his top hat to greet people during competitions. His panache is so well established that even a seasoned rider like Wedenig, who spends the better part of the year on the circuit, does not know his real name.
"Kitesurfers’ styles are definitely easygoing beach styles and definitely colorful," said Wedenig, noting that black and gray are out, but yellow, pink, red and blue are big with women.
By the shore, Wedenig favors comfortable tops, skirts and pants, with Rip Curl, Billabong, U.S. 40 and Quiksilver among her favorites. In the chilly waters of Tarisa, Spain, Europe’s mecca for windsurfing and kitesurfing, many riders wear logo-laden Lycra spandex tanks over their wetsuits to plug their favorite brands — most of which are not apparel companies.
But in Hawaii’s or the Caribbean’s warmer seas, many opt for swimsuits or a T-shirt or bikini top worn with shorts. Wedenig wears just a sporty Speedo two-piece, which provides ample coverage.
"If you have on a bikini, you might lose it at some point," she explained.
Apparel sponsors have yet to dive into the kitesurfing scene, so most riders seek support from outside companies like Red Bull, which finances some events. As for the music, Eminem’s "Without Me" was "the kiteboarder song of the summer, with riders singing it at every single party," Wedenig said.Wedenig is backed by Slingshot, an Oregon-based hard goods company, and aims to expand her portfolio. That seems feasible, considering she is among the ranks of elite female kitesurfers who have climbed consistently at the past three annual world championships, from five women in 2000 to 15 in 2001 and then 25 last year.
Claudia Nygard, who goes by "KiteGirl," is doing her share to spread the word about the sport. Her Web site, kitegirl.com, touts how "her army of kiteslaves" is going national with free day-long women’s kiteboarding clinics.
During a phone interview from her Hood River, Ore., home, she said T-shirts imprinted with the KiteGirl logo will be sold at the clinic’s 10 stops. The clinics are sponsored by Slingshot, DaKine packs, UltraNectar clothing, Gath hats and visors, Murrays hard goods, Hot Buttered surfwear, Venus swimwear, Ikitesurf.com and Luna Bar.
Women’s recreational riding should continue to rise as more women try out the sport in Florida, California and Oregon. Many stumble upon it. It was only two years ago that Wedenig was working in Tarisa as a horseback trail-riding guide when she first spread her wings.
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