“We’re probably not your average Ohio people,” Sophia Sobolev said of the fellow Central Ohio Wind Sports band members. “We travel frequently. We are looking for thrills. We are generally a bit off the beaten path.
The community, affectionately known as COWS, is part online and part real life. Its goal is to connect local athletes who share a common love for a particular type of outdoor sport not widely practiced in Ohio, or the Midwest for that matter: kiteboarding.
Kitesurfing originated as a variation of windsurfing in the 1990s and quickly gained popularity among exotic beach communities thereafter.
Like its elder, kitesurfing requires strong, predictable winds. But it requires a lot less equipment and a lot smaller – which, according to COWS veteran Steve Burkey, is part of what has made the sport “much more accessible to regular, indoor people” over time.
By the mid-2000s, kites and boards had made their first appearance in central Ohio thanks to COWS co-founders Ron Woodyard and Ken Claussen, who pioneered Alum Creek sailing.
As kiteboarding pioneers, they had to go through an “extensive education process” with local park officials to demonstrate the sport’s safety and gain special vessel classification.
In those early days, the Columbus kiteboarding community consisted of just a handful of people who kept in touch sporadically through various online message boards. But in 2016, COWS formalized its communication with a Facebook group, which now has over 200 active members to date.
Within the group, kiters share celebratory videos of recently learned tricks, offer new gear recommendations and organize trips to popular kite destinations such as Costa Rica or Hawaii. However, its main use is to discuss the weather forecast.
“We watch the wind like sailors,” Burkey said. “And if he’s asking for anything 15 to 30 miles per hour, we all pretty much drop what we’re doing and head out to the lake.”
Alum Creek is the preferred local body of water due to its central location and strong winds. But Buckeye Lake, Indian Lake, and Buck Creek are also viable options when conditions are ideal.
For those interested in taking up the sport, COWS members recommend formal training, which still isn’t widely available in central Ohio.
However, the pursuit of studies could be an excuse for a vacation.
“Almost every major coastal city in the United States has a kitesurf shop,” said Stephen Newport, administrator of the Facebook group COWS. “Take a trip, spend a week taking proper courses, and you’ll be ready to continue learning with us here.”
The COWS community prides itself on being extremely welcoming to beginners.
“We prioritize safety and inclusion,” Burkey said. “We are all delighted with this sport. We want to support everyone who shows an interest in keeping kitesurfing going.
And keep growing, it works.
Locally, kiters are always looking for new places to surf in Ohio. Globally, the sport will be featured in the Olympics for the very first time in 2024.
COWS members all speak highly of the opportunities to compete and connect that kiteboarding has given them.
Another thing they have in common? They are thrilled to see the sport finally get the recognition it deserves.