LIVIN' ON THE EDGE
The New Extreme
By Matt Artz
“The rush is hard to explain, but once you get it, you know. It’s very addictive, like a drug.”
Dimitri Maramenides is trying to describe what it feels like to fly 50 feet in the air, launching off the face of a wave with both feet planted on a thin piece of plastic, pulled skyward by a giant industrial-strength span of fabric, powered by the breath of the gods.
At a loss for words, he shows a photograph of himself suspended several feet above Jockey’s Ridge, hanging from his bright yellow kite, his board strapped to his feet, and his 3-year-old son hanging around his neck like a cape, getting one hell of a piggyback ride from Dad.
In another photo, he’s launching off a Caribbean cliff on his kiteboard, this time soaring hundreds of feet through the air. In still another frame, he is leaping a local fishing pier.
When I first interviewed Maramenides in 2001, for The Coastland Times, he had only started kiteboarding a year earlier, but he was already addicted. He told me then that he had moved to the Outer Banks for the wind, because he was a windsurfer. Five years later, he told me that he soon quit windsurfing forever after he found a new extreme in kiteboarding.
“She didn’t want to live in Greece,” Maramenides recalls. “She wanted to be closer to her parents, who live on Long Island. I said there was no way I was living on Long Island, so the Outer Banks was the compromise.”
Maramenides, 37, was born in Athens, Greece and moved to the United States in 1990 for college. While at school in Connecticut, he met his future wife, Gillian. After finishing school, they married and soon landed on the Outer Banks. They now reside in Kill Devil Hills.
An avid windsurfer for more than 20 years, Maramenides, like many adventurers before him, was especially attracted to the area for its awesome wind. It wasn’t until 2000 that he first tried a new sport combining elements of wake boarding, hang gliding and surfing, which a few of his friends had recently taken up. At that time, no one knew what kiteboarding was.
“Kiteboarding actually started in the snow many years ago,” he says. “At some ski resorts, they would snowboard down the hill and then let the kite pull them back up. And then it moved to the water, with the development of new and better kites designed for kiteboarding. And it’s gone back to the snow again, as kids are kiteboarding on the snow now.”
In our first interview in the spring of 2001, Maramenides predicted that in the near future everyone would be wanting to learn how to kiteboard, and he was right.
Today Maramenides is one of the most well known and renowned professional kiteboarders in the world, but five years ago, he remembers local surfers looking at him, with his oversized kite, like he was crazy. It wasn’t long, however, before they were asking for lessons.
“Everybody’s getting into it,” Maramenides says. “Now they know me and they know I’m not a kook. Now they all want to learn how to kite, because they see me get towed into the waves and get all the rides.”
On any given day, if there is any wind, you can probably spot Maramenides’s kite high in the sky over the water of the sound or ocean.
“The Outer Banks,” he says, “is one of the best places in the world for kiteboarding, because you have the ocean and the sound. I don’t have a favorite. I like both. On the ocean, you can use the waves like a ramp and launch into the air, and the sound is smooth.
“We might do a two- to three-hour ‘downwinder’ for about 14 miles on the ocean and then get out, get something to eat, and get on the sound side for the way back up.”
In the last five years, Maramenides has made such a name for himself that he no longer has to compete, while numerous sponsors still pay big money for him to endorse and promote their products.
KiteFlix, a production company based out of Florida, even produced a 60-minute documentary on Maramenides last year called “Aerial Assault.”
“It’s my life,” he says of the DVD release.
But his real job now, he says, is promoting and helping to advance the sport of kiteboarding.
“I got into it at the right time,” Maramenides says. “There are a lot of younger kids getting into the sport now, and they’re more reckless, like I was when I was younger. But I use my head now. With my name, I have a lot of leverage now. I have a lot more freedom to pick and choose products and projects. ”
At the time of his Edge interview, Maramenides was about to visit Europe for a week to promote a new line of kites, many of which he is now helping design for some of his sponsors. Such business trips are routine, along with various exhibitions around the world. All the while Maramenides helps teach the sport he loves at Kitty Hawk Kites.
“People who are interested can request me for their instructor,” he says, “but all of the instructors at Kitty Hawk Kites are certified. About 80 percent of the kiteboarding schools in the United States send their instructors to Kitty Hawk Kites for certification.”
He says it’s important for novices to take instructions seriously and to be trained by a professional before hitting the water and potentially hurting someone else or themselves.
“It’s a dangerous sport,” he says. “It can do damage. It’s put me in the hospital with a broken back, broken leg, paralyzed arm, and it’s opened up my head. There’s just so much power; you have to be careful. You can’t just buy a kite off eBay and rig it up yourself. I mean, you can learn with a smaller kite that won’t pull you, but when you’re talking about an 8- to 10-meter kite, that’s where accidents happen.”
He adds that Kitty Hawk Kites has insurance that covers potential accidents, which is an important question to ask of any instructor.
“It’s always good to buy your kite from one of the pro shops – at least your first kite,” he says. Use the shops, ’cause that’s what they are there for. There’s a lot of crap on the Internet, and you have to know what you’re getting.”
On those rare occasions when there is no wind, Maramenides runs the same local power-washing company he started when he and his wife first moved to the Outer Banks.
Mostly though, Maramenides is just trying to keep riding the wind, as he has been doing for the last three decades.
“Right now,” he says, “I’m just trying to do what I love and make a living at that.”