Mike Kratochwill is the Pied Piper of kitesurfing. The Maple Grove resident and owner of LAKAWA shares his passion not only around this community, but the Twin Cities as a whole. With a retail location in White Bear Lake, online resources and classes, LAKAWA, short for Lakes Area Kiting and Wind Advisory, is a hot spot for novice and expert kitesurfers alike.
Finding a Calling
Kratochwill discovered kiteboarding the same way most people do: by accident. He was in Hawaii and was mesmerized by people water skiing and boarding by the pull of a kite.
Having skateboarded and skied his whole life, and loving to stay active, Kratochwill wanted to try the sport out. He missed the opportunity in Hawaii, but was able to take a lesson back in Minnesota in 2004. He hooked up with LAKAWA (then under different ownership) and took a lesson kiteboarding on snow. He was instantly hooked.
"I've never really grown out of being a child,” Kratochwill says. “I don't see any reason to. I certainly pay attention to the responsibilities at hand but still play and have fun in this world."
For the next five years he devoured the sport, becoming more attached to the thrill it provided. Kiteboarding, and more importantly sharing kiteboarding with others, was his calling. Kratochwill left his corporate job. LAKAWA originally served as an online community for kitesurfers. Kratochwill purchased the company in 2009, opened a store in White Bear Lake, and began teaching lessons. More importantly, he found out what life can be when you truly love your career.
"It's just a real joy to do what you want to do," Kratochwill says.
A Year-Round Passion
Part of what draws Kratochwill to kiteboarding is that it can be done year round. In the summer, you can explore the lakes on skis or a board. In the winter, you can go again on the (now frozen) lakes, but you can also explore parks and open trails on the snow-packed ground. Think cross-country skiing powered by a kite and the force of the wind.
The physical act of kiteboarding is similar on both snow and water. The sport requires balance and finesse, and while it may appear that brute strength is a must, the kite does most of the heavy lifting. The key is to keep the kite under control, using the wind to guide you. Everything must work in unison. To be successful you must develop a feel for the kite in order to steer while still being able to keep your vision focused on where you’re going and maintaining balance on the board. Once your body is dialed in and you’ve developed muscle memory, it takes little effort to run efficiently. “You can kiteboard for hours without getting tired,” Kratochwill says.
With its versatility, kiteboarding allows you to explore places you never thought possible. “You can go up a mountain,” Kratochwill says.
The “go anywhere” mentality that the sport breeds is part of what makes it so popular. There are no boundaries to kiteboarding. It’s a sport that takes years to master, but once you do, there is no limit to what you can find. It’s an idea that Kratochwill has taught pupils like Chris Anderson.
“I snowboard in Vale two or three times a year, and when I come back to Minnesota I don’t have anything like that,” Anderson says. “But being able to kite on the lakes gives me just as much a thrill as when I’m out on a big mountain. It’s the perfect complement [to skiing] here at home in the winter.”
Sharing his Vision
There’s nothing easy about learning to kiteboard. Kratochwill wants people to discover the sport, but learning the necessary skills doesn’t come easy. People who have past experience on boards or skis (water or snow) may take to the sport a little faster, but even those folks need to learn how to harness the power of the wind.
Kratochwill recommends learning on snow if you’re a novice, as it is easier to control yourself on dry land.
Kiteboarding requires a board or skis, a harness to attach the kite and the kite itself. Some of this equipment can cost several thousand dollars, but a beginner can get used equipment or starter sets for much less. Better yet, Kratochwill suggests finding a friend who has old equipment they no longer use.
Much of Kratochwill’s time is spent teaching lessons and going out with other kiteboarders. However, he also offers a full retail shop through LAKAWA, a repair facility, online resources and yearly kiteboarding trips to destinations around the world.
By leading so many classes and lessons, Kratochwill has become connected with the kitesurfing community. Through his lessons, he has met people from all over the metro and introduced the sport to others. Paul Burggraff is a Rogers resident who came to Kratochwill to learn how to kiteboard. Now Burggraff finds he is part of a community of people all over the world.
“When you meet other kiteboarders it’s cool how you have something to talk about,” Burggraff says “I have gone to the beach in Florida or Texas and struck up conversation with strangers.”
Kratochwill loves seeing the sport grow in popularity. It’s a sport that’s accessible to people of every age and every skill level. It’s just a matter of people finding places like LAKAWA and giving kitesurfing a try.
To learn more about kitesurfing, or to schedule a lesson with Kratochwill visit lakawa.com