The art of kiting

News photographer Jim Semlor takes kiteboarding imagery to a new extreme


Rebecca Wolthers launched inches from Semlor's lens last week as he croutched in the water at the Hood River Kite Spit.

The wind puffs as the sun sweeps westward across the sky. As nightime approaches, the light turns bronze and slowly creeps across the river as the trees shake gently in the remaining breeze. Kites unfurl on the rolling sand in hopes of catching the final wind of the day. Riders look down the Gorge, waiting for the approaching wind line.

One by one kites fill the sky at the kite spit – a mere strip of sand extending out into the Columbia River made possible by low water and dam control. Trucks, vans, flying kites fill the area which now resembles a small colony. Dogs bark. Friends talk. Kite pumps swoosh as they fill the large fabric arches which pull people through the water and into the sky.


The kite spit has been my home away from home the last few months as a passion for kiting photography started to brew inside of me. This summer, I found myself watching the wind during the day, patiently praying that it held until the light was low at the end of the day.

My prayers were answered last week on a typical summer Thursday. The wind was even, the light was perfect and the riders were ready. After a few weeks of slow shooting, I felt I was poised to break new ground with my kiting photography. During my downtime, I had also made the decision that I wasn’t going to photograph from the beach anymore. Everything was going to be shot from the water. It meant risking myself and my camera out in the kite lanes, but I knew it was the necessary step if I was going to create the photos I envisioned.


At some point it dawned on me that anyone can watch kiting from shore, but the real magic happens out in the water. Kiting is so quiet, yet powerful. Boards skimming across the water, fueled by a kite filled with a Gorge gust is an awsome sight. Combined with that power is elegance. Riders rip through the water and at the last second launch 10, 20, 30 or even 40 feet into the air – seemingly without much effort. My hope was to capture the moment when it all happens to bring people inside kiteboarding and provide a perspective not seen from the beach.

I didn’t know it when I wandered into the water, as I had many nights before, that last Thursday would be my lucky day. There are always good riders, but not always the right conditions. Both were present on this day, though, and my lens found what I had been hoping to capture. First 15-year-old Dylan Thompson flew over me, followed by Bri Chmel and Rebecca Wolthers (two highly talented local female riders). Sky Solbach, a team rider for Gaastra Kites and 2002 Bridge of the Gods champion, rode for my lens as well. I shot until the light faded and the wind died. I was hoping that I had put it all together – light, action, emotion and environment.


That night I edited my images and when I looked at them I felt like I was back in the river. I hope those who view them feel the same. Kiting brings back the childhood charm of flying a kite and adds the thrill of water and flight. The sport makes me thankful for the sun, wind and water. It brings out the best of the Gorge and its players.

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