Imagine a windy, 32-degree early December morning in North Idaho. Most folks are thinking about skiing or snowboarding, but the mountains are either not open yet or have limited terrain open, due to low snowpack. But for 46-year-old Coeur d'Alene native Jeff Yates, it's the perfect morning to hit the lake.
Yates has engaged in a lot of adrenaline-filled activities in the hills of the Inland Northwest since he was a child. When he's not chasing the wind, looking for the perfect lake to kiteboard on, he's on his snowboard chasing freshies. He has also competed in two Coeur d'Alene Ironman events, finishing both. He explains, "The first one I trained my ass off, and the second one I drank beer and ate pizza." He continues, laughing, "My times were 14 minutes apart for an 11-hour race. I used to road-bike race," he adds, chuckling modestly, "but then all my friends got too fast."
His love for the lake began many years ago, wakeboarding and wakesurfing on Lake Coeur d'Alene. His career took him to Seattle for several years; after an opportunity to move back to Coeur d'Alene presented itself, he jumped at the chance to move home. Upon returning, the economy took a downturn, which gave Yates the option of taking some time off. That's when he decided to start kiteboarding.
"Kiteboarding is now my primary sport," says Yates. "When I decided to learn, I took a year off from work and went down to Hood River (an international kiteboarding mecca). It was all I cared about. The feeling of being out in the middle of the lake — there is a sense of individual freedom that is unmatched."
Some of his early stories about learning to kiteboard involve taking some hard hits. He recalls an adventure including the kite, ice skates and full hockey gear: "I was going so fast, very high speed. I took a crash that lasted for about 300 yards." His gear and ability have improved significantly since then.
He understands the danger of being on the lake at this time of year: "It can be a recipe for disaster." He mitigates that risk with strategic launches and having the proper gear, including a full dry suit, and training. "Every December, I swim a mile in the lake. This isn't for the exercise, but rather to know that if the wind dies or shifts, that I am able to get back to the shoreline," he says. "This time of year, should something happen, no one is there to give you a hand." He enjoys winter months on the lake more than summers: "The shoreline is bigger in the winter," making launching the kite easier.
In the summer months, Yates can be found driving between North Idaho and Hood River on his days off from work. He loads up his car with his kiteboarding gear, including 18 PBRs, a bunch of PB&Js, Lucky Charms and coffee, and sets off to chase the wind, camping along rivers and lakes along the way.
His passion for every aspect of life carries through to his personal life. Living in Seattle several years ago, he came home for Christmas, when he met the love of his life and now wife, Jen (pictured). "I met her eight years ago, and we've been married for a year and a half now," Yates says. "Jen and I do a lot of stand-up paddleboarding together. We have a lot of fun doing that." Professionally, he sets goals for himself, as with his adventures. "I've been working for Parker Subaru now for a year and a half. I had a goal of being the No. 1 salesman, and if I did accomplish that goal, I would get a whole new Liquid Force kiteboarding quiver." In his first full year at the dealership, he accomplished his goal and is now enjoying all of his new gear.
How does Yates fuel all of these adventures with so much energy? "I like to party," he explains. "And by party, I mean take naps."♦