Mortgage broker Gris Bettle on the thrill of kite surfing.

By Ilene Denton

Photography by Kathryn Brass-Piper

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If you’ve ever been to South Lido Beach on a breezy day, you’ve known the thrill of watching kite surfers skipping impossibly fast across the waves.

Gris Bettle, a 41-year-old mortgage broker with Fairway Funding Group in Lakewood Ranch, got hooked seven years ago when he happened upon an old high school buddy kite surfing in the Gulf.

“Kite surfing is perfect for people my age and older,” he says. “With a kite, it’s pulling you forward, but it’s pulling you up, too. All you do with your arms is steer.” Maybe that’s why, among the 15 to 20 avid local kite surfers off South Lido Beach and the Venice Jetties, a few are in their 80s. “We’re a pretty tight group,” says Bettle. “Kite surfers need each other to launch and load our kites. We all get along, versus surfers, who say, ‘This is my spot.’”

Kite surfing requires minimal, lightweight equipment and minimum winds of 12 mph. Bettle spends a lot of free time checking the weather forecast. “My job has some flexibility; with my cell phone I can travel,” he says.

A direct descendant of Betsy Ross, whose maiden name was Griscom, Bettle grew up in Sarasota. He and his wife have four children, boys 11 and 8, and 1-year-old twin daughters. “I won’t let my boys try it until they’re 12 or 14,” he says. “They have to be old enough not to panic, because you can be dragged somewhere you don’t want to go. If you keep your wits about you, you’re fine.”

Bettle suggests kite surfing lessons to begin. “It takes two two-hour lessons to be safe,” he says. And if you’re on South Lido, look for him. “You’ll know me,” he says. “I’m the guy who’s going ‘woo-hoo.’”

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