by Catharine Lo
Sheldon Plentovich grew up chasing birds, following them around in the forests and woodlands of her native Alabama and Tennessee. "By the time I was in fifth grade, I had a little notebook, and I would write down what species I saw, what time it was, what the wind direction was and the temperature," she remembers.
photos by Stephen Whitesell
Sheldon’s passion for nature—and for flight—has only deepened since then. The thirty-two-year-old Kailua resident is currently finishing her doctorate in conservation biology at the University of Hawaii—and she regularly takes to the skies as one of the best professional kiteboarders on the planet.
She vividly remembers the first time she tried the sport, back in 1999. "I was launching a friend’s kite, and I let it go, and I was like, Oh my God, this is just how it feels to let a bird go.’ That is so cheesy, but the kite seemed so alive." Friends who knew of Sheldon’s love of surfing—Marigold and Bo—had taken her out for a trial-by-fire lesson at Goat Island; with kite in hand, she entered the sea and allowed the wind to drag her body through the water. "It was whipping me all over the place, and I was laughing maniacally," she recalls. "By the time I got to the end of the beach, I was hooked. I went out the next day and bought a kite.
"Like fishing with a hand line, that’s how it felt—like you have something living on the other end. One day Marigold said to me, Before I go kiting, I feel like I’m about to see my boyfriend—I get butterflies in my stomach.’ And that’s how we felt for a long time. We would just get so excited."