Beginners Guide to Kitesurfing
If you live by the coast or have been to the beach lately, then you’ve probably seen a few adrenaline fuelled bodies gliding across the water or taking to the air with their wind filled kites.
While testing the boundaries of the water and wind Gods may seem a little out of reach for most of us, like many other water board sports, with a bit of stamina, perseverance and effort, you too could find yourself out their mixing it up with the big boys.
First things first though, so lets cover off some of the beginner bases just before we get a little too far ahead of ourselves.
Kiteboarding is not the cheapest water sport out there so it’s definitely recommended that you take lessons before you dive straight in and make the investment. It also takes some effort and perseverance as well, so do yourself a favour and invest some time in picking up the key basics and fundamentals from someone in the know.
You should be honest with yourself as well. If your the couch potato type and not really in shape, then best that you take it slowly and moderate your expectations of turning pro any time soon. If you’re in shape and/or have previous experience with board sports however, then this will serve you well as you’ll already have a nice base to build from.
Do your research in terms of finding a suitable instructor. Are they experienced or certified for instance? The International Kiteboarding Organization (IKO) is a great reference source and nice place to start. Make sure you are comfortable with the instructor; that their equipment is well maintained, and that you are willing to invest a few dollars and a couple of weekends to get yourself up and running.
Please do not under emphasise the importance of taking lessons. Kiteboarding is an extreme sport and with that comes inherit risk of injury. Safety first.
Conditions / Location
Conditions are of course important for all outdoor sports but they are more important again when it comes to water sports. For kitesurfing or kiteboarding, the obvious ingredients are wind and water.
Wind: no wind = no kite. If you are kiteboarding on the ocean or on coastal waterways, winds are referred to as off-shore, on-shore or side-shore. Your location in relation to the wind is referred to as up-wind or down-wind. As conditions can and do change quite quickly, its important that you pay attention to the weather forecast before taking to the water.
Given that they take you away from the shoreline, off-shore wind conditions can be dangerous so you shouldn’t venture out if you are an inexperienced boarder. The wind also plays a part in determining the size of the kite that you can fly. Its not the only factor but the stronger the winds then the smaller the kite you will need and visa versa for light wind conditions. Your weight, skill level, style of riding and wind density as well as the length of your lines also come into play when factoring in the wind conditions.
Another really important consideration is wind consistency. Constant gusts and lulls or changes in wind direction makes it very difficult to get any real momentum. Chat to people in the know and give yourself a head start on getting it right on the day.
Water: as long as the wind is prepared to play nice, any large body of water can be suitable for kiteboarding. While lakes, rivers, dams and lagoons can be great fun, the ocean and coastal waterways will typically add that extra element so you can take it to the next level once you’ve got the basics bedded down.
As a beginner, ideal conditions are when you have a nice standing or launching area that is in flat waters. Crowded beaches or heavy water traffic can be very challenging so try to look for lightly populated long beach stretches where you can comfortably set your kit before you take to the water. Try to avoid areas where there are strong currents, rocky shorelines and shallow reefs. Off-shore winds in particular should be avoided while you still have your training wheels on so play it safe and be cautious as you are starting out.
Each location will have its own unique wind, water and weather conditions. Over time you will gain a feel for your favourite spots, and with that will come greater confidence as you start to tackle a few waves and take to the air.
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Your Equipment (Board, Kite & Other Kit)
Like the vast majority of boarding sports, if you’ve spent any amount of time online, you will see that there are literally limitless models, variations, specs and much more, all of which will no doubt confuse those new to the sport.
Seek advice from either your instructor or other respected specialist boarding equipment suppliers who will be able to point you in the right direction. Equipment can get outdated quickly as the sport continues to evolve so unless you have deep pockets, don’t go too silly particularly if you are a newbie to the sport.
Key considerations include the type of kiteboarding that you will primarily focus on as well as the boards specs – width, length, thickness, shape, rocker and flex.
When you are just starting out, longer length boards are more forgiving and offer a greater level of buoyancy when the winds are light. As you pick up speed, they are also better for planing through the water. In the stronger winds, shorter boards are more sensitive and nimble so are easier to manoeuvre. These same principles also apply to the boards width – wider = greater buoyancy and planing whereas narrower = better manoeuvrability and control in stronger conditions. The third dimension is the boards thickness. Thicker boards offer more stability and buoyancy while thinner boards are more flexible and lighter weight.
Not just specific to kiteboards, the rocker (upward turned nose or tail) impacts how the board moves through the water. A steeper rocker enables the board to glide better through the water as its edges will not catch as much particularly in choppier water although it will not plane as fast. Conversely, smaller rockers enable boards to move faster and hold an edge (direction and control) although they take more experience to ride.
The level of stiffness or flex within the board is also an important factor to consider. Lighter riders will be able to manoeuvre better on more flexible boards which also provide a more cushioned ride through rough waters or landings if you’re taking to the air. Stiffer boards are better suited for heavier kiteboarders and offer more power for freestyle riding.
Types of Boards
Kiteboards fit within one of 3 categories – Twin Tip, Directional or Hydrofoil.
Twin Tip – these are the most common form of kiteboard. As implied, both ends of the board are identical which enables the boarder to ride in either the left or right direction without any need to switch feet. Twin Tip boards are what you will likely learn on and continue to use as you become more proficient.
Directional – somewhat akin to a surfboard, a directional board will enable you to head in one direction only and as such are primarily used for wave riding. They in essence offer a very similar feel to a surfboard with the added aid of a kite propelling you along.
Hydrofoil – these are the newest addition to the kite boarding family. You’ll even see the motorised versions flying around these days so a different sensation altogether. The boards hydrofoil (a vertical mast with wing and stabiliser) cuts through the water and forces the water to flow over the foil which changes the pressure and creates lift which brings the board out of the water. As you increase in speed, the more lift the foil creates. With a far smaller footprint or profile on the water, hydrofoil boards minimise effort and energy output in choppy waters and can be very efficient in lighter wind conditions. A totally different sensation to traditional kiteboards, but yet again another innovative way of taking to the water.
<< Checkout the latest range of Duotone Kiteboards on Amazon >>
A no-brainer really. Its the most prominent piece of kit and the whole crux behind the sport. Similar to boards, kites come in various shapes and sizes, and will vary depending on the type of boarding you’re doing, your skill level, weight and wind strength. With technological innovation, kites now have greater aerodynamic features which has resulted in larger wind ranges as well as better in-flight stability and performance.
The two main kite categories are Leading Edge Inflatable (LEI) and Foil.
LEI Kites – these are the most common form of kites owing to their light-weight single layer skin and inflatable bladder which makes them ideal on water given that they will float on the waters surface. While we will not delve into it within this blog, LEI kites typically fall within 1 of 4 design categories – Bow Kites; C Kites; Delta Kites as well as Hybrids variations. LEI kites are flown using a control bar (see below).
Foil – capable of being used in far lighter wind conditions, foil kites do not contain an inflatable bladder but rather use either open or closed air cells that take shape as the wind enters the kite. If you do ditch the kite in the water however, they can potentially fill up with water and sink. They are also more technically challenging to fly as well as being more expensive and fragile which is why it is more common to see LEI kites out on the water. These challenges aside, foil kites are more efficient and can generate more power when compared to LEI kites. They too use a control bar and lines to control and manoeuvre.
Side Note – your instructor will be able to provide you with guidance, but investing in a trainee kite is definitely a great tip. Smaller in size, meaning that they are less powerful and far cheaper than a full sized kite, mastering kite flying fundamentals on a trainee kite, before you take to the water, will save you time and money as well as potential injuries and embarrassing spills in front of your mates. The Slingshot Kiteboarding Trainee Kite as available on Amazon is an affordable option well worth considering.
The harness is an important piece of kiteboarding kit as it is what connects you to your control bar which is in turn connected to your lines and kite. To operate your control bar without a harness would require a significant amount of stamina and strength which is simply not feasible particularly if you are out on the water for an extended period of time. Your harness helps transfer the pull of the kite through to your waist and the core of your body so you can better control and leverage the overall power of the kite.
Depending on your preference and the type of kiteboarding you will be doing, you can use either a waist harness (as pictured) which wraps around and buckles to your waist, or a seat harness which loops around your thighs and hips somewhat similar to a sailing or rock-climbing harness. While a seat harness typically offers more support, you will have a greater range of motion using a waist harness so its really a matter of personal preference. All quality harnesses will come in different sizes and offer full adjustability for added comfort and security.
The Mystic Warrior V Waist Harness (pictured) is a nice example of a quality waist harness with upgraded and integrated features for greater comfort and support.
Control Bars / Lines
Similar to your cars steering wheel or your bikes handle bars, the kiteboarding control bar is used to efficiently and safely control the kites direction although it also has the added responsibility of controlling speed (acceleration / slowing down) as well as performing jumps and other tricks.
Like the other pieces of equipment, control bars also come in different sizes although they are by and large paired up to match the size of the kite – the bigger the kite the bigger the bar which allows for a proportional level of control. A smaller bar on a larger kite for instance would be more challenging and take a greater level of skill to control. The North Navigator Control System (pictured) is an excellent example of a high quality fully adjustable bar and line system that can work with the vast majority of manufacturers kites making it a very versatile option.
With each movement in the bar, there will be a corresponding movement to the attached lines which in turn governs how the kite performs and moves through the air. Different manufacturers will have different line setups although the vast majority of modern control bars have either 4 or 5 lines. 2 front or centre lines that keep the kite in the air, 2 back lines which are used for power and steering, and on a 5 line bar, an additional line which is more of a safety mechanism that aids stability, as well as making it easier to relaunch the kite or for self landing.
Lines come in differing lengths ranging from 9 to 30 metres. Beginners will typically start out with shorter lines as they learn to fly the kite and then progressively move to longer lines as they take to the water. Shorter lines are easier to control in high wind conditions while longer lines are better suited to lighter winds.
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Above and beyond the key essentials, there are other pieces of kit that will undoubtably come in handy when you’re out on the water.
Helmet – even though you’re on the water so there might be somewhat of a cushioning effect when you take a spill, kiteboarding is still an extreme sport. You can and will get up some significant speed and potential height. Protecting your head from impacts with your actual board, other people or water traffic, submerged objects, beach hazards as well as the water itself is commonsense really so helmets are definitely a good call.
Personal Flotation Device (PFD) – again another commonsense item for obvious reasons. Whether you are a good swimmer or not, many PFD’s these days are light-weight, streamlined and comfortable. They can also afford protection against the elements in cold or windy weather. For the very same injury reasons as a helmet, as well as keeping you buoyant in the event of a fall, PFD’s should be considered a must wear item for all water boarding sports. Our blog on the Top 10 PFD’s for Paddle Boarding provides some great content on the types of PFD’s as well as their benefits, features, recommendations and more.
Safety Leash & Line Cutter – both items are used when you get into challenging situations or in the event of an emergency. The safety leash, also referred to as a bypass leash, attaches to the front of your harness and the safety line. It is used to keep you connected to your kite when you hit the safety release or let go of your control bar if you are riding whilst unhooked. The line cutter, as the name implies, enables you to cut your lines from the kite in the event of an emergency or if you or other kites become entangled while out on the water. Many modern harnesses now have an integrated pocket or sleeve for the line cutter for quick and easy access.
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Time to Get Wet
Okay – enough wordsmithing for now. Time for your instructor to take the reins. While we do not intend to go into the instructional side of kiteboarding, the following YouTube clips provide some great insights and beginner tips and lets face it, the visuals are always better than the written stuff.
Tips and Takeaways
Kiteboarding is clearly an exhilarating water sport so if you’re still reading this blog then you’re likely at the point where you want to take the next step. If you keep the following in mind, you’ll give yourself the best chance of getting yourself out on the water with the key fundamentals nicely checked off.
- Lessons are a must. While a ‘do it yourself’ approach for other board sports might do the trick in the long run, kiteboarding is an extreme sport. Play it safe and take lessons from a well reputed qualified instructor. Do your research, read the reviews and blogs and go from there.
- Be conscious of your location and the weather – wind and water conditions in particular.
- Take your time to property set out your kite and lines as well as allowing yourself ample room to set-up and launch.
- Use a training kite to bed down the fundamental kite flying skills before you take to the water.
- If you are at the point where you are buying your equipment, do your research, work within your budget of course, but quality should always prevail. Its not a cheap sport and while kit can be expensive and date quickly, second-hand, cheap or poorly maintained equipment can be hazardous so play it safe.
- The suggested optional equipment and other safety items are also important so don’t overlook them.
- Try and get in shape so you don’t dig yourself into a big hole straight out of the blocks.
- Do your training, be patient, and persevere. All in good time.
We hope you found the above blog of interest and as always, would love to start a conversation. Please feel free to leave your comments below and we will get back to you.
Until then, stay safe and get wet.