The adrenaline. The excitement. The pure joy of gliding across the water. The sheer power of your kite. The thrill of weightlessness when flying in the air. Kite surfing promises all these and more.
There's no word to describe how it feels to kitesurf. Don't take my word for it. Ask anyone you know that's into the sport.
You are here because you want to join the kitesurfing family or learn what the sport is all about to decide on joining or not later. No matter. By the time you finish this article, I may just succeed in convincing you to give kitesurfing a trial. And the first time is the charm as far kitesurfing is concerned. So let's get started.
What Is Kitesurfing?
Kitesurfing is a wind-powered surface water sport where an individual uses a kite and a board to move across the water. Despite being called ‘kitesurfing’, you don’t need waves to kitesurf – distinction from wave surfing. Read up my article on surfing here.
For a kitesurfer to move across the water, all that is needed is wind and water. You use a large parachute-like kite to harness the power of the wind to propel yourself on a small kiteboard. So the sport can be carried out on flat or choppy waters, seas, and big waves.
Kitesurfing promised a lot of fun and action especially after you’ve mastered the basics of riding along and staying upwind. Healthwise, kitesurfing has several benefits as it exercises your entire body, especially your arms and core.
Another advantage of kitesurfing is the ease of transporting the equipment. Kites, no matter how big they are, can be folded into a small carry bag and boards are relatively short ranging within 120 cm to 150 cm and thus easy to transport. Your investment in the equipment is also relatively cheap and you don’t have to pay for the wind, haha.
Is Surfing Easy?
The ease of learning kitesurfing depends on whether you have prior experience in watersports, board sports, and kite-flying. However, most beginners don’t have any prior experience in any of these. Some have never even put on a wetsuit. Such people will have to start from scratch.
Some beginners learn kitesurfing in a few days. Some take longer to learn the sport. However, if you have prior experience in board-riding, especially windsurfing or wakeboarding, and receive the right coaching, there’s a chance for you to learn the sport in a day.
Summary: Your learning curve depends on your prior experience.
How To Get Started With Kitesurfing?
The best way to get into kitesurfing is to get a good instructor. Having a good instructor will fast track the learning process. You’ll also learn safety know-how and procedures.
As a beginner, you are going to face a couple of challenges of which the biggest is building your confidence. Kitesurfing is all about confidence and the faster you are able to build your confidence, the better. Also, you have to trust your equipment. There is this nagging fear in the mind of every beginner about their equipment malfunctioning. It’s totally okay to feel that way but you will have to overcome that fear.
Most beginners quickly understand kiteflying and get comfortable body-dragging through the water. However, the most difficult part is understanding how to pilot the kite especially when wind strength and directions change. Most beginners start to panic when wind strength increases and instinctively pull on the bar even more. This is counterintuitive as it gives the kite more power!
Some beginners also find it hard to accept that wind conditions can quickly change from what was forecasted. But you need to accept that wind conditions aren’t going to remain constant throughout your time on the water.
Fitness and Cost
While you don’t have to be the fitness man alive to kitesurf, a general level of fitness is needed. Your instructor can assess your level of fitness and recommend exercises that can improve your fitness level if he/she thinks you are not fit enough.
There’s this massive misconception that you need massive biceps to kitesurf. This is not true as your core does most of the work while kitesurfing. So both boys and girls can kitesurf. For safety reasons, it’s important you are comfortable swimming in open water before going kitesurfing.
The cost of kitesurfing equipment depends on whether you are buying them new or second-hand. Buying new gear is ideal if you can afford it but you can look into some second-hand gear if you are looking to cut costs. Of course, you’ll have to know the manufacturing dates of the gear you are buying to ensure it’s not too old. Also, you’ll need to inspect the equipment to ensure they are still in good condition.
Go skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, and wakeboarding. Anything that has to do with a board. This is because when you are comfortable on a board, you’ll be able to focus on flying the kite instead of worrying about balancing on the board when you finally go kitesurfing.
Kitesurfing Essential Gear
Below is the gear that makes kitesurfing possible:
What’s kitesurfing without a kite? The kite is the most obvious kitesurfing gear and the main attraction to the sport. There are different types of kites (variation in shapes and sizes) depending on your weight, experience, the strength of the wind, and the discipline you’re practicing.
Usually, a number indicating the size of the kite (in square meters) can be boldly seen on deployed kites. Most kites are between 5 and 18 m2.
Control Bar and Lines
Your kite is useless without a control bar and lines. If the kite is the engine of your kitesurfing setup that harnesses the power of the wind to propel you, a control bar with lines is a ‘handlebar’ that gives you control over the kite.
The length, weight, and level of comfort of your control bar will vary depending on the manufacturer. As a rule of thumb, smaller kites require smaller bars while larger kites require larger bars. You don’t need to be Einstein to figure this out. The size of the bars increases proportionally with the size of the kites to make it easier to control the kite.
Depending on the manufacturer, some bars may feel heavier or lighter. While this will affect how comfortable it is to use the kite, the ultimate goal of all control bars is to make it as easy as possible to use the kites.
The flying kite is attached to the control bar through the lines. The lines also transmit any input in the bar to the kites. The number of lines on a kit depends on the type of kite and the manufacturer. It’s common to see kites with 2, 4, or 5 lines with varying line lengths from 5 meters to 24 meters (sometimes more).
Unless you are able to recreate Jesus’s miracle of walking on water, you are going to need a board for kitesurfing. As you’d expect, there are different types of boards with variations in sizes and shapes which have an effect on their performance.
The most popular boards for kitesurfing are twin tip, directional boards, and foil boards.
The harness connects you to the control bar through what is called a chicken loop. And the chicken loop is a safety device that allows the kiter to connect to his kite as well as quickly detach in case of an emergency. The harness also transfers the pull of the kite to your waist.
If you have superhuman strength and endurance like our beloved ‘Man of Steel’, you can skip using a harness. But if you are a mortal like the rest of us, you better go buy your harness asap.
There are two types of harnesses namely waist harnesses and seat harnesses. Waist harnesses wrap around your waist while seat harnesses, which are somewhat similar to harnesses used for sailing or rock climbing, wrap around your legs and hips. Seat harnesses have the advantage of providing more comfort and support. However, this comes at the expense of freedom of movement and you’ll not be able to pull off advanced tricks with a seat harness.
Never go kitesurfing without a helmet that will protect your precious head from swinging boards, falling kites, rocks, water impacts, and so on. The lines of your kite can slash your head if you are not wearing a helmet should you lose control of your kite.
As the name implies, a line cutter is used to cut lines. A line cutter is especially useful in emergency situations where a line needs to be cut either because the line gets wrapped around you or your limbs or any other reason. You may also need to cut the lines of another kitesurfer in a rescue situation.
You’ll find a slot in your harness (under the spreader bar) where you can easily store and access your line cutter. Your instructor will teach you how to use a line cutter.
This is a no-brainer. You should never participate in any water sport, especially one labeled an extreme sport like kitesurfing, without wearing a PFD. Make sure your PFD fits snugly so it doesn’t get in your way while kitesurfing.
To make your control bar system more efficient, a safety leash is usually connected to the front part of your harness and onto the safety line. This allows you to flag out your kite quickly in a dangerous situation by activating the quick release on the chicken loop. Should this fail, you’ll have to detach yourself completely from your precious kite by your kite leash quick release.
Inflatable Kites vs. Foil Kites
As far as kitesurfing is concerned, there are two families of kites and they are the inflatable kites and foil kites. Inflatable kites are more suitable for kiteboarding in the waves while foil kites shine in light winds.
Inflatable kites need to be inflated with a pump before use. Currently, there are four types of inflatable kites – C-kites, bow kites, delta kites, and hybrid kites – on the market with each having a particular area it excels at. Of all the types of inflatable kites, the bow kite enjoys the most popularity as it’s suitable for beginners, can be used in a wide range of wind, and is easy to relaunch.
Foil kites, on the other hand, either have open or closed cells along their leading edge that allow air to flow into them. Compared to inflatable kites, foil kites are very durable and can be powered and depowered efficiently. Also, you can land a foil kite on the beach without any help.
Open cell foil kites are used for land skateboarding and snow kiteboarding while the closed cell type is more suitable for use in light winds. And this means foil kites can be used on land, snow, and water.
As you can see, foil kites have very specific use and require advanced riding skills. And it is for this reason that inflatable kites are more popular.
Types of Kiteboards
There are different types of kiteboards on the market with variations in length and shape which affects their performance. Below are some of the most popular kiteboards around:
Twin Tip Board
The Twin tip board is the most common kiteboard on the market and is suitable for different riding styles such as free-ride, wake-style, and surf. However, this board is at its best when you use it for wake-style and free-ride due to its symmetrical ends. You can use the twin-tip board with pads and straps.
Light Twin Tip Board
Slightly flatter, lighter, and wider than an average twin-tip, the light twin-tip board is ideal for conditions when the wind is too light. The flatter shape provides more surface area which allows you to ride very light winds that may not be possible to ride on other kiteboards.
Heavier riders will benefit a lot from light twin-tip boards as it creates less drag and generate more life. However, light twin-tip boards are more expensive than twin-tip boards.
The ideal weapon of choice for those into wave riding and surfing. Even twin-tip boards do not come near wave boards in terms of performance in the surf. The design of wave boards is reminiscent of that of surfboard due to the basic shape and fin configurations. However, wave boards feature integrated traction pads and foot straps.
The foot straps are removable and provide a more surf-like experience when removed. Note that wave boards perform best in light winds.
It’s all about the speed, pal. Race boards are the fastest boards around. They owe their incredible speed to their hydrodynamically designed wing which makes the boards fly above the surface of the (choppy) waters. Also, drag is significantly eliminated thanks to the wind design allowing the board to pick more speed.
Race boards will be at their best in upwind and marginal wind conditions. And they are easy to control while requiring less physical effort than any other kiteboard model.
A wake-style board is essentially a twin-tip board but with one major difference. Instead of the footpad or straps, you’ll find on a twin-tip board, a wake-style board uses bindings/boots. The boots have some advantages over the footpad and straps of twin-tips. For one, they offer more support, security, and cushioning effects.
As a beginner, you have no business with a wave-style board since they require more advanced skills.
What Weather Conditions Are Ideal For Kitesurfing?
Before going out to kitesurf, you check weather forecasts and assess the speed and direction of the wind, swell size, currents, and tides. Only go out to surf when weather conditions are favorable. There are now several great apps that tell you swell sizes and directions in different locations around the world.
The ideal weather for kitesurfing would be a sunny, cloudless day with constant side-shore winds ranging between 15-to-20 knots.
On the other hand, kitesurfing in a rainy sky with black clouds and strong gusty winds exceeding the 30 knots mark is super dangerous. Clouds are a good indication of the weather and you should take some time to observe them before getting on the water.
Remember to always check your kitesurfing equipment and ensure that they are working properly and in good condition before getting on the water. And even though you have already checked weather or surf forecasts and already know what to expect, you should still assess weather conditions when you get to the location.
As far as wind is concerned, there are four basic wind directions, namely:
Side-Onshore: This is the best wind direction for kitesurfing as it allows you to sail back to shore easily.
Cross-Shore: Still a good wind direction although not as good as side-onshore since there’s a risk that your kite might get pulled away from the beach/shore.
Onshore: This wind direction pushes towards the shore. Proceed with caution.
Offshore: An offshore wind is in the opposite direction away from the shore into the open sea.
Side-Offshore: Even more dangerous than an offshore wind since it further pushes you out to sea.