We’ve all been there on Day number whatever of our course, perhaps when there’s a light wind day, when our instructor tells us we need to learn how to do a deep water packdown and self rescue. Sigh, groan, mumble, mumble we all go. But a packdown is a vital skill that you need to know if you’re ever going to be an independent kitesurfer. And you don’t just need to know if, you need to practise it. Because when you’re in 25kts of wind with 2 metres waves, you’re going to need to know it like the back of your hand.
Like many students, I learnt how to do a packdown on Day 1. Like pretty much every student, I’d completely forgotten it by the time I got round to going out alone. Just over a week into a trip to Egypt, my partner (a kitesurf instructor) insisted he taught me a packdown before he let me go out riding on his kite. I was, to say the least, rather grumpy about it… “There’s wind!” I complained, “I want to go out now!”
And so, with a face like thunder, I spent the next 20 minutes learning every step of a packdown. Listening to him tell me how to do it, doing it, and the right at the end talking him through how to do it to show that I’d properly understood it. I wasn’t happy about it, and students rarely are. But that very afternoon, in a delicious case of irony, I had to perform my own packdown for the first time ever.
The spot we were riding at was offshore wind, with a triangle of waist deep water extending out to a point. Since upwind riding is still something I’ve not quite mastered, and walking back upwind is every kiter’s nemesis, I carried on riding and ended up out of my depth and unable to relaunch my kite. Though there was a boat rescue service offered by the local school, they were short staffed that day and I drifted further out to sea for around 20 minutes before I decided I needed to do a packdown as quickly as possible and attempt to swim in.
At that moment, along with “Oh god I’m doing to have to tell my boyfriend he was right”, I began to think back through what he’d taught me that morning. Though I remembered most of it, I still missed small parts which made it more difficult, and began to realise how much instructors are right when they tell you that you need to practise it on a regular basis.
Luckily for me, as I was slowly wrapping up my lines (and trying desperately to remember when to half hitch!), I heard the boat heading out to come and get me. Though I didn’t need to perform the entire packdown, but I was proud of the fact that a) I hadn’t panicked, and b) I’d known what I needed to do.
When I finally made it back to the shore, and was half way through laying out my lines (with my partner watching me with an annoyingly smug grin on his face), we were approached by another one of the kiters on the trip with us. This was someone who had been kiting for some years and was relatively advanced – he’d been out practising kiteloops that day. When he asked what I was doing, and my partner explained, he claimed that he “had never done a packdown, but knew the theory and could probably do it.” To my amusement, when my partner asked him to walk us through it, it turned out he didn’t know at all. Whilst it made me feel better to realise I wasn’t the only person who hadn’t remembered how to do this, it did also worry me that someone who I’ve often seen kiting far out didn’t know what to do when things went wrong.
I’m willing to bet money that the majority of kiters on the water don’t know how to perform a packdown. But the reality is, if you don’t know how to do it, and do it safely, you’re a danger not only to yourself but to other kiters around you. So, the next time you’re at the beach and there’s not enough wind, learn how to do a packdown. When you’re the only kiter out and you’ve crashed your kite half a mile out to sea, you’ll be damn glad you learnt how to do it.