How Do You Kitesurf?
When I am asked about kitesurfing, from time to time, people often assume it is a sea or land-based sport that uses a large sail attached to a board. Although there are relatable elements, this is not kitesurfing. So first off, let’s define what kitesurfing actually is. Simply put, it is a recently developed water sport, where an individual is attached to a kite via a harness. This power source propels them along the surface of the water with the use of a board attached to their feet. It is much like kiteboarding, except in the sea, or windsurfing, though with a kite instead of a sail, and one of the great beauties of these sports is they all utilise an abundant, free, and green source of power; the wind.
So, how do you do it? Let’s break it down into three steps.
- Basic theory
- Rider technique
- Further Reading
Like many sports, kitesurfing is about the rider balancing the various forces involved to create an equilibrium.
There are three main components to the kitesurfing quiver: the kite, the bar and lines, and the board. Known as Leading Edge Inflatables, or LEI for short, a kitesurfing kite has a rib structure that is inflated with a pump, this to ensure that they don’t sink or lose their shape if they hit the water – a very useful feature when learning! This is the power source, and works by catching wind in the canopy to create pull. To moderate the power in different wind speeds, kitesurfers use different kite sizes; much like reefing a sail on a boat.
The power is transferred to the rider through the bar and lines, which are attached to the rider with a harness. The bar is where much of the magic happens, as this is where the kite is controlled from. Through 20 years of development, the bar has come to serve three purposes: steering the kite, controlling the power of the kite, and deployment of the safety system. A clever piece of kit, the bar and lines are a simple and very effective design.
Kitesurfing boards originated from the wakeboarding market. They have been appropriated for kitesurfing through various modifications. When combined with a forward motion, the board provides the rider with lift, enabling the rider to skim along the surface of the water. This minimises water displacement, and therefore resistance. However, a small amount of displacement is necessary to redirect the pull of the kite, so that the rider travels from side to side, as opposed to directly to the beach, where the kite wants to take you. There are many different types of boards available, including hydrofoil boards, surfboards and race boards, each demanding a different riding technique.
So there’s some discussion about the equipment used in kitesurfing, and how they relate to each other to make up a kitesurfer. But what about the rider? What technique is required to get up on those waves?
It is important that both time and energy is spent on developing a good kite flying technique. Without this, getting up and riding is usually a tiring and frustrating process, draining riders of the will to do anything but pack up and go home.
N.B. This is a basic breakdown of the process. Other necessary considerations will become apparent when you are out with your instructor, such as the wind window, safety techniques, and rules of the road.
Often considered to be the hardest part of learning to kitesurf, this is a process that combines a number of techniques. Don’t worry. In your lesson we break it down for you!
- When you are at least waist depth in the sea, with your kite stable above your head, bend your legs and put your board on. Make sure your legs are as bent as possible, and that the kite is stable at 12 o’clock.
- Check all around for any hazards, and once the coast is clear, instigate a good dive with the kite; how much you ‘send’ the kite will depend on how much power is available. This will power up the kite, which will then pull you up and forward onto the board.
- Before you are crouched directly above your board, straighten your front leg, and lean back away from the kite. Your back leg should be pushing the back of the board into the water, providing resistance to the pull of the kite, and redirecting your momentum in the direction that you wish to go.
- Whilst you are getting up on the board, it is important to remember to redirect the kite to 12 o’clock, so that it doesn’t crash in the sea. We usually focus on board and kite techniques separately, and then combine the two.
Two things. Broadly speaking, your kite controls your speed, and your board controls your direction.
- Kite – once up and going, you then have to think about controlling the power in the kite. In light winds, it is often necessary to keep the kite in the power zone, by moving it between 12 and 10 o’clock, or 12 and two o’clock. Once your desired speed is reached, you can often ‘park’ the kite at the 10 or two o’clock position, where it will give a steady and constant pull.
- Board – the board controls your riding direction. By pushing the back of the board further into the water, whilst rotating your upper body to face your desired direction of travel, you can ride further upwind. However, this increases the canopy pressure on the kite, which it doesn’t like. To compensate, the kite travels further out of wind, where there is less power to pull you along. So, it’s a balance. To ride further downwind, simply do the opposite.
Important! A combination of de-powering your kite and increasing displacement of the board can bring you to a prompt stop.
- Kite: simply bring the kite to the 12 o’clock position to de-power it, and you will come to a stop. Alternatively, you can just let go of the bar and the kite will crash in the water, bringing your ride to an unstylish, but effective end.
- Board: increasing your back foot pressure will increase your resistance and slow you down. This is a very effective technique if you need to come to an abrupt stop, and will work regardless of where the kite is.
And that is how to kitesurf! As previously mentioned, this is a simplified breakdown of the learning process. To guarantee your safety, and that of others, it is of upmost importance to learn alongside a qualified instructor. This enables you to develop techniques and practice safety processes within a controlled environment.
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Have a look at these blogs for more information on how to become a kitesurfer.