How To Kitesurf Upwind

Once you’ve mastered the board start, can ride both ways fairly confidently and can turn without

crashing/losing your board/launching yourself downwind, you’re ready to start to learn how to stay

upwind! Everyone knows, that although there’s nothing to be ashamed of, the walk of shame back

upwind is one of the most frustrating and exhausting experiences involved in the learning process of

kitesurfing. Without the ability to confidently ride upwind, trying out new transitions or playing

around in waves can also become less attractive as the thought of that dreaded walk coming sooner

than you want looms overhead! Luckily enough riding upwind isn’t as far away as you’d think and if

you follow these few tips you’ll be confidently riding upwind in both directions and as soon as you’ve

cracked it, you’ll be ready to work on your first jumps and other fun tricks.

To start off with, going out with the right gear is essential. If you’re confident with flying kites

(hopefully you should be by now) and maybe have a couple yourself, and you rock up to the beach

and the wind is looking in between sizes i.e. you’ll be slightly underpowered on your 9 but will be

slightly overpowered on your 12… Go for the 12. When learning to ride upwind, being

underpowered will make your life a lot harder than it needs to be. Riding upwind takes more power

than doing board starts and riding downwind. With less power your technique will have to be

perfect as any mistakes will be hard to recover from, and as you pump the kite through the air to

generate more power, the kite will pull you further downwind. With a more powered kite you can

ride further into the wind and if you make a mistake a small movement of the kite will bring you

back up to speed faster than an underpowered kite will. As well as this to ride upwind easier, a

larger flatter board is preferable, however if you’re struggling, correct technique will see you further

than dropping a load of money on a new board!

The first technique based tip and absolutely the most important technique when learning to ride

upwind is to look where you’re going! For many people learning to ride further upwind one of the

biggest mistakes they make is always looking at the kite. The kite is downwind of you and if you look

at that, your body is set up to follow that direction, your board will point you downwind and your

walk back up the beach will come a lot faster. When you look where you’re going, your shoulders

will naturally open up a little and twist in the correct way, which your hips, legs and board will follow

and you’ll already be riding a lot further upwind than before! An extension of this motion to get your

body pointed in the right direction if you’re feeling super confident, is letting go with your front

hand. This will twist your shoulders further than before, making riding upwind easier. But only if

you’re confident enough to fly the kite one handed!

The next most important thing when learning to ride upwind is your stance. For the perfect stance

you’re aiming to have a straight line between your leading shoulder and your leading heel. Bring

your hips forward and shoulders back, with your front leg straight and your back leg slightly bent.

With normal riding you want most of your weight on your back leg, but when riding upwind you’ll

want even more of this weight on your back foot. You want to lean back on your heel edge so the

board is carving into the surface spraying water away from you. Bring your toes up on your leading

foot and this will help the angle of your board in the water.

The next important thing is the angle of the kite in the sky. If you’re struggling to ride upwind, try

bringing your kite lower in the sky when riding, around or below 45 degrees. With a kite high in the

sky you’re more likely to be yanked off your edge as the vertical pull of the kite tries to pull you

upwards. If you have your kite below 45 degrees you will be able to send the kite further to the edge

of the window, and lean further against it at the horizontal pull tries to bring you back onto your

board, pushing you further upwind.

One common mistake people make when learning to ride upwind however is trying to ride too far

into the wind. Theoretically, you can ride up to 40 degrees into the wind when kitesurfing, however

with normal conditions and equipment 10 to 20 degrees is usually achievable. You’ll need to strike a

balance between edging your board enough that you’re riding into the wind, but not too much so as

to kill the power in your kite. If you edge too hard into the wind, your speed will deteriorate and you

will come to a halt. If this happens, come off your edge a little, increase your speed and you should

be riding back upwind again.

Speed is also another thing to consider when riding. Depending on the conditions you may find that

riding fast or slowing down will increase your chances of riding upwind. This all depends on the

power you have in your kite. If you’re super powered up, and you ride super fast, the apparent wind

you create whilst riding may create enough power to pull you off any edge you try to create to ride

upwind. If this happens you should be able to ride upwind whilst riding very slowly. However, if

you’re not quite powered enough, speed will be your friend. You’ll need to bear downwind to

increase your speed creating a good amount of apparent wind keeping you powered up enough to

ride into the wind. This can be tricky as finding the balance of using apparent wind to ride upwind

can be hard to strike, so as mentioned earlier going out with more powered than less usually helps.

One issue that also occurs when learning to ride upwind, especially here in the UK where we’re not

usually blessed with knee depth flat lagoons, is waves. Waves can be a major cause for riders to

crash out sending them further downwind leading to a faster walk back up the beach. Depending on

the size of the wave you will want to approach it slightly differently. With small waves, around waist

height or below, you’ll want to edge into the wave slightly and bend your knees as a kind of

suspension absorbing the wave as you ride over. With larger waves, you will have to edge into the

wave harder, and just before the wave hits, you want to effectively ollie over it, still tucking in your

knees to absorb the wave as it goes. To ollie over the wave you want to raise your leading leg whilst

pushing hard down on your back foot to get some vertical pop before the wave comes. With all

waves, as soon as they pass you’ll want to get back onto your edge as soon as possible to get back

riding upwind.

Finally, the last tip which is a great way to judge your progress is using a point to aim for. If you can

see something in the distance like a groyne or some flags, aim for that. It will give you a point of

reference as to where you are on the beach and how far you’re progressing. If before you could only

ride so that you’re further downwind from the groyne as to when you started, head back and then

try again to ride slightly further upwind and you will be able to see your progress as you get closer

and closer to where you started. The visible progression is a great motivator and will keep you riding

longer as you get closer and closer to riding upwind.

Overall the main points to riding upwind are:

 Look in the direction of travel, and if feeling confident release your front hand from the kite

 Correct stance/posture

 Keep the kite low

 Don’t ride too far into the wind

 Use the correct board speed

 Bend knees/ollie over waves

 Use a reference point

To learn to stay upwind can be frustrating at first, but with enough patience and practice you’ll nail

it. Focus on each individual technique first, then bring them all together to ride for hours without

leaving the water!