Often when you look out and see kitesurfers on the waves, you’ll also see windsurfers in the mix, so this seems like a rather logical comparison. Indeed, when you look into the history of kitesurfing, you’ll see that it owes a lot of it’s development and progression from the world of windsurfing. When kitesurfing was in it’s infancy, mainly in the 90’s, it exploded onto the watersports scene with its visual splendour, lofty kites and big jumps. This tempted many windsurfers to jump onto the wagon, and so naturally some of the big windsurfing manufacturers followed, with perhaps the most notable example being Naish. Many who now enjoy kitesurfing started out as windsurfers, and still mix up the two disciplines that have their fair share of differences. So if your looking into getting into a wind powered watersport, which is right for you? I’ll break it down into learning and developing curves, with some safety discussion, ending with a little about the equipment.
Generally speaking, learning to get up and ride is easier with windsurfing, and most beginners will experience the thrill of windsurfing on their first lesson. This is almost entirely due to the fact that the equipment is more user friendly, taking less instruction and time to grasp. The sails on a windsurf are simple to use and are held up by the riders arms, whilst with a kite there is more involvement with it’s control, keeping it flying and prevent it from falling out of the sky.
Another significant point is the buoyancy of the boards. Unlike a typical kitesurfing board, a windsurfing board will float with a riders weight, requiring no forward motion to keep it above the water surface. This means that a student can step up onto the board, sheet in the sail, and get moving with little coordination or effort, though some balance. The equivalent moment in kitesurfing is a bit more of a crescendo, where the skills that have been learnt over the previous few days are bought together in what is known as a board start. This is where standing and a forward motion are combined momentarily to hopefully make a kitesurfer.
So in terms of getting up on either a kitesurfing board or a windsurfing board, windsurfing is easier. However, this is where the advantage stops.
Assuming you wish to return to your car at some point, you’re going to have to be able to come back the way you came, and with kitesurfing you simply send the kite the other way and swap the back of the board for the front by shifting your weight; there is no need to turn it around. As windsurfers use directional boards, or boards that only go one way, riders must turn the entire rig around, and this involves much dexterity and skill to master. It is also necessary for the rider to rotate around the sail, which when seen being done, is impressive.
The bit in between is pretty relaxed on both. When cruising in a straight line, the key is to trust your harness, learn back against the pull of the sail or kite, and enjoy the ride.
In terms of tricks and treats to develop into, kitesurfing comes out on top, this largely due to it’s smaller board size, the distance of the kite to the rider, and the impressive jumping potential. That’s not to say that windsurfers can’t get some serious air and do some head spinning flips with some strong wind and decent waves.
Mainly due to the reasons explained in the development section, windsurfing does require a reasonable amount of strength. Sheeting in, and lowering and raising the sail, which is necessary when on the turn, requires a good bit of core grit. Kitesurfing in comparison has a lighter touch on the control of the kite, as almost all of the power is directed through a waist harness, and there is no need for any complex rotations when changing direction. As such, kitesurfing has no prerequisite for strength or fitness. Being a competent swimmer is essential for both.
The key here is knowing how to use the equipment correctly; as long as this is guaranteed by the rider, both of these sports are safe. The potential for things to go wrong is greater in kitesurfing. This is mainly because the power source is 25 meters away from the rider, as opposed to directly in front. In windsurfing you can simply let go of the sail to de-power. The process in kitesurfing is also very simple and effective, but if it the process is not understood correctly, or is disabled due to a bad setup, the consequences can be considerable. That is why having lessons is a must; so the student can learn and practice these procedures in a controlled, risk free way.
So what about the gear? This is where kitesurfing really shines. Everything that you need can be simply packed down into a large backpack, slung onto your shoulders and taken back on the bus. When broken down a windsurfing rig is more considerable and necessitates the need for a van or sizeable car. Of course this won’t be a problem if you have one of these.
Both sports require the same set of conditions. With the recent advent of ultra light foil kites and super efficient boards, kitesurfing can be done in winds as low as 8 knots, and windsurfing claims similar speeds of winds as a minimum requirement. Onshore winds are the sensible choice of direction, as are spacious beaches that have been specifically designated for such sports. Windsurfing is not so dependant on low tide as these is no landing or launching procedure, though low tides are a good idea as a safety precaution. They do need to be able to walk in the sea to get their craft deep enough to ride.
So the answer to the question is kitesurfing easier than windsurfing is a little like the skiing/snowboarding comparison. Windsurfing, like skiing, is easy to get going on, but more challenging to develop in, whilst kitesurfing, like snowboarding, is trickier to get riding on, but easier to progress in once you start putting in turns and developing a more dynamic ride. Both these sports are an absolute blast, as what they both come down to is shooting across the surface of the sea at wicked speeds – I don’t think to call that biblical is an exaggeration.
Intrigued? Here’s some more reading you may find interesting, and a link to our videos page.