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November 25, 2011 / jeremycarr

Kitesurfing Guide

Kitesurfing. The most exhilarating individual sport I’ve had the good fortune of engaging with. Yes, rock climbing challenges me in ways I never imagined and is a forum for doing things I didn’t think I could do. And the zen flow state from running is unbelievably peaceful. But cruising at 15mph over light chop, launching 20 foot frontflips and backflips at will and landing soft as a butterfly, all while harnessing two of the most powerful forces on the planet (wind and water)…  my body just feels like it’s singing.

I encountered kitesurfing for the first time while biking around the coast of Hyeres. As I rounded a corner and saw a few dozen kiters in the water, I couldn’t help but pull over, sit down, and watch mesmerized for an hour. I was hooked. Friends have asked me how they might get into kitesurfing, I couldn’t find anything else, so… this guide is my gift to beginners everywhere!

This is Kitesurfing.

Just so you know what you’re getting yourself into- kitesurfing has a steep learning curve. On the plus side, there will be moments of sheer euphoria as you pick up new skills. On the minus side, getting to a reasonable place of proficiency will take 20-30hr. Fortunately, focusing on a few key skills will get you over each hump, and you’ll be shredding in no time.

Absolute Beginner- Learn how to kite (5-10hrs)
Kitesurfing is 80% kiting, 20% board skills. Time you invest now will pay off in spades later. The milestone we’re gunning for: be able to fly a trainer kite behind your back with your eyes closed both parked and doing power strokes. Buy (~$100) or borrow a trainer (make sure the control mechanism is a bar), and follow one of these guides to train up your kiting skills.

The Basics (6 hrs)
With solid kiting skills under your belt, it’s time to bridge the gap from kiting to kitesurfing. I highly recommend a 3 part lesson arc from a kiteboarding school. There’s just no replacement for hands on learning from an experienced kite instructor. The 3 lessons will cost you between $300 (vacation spots like Cabarete) and $600 (WOW Bay Area), depending on where you go.

Land Lesson (2 hrs)- Put a harness on and fly a big 4 line kite. Safety, rigging, launching, flying, landing, and safety. You will more than likely stay dry for this lesson.
Body Dragging (2 hrs)- Learn how to body drag upwind in the water. Learn water relaunches, power strokes, and the CRITICAL safety skill of being able to self-rescue.
Board Lesson (2 hrs)- Put it all together, and get up on the board for the first time!

Transitioning to Independence
At this point, you should have had enough exposure to decide whether you want to proceed with the sport or not. If you need more information, just go to your local kitebeach and strike up a conversation with a fellow kiter; the community is incredibly friendly and welcoming! To continue on your kitesurfing journey, you’re going to need to get your own gear. The good news: once you buy you’re gear, you’ll rarely need to upgrade in the future, though you’ll probably WANT to ;). The bad news, the initial set of gear will run you somewhere in the $1000+ range…  What you’ll need:

  • Board- $200+ Getting a used board is fine. You will want a twintip board (looks like a wakeboard) to start. Something in the ~135 range if you’re 6′, ~125 if you’re 5’6″… it’s all preference. The most important factors are length (longer easier to get up with, harder to turn), rocker (more cuts chop better for a smoother ride, less helps you to track in a straight line better), and concavity (helps the board stick to the water). I use a 136 Underground FLX and love it. Don’t get a 140+ beginner board, it will only be useful for a handful of sessions before you outgrow it.
  • Kite, Bar and Lines- $500+ Many schools of thought for whether you should get a quiver of 1, 2, or 3 kites. Pragmatically, I would recommend starting with getting just one kite; I kite at 3rd avenue and end up using my Nemesis HP 10m 80% of the time. Since modern bow kites have an EXTREMELY wide wind range, most guys can get away with a 10m, and women with an 8m. Money to burn?  The Cabrinha switchblade is an excellent kite.  The easiest way to size your kite? Go to the beach you plan on kiting at, and talk to people who are similar height and weight to you.  Make sure your kite includes bar and lines, and a kite leash; buying them separately will run $200+.
  • Harness- $75+ For your first harness, anything will do. Seat harnesses will help you get up on the board easier, while waist harnesses will be more comfortable for longer riding. It’s a matter of preference.  Longtime kiters are generally fans of mystic harnesses.
  • Helmet- $50+ You WILL take some pretty epic spills. Trust me, just get one.
  • Wetsuit- $200+ Thickness/length will depend on where you kite. For the bay, 4/3 is more than enough. During summer you can get away with a 3/2, or even a shortie. Generally won’t need a hoodie or gloves. As you get better you’ll spend more time out of the water, if you have money to burn some of the new wind protection built into suits isn’t a horrible idea.
  • Booties- $40+ You’ll want them if your kiting spot is rocky, or if your feet get cold.
  • Don’t get a board leash, they’re not safe. Go-Joe’s are VERY useful to help retrieve your board while you’re starting.

Before Getting Started…
Please please please: SAFETY FIRST. Understand how your kite leash works, and what happens when you let go of your bar. Train the habit in your mind of pushing the bar out (depowering the kite) if anything goes wrong. Additionally, make sure you know how to inflate your kite to the proper tension, wrap and unwrap your lines properly, connect them safely to your kite, and double check everything (lines not tangled, kite connection, harness + leash connected properly) before launching! Talk to friends, rent/watch some videos, ask around at the beach; kiting without proper safety knowledge is VERY dangerous, I’ve seen bad situations develop in the blink of an eye. Most injuries happen at launch and landing, please make sure you know what you’re doing.

Beginner (~3 sessions/4 hrs)
The milestone you’re gunning for is being able to ride the board for 10+ seconds without falling. You will unfortunately be doing a lot of walking since you won’t be able to go upwind, so make sure there’s a beach you can land on downwind (and some way to land your kite), and that the walk back isn’t too challenging. A last word on safety- know how to self-rescue and what to do if your lines get tangled or if your kite drops in the water. A windy cold ocean is an incredibly dangerous place to learn on the fly. That said, I recommend the following arc to reach this milestone:
Session 1
Body dragging upwind- the better you are at this, the easier your life will be. Even as an expert you will fall after jumps, lose your board, and need to body drag to get back to it. I know it takes patience, but forget about the board for your first session or two.  If you can develop this skill such that you can body drag back to your launch spot, you will be MUCH happier later.
Session 2+
Pick your dominant side, and just keep trying to get up on the board. Don’t worry about losing ground downwind, or about the other side, just keep trying- it will take a lot of repetition. Learn how to put the board on your feet, get the board beneath you orthogonal to the wind, and how to stop the kite from turning you around (this step is why you learned how to fly the kite with your eyes closed behind your back). For the moment of truth, try keeping one leg straight while bending the other knee beneath your body (practice on land). Once you get up on the board, just focus on generating as constant power as you can with the kite… and you’re kitesurfing!!

Advanced Beginner (~7 sessions/10 hrs)
The big milestone you’re gunning for is learning how to go upwind so you can get back to where you started. This will likely take another 5 to 10 sessions after you can stand on the board.

Approximate steps to get there: generate constant power with the kite while staying up on the board (much easier when the wind is consistent), start riding more crosswind (as opposed to downwind), then gradually start edging more towards upwind. Try too hard to go upwind and you’ll stall, not enough and you won’t be gaining ground. Remember- the most efficient path is carving a smooth line; stopping and starting will rob you of your overall ability to go upwind. At this point, you’ll also need to learn transitions and how to ride the board on your weak side. Feels weird… but you’ll definitely get the hang of it after a few tries. Before you know it you’ll be able to return to where you started, and those endless walks back to where you started are over!

Intermediate, Advanced, and Beyond
Once you can ride upwind and return to your launchspot, the world of kitesurfing is completely open to you. Learn to jump, how to ride in gusty/lully conditions, wave riding, learn simple tricks, transition to unhooked moves, kite in other spots, take kiting vacations… The world is your oyster!
This could be you…


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