Definitions

safety hook

Kitesurfing

Kitesurfing, kiteboarding, uses wind power to pull a rider through the water on a small surfboard or a kiteboard (which is like a wakeboard). Generally kiteboarding refers to a style of riding known as free-style or wakestyle where as kitesurfing is more waveriding oriented. These two styles usually require different boards and specific performance kites.

A kitesurfer or kiteboarder uses a board with or without foot-straps or bindings, combined with the power of a large controllable kite to propel him- or herself and the board across the water. In 2006, the number of kitesurfers has been estimated at around 150,000 to 210,000, with 114,465 inflatable kites sold that same year.

The sport is becoming safer due to innovations in kite design, safety release systems, and instruction. Many riding styles have evolved to suit different types of riders and conditions, such as wakestyle, waveriding, freestyle, jumping, and cruising.

Kitesurfing is one of many forms of kite propulsion, which include kite landboarding, snowkiting, kite buggying, kite skateboarding, kite jumping, and using kites to propel sea kayaks. A kite can even propel a large ship.

History

The Chinese are credited with using kites for propulsion in the 13th century.

In the 1800s George Pocock used kites of increased size to propel carts on land and ships on the water, using a 4-line control system - the same system in common use today. Both carts and boats were able to turn and sail upwind. The kites could be flown for sustained periods. The intention was to establish kitepower as an alternative to horsepower, partly to avoid the hated "horse tax" that was levied at that time. In 1903, aviation pioneer Samuel Cody developed "man-lifting kites" and succeeded in crossing the English channel in a small collapsible canvas boat powered by a kite

In the late 1970s the development of Kevlar then Spectra flying lines and more controllable kites with improved efficiency contributed to practical kite traction. In 1978, Ian Day's "FlexiFoil" kite-powered Tornado catamaran exceeded 40 km/h.

Through the 1980s there were sporadic and occasionally successful attempts to combine kites with canoes, ice skates, snow skis, water skis and roller skates.

Through out the 70s and early 80s Dieter Strasilla from Germany developed parachute-skiing and later perfected a kiteskiing system using self made paragliders and a ball-socket swivel allowing the pilot to kitesail upwind and uphill but also to take off into the air at will. Strasilla and his friend Andrea Kuhn/Switzerland used this invention also in combination with surfboards and Skurfs, grasskies and selfmade buggies. One of his patents describes 1979 the first time an inflatable kite design for kitesurfing.

Two brothers, Bruno Legaignoux and Dominique Legaignoux, from the Atlantic coast of France, developed some kite designs for kitesurfing in the late 1970s early 1980s and patented an inflatable kite design in November 1984, which has since been used by many companies to develop their own products.

In 1990, practical kite buggying was pioneered by Peter Lynn at Argyle Park in Ashburton, New Zealand. Lynn coupled a three-wheeled buggy with a forerunner of the modern parafoil kite. Kite buggying proved to be very popular worldwide, with over 14,000 buggies sold up to 1999.

The development of modern day kitesurfing by the Roeselers in the USA and the Legaignoux in France carried on in parallel to buggying. Bill Roeseler, a Boeing aerodynamicist, and his son Corey Roeseler patented the "KiteSki" system which consisted of water skis powered by a two line delta style kite controlled via a bar mounted combined winch/brake. The KiteSki was commercially available in 1994. The kite had a rudimentary water launch capability and could go upwind. In 1995, Corey Roeseler visited Peter Lynn at New Zealand's Lake Clearwater in the Ashburton Alpine Lakes area, demonstrating speed, balance and upwind angle on his 'ski'. In the late 1990s, Corey's ski evolved to a single board similar to a surfboard.

In 1996 Laird Hamilton and Manu Bertin were instrumental in demonstrating and popularising kitesurfing off the Hawaiian coast of Maui.

In 1997 the Legaignoux brothers developed and sold the breakthrough "Wipika" kite design which had a structure of preformed inflatable tubes and a simple bridle system to the wingtips, both of which greatly assisted water re-launch. Bruno Legaignoux has continued to improve kite designs, including developing the bow kite design, which has been licensed to many kite manufacturers.

In 1997, specialist kiteboards were developed by Raphaël Salles and Laurent Ness. By 1998 kitesurfing had become a mainstream sport, and several schools were teaching kitesurfing. The first competition was held on Maui in September 1998 and won by Flash Austin.

By 1999 single direction boards derived from windsurfing and surfing designs became the dominant form of kiteboard. From 2001 onwards, wakeboard style bi-directional boards became more popular.

Speed records

French kitesurfer Sebastien Cattelan became the first sailor to break the 50 knots barrier with 50.26 knots on the 3rd of October 2008 in Lüderitz, Namibia. On the 4th of October French kitesurfer Alex Caizergues broke this record with a 50.57 knots run. These speeds are verified, but are still subject to ratification by the WSSRC.

The current speed record over a 500 meter (1,640 ft) course, officially ratified by the World Sailing Speed Record Council, is held by Rob Douglas at 49.84 knots, which is the outright World Speed Sailing Record.

Air records

The current air record is held by Erick Eck from Hawaii. His 39 second air is considered to be the longest amount of time in free air.

Techniques

Learning and training

Kiteboarding sometimes can pose hazards to kitesurfers, beachgoers, bystanders and others on the water. Many problems and dangers that may be encountered while learning kiting (some of which may not be immediately obvious) can be avoided or minimized by taking professional instruction through lesson centers.

Kitesurfing schools provide courses and lessons to teach various skills including kite launching, flying, landing, usage of the bar, lines and safety devices. The usage of kitesurfing equipment can be misunderstood, so it is essential for beginners to take instructions from a certified kitesurfing instructor. A good course should include basic kite setup, operation, maintenance, kite size and type considerations, and operation of all safety systems. It could also include weather planning and hazards, launch area selection, body dragging upwind to avoid board leash use, solo launching and landing, emergency landing, self rescue, safety gear, kite tuning, water starting and how to stay upwind while riding.

An early learning technique is to fly a small kite on a beach to learn how to control the kite within the wind window.

Once good kite flying skills are obtained, the next progression is bodydragging, where a larger kite is flown and used to drag the student's body through the water. The effect is similar to bodysurfing, but with an upward lift component. Bodydragging is also a self rescue technique in the event a kiter loses their board and needs to get to the shore.

The next progression is to lie in the water and attach your feet to the board (i.e. through the foot straps) with the board downwind. The kite is then flown left and right with its pull balanced against the board's resistance by matching the pressure with alternate legs. For example, pressure on the left of the control bar is balanced against pressure applied by the left foot to the board, and vice versa.

Getting started

You can get started kitesurfing by investing anywhere from $1000 to $3000 (USD), depending on the quality and age of gear you choose. A kite, board, harness, bar and lines are all that's truly needed (and wind), but you may require a life-vest (PFD), wetsuit, booties, gloves, hood, a couple of kites for varying conditions, etc. It is smart to seek advice from knowledgeable companies or individuals that specialize in kite instruction.

It is important to assemble the equipment correctly. Most kites have 4 lines with the middle lines connecting to the edge that you inflate. One also needs to verify that the lines are not tangled and kite is properly positioned on the beach.

A safe way to get going involves sitting or lying down with legs extended downwind in shallow water, then placing one foot then the other into the foot straps of the board while the kite is kept overhead in neutral position. Then, in a (hopefully) coordinated movement, the kite is dived toward the water into the power zone in the direction you intend to travel by pulling on the bar, generating speed and therefore lift and power in the kite, with the board initially pointing downwind. The rider is then pulled up out of the water and the board starts to plane downwind. The rider can then use their feet to steer the board across the wind and then edge into the water, which has the effect of acting like a keel. If the board is not edged into the water or a wave, the kite will pull the surfer in a powerful planing motion similar to wakeboarding.

Turning

A beginner can turn by putting the kite up into neutral, stopping, sinking backwards into the water, then turning the kite in the opposite direction and starting again. A heel turn jibe is a quicker, more skillful turn that is executed by slowing down, flattening the board, then reversing the board flat on the water by bringing the rear foot around downwind to eventually become the new leading foot. The direction of the kite is then reversed, which swings the surfer's path in a half circle, centered on the kite. As the turn ends, the kite is flown over to be in front of the surfer again. Turns away from the wind steal lift.

A poorly executed turn will "fly" the surfer, and is often followed by a tumble if the surfer can't put the board down at the right angle. It is important to use safety equipment like a deadman system where the kite lines can be detached from the surfer's harness quickly because the kite can (unintentionally) power up after tumbles and pull the rider under water or against objects at uncontrollable speeds. Safety knives are a must to quickly cut lines in the event of dangerous entanglements. After a tumble, detangling and re-launching the kite can be difficult. Experienced kite surfers try to keep the kite in the air.

If the kite is only turned partially, or is not straightened at the right rate, a turning surfer can swing up and be dragged into the air by the kite, then get hurt when he recontacts the surface. Even in water, flying a power kite can be a brutal contact sport. The kite is usually 20 to 27 meters (60 to 100 ft.) in the air, and a careless turn in high winds can easily swing one five meters (two stories) into the air and down to an uncontrolled impact.

Controlled flying and jumping

Controlled flying is possible and one of the biggest attractions of the sport, but more difficult and dangerous. Flying occurs when the momentum of the surfer pulls the kite. Before jumping, the surfer builds up as much tension as possible by accelerating and strongly edging the board. Then in controlled, straight flight, the kite is flown quickly (snapped) to an overhead position, usually just as the surfer goes over a wave. The kite must then be quickly turned to glide in the direction of motion, usually into the wind. A large variety of maneuvers can be performed while jumping such as rotations, taking the board off one's feet etc. Jumping has associated risks and as such riders need choose locations with suitably sized downwind clear areas usually referred to as the downwind buffer zone. Much cause for litigation has come about due to riders not exercising due care when jumping and placing the public at risk or themselves should they land on hard objects.

Board grabs

Board grabs are common tricks performed while a rider is jumping or has gained air from popping by grabbing the board in a number of positions with either hand. Each grab has a different name dependent on which part of the board is grabbed and with which hand it is grabbed by. Rear hand grabs are known as Crail, Indy, Trindy, Tail, Tailfish and Stalefish; while front hand grabs are known as Slob, Mute, Seatbelt, Melon, Lien and Nose. Names originate from other board sports like skateboarding and snowboarding, such as Tindy and Tailfish.

A number of grabs can also be combined into one trick. A rider may perform a tail grab going to indy, where they move their rear hand from the back of the board to the middle the toe side edge.

Assessing the wind

Wind strength and kite sizes

Kitesurfers change kite size and/or line length from the harness to the kite depending on wind strength -- stronger winds call for a smaller kite to prevent overpower situations. It is important to avoid using too large a kite, particularly when you are new to the sport.

Kites come in different aspect ratios (AR). The AR refers to how much of the kite is exposed to the wind and what angle the wind takes as it passes through the kite. Newer kites also provide a "depower" option to reduce the power in the kite. By using depower, the kite's angle of attack to the wind is reduced, thereby catching less wind in the kite and reducing the power or pull.

The more optimal these factors, the lower wind speed you will be able to perform in. A 170 lb. rider will need about 8 to 10 knots sustained wind and a larger kite (16 m² or bigger). In 12 - 15 knots you can have a lot of fun by doing low jumps and freestyle maneuvers. 16 - 20 knots on a 16 square meter kite will allow you jumping high, while 20 to 24 knots might allow you to fly with the birds on a 12 square meter kite. An experienced rider generally carries a 'quiver' of different sized kites appropriate for different wind ranges. A typical kite quiver might include 9 m², 13 m² and 18 m² traditional "C-kites". Exact kite sizes will vary depending on rider weight and desired wind ranges.

Bow kites have a wider wind range than C-kites, so two kite sizes (such 7 m² and 12 m²) could form an effective quiver for winds ranging from 10 to 30+ knots for a 75 kg rider.

Wind direction

It is generally held that kitesurfers should never venture onto the water in direct offshore winds (because of the possibility of being 'flown' out to sea) or direct onshore winds (because of the possibility of being thrown against beach objects, trees, rocks etc). There are two exceptions to riding in offshore winds. If you have someone with a boat or other watercraft which can assist you back to shore, or if you are riding on inland lakes where you'll inevitably hit the far shore eventually. Cross-shore wind directions are widely considered to be the best. Offshore winds are also generally gusty and much more difficult to kitesurf in.

Locations

Essentially any locale with consistent, steady side-onshore winds (10 to 35+ knots), large open bodies of water and good launch areas are suitable for kitesurfing. Most kitesurfing takes place along ocean shores, usually off beaches, but it can also be practiced on large lakes and inlets and occasionally on rivers. Since kiteboarding relies heavily on favorable, consistent wind conditions, specific geographic locations tend to become popular and sought out by experienced kiteboarders. The Outer Banks of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina has some of the most consistent and steady wind for kiteboarding. This is a very popular spot for begginners to come and learn the sport of Kiteboarding.

Because of its excellent and consistent wind conditions, Cabarete Bay in the Dominican Republic has been a popular site for World Championships, including the PKRA (Professional Kiteboard Riders Association) 2008 World Tour.

Restrictions

Kite surfing is restricted or banned in some locations. This is generally the result of safety and liability concerns, excessive general beach traffic and poorly organized practicing of kiteboarding. Bans have been reversed when kitesurfers have organized, prepared riding guidelines and negotiated with authorities for resumption of this sport. The primary reason why many experienced kite boarders stress safety and adequate quality professional instruction is to keep their sport from being banned or unduly restricted at their favourite location.

Not all locations will have explicit bans posted. Usually a simple warning from a park ranger, lifeguard or other official will let you know that kite surfing is not allowed. As a general rule, if you see other kiteboarders on the water, it is probably permitted. When new to an area or visiting be sure to ask about area restrictions and precautions before rigging up and riding. This simple courtesy should aid you in having a better riding session, avoid friction with locals and help to preserve kiting access for all. If riders offer suggestions, including not using a certain sized kite, relocating to a safer launch or not going out in current conditions, take what they say to heart. Ignoring well intended advice can cause unnecessary accidents and incidents.

Equipment

In order to kitesurf, several pieces of basic gear are needed. These are detailed in the following sections.

Power kites

A power kite is available in two major forms: leading edge inflatables and foil kites.

Leading edge inflatables

Leading edge inflatable kites, known also as inflatables, LEI kites or C-kites, are typically made from ripstop nylon with an a main inflatable plastic bladder that spans across the front edge of the kite with separate smaller bladders that are perpendicular to the main bladder to form the chord or foil of the kite. The inflated bladders give the kite its shape and also keep the kite floating once dropped in the water. LEIs are the most popular choice among most kitesurfers thanks to their quicker and more direct response to the rider's inputs, easy relaunchability once crashed into the water, and resilient nature. If an LEI kite hits the water/ground too hard or is subjected on water to substantial wave activity, bladders can burst or it can be torn apart.

In 2005 Bow kites (also known as flat LEI kites) were developed with features including a concave trailing edge, a shallower arc in planform, and frequently a bridle along the leading edge. These features allow the kite's angle of attack to be altered more and thus adjust the amount and range of power being generated to a much greater degree than previous LEIs. These kites can be fully depowered, which is a significant safety feature. They can also cover a wider wind range than a comparable C-shaped kite. The ability to adjust the angle of attack also makes them easier to re-launch when lying front first on the water. Bow kites are popular with riders from beginner to advanced levels. Most LEI kite manufacturers developed a variation of the bow kite by 2006.

However, early bow kites had the following disadvantages compared to classic LEI kites:

  • They can get inverted and not fly properly
  • They are a bit twitchy and not as stable
  • Heavier bar pressure makes them more tiring to fly
  • Lack of "sled boosting" effect when jumping

In 2006 second generation flat LEI kites were developed which combine 100% depower and easy, safe relaunch with higher performance, no performance penalties and reduced bar pressure. Called Hybrid or SLE kites (Supported Leading Edge), these kites are suitable for both beginners and experts.

Foil kites

Foil kites are also mostly fabric (ripstop nylon) with air pockets (air cells) to provide it with lift and a fixed bridle to maintain the kite's arc-shape, similar to a paraglider. Foil kites are designed with either an open or closed cell configuration; open cell foils rely on a constant airflow against the inlet valves to stay inflated, but are generally impossible to relaunch if they hit the water, since they have no means of avoiding deflation, and quickly become soaked.

Closed cell foils are almost identical to open cell foils except they are equipped with inlet valves to hold air in the chambers, thus keeping the kite inflated (or, at least, making the deflation extremely slow) even once in the water. Water relaunches with closed cell foil kites are simpler; a steady tug on the power lines typically allows them to take off again.

Foil kites are more popular for land or snow, where getting the kite wet is not a factor. A depowerable foil kite can cover about the same wind range as two traditional C-shape LEI kite sizes, so the rider can use a smaller kite, giving a wider depower range, although the new LEI "bow" kites have a comparable wide range. Foil kites have the advantage of not needing to have bladders manually inflated, a process which, with an LEI, can take up to ten minutes.

Kite sizes

Kites come in various sizes ranging from .7 square meters to 21 square meters, or even larger. In general, the larger the surface area, the more power the kite has, although kite power is also directly linked to speed, and smaller kites can be flown faster; a tapering curve results, where going to a larger kite to reach lower wind ranges becomes futile at a wind speed of around eight knots. Kites come in a variety of designs. Some kites are more rectangular in shape; others have more tapered ends; each design determines the kites flying characteristics. 'Aspect ratio' is the ratio of span to length. Wider shorter (ribbon-like) kites have less drag because the wing-tip vortices are smaller. High aspect ratios (ribbon-like kites) develop more power in lower wind speeds.

Seasoned kiteboarders will likely have 3 or more kite sizes which are needed to accommodate various wind levels, although bow kites may change this, as they present an enormous wind range; some advanced kiters use only one bow kite. Smaller kites are used by light riders, or in strong wind conditions; larger kites are used by heavier riders or in light wind conditions. Larger and smaller kiteboards have the same effect: with more available power a given rider can ride a smaller board. In general, however, most kiteboarders only need one board and one to three kites (7-12m in size).

Other equipment

  • Flying lines are made of a very strong, technologically advanced material, frequently Dyneema, in order to handle the dynamic load of various riders in unpredictable wind while maintaining a small cross-sectional profile to minimize drag. They come in many different sizes, generally between seven and thirty-three meters, although shorter and longer lines are not unheard of; experimentation with different line lengths is common in kiteboarding. The lines attach the rider's control bar to the kite at its edges or through the bridle. Most power kites use a 3, 4 or 5-line configuration. The 5th line is used to aid in water re-launching or adjusting the kite's angle of attack.
  • The control bar is a solid metal or composite bar which attaches to the kite via the lines. The rider holds on to this bar and controls the kite by pulling at its ends, causing the kite to rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise like a bicycle. Typically a chicken loop from the control bar is attached to a latch or hook on a spreader bar on the rider's harness. Most bars also provide a quick-release safety-system and a control strap to adjust the kite's angle of attack. While kite control bars are made intentionally light, they must also be very strong, and so are usually heavier than water; "bar floats" made of foam are generally fixed to the lines right above the harness to keep the bar from sinking if lost in the water.
  • A kite harness comes in seat (with leg loops), waist or vest types. The harness together with a spreader bar attaches the rider to the control bar. By hooking in, the harness takes most of the strain of the kite's pull off of the rider's arms, and spreads it across a portion of his body. This allows the rider to do jumps and other tricks while remaining attached to the kite via the control bar. Waist harnesses are by far the most popular harnesses among advanced riders, although seat harnesses make it possible to kitesurf with less effort from the rider and vest harnesses provide both flotation and impact protection. Kite harnesses look very, very similar to windsurfing or sailboarding harnesses, but are actually much different; usually a windsurfing harness used for kiteboarding will break very quickly, leading to unpredictable results including possible injury or gear loss.
  • Kiteboard, a small composite, wooden, or foam board. There are now several types of kiteboards: directional surf-style boards, wakeboard-style boards, hybrids which can go in either direction but are built to operate better in one of them, and skim-type boards. Some riders also use standard surfboards, or even long boards, although without foot straps much of the high-jump capability of a kite is lost. Twin tip boards are the easiest to learn on and are by far the most popular. The boards generally come with sandle-type footstraps that allow the rider to attach and detach from the board easily; this is required for doing board-off tricks and jumps. Bindings are used mainly by the wakestyle riders wishing to replicate wakeboarding tricks such as KGBs and other pop initiated tricks. Kiteboards come in various shapes and sizes to suit the rider's skill level, riding style, wind and water conditions.
  • A wetsuit is often worn by kitesurfers, except in very warm conditions with light winds. When kitesurfing in strong winds, body heat loss is reduced by wearing a wetsuit appropriate for the conditions. A "shortie" is worn to protect the torso only, and a full suit is used for protection against cool conditions, from marine life such as jellyfish, and also from abrasions if the rider is dragged by the kite. Dry suits are also used to kitesurf in cold conditions in winter.
  • A safety hook knife is widely considered required equipment. The corrosion resistant stainless-steel blade is partially protected by a curved plastic hook. It can be used to cut entangled or snagged kite lines, or to release the kite if the safety release system fails. Some kitesurfing harnesses are equipped with a small pocket for the knife.
  • A helmet is often worn by kitesurfers to protect the head from blunt trauma. Helmets prevent head lacerations, and can also reduce the severity of impact injuries to the head, as well as compression injuries to the neck and spine. Maintaining consciousness after a head injury can also reduce exposure to further injury.
  • A personal flotation device or PFD may be required if the kitesurfer is using a boat or personal water craft for support. It is also recommended for kitesurfing in deep water in case the kitesurfer becomes disabled and must wait for rescue.
  • An impact vest provides some protection against impacts to the torso area. They can also provide some flotation.
  • A board leash that attaches the board to the kitesurfer's leg or harness is used by some riders. However, many kitesurfing schools discourage the use of board leashes due to the risk of recoil, where the leash can yank the board to impact the rider, which can result in serious injury or even death. Generally, kitesurfers that use a board leash will also wear a helmet to help protect against this.
  • Signaling devices are useful if the kitesurfer needs to be rescued. This may be as simple as a whistle attached to the knife, or retro-reflective tape applied to the helmet. Some kitesurfers carry a mobile phone or two-way radio in a waterproof pouch to use in an emergency. A small Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) can be carried and activated to send out a distress signal.
  • A buddy is important to help with launching and retrieving the kite, and to assist in an emergency.
  • A GPS can be used to measure distance travelled, tracks and speed during a session.

Dangers and safety

Power kites can be dangerous. Because of strong forces that can be generated by sudden wind gusts, people can be lofted, carried off, dashed against water, buildings, terrain or power lines, resulting in what's termed a "kitemare" (kite + nightmare).

Most kiteboarding fatalities are the result of being lofted or dragged out of control, resulting in a collision with hard objects including sand. It is possible to be seriously injured simply by hitting the water surface at speed or from a height.

Jumping and being airborne at inappropriate places (such as shallow water or near fixed or floating objects) can be a contributing factor.

To maximize safety, basic safety guidelines should always be followed, some of which follow:

  • '''Always check the weather forecast, color radar, real-time wind reports on the Internet for indications of storms/squalls and excessively gusty winds, wind direction changes and lightning hazards. Do not launch or ride in or near squalls or storms.
  • Avoid kite surfing in crowded areas, near rocks, trees, or power lines. In general there should be a minimum of 100 meters of safe distance from all obstructions.
  • Try to ride with side-shore winds. Avoid offshore or directly onshore winds.
  • Pay attention to changing weather and wind conditions. Particularly dangerous are storm fronts, which are often preceded by strong, variable wind gusts and sometimes involve lightning. If a rider feels a static shock from the kite bar, they should land the kite immediately and seek shelter.
  • Helmets and impact vests can save lives and add substantial convenience if a rider wears them.
  • Wear appropriate exposure clothing for conditions and a reasonable period of time in the water, should you become disabled.
  • Do not remove or disable factory-installed safety equipment or releases. The most basic is a quick-release harness safety system. Harness safety systems come in different configurations; most allow the kite surfer to release the kite with one tug or push, leaving only one line which is attached to a kite leash. This one line ideally will cause the kite to lose its shape and fall from the sky, without power. Redundant safety releases are even better; do not remove your kite release because you assume you can simply unhook. "Safety equipment" also includes the bar floats, the foam floats on the outside lines of most kite bars; most kite lines sink, and without bar floats sunk lines are more likely to tangle around an underwater obstruction. This could even happen with the bar floats, but they do help. With the kite in the water, a tangle like this could drag you underwater and hold you there.
  • Never use a board leash without wearing a helmet. Under very common circumstances, a board leash can cause the board to strike the rider in the head. Alternatively, don't use a board leash. A helmet is a wise precaution in most circumstances whether you use a board leash or not, but never use a board leash without wearing a helmet. NOTE: board leashes have propelled boards through helmets in the past. The best course is normally not to use a board leash and practice body dragging upwind to regain your board.
  • Avoid riding overpowered. Using too large a kite for the wind conditions or your experience level is extremely dangerous. Underpowered riding is preferable to overpowered riding. When in doubt, go to a smaller kite and see how it goes. Always stay within the wind range specified by the manufacturer for the kite.
  • Be extra careful when landing or launching the kite. Most accidents occur on shore or while a rider is entering or leaving the water. It's advisable to either un-hitch your kite from your harness while on-shore, holding onto it with only your arms, so you can release if necessary, or simply be ready to operate the quick-release mechanism. Ideally, don't spend any time on shore with the kite in the air; launch the kite and then leave the beach immediately, and when coming in, land as quickly as possible. When on shore, keep the kite low: if it's hit by a gust, it can drag the rider, but may prevent lofting.
  • Carry a safety knife attached to the harness for cutting tangled lines. Tangles are dangerous because an entangled rider in the water may not be able free themselves quickly enough in the event the kite powers up suddenly (catches a wind gust, suddenly accelerates, or, if it's in the water, gets hit by a wave). The tangled lines around a rider’s body can cut and sever a rider's fingers, toes, or limbs or cause serious and deep lacerations. In a crash situation, with the kite in the water, under no circumstances allow a line to encircle a part of the body.
  • Notify the coast guard if you lose a board or kite at sea. To prevent unnecessary concern if your equipment is lost at sea, you should notify the coast guard.

Another, more subtle hazard is that at fifty km/h (a typical speed for a skillful kite surfer), one can easily get tired, and then get farther from shore than an easy swim, which is the primary reason kite surfing in directly offshore winds is discouraged. Still other general marine hazards include sharks, jellyfish, sea otters, dolphins, and even crocodiles, depending on the location.

Collisions with wind surfers, other kite boarders or water craft are significant hazards, particularly at busy locations.

Some kite designs from late 2005 and onwards have included immediate and full depower integrated with the control bar and improved quick release mechanisms, both of which are making the sport much safer.

Weather planning and awareness are key to safe kiteboarding. A substantial quantity of riders have been killed in kiteboarding-related accidents since 2000, according to a safety adviser for one of the sport's governing bodies.

When practised safely, with the proper training and gear, kiteboarding is an enjoyable, addictive sport. Like any other sport, respecting nature, paying attention to the weather and staying within the limits of the riders ability will provide the safest and most enjoyable experience.

Some countries even have laws about flying kites and being safe while flying, this also applies to kitesurfing.

Terminology and lingo

  • air time: the amount of time spent in the air while jumping. This can be remarkably long; the current record is Jessie Richman's 22 second long jump. Five to ten seconds is not unusual.
  • apparent wind: the kite's speed relative to the surrounding air. When kitesurfing in a straight line, the kite's apparent wind is a combination of the wind speed and the speed of the kite and rider over the surface, but since the kite is highly steerable apparent wind can vary widely depending on how the kite is being flown. Most ways of increasing power from the kite involve giving it a higher apparent wind somehow, i.e. diving the kite, riding faster, or riding at a greater angle into the wind. Any of these raises the kite's apparent wind speed.
  • body dragging: being pulled through the water without standing on a board. This is an early step in the learning process, and is recommended before trying the board after flying a trainer kite.
  • boost: to suddenly become airborne
  • charlie browner: same as kiteboarder or kitesurfer.
  • chicken loop: a hard rubber loop attached to the middle line which has been fed through the control bar. It is used to attach the control bar to the harness so the kitesurfer can produce tension in the lines using their entire bodyweight instead of using purely arm strength.
  • chicken bone/chicken finger: a hard rubber "tongue" attached to the chicken loop which the rider feeds through the spreader bar hook to prevent the rider from becoming "unhooked".
  • de-power: to reduce the kite's power (pull), generally by adjusting the angle of attack of the kite. Most kites and control bars now allow a rider to rig a kite for a number of different power levels before launching, in addition to powering the kite up and down "on the fly" by moving the bar up and down. Depowerability makes a kite safer and easier to handle. Some new kite models, especially "bow" kites, can be de-powered to practically zero power, giving them an enormous wind range.
  • DP: Dawn patrol; a very early morning session.
  • downwind: the direction the wind is blowing towards; to leeward. When a rider is facing downwind the wind is at their back.
  • downwinder: a kitesurfing "trip" (could actually be as short as a few minutes) where the rider starts at one point and ends up at another point downwind of their original position.
  • edge: tilting the board with its edge into the water. Used to control the direction of travel. Learning to edge properly is critical for learning to tack upwind. Edging is one of the fundamental skills of kitesurfing and is one of the ways kitesurfing is different from windsurfing or wakeboarding. While windsurf boards have daggerboards and/or skegs to steer the board upwind while lift and planing is provided by the board itself, generally kiteboards actually combine both functions and the bottom of the board lifts the rider and steers simultaneously. Kiteboard fins are generally much smaller and are for keeping the board in the water (see "tea-bagging"), but are not essential. Because kite boards have a small rocker, a deep edge can allow the board to act as a large low drag fin. Edging in wakeboarding is used for steering the board; whereas in kite boarding not only does edging steer the kite board, it is essential for kite control and controlling board speed. Riding downwind towards the kite subtracts massively from the kite's power and helps control board speed as well.
  • heel side: the side of a board on the edge where a riders heels are (opposite of toeside). "Riding heelside" is riding with heels down. Heelside is the normal and most comfortable riding position.
  • Hindenburg: A reference to the Hindenburg Airship disaster of 1937, which in kitesurfing terminology refers to the kite stalling and flying into a radio tower. Hindenburging can be caused either by lack of wind or by the kite advancing to a position upwind of the kitesurfer in the wind window.
  • handlepass: while unhooked, passing the control bar behind a riders back while in the air
  • kiteloop: is a powered group of tricks where a rider loops the kite through the power zone while spinning through the air
  • kitemare: a kiteboardsurfing accident or dangerous mishap. Kitemares can be deadly.
  • lofted: to get lifted vertically into the air by the kite by a strong gust of wind. A very dangerous occurrence that has resulted in several fatalities when kiters on or near land have been dragged into obstacles. Can be avoided by minimizing time on land with the kite flying directly overhead, and by not kiting in overpowered situations.
  • luff : when the air flow stalls around the kite. It may then stall and fall out of the sky. Like sails, a luffing kite has rippling and flapping panels. When launching the kite, if the kite is luffing, the rider should move farther upwind, or the person holding the kite should move downwind.
  • mobe: This term has two meanings. It can either be used to describe a class of wakestyle tricks: any invert with a 360 degree spin is considered a "mobe." Also, this term can denote a specific trick: a back roll with a frontside 360 handlepass (while keeping the kite below 45 degrees); this specific trick is also known as "the mobe." The term "mobe" (as a class of tricks) is historically rooted in the fact that the mobe (the specific trick) was the first type of mobe to ever be landed. Other types of mobes include: mobe 540, mobe 720, slim chance, KGB, crow mobe, moby dick, Pete Rose, blind pete, crow mobe 540, etc.
  • nuking: wind blowing at great speeds (30-40 knots). These conditions are very extreme and dangerous for most riders.
  • offshore: wind blowing at the water from the shore. Never ride in offshore winds without some means of recovery, i.e. a chase boat. This is somewhat less important in smaller bodies of water, of course.
  • onshore: wind blowing perpendicular to and directly at the shore from the water. A challenging condition for beginners, especially if waves are present.
  • Dookie Dive: Loss of power during air time resulting in a crash into the water.
  • O-Shit Loop: Two loops on either ends of the bar that are attached to the kite lines and run through rings attached to the bar. A standard leash attachment point.
  • overhead waves: waves two or more meters (6 ft) from trough to crest;
  • overpowered: the condition of having too much power from the kite. Can be a result of an increase in wind, incorrect kite choice (too large for the conditions), incorrect adjustment, simply going too fast, etc. Interestingly, experienced riders who are overpowered can switch to a smaller board to compensate, to a degree, although it's common to have just one board.
  • pop: height gained above the water using only the board and tension in the lines to get lift, with the kite usually positioned at 45 degrees. Lower kite angles are possible for more experienced riders. Used as a basis for many tricks and regarded as an essential skill for progressing.
  • power up: when the kite's power increases (suddenly), because of wind gusts or the kite's movement.
  • power zone: is the area in the sky where the kite generates the most lift (pull), this is generally between 0 to 60 degrees arc from the center of the downwind direction.
  • send it: To move the kite aggressively up through the power zone.
  • schlogging: This is riding extremely underpowered. A rider has no power to plane and definitely not enough to jump. A rider and their board bounce from planing on the surface to being dragged in the water.
  • shit hot: The art of stylish smooth moves.
  • side offshore: wind blowing between sideshore and at a 45 degree angle away from the shore.
  • side onshore: wind blowing between sideshore and at a 45 degree angle towards the shore.
  • side shore: winds blowing parallel to the shore. Usually the most desirable direction for kitesurfing.
  • spreader bar: A stainless steel bar that attaches to the rider's harness. It has a hook that holds the "chicken loop" when riding hooked in.
  • stomp: to successfully perform a trick.
  • tack: The direction which is being sailed, normally either starboard tack or port tack. In a starboard tack the wind is coming in from the rider's starboard (right-hand) side, similar to sailing a boat. In normal riding, the kitesurfer takes a heading which is as close to into the wind as possible, and in any event leads at some angle slightly upwind, sometimes as much as 45 degrees; jumping or wave riding usually results in traveling downwind, so the net result is to maintain relative position. Alternately, see "downwinder".
  • tea-bagging: popping out of and falling back into the water intermittently due to light or gusty wind, poor flying skills, twisted lines etc.
  • toe side: the side of a board on the edge where a riders toes are (opposite of heel side). "Riding toe side" is riding with toes down.
  • underpowered: the condition of having insufficient power from the kite. Can be a result of insufficient wind, choosing a kite that is too small for the current wind, rigging incorrectly, board too small, water current in the same direction as the wind, not riding fast enough, etc. A rider who is continuously diving the kite and sending it back up in a sine-wave pattern is usually underpowered.
  • unhooked is a term used to describe when a kitesurfer is riding while the chicken loop is not attached to the rider's harness.
  • upwind: the direction from which the wind is blowing; windward; into the wind.
  • VaS conditions: Victory at Sea; very rough sea conditions, generally with overhead wind waves causing severe shore break.
  • Walk of Shame is the act of walking back upwind to the location where the kite was originally launched.
  • wind window is the 120-180 degree arc of the sky downwind of the rider in which the kite can be flown. Roughly one fourth of a sphere's surface. If the rider is facing downwind on a flat surface, like the ocean, the wind window consists of roughly all the area the rider can see, from the rider's peripheral vision on one side, along the horizon to the other side, and then directly overhead back to the first side. If the rider somehow puts the kite out of the window -- for example, by riding downwind very quickly and sending the kite directly overhead and behind -- the kite will stall and frequently fall out of the sky.
  • zenith the location in the wind window directly over the kiter's head. This is the neutral position where kitesurfers can place the kite to stop moving or prior to movement. This places the kite in a more vulnerable to "Hindenburgs" position than any other.

See also

References

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