As you complete your kiteboarding lessons, you should notice that to learn to kitesurf and get to the independent rider level may take longer than you originally planned. And this is the reality of this sport that many who want to start kiteboarding don’t realise.
Kiteboarding is defined as an extreme sport, that combines skills of various wind and water sports like paragliding and wakeboarding. And unless you are familiar with both of these sports, becoming an independent kiteboarder may take a while. In fact, for the majority of riders, it takes around 10-15 hours of private lessons or about five days of group course just to go through the necessary knowledge for kite flying, learning all about safety and have their first attempts to stand on the kiteboard. And at least as much to get comfortable with the kite to be left alone to practice.
A lot of people that sign up for an intense kiteboarding course or go on a kiteboarding specific vacation make the same assumption.
“Straight after the five-day course or a few private lessons, I will become an independent rider and will be able to go out on my own, with no supervision.”
And this is the most significant bias in this industry, that many schools are trying to sell to you.
The reality is that, yes, you HAVE to take lessons and you WILL gain a ton of knowledge, and learn all the basics needed to participate in these sports. BUT you will still be a beginner rider, and you will need to put some serious practise time before you are considered an independent kiteboarder.
In this article, we would like to specify the knowledge and skills that you need to acquire to be able to enjoy kitesports without supervision. It’s essential to understand the risks you are taking when going out on your own before you are ready, not just to you, but also to all the other kitesurfer and members of the public enjoying the beach. So, if you don’t know some of these topics or did not master the skills highlighted below, you should consider arranging a few more lessons with a qualified instructor.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEGINNER AND INDEPENDENT LEVEL KITEBOARDER
We have all been a beginner kitesurfer at some point in our ‘kiteboarding enthusiast’ career – and for most of us, that have a busy with life with other commitments like work and families, it usually takes at least a year to get to the Intermediate rider level. So that we are clear on what the stages are, lets recap of the kiteboarding levels and skill you should master:
This is the time while you participate in lessons, for some its the fast track learning course and others its a holiday abroad. In this stage, you learn the following skills and knowledge:
- Understanding the wind and how it affects kiteboarding
- Basic equipment knowledge and set up
- Kite control on land and water
- Flying a kite with one hand and managing the board
- Body dragging techniques
- Relaunching the kite from the water
- 3-step Safety System and self-rescue techniques
- First board starts
- Assisted launch and landing of the kite
At this stage, you only really gain the knowledge and have your first attempts in kiteboarding. Please note that there is a reason why this sport is considered extreme, and at this stage, you have to be supervised by a qualified instructor at all times.
The more time you spend controlling the kite, you will get better in handling it. Maybe you will start noticing that the kite stays in the air without crashing when you are putting the board on, or that you can quickly relaunch the kite from the water without instructors help. This is the stage when your instructor may tell you that you can go out and practice by yourself. It is usually defined by a controlled and independent show of the following skills:
- Launch and landing of the kite
- Advanced kite control
- Independent kite set up
- Confident self-rescue and water pack down
- Great upwind body dragging technique
- Controlled board start
- Prolonged Runs (50-100m)
- Controlled turn attempts
If you are still experiencing weak kite control and crashing the kite lot or getting yourself in dangerous situations, or just not feeling 100% in what you are doing, you should still consider taking some private lessons.
Intermediate Level Rider
The best indication that you reached this stage is when you suddenly realise that you finished your session at the same spot where you started or even managed to ride upwind with no ‘Walks or Shame’. Or the fact that you finished your session with a dry kite, even tho some serious ‘face plants’ happened. The overall skills for this stage are:
REQUIRED KNOWLEDGE TO GO KITESURFING ON YOUR OWN
As mentioned before, kiteboarding is counted as an extreme sport for a reason, and not just because some pro riders do some extreme jumps or tricks in 20m+ hights. But because we are playing with the elements of nature, wind and water, that we cannot control. The only thing we can do is to know how to read these elements and understand what we can do in dangerous situations.
These are the topics that you should know about as they play a crucial part in every kiteboarders life. If you know these topics and understand how they affect your sessions, and you have the skills mentioned earlier; you can consider yourself an independent kitesurfer and go out without supervision if you wish so.
#1 KNOW HOW TO READ THE FORECAST
Before you leave the house for a kiteboarding session, you first will have to decide where to go to kitesurf, weather that’s a holiday destination or local spot you. The main thing to consider is that the safest wind direction for kitesurfing is when the wind is blowing towards the beach (on-shore/cross-on-shore). So, when we are looking in the forecast, we check the wind direction first; it will indicate which beach in your area is safest, therefore allowing you to choose WHERE to go.
#2 UNDERSTAND THE TIDES
If the available locations are tidal, then it will affect WHEN you can kitesurf there. Even if you are used to kiteboarding in non-tidal location, you need to know how to read the tide flowcharts, as in a majority of coastal locations they impact your riding times.
High tide period could mean that the space for setting your equipment may be significantly reduced and launching and landing your kite may be quite dangerous due to proximity to the inland hazards.
The low tide may expose some underwater reefs or shipwrecks, or the water depth will be significantly reduced, making it too shallow to kite in. To understand more about the tides, here is our article about tides and how they affect kiteboarding.
#3 CHOOSE CORRECT EQUIPMENT SIZE
The chances are that you got yourself a new set of kiteboarding kites and a board after your lessons, and now, you are extremely eager in going out and testing your new equipment. Before you do that, we would just like to remind you that choosing the correct equipment for your level of riding and the weather conditions is an essential part of having a safe kiteboarding session.
As a seasoned kiteboaders, we are always prepared to swap our kites or boards to suit the changing conditions and you should too. If at any point you feel too much power in our kite for extended periods, you should go back to the beach and land your kite. If you are overpowered, change to a smaller size kite, if you feel under-powered, change to a bigger size kite or ‘call it a day’ if you don’t have alternatives. The most important point here is, don’t underestimate nature and play with your life when kiteboarding. Accidents do happen – even to the best of us.
#4 ASSESS THE KITE SPOT (SHOE)
When you arrive at your chosen beach, you should look around and get to know your environment better. It will also help you to establish any hazards and prepare you better for a kitesurfing session.
As instructors, we teach students to perform a simple site assessment so that they can continue to practice safe kiteboarding. We use the word SHOE as a reminder for what we should look out for:
When assessing surfaces, we look at the state of the water and land. While looking at the water, we want to establish if its flat, choppy or wavy. Does the water condition suit our riding capability?
Then we consider the beach or land: is it sandy (hard or soft), does it have stones or sharp shells etc., this will tell us if we should wear neoprene booties. Also, we would like to know what’s hiding underneath the water, the general rule of thumb is, check the beach at the lowest tide if you want to kite there for the first time, to make sure you are not missing something.
A hazard is any object downwind of you that either you or your kite might strike should an error occur while kiteboarding.
At your kite spot, look around for any downwind obstacles like stairways, tide walls, large rocks, shipwrecks, sidewalks, buildings etc. This is something we frequently witness people overlooking as they kitesurf, taking an undue risk by launching and landing too close to hazards. A safe distance to maintain while kiteboarding is at least 2-3x kite line length (50-75m) away from them at all times.
This means all people using the beach and water. That could be other kiteboarders, holidays makers, dog walkers, fisherman or other watersports enthusiasts.
Kitesurfing is counted as the youngest sport, and many water users may not understand how kiteboarders move around on the water. We have to make sure that we don’t cause them any harm and don’t get in their way by adhering to rights of way on the water. There is no harm explaining non-kiteboarders that this is an extreme sport and they should keep away from the equipment and kiteboarding zones, however, if something happens to them due to your fault (even if that was an accident) you will be blamed. Also, don’t forget to have insurance, more on that below.
Now we look if the weather check you did before you came to the beach is matching the reality. We want to see if there is no storm brewing on the horizon; that there is no unpredicted swell in the sea bringing in waves that you are not prepared to handle; and if the tide state is as expected, and you have sufficient space at the beach for your set up and safe launch and landing.
The best way to know the answers to all these points is to ask a local kiteboarder or even better, to have a short intro session with a qualified instructor or at least have a chat with a local kite school, so that you can gather the correct information. You will also be able to find out if there are any set rules for watersports at this beach that you should know.
Many locations around the globe have dedicated kiteboarding zones, and it is important to respect this, as many associations and water sports related businesses work very hard to establish relationships with local authorities to have kitesurfing and other watersports allowed at specific locations. If something significant happened, it could be banned, and we don’t want that to happen.
#5 UNDERSTAND LOCAL WEATHER EFFECTS
Many locations around the world have specific weather effects that make that place more consistently windy or windier than others. In short, most of the coastal areas get either Thermal Winds or Sea Breezes (a windier forecast due to the position of the beach or the wind gets funnelled between the larger land obstacles).
To understand these effects for wind sports is very crucial, and we suggest you do some extra reading on that.
Thermal winds or Sea Breezes happen when the land/beach is of a fast warming material like dunes in Brazil, Peru or Morocco. As the land heats quickly under the sun, it heats the air over the land, causing it to rise. This forms a localised area of low pressure and cool air from the sea rushes in. This phenomenon occurs in many parts of the world.
The question is how much it can affect your kiting? Well, it usually happens in a sunny summers days and can add anything from 3 to 10 knots extra on top of the forecast, or even get so strong that it can override an offshore wind direction.
It is essential to know it, understand it and learn how to spot it, as you may get unexpectedly overpowered when you don’t want to be. The same applies to land breezes that can suddenly switch wind offshore if the land is colder than the water. If you have more questions, read this article for more clarification.
#6 KITESURFING ETIQUETTE & RULES OF THE ROAD
As in any sports, there are a set of rules that we all follow in and out of the water, so we all have a safe and good time together.
These are a standard in this industry, and as an active member of the sports you have to understand and remember them:
Golden Rule: If you are passing upwind, keep your kite HIGH. If you are passing downwind, keep your kite LOW.
Rule #1: The rider entering the water from the beach has the right of way over the incoming rider.
Rule #2: Starboard rider (kite on the right-hand side) has priority over the oncoming rider and should keep his course, speed and heading to allow the other rider to avoid him.
Rule #3: When two riders are travelling in the same direction, the faster rider must give way to the slower rider in front.
Rule #4: The rider surfing a wave has priority over the one who is jumping or going in the opposite direction.
Rule #5: Right of way must be given to other ocean and beach users. A kiteboarder must travel downwind of them.
Rule #6: To jump, a kiteboarder must have a clear safety zone of 50m downwind and 30m upwind.
Rule #7: When two kiteboarders are on land at the same time, one kiter is preparing to enter in the water, and the other one is ready to land, both proceed and keep clear from each other.
When it comes to the watersports and kitesports, knowing the 3- step safety systems or be very good at self-rescue and water pack down is essential, but enough. The most incidents in these sports happen when people rush to enjoy sports without common sense.
Just because you drove to the beach, does not mean that you get to kitesurf. Here are common examples when you would not go kiting or stop kitesurfing:
- The wind is offshore. No matter if you read the forecast wrong or the wind swing around, unless you are an experienced rider, or there is a safety boat, you do not go kitesurfing by yourself.
- No other kitesurfers at the beach. If you are not an experienced rider and exploring the unknown areas of the world if there is no other kitesurfers or schools or safety services around, you do not go kitesurfing by yourself. If you are in this location for the first time and there is no one kitesurfing, especially if it’s windy, there must be a reason why no one is there or maybe kitesurfing is forbidden.
- The wind is too strong. If you don’t have a smaller kite and the wind feel quite strong for what you are used to, and you caught yourself thinking ‘Can I handle it?”. Then listen to your intuition, and don’t go kitesurfing. The chances are you are not ready for it, and you will probably be overpowered the whole time. Remember, the kites are very fast and powerful in a strong wind, and even a small uncalculated movement on the bar can create more power than you can handle and get you injured.
- Equipment is brand new and never tested or quite old and outdated. The best option for when you try your equipment for the first time, weather is new or used, get an experienced rider or instructor to go through the setup and launch with you. Sometimes the kites can be setup wring or not be tested properly, and if not checked thoroughly, it may break or misbehave.
Don’t go kiting alone
The main point here is not to go out by yourself, even if you feel like having a beach all to yourself, make sure that there is someone looking after you. If you see other kitesurfers, don’t be a stranger, have a chat and launch/land each other kites. Or if you have a friend or a partner that is willing to spend their time at a windy beach then bring them along.
If no one is keeping an eye on you while you are in the water and no one knows where you are, no one will be able to get you help on time if something happens.
Join a local club
If you are struggling to persuade your non-kiting friends to join the movement, don’t worry, many people would gladly join you for the kitesurfing adventures and will keep an eye on you at the beach. The best way is to join one of many kitesurfing clubs, whether that the dedicated location club or a kitesurfers community from a bigger city, there are many people that you can share a car ride to the beach and have a beer after the session.
Search in Facebook your chosen kitesurfing beach, and you will find some dedicated kitesurfing groups where people will be willing to go kite with you. Additionally, bigger cities have dedicated clubs; a good example is New York, Sydney and London kitesurfing Association.
Adventure sports/Kitesurfing specific 3rd party Insurance
You may not think about it at this point, but it is a very high chance that your regular house or travel insurance will only cover your gear in an unpleasant situation when your equipment is lost, stolen or broken, and it might cover you if you get injured. Even in that case, make sure you read the policies very carefully, as in many cases it does not cover kitesurfing in open waters (doesn’t make any sense, but true), and it most likely will not include cover for damages you can cause to a 3rd party (other people).
It is highly recommended and in some kitesurfing locations is a requirement, to have an adventure sport or kitesurfing specific insurance. BKSA (British Kite Sports Association) and IKO offer specific kitesurfers insurance that usually doesn’t cost more than €40 a year, so well worth getting one.
- Don’t go out without qualified instructor till you are fully independent with the kite handling and can relaunch the kite out of the water in any conditions.
- Do your “homework” before going out; know the forecast and the weather conditions.
- Don’t forget to do your site assessment (SHOE)
- Chat with other kiters at the beach and be friendly; you might get some useful local knowledge.
- Know your equipment and your ability; check everything is working correctly, and the conditions are right for your level and kite size.
- Make sure you know how to perform 3-step Safety and self-rescue and water pack down.
- Bring a ‘buddy’ to keep an eye on you and help you with launching and landing your kite.
- Have a kitesurfing specific insurance.