What is Kitesurfing or Kiteboarding?
Anyone who sees even a moderately-skilled person kite surfing or kite boarding will most likely wish to experience what it’s like to jump over long distances in the air or move across the water on a kiteboard powered by a big kite. It’s like wakeboarding but without the boat and ramp. It’s also like surfing but without the need for waves to move.
Kiteboarding harnesses wind power with a large controllable kite to move the rider on a kite board. It’s a physical sport which can be quite demanding, it’s a great workout! If you’re looking for something more sedate as a water sport check out our article on Paddle Boarding
To date, there are millions of kiteboarders enjoying this popular watersport in various locations worldwide. Wouldn’t you want to be one of them? The number is growing as more watersports enthusiasts are taking kiteboarding lessons. In turn, this growing market supports the continuing research and development for better kiteboarding facilities, equipment, apparel and accessories.
A Brief History
According to history records, as early as 2800 years ago, kites had various uses in China. Aside from flying them, shaped as animals and figures that symbolized their festivals and religious occasions, kites were also used to test the wind, measure distances and lift people up in the air.
In the 1800s, George Pocock, an English school teacher, experimented with the use of kites to lift human beings and pull loads. The experiment led to the approval in 1826 of the patent for his design of the Charvolant – a kite-powered passenger buggy that travelled at 20 miles per hour.
In 1903, Samuel Cody used kites to pull a boat across the English channel. In October 1977, Gijsbertus Adrianus Panhuise from Netherlands was awarded a patent for the watersport that is now called kiteboarding. The invention did not result to any commercial success but Gijsbertus Adrianus Panhuise is considered as the inventor of kitesurfing or kiteboarding.
In the 80s, Dieter Strasilla developed parachute-skiing and the steering system for kites in Germany. He was also awarded a patent for an inflatable kite for kitesurfing.
In France, brothers Bruno Legaignoux and Dominique Legaignoux, who were sailors, were awarded the patent for their leading edge inflatable (LEI) kite design in November 1984. That design was a commercial success under the Legaignoux’s Wipika brand. It was later licensed to other kite manufacturers.
Bruno Legaignoux is also considered as the inventor of the current form of kitesurfing based on his invention of the inflatable kite that can relaunch on water.
The International Kiteboarding Association
(IKA) is the sports governing body and was founded in April 2008 by Guillaume Fournier (a 2-time kiteboarding world champion)
In addition to the kite, basic kitesurfing equipment includes the control bar and lines, the kiteboard and the harness. You may also need a wetsuit if you kiteboard in cold locations, a helmet, a flotation device and other accessories.
As kiteboarding developed into a mainstream extreme sport, more variations of the kite and other equipment became available. How will new kiteboarders choose the best gear? There are many factors to consider – the rider’s skill level, riding style, size, weather condition, location, comfort, safety and more. They can ask the experts for advice but there are factors like comfort and riding style that are best determined by the kiteboarders themselves.
There are two major types of kites in terms of design: leading edge inflatables (LEIs) and foil kites
1. Leading Edge Inflatable (LEI) Kites
LEI kiteboarding kites, also called inflatables have built-in plastic bladders or hollow tubes that are filled with air, along and perpendicular to the front edge to give the kite its shape — C, Bow, Delta or any designed shape. Should the inflatable kite crash into water, the air tubes also keep the kite stay afloat and easy to re-launch off the water. However, it should be noted that the bladders can burst if hit by a sharp object or subjected to high pressure impact.
- The C, bow and hybrid kites are the three most common designs of LEI kites.
- The C kite has convex trailing edges that form square corners with its short edges. It got its named from its deep arc, like the letter C. The shape is formed while the kite is flying with its four corners pulled down by the flying lines. This kite has no bridles, the cords or strings connecting the kite’s edge to the flying line. The C kite is also called the original kiteboarding kite because it was the only type of LEI available before 2006.
- The C kite might not be safe for new kiteboarders because it has low depowering ability and difficult to re launch on water
- Bow kite has concave trailing edge that forms into a shallower or flatter curve when inflated and flying. The shape gives the bow kite its other name – the “flat kite.”
- Hybrids have the combination of some of the features of the C and bow kites. Some hybrids have more C features while some have more Bow features. However, all hybrids have these common features: convex trailing edge and leading edge bridles.
- The delta kite is also a hybrid with a triangular shape if folded in the middle along the width. It has good power and depower ability and easy to relaunch on water.
Both the bow and the hybrid kites are also called supported leading edge (SLE) kites. SLE kites are kites with bridles attached to their leading edges. So, the C kite is not an SLE kite
2. Foil kites
A foil kite is built with two skins of fabric, usually nylon. It has no inflatable bladders that are found in LEI kites. So, there’s no need to pump to inflate it. Instead it has fabric cells that inflate as they are filled with air while flying.
Foil kites have bridles that help keep the kite’s shape that resembles that of the bow kite. This kite needs less wind to fly.
There are two types of foil kites: classic or open cell and .closed cell.
The classic or open cell foil kite losses its air or deflates and quickly becomes soaked when it hits water. It’s considered unsuitable for kiteboarding on water
The closed cell foil kite has inlet valves to hold the air in its cells when it crashes. The kite stays inflated or deflates very slowly. This kite can be re launched from water.
B. Kite’s Bar Control System – Bar and Flying Lines
The kite’s bar control system basically consists of the control bar, and the flying lines attached to it. The control bar, made from a solid metal or composite material is connected to the kite via the flying lines which are typically made of ultra-high-molecular-weight poly- ethylene or other durable materials. The kiteboarder uses the kite’s control system to manage the kite’s movements, power and safety features
. The control systems are tailored to the requirements of the kites they were designed for. So, there is a bow kite bar, a C kite bar and the pulley bar.
For example, the C-Kite Bar have shorter depower lines because the C-Kites do not need as much sheeting or changing the kite’s angle as a bow or hybrid kite does. On the other hand, the bow kite bar needs a much longer depower line for sheeting.
Bar control systems also vary in terms of flying lines configuration, referring to the number of flying lines connecting the control bar and the rider to the kite. The most common configuration is the 4-line bar. Two center lines connect the kite’s leading edge with the chicken loop in the bar. They are used to depower the kite by changing its angle of attack. The two outer lines at the ends of the bar are connected to each wingtip of the kite and are used to power up the kite.
A 5-line bar is like the 4-line bar with a 5th line, used to depower and relaunch the kite
The 2-line bars are usually used for training kites.
Two common safety features in most kite bar control systems are the chicken loop and the safety leash. The chicken loop is made of rubber and connects the control bar with the harness which allows the rider to counter balance the kite’s flying force with their entire bodyweight instead of just their arms.
When released, the chicken loop quickly depowers the kite and disconnects the rider from the bar. The safety leash is the remaining connection between the rider and the kite which may have lost its shape and power to fly after the release of the chicken loop. The kite can be powered again through the safety leash. Releasing the safety leash will completely disconnect the rider from the kite and other parts of the set up; it’s only done if there’s no other way to safeguard the rider because the kite could not be recovered anymore.
The harness doesn’t just connect the rider to the kite’s control bar; it bears most of the strain in counterbalancing the kite’s power and spreads the strain to the rider’s body. This reduces the load on the rider’s arms and upper body and allows the rider to ride longer or jump and perform other tricks while attached to the kite’s control bar. There are two basic types of harnesses
– the waist harness and the seat harness. The kiteboarder might also consider two variations of the basic harness— the vest and the shorts harness.
So, which one is most recommended by the experts? No particular type because it’s up to the user, who should try first before choosing. Here are short descriptions of the current harnesses available:
- The waist harness is the oldest and most common style. If it does not fit snugly it can ride up the chest. This can make it very uncomfortable with some users reporting breathing difficulties. Also, some of the older users report having more strain on their back. However, the waist harness is not bulky and allows the rider more movement than the seat harness.
- The seat harness is like a pair of shorts with straps passing between the legs. This is the preferred harness by those who can’t find a waist harness for their sizes. The seat harness is also recommended for those who are new to kiteboarding or has back pain. However, there is limited movement for riders in a seat harness.
- The vest harness is a variation of the waist harness which reduces back pain by its wider spread around the body of the strain from counter acting the kite’s full force.
- Shorts or boardshorts harness has a waist belt and leg strap like the seat harness but allows more mobility.
A kiteboard is almost similar to the boards for windsurfing or wakeboarding but is towed by a big kite. They are typically made of lightweight composite or wooden, or foam board.
There are now two basic kiteboard types – directionals and bi-directionals. Kite surfing started with directional boards, then the bi-directional or twin-tip board which is currently the predominant board type. Directional boards
are like surfboards in having distinct head or bow and tail or stern ends. It travels in one direction only – with the head first. Directional boards are mostly used when riding strapless on waves. Bidirectional or twin-tip boards
are now the most common kiteboards. It has almost symmetrical board outline and as its name implies, has the same end configurations and can be ridden with any end in front.
Other kiteboard variations are the wakeboard-style, the wake-skate, wave and race kiteboards. The most suitable kiteboard size also depends on the rider’s riding style, skill level as well as the location’s weather conditions.
E. Other equipment /accessories
If you know how, you can still kitesurf even without a signalling device or helmet, right? However, there are situations where you may need to use some special equipment or accessories. some of which are enumerated below:
- A wetsuit may be necessary to reduce body heat loss when kite surfing in cold environments.
- A helmet can protect the head from injuries caused by heavy impact or sharp objects. A camera can also be mounted on a helmet.
- An impact vest can protect the torso area from heavy impact. Some impact vests also act as flotation devices.
- A safety knife to cut any entangled lines or to release the kite in case the safety release fails.
- Signalling device to request for rescue from emergency situation.
Ideal Weather Conditions
Kiteboarding or kitesurfing is a wind-powered watersport. Just as important as learning kiteboarding skills are the following:
How to assess or get reliable information about weather conditions.
- What is “good wind” for your skill level, kite type and size? Maximum wind speed? What is the best wind quality for you?
- How to assess wind direction. Why are cross-shore or side-shore and cross-on shore winds preferred while on-shore and off-shore winds are dangerous for kiteboarding?
- What to do if the weather condition changes to “bad” while you’re out there. Thunderstorms, strong gusty winds and heavy, dark clouds are some of bad weather conditions for kitesurfing.
- The ability to sense that the weather is changing from good to bad is important for the kiteboarder’s safety.
Best Locations In The World
While it’s convenient and cheaper for kitesurfers if there are beaches or lakes with favorable wind conditions they can go to in their localities, it would also be interesting to experience what it’s like to enjoy the sport in other places. So, where should be the next destination?
There are many great kite surfing locations in all continents worldwide. If you’re just learning, you might consider locations with certified kiteboarding instructors aside from steady winds, flat and shallow water. A new kiteboarder might not be ready yet for rough waters.
There are individual preferences. So the best spot for one may not be so great for another kiteboarder. However, if a kiteboarding location is frequently mentioned in various sports and travel articles, it must be because more kiteboarders like them. Here are some of them:
- Maui, Hawaii is where the first kitesurfing competition was held in
- La Ventana in Baja California, Mexico. It is also known as the Sea of Cortez, declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
- Nabq, Egypt on the southeastern coast of the Sinai Peninsula, between Dahab and Sharm-el-Sheikh. It has relatively flat and shallow waters.
- Tarifa, Spain is a premier kiteboarding location where you can surf almost the whole year round. There are also many kiteboarding schools.
- Boracay, Philippines is the Southeast Asian kitesurfing location to enjoy a warm environment during the winter months.
Is kiteboarding easy or difficult to learn?
Only you can provide the answer but only after you have learned and tried this awesome watersport. Sometimes, it’s difficult and dangerous because you don’t know how to do it right.
Try to observe the kiteboarders on the beach. Don’t be surprised to see boys and girls as young as 10 as well as men and women into their seventies enjoying the sport.
Kiteboarders will tell you that as long as you can see and use both arms and legs, you can kitesurf. However, don’t buy your kite boarding gear yet to figure out by yourself if kiteboarding is easy or difficult. Take lessons first to avoid putting your own and other people’s lives at risk. Even if you’re a wakeboarder or surfer, you still have to learn how to control the kite.
Reading and viewing videos about kiteboarding will make it easier to understand instructions and shorten the learning time. There is obviously more to it than say paddleboarding and it’s a lot more physically taxing. You can get an idea of how to paddleboard
in our article on this site.
Getting Started with Kite Surfing
So, you’ve decided to be a kitesurfer. Where and how do you get started?
First, it is important to realize that kiteboarding is an extreme sport that you should not self-study. You may be the daring, adventurous type who is not afraid to take risks and commit mistakes. However, the mistakes you make that go with most do-it-yourself learning processes will not only damage your kite or injure yourself. You and your kite will be hazards to beachgoers and other people on the water.
Reading and viewing videos about kiteboarding will not develop your basic kiteboarding skills.
Taking lessons from a certified kiteboarding instructor will help you:
- Minimize learning mistakes and get out of difficult situations without harming yourself and other people.
- Avoid wasting money from buying the wrong equipment.
- Learn faster because the instructor will impart to you the tips and tricks gained from years of kite boarding experience.
Now it’s up to you to practice what you’ve learnt.
The Best At The Sport “Two in a row for Aaron Hadlow at the Red Bull King of the Air”
was the headline in a news article published online in February this year.
Aside from recognition, popularity is one of the perks of being one of the best, if not the best kiteboarder in the world. Other benefits include sponsorship by companies engaged in sports-related products.
Annual competitions have been held since the first kite boarding competition in Maui in September 1998. It was won by Flash Austin.
Aside from Aaron Hadlow, who is a five-time Pro Kiteboard Riders’ Association (PKRA) World Champion, Jesse Richman, Ruben Lenten and Youri Zoon are among the popular male kiteboarders.
Gisela Pulido, a female rider from Spain is at the Guinness World Records as the Youngest World Champion in the history of kitesurfing. She got this distinction from her first Professional Kiteboard Riders’ Association (PKRA) championship in August 2007 at age 13. She has won many world championships since then. She is the Overall Champion, Women in the Champions of the World Tour 2015 where she was also the Best in Freestyle Women and Big Air Women.
Other popular female champion riders are: Susi Mai, Karolina Winkowska and Bruna Kajiya.
More recognition and honors are up for grabs for the outstanding riders. Two sets of competitions are held annually and there is a strong possibility that kiteboarding will be one of the Olympic sports in the near future.