2021 Guide: Kiteboarding Flying Lines
Experienced kiters already know how critical kiteboarding lines are for kite control and safety. But what about novice riders who want to learn? This is the guide for you. In this article I explain everything you need to know for selecting new kiteboarding flying line sets.
If there is a specific section you want to skip to, feel free to use the navigable table of contents. Otherwise, let’s get started.
We updated this article in March 2021 to ensure the information meets current standards. Read on to discover how to select kiteboarding lines in 2021.
What Are Kiteboarding Flying Lines?
In general, kiteboarding flying lines are string-like cords that the rider uses to control the power and handling of a kite. To better understand what these lines are, it’s best to look at them a singular part in the kite-boards system. The flying lines are a like a bridge that interacts with two other parts in the system. These two other parts are the control bar and the kite itself. One end attaches to the control bar (via leader lines) and the other end to the kite (or pigtails).
While flying lines may seem simple, they are actually a complex and high-tech product. Due to the fact that the flying lines have to withstand massive amounts of tension during use. They also have to stand up to abrasion, line crossing, impacts, as well as salt and sand exposure. Most riders control their kites with either 4 or 5 lines depending on their preferences.
How to choose the best kiteboarding fly lines?
As mentioned in the intro of this article the main consideration to look for is breaking strain/load. To help resist breakage, the best flying lines use a strong man-made fiber of Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene. Also known as Spectra or Dyneema, which provides a very high breaking strain rating such as 300 kg – 450 kg.
While this is the most important factor, there are other key features to consider:
In general, between two lines made of the same material, the thicker line is stronger than the thinner line. The issue in kiteboarding is that the thicker a line is (big diameter), the more drag it has. More drag equals more air resistance which will slow riders down. So, kiteboarders have to find a happy compromise between thick and thin. Another consideration is that front lines versus rear lines have different needs. As a result, each of their diameters can be different.
The most versatile line diameters are 1.8 mm for all-around or if needed you can lower to 1.5 mm for rear lines.
It’s a fact that all kiteboarding lines will stretch. Either under load known as “elongation” which is reversible. Or over time known as “creep” which is irreversible. To combat these effects, quality line and kite makers will pre-stretch their lines.
Since these lines are quite small in diameter they can get damaged from impact abrasion and sand. So the best line makers add a special slippery coating, which is less prone to abrasion. Coating types are in fact a key identifier between each manufacturer.
To add to the strength and abrasion resistance kite lines can also have sleeves. A sleeve is a bit of material tightly encased around a part of the line. The downsides of sleeves are that they increase the diameter of the line adding drag.
Weight & UV/Water Resistance:
Kiteboarding flying lines need to be very lightweight and be able to float in the water. Ultra Violet or UV can degrade the surface of lines, so having UV protection is important too.
What’s the function of each line on a kiteboarding kite?
For this article I’m explaining the 4 line bar set up as this is the most common kite control system. The other two setups are a 5 line or 2 line setup. A 5 line is like a 4 line setup except it has one more line attached on the leading edge of the kite. This is to de-power the kite and assist the pilot in relaunching it. While a 2 line setup is for trainer kites or some light-wind kites. A 2 line setup uses a wrist leash to help de-power the kite.
A typical kiteboarding flying lines setup:
Front Lines (2): Sometimes also called “center lines”. Attached to a chicken loop and leading edge of the kite. Used to de-power the kite by changing the angle of attack.
Rear Lines (2): Otherwise known as “outside lines” or the steering lines. These attach to each wingtip of the kite and to the outer edge of the bar. The rear lines power up the kite as well as steer it. Often the left sided bar end and line ends are color coded as yellow or red. While the right side bar end and flying lines are usually color coded as grey or black.
Leader Lines: Also called the pre-lines, these short lines are thicker than the flying lines, so a kiter can handle them. If they lose a grip on the bar then these are the lines suitable for touching. Leader lines are often used to relaunch the kite or to extend the length of the lines in certain conditions.
Bridle Lines: These are string lines that make up a balancing system for the kite when it’s airborne. They span along the kite and attach at each wingtip to the flying lines, this point of attachment is the “tow point.” Bridle lines hold the kite at a particular angle to the flying lines. Thus these lines play an important role in the kite’s de-power as well as how the kites flies or whether it flies at all.
Pigtail Lines: Sometimes also called the connector lines in rare circumstances. As the name “pigtail” suggests, these are shorter thicker connector lines, with a loop and a knot that shape “pigtails” on either end. Pigtails protect the bridle lines and flying lines from damage. Due to continuous hooking and unhooking the flying lines.
They are also helpful to fine tune the center lines of a setup. Some riders will add longer pigtails in their center lines. This way if the lines start to stretch out, they can add a knot in this pigtail. Tying this knot tightens and shortens the center lines’ length once again.
3 meter extension lines:
These are not a part of a brand-new setup but I thought I should mention them anyways. Many riders find them to be invaluable for providing versatility. The function of these lines are obvious, they lengthen your flying lines. Add extensions to boost power and jumping but get slower steering. Or don’t use them and maintain better wave performance, tighter kite-loops and faster steering.
How long should kite fly lines be?
The actual length of kiteboarding flying lines is in direct relation to the size of the wind window you have available. Actual line length can make huge differences to kite power and performance. Below is a brief description of what happens between short and long flying lines:
- Shorter lines = smaller wind window.
- Longer lines = larger wind window (bold).
These performance differences doesn’t mean one is better than the other. The length of flying lines is a decision of what type of rider you are, the size kite and wind conditions.
What line length is best for learning to kiteboard?
A standard set of lines for beginners should range between 22-24 meters long. As you step up in experience then you can consider adding more lengths of line for versatility.
15 – 19 Meter Lines
This range of lines are best for smaller kites in strong winds with a small wind window. Shorter lines provide less power but will make steering direct and aggressive.
- Less chance of hitting someone with your kite
- Crashes are not as harsh
- Good high-end speed
20 – 24 Meter Lines (most common)
Many new bars will come with line lengths of 20, 22 or 24 meters. A kite with 22 meter lines will most often have the optimal balance of speed versus power. For this reason it is one of the most popular line lengths.
- Good for all round kiteboarding
- Nice low-end speed
- Easy to steer
- Achieve high jumping
24 – 27 Meter Lines
Kiteboarding flying lines that span over 24 meters are best for light wind days and racing. Long lines mean the kite is higher up in the air, where there is more wind exists. Thus, you get to use and play inside a bigger wind window with increased potential power.
- Extra power and low-end speed
- Ideal for racing or kitesurfing
- Suitable for bigger kite sizes of 12 square meters and over.
Can I replace one kite flying line at a time?
Kite flying is all about a complete balance of the kite. If only one line breaks the result is all the remaining lines undergo a lot of stress. Which can lead these lines possibly snapping like dominoes right after the first.
Yet what if the other lines didn’t break? Well, flying lines are under constant stress, so they will stretch and shrink over time. If you only change the broken line, the rest of the lines will become uneven.
Thus, the answer is no, when one line breaks the best course of action is to replace all four lines. Some say this is overkill, if you agree then at least change the pair of lines, either the front or rear lines.
In the rare case your line breaks “clean” like slicing it on a sharp object, you may be able to have it fixed. Or you could try cutting the remaining lines to all match – I wouldn’t do this. Another option is to add or make a leader line extension with some extra Dyneema line. Keep in mind though, to attempt a possible fix you have to be excellent at splicing.
Why can’t I make my own replacement fly lines?
You can if you want, but I have to stress that doing so is really putting you life in your own hands. So, think before you leap into making your own replacement kiteboarding flying lines.
While DIYing your own lines may be cheaper over time, you need to have patience and knowledge to get it right. For these reasons, I always recommend you buy pre-made lines. But if you are a seasoned rider looking for a hands-on solution then get ready to complete the following:
- You will need to buy appropriate bulk UHMWPE or 12-strand Dyneema line in spools.
- Next, you will have to ensure the line is pre-stretched. Regardless of whether the manufacturer states it does this, you should always re-stretch it.
- Following this, you will need to complete some very important math. You will need to confirm exact measurements of length. Taking into account every other line, any knots, connectors and splices.
- Keep in mind when using knots that they significantly weaken the line. Therefore, it is always best to use knots as close to the ends on the line and incorporate protective sleeves.
- For best results, instead of using sleeved knots it is always better to learn how to use splicing.
If these steps don’t deter you from making your own lines and you are an experienced rider who wants to save a few bucks. Give it a go but expect a laborious experience.
When should I replace my kite flying lines?
In general, you should be using the old eye and feel test when it comes to replacing kiteboard flying lines. You need to check your bar and line after every single session.
For the lines: check for cuts, fraying, abrasion signs or any other damage. As soon as they show signs of wear and tear, replace the lines to avoid safety problems.
Check near your bar: Look and feel for any knots. A single knot can weaken the line by almost 50%! If you find a knot attempt to untie it, but be careful not to damage the line.
One last thing to do, always rinse your bar after every session in salt water. The reason for this is that salt water hardens on the line and crystallizes. This creates a sharp and abrasive surface, which can wear down and damage the flying lines over time.
Now you have all the information you need to pick the correct kiteboarding flying lines for you. Remember to focus on type, thickness and length to ensure premium control and safety.
As always, thanks for allowing Outdoors Informed help with your research. We like to do it, so you spend less time indoors and more controlling your air time on the water,