Picking A Kiteboarding Harness: Waist Versus Seat

Man kitesurfing wearing a waist harness
Rider wearing a hard shell waist harness

So it’s either the first time you are picking a kiteboarding harness or it’s time for replacement. What to choose will be dependent on personal comfort, ideal support and durability. So how do you make a choice about such an integral piece of kiteboarding gear? Instead of buying blind, here is a quick guide to help you select which style of harness is right for your needs.

In this 2019 guide you will first learn what a kiteboarding harness is. As well as hows it functions and how to choose a size. Then I will explain each style, first the waist harness and second the seat harness. You will also discover the pro’s and cons of each style which will help you determine the style best for your needs.

If you want to skip to specific harness, there is a clickable table-of-contents as well. Otherwise let’s begin.

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Table of Contents

What is a kiteboarding harness?

A harness is a crucial piece of equipment when kiteboarding or kitesurfing. An obvious function of a kiteboarding harness is to connect you to the control bar. Doing so transfers the pull of the kite from your hands to your body. Balancing pull forces throughout the body helps to reduce rider fatigue. Another function of a harness is to create a controlled center of balance when riding. Having a center of balance will enable you to steer and control the kite with one hand, even in gusty winds.

Does a kiteboarding harness support your back?

Not only does a harness attach you to the control bar, it also provides lumbar support to your back. Without getting too technical, in your back there are large and little muscles. The large muscles aid in providing power for movement. While the little muscles provide stability to bones, such as the ones that keep your spine in place. You wear a kiteboard harness against your back to give extra support to the little muscles. So that your large muscles are free to help you move.

woman wearing waist harness kitesurfing through waves

How does a kiteboard harness function?

A harness operates by allowing a rider to rely on its’ body, spreader bar and a hook which attaches to a “chicken loop.” Relying on this equipment will keep the rider comfortable and safe.

The harness body itself is heavy duty padded nylon, either hard shelled or not with straps. New versions include memory foam, custom lumbar supports and complex webbing straps. As for harness styles there are two, the waist or seat as well as the newer board-short style. The body of a kiteboarding harness fits around your waist or around your hips and back.

On the front section is the spreader bar, it’s used to stop the sides of the harness from squeezing in and pinching. On non-rigid harnesses a spreader bar is necessary. Whereas hard shell harnesses are less likely to compress on the riders’ side so the use of a spreader bar differs. Another function of the spreader bar that is not visible to your eye is that it help to transfer pull loads to either side of your body. This is why a hard shell harness uses a spreader bar.

A hook on the front of the kiteboarding harness is the attachment point for the harness to control bar. This hook is open, like the shape of a coat-hanger. Sometimes a harness hook is also called a spreader bar. Since some hooks have a wide enough base to spread out the load transfer.  This hook secures itself to the control bar via a loop called the “chicken loop.”

What to look for in a kiteboarding harness?

Here are three basic considerations for any kite harness:

    • Comfortable Fit: This is the central piece of kite equipment that’s hooking you to your kite. So it is crucial that it is comfortable or you may as well stop as soon as you get started.
    • Excellent Support: Kiteboarding is taxing on your body especially on your lower back. Thus having good support will help you remain happy and healthy when out on the water.
    • Durable: Heavy winds are brutal on your harness over time. Harnesses not built from durable materials with rugged fasteners, will fall apart. So choose durability over price every time.

Which size kiteboarding harness should I pick?

Once you decide what style of harness you prefer (seat or waist) you will need to determine fit. I cannot this stress enough, it is critical the harness fits snug against you based on your height and body type/weight. Let’s discuss the general fitment needs of a waist harness and a seat harness. Also if you decide to get further advice in a store, by sure to let them know if you will be wearing a wet-suit. As you may need to up the size if you are right between sizes. Below are the differences of how a waist and seat harness should fit.

Waist Harness Fitment:

First to find your size, measure horizontally from the top of your hips across your navel. Not around the narrowest part of your waist. Ensure you don’t compress your skin with the tape measure. Once you have a measurement you can reference the brand name size charts below:

For best results a waist harness should fit around the smallest part of your waist. The harness will be snug against your skin, the bottom at your hips and the top under your ribs. To ensure it is in the right place the spreader bar will align with your belly button when you secure the harness. To further confirm you have the right size harness, when you tighten the front belt you should have at least a 1 to 1 1/2 inch overlap with the harness’s belt end and where your bar lines up.

Also keep in mind to strap the harness down tight. When the kite lifts the first time it will pull the harness away from the body. As it does it will loosen the harness a bit so it’s best to over tighten than not enough. If you don’t tighten the harness it can ride up to your chest, which is very uncomfortable and dangerous when out on the water.

Seat Harness Fitment:

Instead of fitting in the waist area like the previous style, a seat harness fits around the hips. It also uses leg straps to help keep the harness stay in place. You should ensure the harness is tight against your lower back with the straps snug on your uppermost thighs. Keep in mind the size of your thighs as certain leg straps cause discomfort due to their position. No one wants groin pain while riding!

What is a waist harness?

A waist harness is the most common type of kitesurfing/kiteboarding harness. They come in either hard shell or soft shell materials, with the latter being an older material. Hard shell waist harnesses are the modern solution to advanced lumbar support.

Riders who prefer this style of harness classify themselves as big wave and freestyle riders. It is also the easiest style to get into and out of since the hook sits higher on your body. However this style of harness is only best for riders with moderate experience who have athletic body types. Since you will be primarily be using your abs to help control your movements.

Person wearing red waist harness kitesurfing in tropical ocean

Pro's of a waist harness

Appearance:

  • The biggest reason many riders wear a waist harness is because it looks cool. It is less bulky, with less straps and comes in colorful designs. This reason alone is why most people choose to wear them over seat harnesses.

Comfort:

  • Since a waist harness is often less bulky it tends to be more comfortable for athletic riders than seat harnesses. As well the lack of leg straps provide greater range of motion when wearing one. Plus several waist harnesses now have sliding spreader bars. This increases comfort because it allows the harness to shift from right to left as your body turns.

Forces Correct Posture:

  • The best advantage of a waist harness is that it forces new riders to learn and maintain correct posture. Meaning the harness will make a new rider push their hips forward while hanging their head back. Doing this leads to comfortable, controlled riding. Whereas if the rider doesn’t do this and attempts to sit down on the harness it will ride up around the armpits.

Easier Upwind Riding:

  • Another benefit to wearing a waist harness is the ease of kiting upwind. A waist harness shifts around your body a bit so that you can easily turn to face the sailing direction. As a result you can always turn with a relaxed body position when sailing upwind.

Cons of a waist harness

Not Great With Life Jackets:

  • Due to where a waist harness sits on your body, it is hard to find a compatible fitting life jacket. As a result when out in water that requires a life jacket or are a newbie you will have to compromise your comfort.

Wonderbra Effect:

  • As mentioned earlier, if a waist harness becomes loose it can ride up your body. This is common among beginners who either have poor form or fly the kite a lot in the 12 o’clock position of a wind window. Not only does this look ridiculous but it is super uncomfortable.

Pain In The Butt:

  • Another problem with where a waist harness sits (higher on your body than a seat harness) is butt/back pain. If the harness slips out of optimal position your lower back has to withstand muscle strain. Overtime this leads to chronic lower back pain. Thus, people susceptible to lower back issues often prefer seat harnesses.

Limited Waist Fit:

  • Do you often fluctuate in weight around your stomach area? If so, understand that a perfect fitment with a waist harness may be difficult. If you lose weight the harness will be too loose and slip up a lot.

    Or if you experience weight gain/bloat or even have a big belly, a waist harness may not even fit. Over-sizing this style of harness is a no-no. Trying to wear it loose at the belly button will allow it to create that dreaded “Wonderbra” effect.

What's a seat harness?

The top priorities for beginners to kite sports is comfort and support. This is why many kite surf/kiteboarding lessons use the seat harness.

A seat harness is exactly like it sounds, it surrounds the hips/lower waist and uses leg straps. It has soft yet durable material which looks like a pair of bulky shorts with straps and a hook.

With this harness you will use the strength of your legs and hips instead of your abs to help control your movements.

photo of child using a seat harness while kitesurfing

This combination means it has a lower hook, thus there is a lower pull point of the kite. Having the leg straps the harness can’t slide up, this is helpful when the kite slips overhead. As a result a seat harness feels more comfortable and stable for people learning to kite surf.

Another bonus for a seat harness is it is easier to learn “body dragging” and water starts. Two critical techniques for newbies to learn. As well, since a seat harness sits lower than the waist harness it provides great lower back support.

Riders who are learning, prefer boosting and free-riding or have back issues tend to pick the seat harness.

Pro's for a seat harness

Sits Lower On Your Body:

  • Since the spreader bar on a seat harness sits lower on the waist its’ position is at your natural center of gravity. In theory this makes it easier for a rider to crank the kite while also resisting with your entire body weight. This movement provides super high boosting up in the air capabilities.

Leg Straps Prevent “Ride-up”:

  • As mentioned having leg straps prevents slippage up the body. This is very important for beginners who need to focus on technique instead of poor comfort.

Greater Support:

  • A seat harness is larger than a waist style so it “hugs” more of your body when worn. So it gives more support, which again is crucial for newcomers and back problem suffers.

More Lower Back Support:

  • Like its name suggests, a seat harness allows a kiteboarder to sit on it. The rider can rely on their leg strength and hips to control the kite. Due to the harness fiting tight around the hip and lower back muscles with a low hook point. Controlling the kite at a lower point is what transfers the pull forces to the hips instead of the waist/back area. As a result, a users back is better supported and they have optimal comfort.

    Another type of rider that is an excellent candidate for seat harnesses are heavy set people. With a seat harness the force distribution is equal through the legs which helps to stabilize the back too.

Cons for a seat harness

How It Looks:

  • Most younger riders say the worst disadvantage of a seat harness is how it looks. Many riders will compare the look of a seat harness to a chunky diaper. So if you choose to wear one you had better be self assured.

Restricted Movement:

  • Unlike the waist harness, a seat harness is not meant to move while worn. Plus the leg straps restrict free movement of your legs. In effect a rider controls the kites pulling force with only their legs and hips. While this is good for beginners and basic cruising. If you want to try tricks this harness may become limited in use fast.

Promotes Lazy Form:

  • The major problem with a seat harness is that over time riders develop poor riding form. By this I mean this harness allows you to sit on the power of the kite instead of counter balancing it by leaning out. Eventually riders adopt a “toilet”stance (bum stuck out and legs heavily bent). This stance may seem easier and safer to control the power but in reality it is dangerous. Because the first gust of wind or pounding wave will send you crashing over the front of the board.

Possible Groin Discomfort:

  • This issue is mostly for the male riders. Sometimes a leg strap can wrap around our groins, leading to painful consequences. This often happens while boosting big airs. Nothing is worse experiencing this at a time where you can’t adjust yourself.

Wrapping up

By now you know which harness style is right for you. If you are a newbie, have back issues or big bodied go for a seat harness. Once you progress to riding upwind and want to start hitting big tricks graduate to a waist harness.

On last thing to mention, if you do hate the look of seat harnesses, there is now a range of board short harnesses. These are simply seat harnesses stitched into board shorts! Which are much cooler looking with premier back support too.

As always, thank you for allowing Outdoors Informed to help you with your research. We love doing it, so you can spend more time out in the water.

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