How To Start Kiteboarding – (2020 Beginner’s Guide)

Welcome To Kiteboarding

Kiteboarding, sometimes known as Kitesurfing is a wind powered human controlled extreme sport. Users harness two common elements, wind (kite) and water (board), to achieve movement. Kiteboarding itself blends aspects of wakeboarding, windsurfing/surfing, and gymnastics into one water sport. It is a total body workout that is super fun but understand this is an action sport where safety matters.

So for those of you interested in boosting huge airs then read on to learn how to start kiteboarding.

As always you can skip to a certain section via the clickable table-of-contents. Otherwise let’s begin your “road map” to start kiteboarding.

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Table of Contents

Kiteboarding Versus Kitesurfing

While the two names of this water sport are similar, how they differ is in their styles. Here is a simple break down their differences:

Kiteboarding: Here you use a “twin tip” board and your feet strap into bindings like a wakeboard. The sail or kite acts like a parachute while it’s attached to you via a harness. Kiteboarders use wind power to lift themselves many feet into the air to achieve big tricks.

Man flying out of water while kiteboarding

Kitesurfing: In this style you use a directional board like a surf board that you aren’t attached to. Kitesurfers focus more on the riding of waves than hitting big airs/tricks.

man kitesurfing on a wave

Another difference is that kitesurfing needs a location with wave breaks. In contrast for kiteboarding you can do it anywhere with water and consistent wind.

Get A Trainer Kite

There are two schools of thought about how to start kiteboarding. Some kiteboarders recommend to practice with a trainer kite first and then move on to lessons. While other people claim trainer kites are a waste of time. I recommend that people with a background in wind/wake sports can start with either. Whereas for complete newbies, you should buy or rent a trainer kite to practice on land first. Then sign up and complete proper classes from a certified trainer.

people flying kiteboarding kites on a beach

If you choose to buy a trainer kite it’s best to fly it in an area unprotected from wind. Like a football field, a park or even a large non busy beach. 

Flying a trainer kite will help increase your general kite awareness. Typical trainer kites are foil kites, unlike the inflatable tube kites for real time use. These kites are easier to fly, since they can de-power fast. Thus they are easy to recover when you make mistakes and are less expensive than the real thing. Some organizations may even lend you a trainer kite before your lessons to give you time to practice.

Keep practicing until you feel comfortable flying it with your eyes closed. If you choose to buy one, try to find trainer kites that are at least 3 meters large. Using one this big will provide realistic pulling forces so you can feel what it’s like to react as the wind shifts.

Do You Need Lessons?

Yes, you need to get lessons as knowledge is a life saving aspect when you start kiteboarding. This is NOT a sport that you should learn via video or individual practice in a couple of hours. Often misunderstood by newbies is that kiteboarding is 85% flying the kite and 15% riding the board.

When you handle the kite for the first time you will feel how powerful wind actually is. Also keep in mind, most areas of water are not a contained safe environment. Without an instructor to guide you, you will endanger yourself and others. Since this is an extreme sport it demands both physical and technical know how.

Search for respected organizations like IKO and PASA for a quality, certified instructor. Either of these training programs are well structured to maximize the learning process.

Another beneficial reason to take lessons? Most instructors will be helpful in guiding you on what gear you should buy. They will help you choose gear based on your goals, your weight and the wind wherever you intend to kite.  For example, buying for a child who is less than a hundred pounds will be vastly different than a 6 foot tall, 200 pound man. Thus, it makes sense why this can really help you avoid mistakes when investing in the sport.

Male kid kiteboarding in the sea

How Long Does It Take To Learn Kiteboarding?

The answer to this question will depend on different factors. Such as the students’ background skills and the local wind/water conditions. If you have excellent background skills, like wakeboarding, you will learn very fast. If not, the learning process will take a little longer for you. Regardless find an experienced trainer and focus on the fundamental safety and physical steps. In the end you will be up and riding safely and with a lot less frustration than trying to self learn.

Ultimately, you should get 2-5 full day training lessons to develop the proper risk assessment skills to be safe. What amount of you classes you choose is up to you, but make sure the training you do covers all the basics. Including: safety, rigging, general kite skills, body dragging, water starts and basic riding skills. 

Wind Direction & Wind Window

We get it not everybody loves to learn theory but learning about wind direction and the wind window is A MUST. It is the foundation to becoming a great kiteboarder.

Wind theory covers three important lessons:

  1. Determining where the wind is coming from.
  2. Ideal wind directions to start kiteboarding.
  3. What is the wind window?

1. Where Is The Wind Coming From

Here are three different ways to determine where the wind is coming from without using a wind meter:

  1. Look at the direction of blowing sand
  2. Notice which direction of flags or foliage is blowing
  3. Listening for sound of the wind in both ears. All you have to do is turn your head slowly until you hear the wind blowing in both ears. This indicates the direction the wind is coming from. 

Beginner Kiteboarder Wind Strength Range:

Here is a basic tip for optimal wind strength for novices.

As a beginner, try and choose conditions between 15 to 20 knots this is the sweet spot. As well ensure the wind is a consistent sea breeze with semi warm temperatures. Do not attempt learning this sport when the wind is 15 to 20 knots in front of a storm front! Since storm gusts are very hard to handle for anyone who isn’t an expert kiteboarder.

2. Which Wind Direction Is Best To Start Kiteboarding

Wind direction in relation to the shore is a crucial factor to prevent injuries. This includes not only preventing hurting yourself but also for keeping other beach goers safe as well. So pay attention and only attempt kiting in safe wind directions.

diagram showing sample wind directions for how to start kiteboarding

The general wind directions are:

CROSS-ONSHORE: The wind blows parallel with an tendency to swing toward the shore.

CROSS-SHORE: Wind blows parallel to the shore.

ONSHORE: Wind blows straight toward the shore.

CROSS-OFFSHORE: The wind blows parallel with a tendency to swing out to the water.

OFFSHORE: The wind blows straight from the shore out to the water.

Favored Wind Directions For New Kiteboarders

  • The cross-onshore is one of the best wind directions for new kiters. This wind direction will allow you to get into the water and ride downwind parallel to the shore. It will also make it easy to get back to shore if your kite falls into the water and you can’t re-launch. But be aware of what is in front of you when you ride in this direction if you end up dropping you kite in the water. You have to make sure that you can drag your kite in the water past any obstacles. Such as moored boats, swimmers, piers or rock walls.
  • Cross-shore is the other ideal wind direction for newbies. This is a great wind because often wave size is quite small. So you have less of a chance to get bucked off your board. Plus it still allows for easy outbound and inbound riding.

Wind Directions To Avoid For Beginners

  • Offshore winds are not for novice kiters due to the risk of being blow out away from shore. This can be fatal in the event of equipment failure or loss of control. Offshore winds are only suitable in a lake with an instructor or when a safety boat is available.
  • Onshore winds are unsafe due to the fact they blow directly toward the shore. It is shocking how fast your board can get stuck in sand, you fall flat on your face and your kite goes out of control. Thus, only riders who can launch upwind in an instant should attempt onshore wind riding.
  • Cross-offshore is another direction to avoid as a beginner. This direction is deceptive since it is easy to move parallel to the land but it can also pull you out into the water. Only experienced strong kiters should attempt this wind direction.

3. Wind Window For Kite Boarding?

Think of the wind window as a three dimensional “window” downwind in relation to you (the rider). It is a vital area of the sky that manages the power of the kite and your direction of travel.

Think about when you stand with your back to the direction of the wind. Everything you can see from your sides to your front and the space above your head is your window.

To help imagine the wind window, kiteboarders use a half clock shape. They then use notations to describe kite location and placement in the wind window. As seen in the picture below.

Diagram of Wind Window clock notation viewed by rider looking downwind with colored power zones

When your kite is straight over your head at 12 O’Clock, it’s referred to as the Zenith. Avoid this position when on the beach. As a strong gust of wind could suck you up high into the air and blow you into obstacles.  In fact extreme injuries and deaths have resulted from this.  

Most kiteboarders only use half the wind window depending on their direction of travel. Either the right side of the wind window when travelling to starboard (right). Or the left quadrant used when travelling to port (left).

For launch and landing of your kite it’s best to do so at either 9 O’Clock or 3 O’Clock.

Three Main Wind Zones In The Wind Window

There are three main power zones within the wind window. As seen in the picture above and described below:

1.) The edge of the window (green): Here is where the kite generates the least power. This is the zone used for launching and landing the kite, or for hovering it in a neutral position while in the water. If you kite slips out away from this zone the kite will stall and likely fall out of the sky. To combat this you can reach up and pull in the front lines to keep it flying.

2.) The intermediate zone (yellow): This zone is where the kite generates medium power. Flying the kite through or inside this zone when the wind strength is good will get you riding.

3.) The power zone (red): Here is where the kite generates max power. This zone is for water start launching or if wind speed becomes low.

After Lessons: Get Basic Gear

image of person in wetsuite with kite and board in background

Once you finish taking lessons it’s time to pick out some gear to get your new sport started. When starting any new sport there is often a hefty amount of sticker shock. Unfortunately kiteboarding is no different with a starting cost ranging from $1500-3,000.

In general, starting out with 1 kite, a hand bar,  a board, harness, set of lines, and pump/carrying bag is fine. As you become more experienced you will add more gear so you want to ride in varied conditions. Ask your instructor for their opinion, but I also always ride with safety gear. Including a wet suit, helmet, boots and impact vest. I am in the Pacific Northwest though, so if you are down South you might not need a wet suit.

Otherwise, I recommend you buy your biggest kite first so you can learn in lower winds. Remember that 15-20 mph wind is going to be your sweet spot to start kiteboarding. I explain more on kite and board sizing in the next sections

Then your yearly maintenance is generally only when stuff breaks or you want new gear.

Which Kiteboarding Board Size Is Best For You?

Often novices ask what size kiteboard is right for me? The answer to this question isn’t a hard one, but there are a few key factors to consider. To find the right size you will need to choose a board category and ride style. Then to find an actual size you will base this on your weight and the wind speeds you plan to kite in.

These are the main kiteboard categories:

  • Twin tips (most common due to wide range of use)
  • Race boards
  • Hydrofoil boards

Race boards and hydrofoil boards are more specialized boards for unique performance needs.

Generally speaking, a bigger twin tip board will be ideal for learning on. A twin tip kiteboard (bi-directional) allows you to make easy changes in direction. For the majority of newcomers, it’s easier to learn getting up on a board that needs less wind speed/kite power. Plus a larger board aids in easy flotation and balance. Keep in mind as you gain experience and hit higher wind speeds a big board does become harder to manage. Therefore finding balance of future performance and ease of learning is vital.

As for ride style, most beginners will stick to cruising, low jumps, and simple carving turns. Thus a medium to big board is best. Whereas, for expert high-flying fast riders, a shorter board length is all right.

Kiteboard Size Matters!

Now you need to pick an exact kiteboard size. In fact length and width both play a major roll in the boards performance.

The first thing to take into account is your weight. As mentioned earlier a larger board, will help you plane easier in light winds. Also it is helpful to smooth over mistakes that drive you downwind. So looking at the chart provided below you can size up a bit. Then in time, you can a different sized boards based on personal preference.

Next you have to think about where you intend on kiteboarding most often. If you are learning in light wind locations then add a bit more length to your board. Or if you are in high wind locales or have a wake/sailboarding background, reduce board length.

Combine your weight and where you will kiteboard often to find a kiteboard size that will help you learn and serve you in the future.

chart explaining kiteboard size based on rider weight and wind speed

What Size Kite Do I Need To Start Kiteboarding?

After you choose the best sized kiteboard for you, kite size comes into play. You may try and make your decision harder by trying to find the perfect kite size. Well, hate to break it to you but there is there is no “one size fits all” kite. Different wind speeds need different kite sizes. Plus there are different types of kites too.

For people new to kiteboarding there are three basic types of kiteboarding kites available. They are either bow kites, “C” kites, or hybrid bow kites.

  • Bow Kites are a popular design because they give riders a large wind range. They have great upwind performance and are easy relaunch.
  • “C” Kites are a traditional kite which has a very small wind range and sits deep in the wind window. This is an expert rider kite.
  • Hybrid Bow Kites are take the positive wide wind range of the bow kite and improve upon it. It has more performance features like quicker response time and better unhooked performance.

Beginners should always start with a kite size that will not pull you too hard. To find the kite size right for you it depends on your weight, experience and wind speeds. Most semi-serious kiters need at least two kites, one for low wind speeds and one for higher winds. Over time they build a “quiver” of kite sizes for versatility, but for you let’s focus on one kite at a time.

Here is a normal example of starter kite size. Take an  average sized new rider (140-190 lbs) kiting in light winds. This person will need a 12 m bow or hybrid bow kite. This size kite will be good to learn on and allow for progression as well.

Heads up, to find the rating of kite size, most manufacturers use the sail area in square meters.

Instead of add a confusing chart, beginners can follow our very general recommendations below. 

green yellow red boxes with simple kite size recommendations

Where To Start Kiteboarding

Where you want to start kiteboarding is an area with consistent, steady winds (10 to 25 knots). Look for uncrowded large bodies of water with safe launch areas. Flatter water is always better for learning and inevitably for crashing. If you have no choice and there are small waves, try to body drag out past any waves and then try to launch.

The easiest place to learn is downwind of a larger obstacle like a dock or pier. Here the water will be calm and flat, Ideal for cruising and making simple turns.

Pay attention if there are any obstacles at the location. Same goes for beach goers, do not kiteboard at busy beaches. Also stay close to shore, such as 100-150 yards, this way if you do have to swim in, you can do so without help.

Lastly, always speak to experienced riders at any new beach before you start kiting. Their advice about conditions and kite sizes is invaluable.

Person kiteboarding in turquoise water on a sunny day

General Considerations

Once you have a little kite time under your belt from lessons, have picked gear based on recommendations from us and your instructor use these considerations to ensure long term kiteboarding success.

Consider Kiting Insurance When Travelling

Kite boarders often travel to exotic destinations and unfortunately injuries can happen anywhere. For this reason it’s important for you to get covered with third party kiting insurance. This is especially important if you hurt anyone else.

Have A Kiting Buddy

Newcomers to kiteboarding improve faster buy hitting the water as much as possible. It also helps to spend time with and observe other kiters. So go get yourself a kiting buddy, even better find someone is a similar learning level as yourself. One person can ride while the other watches, this makes the  learning progress faster and safer. A great way to find kiting buddies is to ask your kiting instructor or by joining a local kiteboarding club.

person kiteboarding in flat delta water near beach

Ensure You Learn In Proper Conditions

Most newcomers who get good instruction want to be out practicing all the time. Yet when you are starting out on your own the most crucial thing to keep in mind is to do it in ideal conditions. Doing so will help you to improve, while also being less likely to put you in harm.

So try to start kiteboarding on your own in range of 15-20 knots, with consistent wind that is not gusty. Look for flat water area in warm conditions. 

If you are unsure of the conditions when you get to a particular spot talk to the experienced riders there. If there isn’t anyone riding on the day you go out, it may be better to wait, better to be safe than sorry.

Remember To Practice Body Dragging

Learning to body drag is an essential kiting technique you will learn during lessons. Body dragging is using your kite to “drag your body” through the water. It’s the safest skill to use to regain confidence and help to improve your kite skills. While it takes time to master, the benefits include board recovery after crashing and it might save your life, too. So find a steady wind with flatter water and practice both upwind and downwind body dragging.

Get Out On The Water Often

I imagine you want to master the basics fast right? Well, then expect to commit 100% and hit the water whenever conditions allow. The learning curve for this sport is high, so if you think going once a month is enough, you are mistaken. Learners need to make it a priority activity for about three months to really “get it.” So get out on the water, be patient through the hiccups, and have fun.

To Finish Up

By now you should know that kiteboarding is all about safe and technical use of your body strength to harness wind and water. Outdoors Informed hopes that this article has given you some useful insights into what to look out for as a beginner kiteboarder.  Remember to be safe, considerate of other kiters and the environment. But mostly, stick with it and have a blast out on the water.

Black o Green I which stands for Outdoors Informed with light grey back ground

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