Start Kiteboarding: Everything You Need To Know Guide
Want To Start Kiteboarding?
Kiteboarding, sometimes known as kitesurfing is a true wind powered human controlled extreme sport. Users exploit two common elements, air movement (kite) and water (board), to achieve movement. It blends aspects of wakeboarding, windsurfing/surfing, and gymnastics into one water sport. Riders get a total body workout that’s super fun, but understand this is an action sport where safety matters. For those of you interested in boosting huge airs, read on to learn everything you need to start kiteboarding this year.
To skip to a certain section, do so via the clickable table-of-contents. Let’s begin your “road map” to be able to start this awesome water sport.
We updated this article in May 2021 to ensure the information is still current. As well, complete for novices to start kiteboarding this riding season. Read on to learn everything you need to know to start boosting big airs and shredding the waves,
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 offshore air gusts to lift themselves many feet into the air to achieve big tricks.
Kitesurfing: To kitesurf, you use a directional board like a surf board that you aren’t attached to. A kitesurfer focuses more on the riding of waves than hitting big airs/tricks.
Another difference is that kitesurfing needs a location with wave breaks. In contrast, for kiteboarders can do it anywhere with water and consistent gusts.
First Step: Do I Need A Trainer Kite?
There are two schools of thought about how to start. Some riders recommend to practice with a trainer kite first and then move on to lessons. Whereas other people, claim trainer kites are a waste of time. I recommend that people with a background in wake sports can start with either. For complete newbies though, buy or rent a trainer kite to practice on land first. Followed up with signing up for a proper course from a certified trainer.
Flying a trainer kite will help increase your general kite awareness. Typical trainer kites are a foil design kite, unlike the inflatable tube kites for real time use. The foil design is easier to fly, since they can de-power fast. As a result, they’re easy to recover during mistakes and less expensive than the real thing. Some organizations may even lend you a trainer kite before your lessons to give you time to practice.
People who choose to start with a trainer kite should practice with it in an unprotected area. Such as a football field, a park or even a large empty beach.
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 this size 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 can self-teach yourself via video or individual practice in a couple of hours. Often misunderstood by newbies is that this water sport is 85% flying the kite and 15% riding the board.
When you handle the kite for the first time you will feel how hard it is to control. Don’t think you will become a Red Bull sponsored rider in a few short weeks. Also keep in mind, most areas of water are not a contained safe environment. Without an instructor to teach 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 an IKO center and PASA learning center 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 are helpful in guiding you on what gear you should buy. They will help you research new gear based on your goals, your weight and the area you intend to kite. For example, buying for a child less than a hundred pounds is much different from a 6-foot tall, 200 pound (90.72 kg) man. Thus, it makes sense why this can really help you avoid mistakes when investing in the sport.
Can I learn on used gear as a newbie? For sure, many new riders have friends or instructor that lend or sell used kite equipment.
How Long Does It Take To Learn?
The answer to this question will depend on different factors. Such as the students’ background skills and the local 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 get up and ride safely, 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. At minimum, expect to take at least 6 to 12 hours of lessons to advance past trainer kite basics. What amount of you classes you choose is up to you. Remember to check that the training you do covers all the basics. Including: safety, rigging, general kite skills, body dragging, water starts and basic riding skills.
Wind Direction & Window
I get it, not everybody loves to learn theory but learning about wind direction and the wind window is A MUST. It’s the foundation to becoming an ideal kite boarder.
Wind theory covers three important lessons:
Determining where is it coming from?
Ideal air directions to start kiteboarding.
What is the wind window?
1. Where Is It Coming From?
Here are three different ways to determine where air movement is coming from, without using special measuring equipment:
Look at the direction of blowing sand
Notice which direction of flags or foliage is blowing
Listen for sound of the breeze in both ears. Turn your head slowly until you hear the air blowing in both ears. This indicates the direction the wind is coming from.
Beginner Kite Boarder Wind Strength Range:
Here is a basic tip for optimal air strength for novices.
As a beginner, try to choose conditions between 15 and 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 air gusts are 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 kite boarder.
2. What’s The Ideal Wind Direction 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. I know I’m repeating myself, but pay attention and only attempt kiting in safe wind directions.
The general wind directions are:
CROSS-ONSHORE: The air blows parallel with a tendency to swing toward the shore.
CROSS-SHORE: air blows parallel to the shore.
ONSHORE: Gusts blow straight toward the shore.
CROSS-OFFSHORE: The air blows parallel with a tendency to swing out to the water.
OFFSHORE: Air gusts blow straight from the shore out to the water.
Favored Wind Directions For Newbies
The cross-onshore is one of the best direction for new kiters. This breeze direction provides opportunity for you to get into the water and ride downwind parallel to the shore. It also makes 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’s in front of you while you ride in this direction. Especially if you end up dropping the kite in the water. You need to ensure that you can drag your kite in the water past any obstacles. For example: moored boats, swimmers, piers or rock walls.
Cross-shore is the other ideal direction for newbies. This is a great option because often wave size is quite small. So you have less of a chance to get bucked off your board. Plus it still provides for easy outbound and inbound sessions.
Air Directions To Avoid For Kite Sport Beginners
Offshore gusts aren’t 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. What Exactly Is A Wind Window?
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 you imagine it, kiteboarders use a half clock shape. They then use notations to describe kite location and placement in the wind window.
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 Zones In The Wind Window
There are three main power zones within the 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. Next, 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. Last, 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
After you finish taking lessons, it’s time to pick out some equipment to get your new sport started. Be ready for some sticker shock because starting any new sport is expensive. Kiteboarding is no different with a starting cost ranging from $1500-3,000.
In general, starting out with 1 kite, a control-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, this lets you learn in lower wind speeds. Remember that 15-20 mph (32.19 km/h) 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 Type Of Board Is Best?
Often novices ask what type board is right for me? The answer to this question isn’t a hard one, you will need to choose a board category and ride style. Then to you will move on to sizing, based on your weight and the wind speeds you plan to kite in. First, let’s discuss the types you can choose from.
3 Types Of Boards
Twin tips (most common due to wide range of use)
Generally speaking, a bigger twin tip board is 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 to get 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.
Race or Directional
Directional or race boards are for wave riding, as they enable a rider to carve through the swell. This design creates an experience that feels close to surfing. Moving from a twin tip to this type is challenging since you can only move in one direction at a time. To change direction, you have to change your foot position or ride toe-side. It takes experience to ride this type but will expand your riding style.
The hydrofoil is another craze for the expert kite-riders. Imagine a surfboard with a vertical mast attached to a wing and stabilizer. The parts the ride underwater act as a plane to lift the surfboard above the water surface. It works because as you gain speed, you generate lift which lets you hover over the water like a magic carpet. Again this type is better for seasoned riders.
Novice Ride Style
As for ride style, most beginners will stick to cruising, low jumps, and simple carving turns. For these uses choosing a medium to large sized twin tip board is best. Whereas, for expert high-flying fast riders, a shorter race or hydro foil board is good.
In Kiteboarding Size Matters!
Now you need to pick an exact kiteboard dimensions. The length and width both play a major role 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. It’s also helpful to smooth over mistakes that drive you downwind. Look at the chart below, for novices it’s better to size up then size down. Then in time, you can change to 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 to find a size that will help you learn and serve you in the future.
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 to make your decision harder by trying to find the perfect kite size. Well, hate to break it to you but 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.
These are a popular design because they give riders a large wind range. They have great upwind performance and are easy relaunch.
Are traditional kites which has a very small wind range and sits deep in the wind window. This is an expert rider kite.
Hybrid Bow Kites
This design takes 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 won’t pull you too hard. To find the kite size right for you, you need to compare your weight, experience and typical wind speeds. Most semi-serious kiters need at least two kites, one for low wind speeds and another 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-meter bow or hybrid bow kite. This size kite is good to learn on and encourages 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.
Choose A Control Bar and Lines
After picking a kite, you need to factor in the control bar and lines. Using a kite without a control bar is like riding a bicycle without a handlebar. Thus, a kitesurfer uses this piece of equipment to utilize the power of moving air and to steer the kite.
The size you choose depends based on length, weight and comfort. Some bars are shorter and others are longer, in general most are anywhere between 30 and 60 cm wide. Smaller bars match smaller kites, the same for as larger bars for larger kites. By matching bar size with kite size allows for balanced leverage and smooth steering.
Next, let’s discuss weight of control bars. Weight has a big effect on rider comfort and a little effect on performance. Some riders prefer a thick, heavier feel in their hands. While small handed users, want a thinner and lighter bar. In the end, it’s your choice but never sacrifice performance or safety for comfort.
How Do Kite/Fly-Lines Work?
Like a handle bar on a bicycle, to steer the kite, the input in the bar transmits to the kite through the lines. The amount of fly-lines vary dependent on the manufacturer and the type of kite you use. In general, it’s either 2, 4 or 5 lines with lengths from 5 meters to 27 meters.
The length of the fly-lines changes depending on your experience level. Shorter kite lines are better for learning with your trainer kite on land. Then once you are ready to start riding on water you move up to 20+ meters lines.
Two Main Line Types
Front Lines: Also called “center lines”. Attached to a chicken loop and leading edge of a kite. Their function is to de-power the kite by changing the angle of attack. Also, this is where you find the main “quick release” safety system.
Rear Lines: Some users call these the “outside” or steering lines. Attached to the wingtip of the kite down to the outer edge of the bar. You use them to power up the kite as well as steer it. It’s typical for them to use color-coding for better visibility.
Now that we’ve covered the kite, control bars and fly-lines, let’s move on to the next piece of essential piece of gear.
Picking The Correct Harness
What is a harness? It’s a piece of equipment that a rider wears around their waist. This is what connects you to the control bar via the chicken loop. Its function is to leverage the power of the kite and transfer it to your waist. Picture this, a rider trying to hold the full power of a kite all day, that becomes exhausting quick! So, by balancing or transferring part of the pull of the kite to your waist, you use less effort.
There are two usual choices types: waist or seat. A waist type wraps around your waist and a seat type wraps around your legs and hips. The latter looks like the style used for rock-climbing or sailing. A waist style delivers more mobility, thus big wave and freestyle riders prefer them. The outer shell will come in different levels of stiffness, either a hybrid “soft-medium” or “hard.”
Whereas a seat type tends to offer more support and comfort but can restrict motion. The seat styles are “soft” on the rigidity scale. For absolute beginners the seat version is the correct choice to learn kiting. After you graduate training and get some sessions under your belt move up to a waist type.
Spreader Bar Explained
At the front of the harness is a belt attachment point. This is round metal hook called the spreader bar. As the name suggests, it spreads the pull of the kite throughout the structure of the harness. Certain types of harnesses feature a sliding spreader bar which further enhances mobility. Foiling enthusiasts and wave riders tend to prefer this feature. For novices though, stick to the non-sliding option.
What’s A Chicken Loop?
This is a rubber loop attached to the center line, fed through the control bar and attaches to the harness. Its main use is as a safety device. In use, it lets the user connect and detach to the kite quick in case of an emergency.
The big takeaway from this section is to understand there are many options of harnesses in the market. Ultimately you need to consider these three factors: comfort, support, and durability.
Other Essential Gear
You already have a kite, a board and a harness what else could you need? These next items might not have a direct impact on ride performance. But they are as essential because they provide support and increase safety.
Safety Leash: Sometimes called a bypass, handle-pass or kite leash. The short cord keeps you connected to the kite when you deploy your main safety release. Or if you let go of the control bar while riding unhooked. Secured at the front of the harness and at a specific part of your line/control system. It also has its own safety release so that you can detach the kite in an emergency.
Helmet: This is a no-brainer, protect your noggin. This is an action sport and during the fun anything can happen. Wearing a helmet protects you from wayward kite, boards and other hazards. An overlooked hazard is actual water impact, it’s like slamming your head against a brick wall.
Flotation Aid: Water sports involve swimming, even great swimmers can get into trouble. A personal flotation device (PFD) is a critical to stay afloat, catch your breath, or help you swim back to shore.
Line cutter: A line cutter is special emergency knife to cut a line from your kite. Many good quality harnesses feature a knife pocket.
Should I Use A Board Leash?
NO, NEVER use a board leash at any point for kite sports. This type of leash can get tangled in your kite lines during a crash. Leading to serious head, neck and spinal injuries. So how do you retrieve your board on the water? Your instructor will teach you how to body-drag upwind. This is an essential skill to become a solo kite rider.
Where To Start: Locations
Make sure to research where you want to start kiting. Look for an area with consistent, steady winds (10 to 25 knots). Uncrowded large bodies of water with safe launch areas are best. 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 is 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 (0.14 kilometers). 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.
At the point that you have some time under your belt from lessons. Plus picked gear based on recommendations from this article and your instructor. It’s time to 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 by 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.
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 used 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 often. The learning curve for this sport is high, so don’t think that going once a month is going to cut it. 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.
Now You Can Start Kiteboarding
By now you know that kiteboarding or kitesurfing 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 kite boarder. Remember to be safe, considerate of other kiters and the environment. But mostly, stick with it and have a blast out on the water.