To kiteboard you need to have a kite, board, harness, pump, and control system
(bar and lines). These things will allow you to controllably harness the power
of the wind to move you though the water. Kites have been used to propel snow
skis, snow boards, sand boards, 3-wheeled buggies, and just about anything else
you can think of. The kite produces the most power when it is flown in the power
zone, which is the space directly down-wind of you and to the right and left.
The diagram below illustrates where the power zone is located relative to the
There are two classifications of kites: 2-line and 4-line. 2-line kites are
usually used as trainers because of their simplicity. The 2-line kites cannot
be depowered, meaning that you can not change the shape of the kite while it
is flying to reduce the amount of power it produces. 4-line kites achieve this
by having two lines connected to the leading edge of the kite and two lines
connected to the trailing edge. Movement of the rear lines relative to the front
lines changes the angle of attack of the kite and, consequently, the power it
produces. For example, a kite with the rear lines sheeted all the way out will
result in the kite producing little lift, because of the small angle of attack.
If the rear lines are pulled in the kite will produce more lift because the
angle of attack of the kite is larger. All this is done through the use of an
ingenious bar system, which will be covered later.
There are 3 different styles of 4-line kite: the foil kite, “C”
or traditional kite, and Bow kite. Foil kites were the first kites to be used
in kiteboarding, similar to paragliding wings they produce a tremendous amount
of lift for their size and are very durable for rough surfaces. A foil is made
up of flexible cells that are open on the leading edge of the kite. These cells
fill with air pressure when the kite is put up in the wind, this air pressure
fills the kite’s aerodynamic shape which provides its power. You can see
air pressure filling out the foil kite below. The down side to foil kites is
that they have problems re-launching, especially in water. Once a foil kite
gets wet, it is usually down for the count. Foil kites are generally used for
snow kiting and land boarding because of their durability.
The “C” in “C” kites comes from the shape the kite makes
when its flying in the sky; an upside down “C”. They use an inflatable
leading edge and spars to make up the kite structure. Their aerodynamic shape
is created by these inflated sections instead of open cells like foil kites,
this allows them to launch better off water. This type of kite was the mainstay
of kiteboarding until 2006, and many kiteboarders still prefer it. A "C"
kite performs very well within a specified wind range under smooth conditions,
and is still popular due to its low bar pressure and consistent motion in the
window. For riders who own many different sized kites, a "C" kite
can be a great addition when used in the right environment.
These kites are the newest and most innovated kite design yet; starting in 2006
the bow kites hit the kiteboarding scene and changed the way people ride and
teach kiteboarding. A bow kite is similar to a “C” style kite in
that they have an inflatable leading edge and spars. The no longer have the
“C” shape that the traditional kites are known for. Instead, on
a bow kite the “extra” material on the edges of the kite that hung
down to make that “C” shape is replaced with bridles made of extremely
strong line and pulleys. This makes the kite lighter, but doesn’t take
away any of its power. In fact it actually increases its efficiency in the air,
so a smaller bow kite will produce as much power as a larger C kite! They also
have a very large depowering range, which is why they are most kiteboarding
school’s choice for lessons and instruction. A new student can learn to
kiteboard on the same kite that the pros use in competitions…they are
Bow kites versus “C” kites
Because the bow kites are lighter and more efficient, a smaller bow kite can
be used in the same conditions that a larger “C” would be needed.
This simple fact is one of the best features of the bow kite. It gives riders
a kite that can cover more conditions that a whole quiver of “C”
kites would be needed for. They also relaunch extremely easily and are just
as dynamic for jumping and tricks. Bow kites give the rider the ability to totally
depower while riding, so gusty conditions are no longer a problem. To relaunch
a bow kite on the water the rider simply pulls in the bar and turns the kite,
which will fly back up into the air. The traditional kites have so much fabric
on the lower edges that they cannot be relaunched in this manner. They need
to be either flown up backwards and flipped in the air or flipped on the water
and turned using a “5th line”. “C” kites do not use
a pulley system and consequently have very low bar pressure. “C”
kites are also much cheaper than bow kites, but well worth the investment. As
you can see in the below table, the pros far out weigh the cons on bow kites.
Pros and Cons of Bows versus C Kites Traditional “C”
Kites Bow kite
Pros and Cons of Bows versus C Kites
Traditional “C” Kites
All large kites use a “chicken loop” for the rider to hook into
their harness. This loop is attached to the kite through a hole in the bar and
is directly attached to the front lines on a 4-line kite. By connecting to the
rider’s harness through a hook or clamp on the “spreader bar”,
this loop transfers all the power of the kite to the rider with ease! All of
the power is directed to the rider through this loop. The loop has a “chicken
finger” inside of it which is used to keep the chicken loop from falling
off the rider’s spreader bar.
On the front lines above the bar there are two handles or straps that shorten
or lengthen the front lines of the kite. This action changes the neutral angle
of attack of the kite and therefore powers the kite up or down. For example
if the wind is very strong for your size kite, you will want to shorten the
front lines using the red* depower strap. If the wind is weak for you kite and
you need more power you will want to lengthen the front lines adjusting the
other strap called the powering strap.
The bar on all kites needs to be held the correct way, with the left hand on
the left side of the bar. Kite companies use different color conventions on
the right and left side of the bar so riders can tell them apart on the fly.
Switching sides can be very disorienting as the controls are then reversed.
*All kite manufactures have different color conventions, but Cabrinha kites
uses a red depower strap.
Controlling the kite
Kite control is achieved through relative movement of the right and left lines.
This is most simply demonstrated on a 2-line trainer kite. If you are holding
the bar out in front of you and move your left hand closer to you and your right
hand away, it will make the kite turn left. The opposite is true, if you more
you right hand closer to you and your left hand away, you will make the kite
turn right. For every action there is a reaction; however, after you make a
turn to the right you need to stop the turn when you get the kite where you
want it to be in the window by applying opposite control inputs. For example,
if you turn the kite to the right (right hand in, left hand out) then you will
have to turn the kite back to the neutral position by using a turn to the left
(left hand in, right hand out). Flying the kite is all about finesse, and is
the key to kiteboarding; once you master this skill you are well on your way
to becoming a kiteboarder.
How is a kiteboard different from a wakeboard? This is a question any kiteboarder
anywhere has been asked many times. They may look the same but are in fact very
different from one another. A kiteboard has a concave bottom unlike the convex
bottom of a wake board. Kiteboarders are constantly on the edge of their board
a lot like a snowboarder carving down a slope. The concave bottom helps kiteboarders
to cut into the water holding a better edge, and helping them to stay upwind.
The other major difference is rocker, or the slope from one end of the board
to the other. If you stand a kiteboard up next to a wakeboard the wakeboard
will have much more of a bow-like curve to it. In kiteboarding, the rider is
always leaning back so the boards are flatter to give them more surface area
and a better float.
Another major difference is that kiteboards usually have a handle on them right
between the two foot straps. Unlike wakeboard bindings which keep your feet
very firmly attached, kiteboard bindings look like sandal straps and are easily
taken off and put back on. The handle gives kiteboarders something to hold on
to while putting the board back on their feet. It also works well for board-off
Launching and landing the kite
Techniques for relaunching kites from the water differ greatly depending on
the kite you are using. Traditional style kites must be flown up backwards or
flipped on their tops and rolled over using a fifth line. Bow kites are lighter
and have less material on the corners to drag through the water on relaunch,
so they are extremely easy to get back into the air. To relaunch a bow kite
that is upside down on the water, a rider wants to pull all the way in on the
control bar and turn it to one side or the other. The kite will turn over on
its side and fly back up into the wind window. If the bow kite is in the water
on its trailing edge, the rider needs only push all the way out on the control
bar to relaunch it. If this doesn’t work because of light winds or a wet
heavy kite, the rider should walk backwards, or upwind, with the bar pushed
all the way out.
Launching the kite
To relaunch a kite from the beach or an onshore area a beginner should always
use a kiteboarding buddy. To do this, the rider hooks into his chicken loop
and ensures his lines are straight to the kite’s forward and rear lines.
They should align themselves so that the kite is at the very edge of the window
on one side with the leading edge facing away. The kiteboarding buddy will lift
the kite onto its lower wing tip and wait while the kiteboarder checks the lines
for tangles or misconnections. If everything looks good the kiteboarder gives
his helper the thumbs up or an OK and the helper holds the kite up while the
rider moves to put the kite about 2-4 steps more in the wind window. The kite
should them have enough power to be controllably flown up the edge of the wind
window and into the air.
Landing the kite
Landing a kite to a friend is the opposite of the above technique and is the
safest and easiest way to land your kiteboarding/kitesurfing kite. Fly the kite to the edge
of the wind window where your buddy is waiting. Slowly allow the kite to transition
down the wind window to your partner’s waiting arms. Unfortunately, sometimes
we don’t have a buddy to help us land our kite so we have to self land.
To do this, find a nice soft spot of beach, or grassy clump of land that won’t
cut up your kite. Bring the kite down the edge of the window onto the spot just
as if your kiteboarding or kitesurfing friend was there to grab it. When the lower wing tip
touches the ground pull on the high front line to turn the kite into the wind.
This technique only works on bow kites and is difficult to do in high wind conditions.
The universal sign to people on the beach that you want to land your kite is
a pat on the head. When you come into the beach, the riders waiting there will
look for this sign, telling them that you want help landing your kite.
Getting up on the board
To get up on the board you need to produce enough power in the kite to not only
overcome your weight, but also the initial friction of the water on the board.
Similar to the way that a boat gets up on a plane, a kiteboard needs to be traveling
through the water at a certain speed depending on the size of the board and
the weight of the rider to be efficient. As every kiteboarder knows once you
get up on the board and moving you need less power to keep going. That is because
of the planing effect of the board in addition to the increased power produced
by the kite due to relative wind. To get up on the board, picture yourself sitting
on your butt with a friend ready to pull you to your feet. After you grab your
friend's hand and he starts pulling, you automatically bend your knees and rotate
your body center forward to make it easier for him. You want to do the same
thing when getting up on the kiteboard! You also want to point your board down
wind initially, so that there is as little friction as possible. Once you are
in position, dive the kite into the power window in the direction you want to
go, recovering before it hits the water. It's always better to begin a little
conservatively; if the kite motion isn't enough to pull you out of the water,
your second attempt can be more aggressive.
Once you get up on the board, you want to turn away from directly down-wind
and start to lean into your edge to move across the wind. The more power you
have the harder you can edge, and conversely the less power you have the less
you can edge. To ride upwind effectively you want to have your body facing the
direction you are moving; this will automatically get your board and body in
the right position. If this position feels unnatural, just turn your head and
shoulders upwind and your body will follow. You don’t want to have the
kite bar pulled in all the way, infact the farther out it is the better. By
pushing the kitebar out, the angle of attack of the kite is decreased and it
will fly closer to the edge of the window, which is great for going upwind!
You also want to be traveling relatively slow because you are edging hard. By
making turns back and forth over a relatively long distance, the rider will
effectively move up wind. The below diagram illustrates how jibing back and
forth across the wind window will bring a rider upwind.
Emergencies are going to happen, maybe not to you, but to someone at the beach
while you’re out there riding. Obviously, in any medical emergency you
want to call 911 and direct the authorities to the injured rider. First of all,
the best way to deal with an emergency is to prevent it in the first place by
having proper training and a back up plan for when things go wrong. Always know
the safety releases of your kite and always wear a kite leash in congested areas.
A kite leash allows you to totally depower a kite even if it has a broken line
or is inverted. It prevents loose kites from going into the road, hitting beach
goers or being lost forever. A kite leash attachment is illustrated below on
a “C” style kite. Leashes can be attached in a number of places;
for a beginner it is safest to attach the leash to one of the front lines. There
is usually a metal ring here, similar to the one in the picture below. Life
jackets and helmets are a really good idea, especially for beginners and riders
learning to jump. Ride hard and ride safe!