I guess everyone who has heard about kiteboarding knows about the horror videos where people are being dragged around the beach or thrown into the air. Although kitesurfing equipment has improved enormously and made the sport much safer, there are still some things to consider in order to make your time on the water more fun without any bad surprises or outcomes. I’ll share my – partly painfully learnt – tips on kitesurfing safety here with you:
1) If you still want to learn kitesurfing: choose your school wisely
Make sure you choose a kitesurf school that has teachers who are certified by a kiteboarding organization like IKO (international), KSA (international), VDWS (German) etc. Also check beforehand if they have up-to-date equipment. Make sure your teacher speaks a language you can understand. The lessons don’t have to be in your mother tongue but if it’s a foreign language you should be able to understand it quite well to communicate easier with your teacher.
2) Invest in good equipment that suits your level of kiteboarding
When buying a new kite, make sure it is appropriate to your level of kiteboarding – buying a C-kite if you’re an absolute beginner and just want to ride back and forth might not be the best idea. I always recommend going to a Testival where you can test different kites by different brands and experienced people can tell you if the kite is suited for a beginner, if it’s a kite for wave kiting or freestyle etc. Read magazine reviews about kites and check the brand’s website, they usually have quite detailed descriptions for whom the kite is suited.
3) If you want to buy used gear, make sure it is still in good shape
When buying used equipment, don’t buy a 10-year-old kite on ebay even if it’s cheap. As safety systems have improved a lot in the last decade I wouldn’t buy anything older than 4 years. Also don’t buy kites that have very big patches or are broken and still have to repaired (unless you are experienced and know what you’re dealing with).
4) Basic but important: You should be fit when going kiting.
This is the most obvious one but really essential: Don’t go in when you’re totally jet lagged or arrive after a 48 hour journey or if you are still drunk from last night. That’s when stuff happens and when you injure yourself cause you’re not really there. Just speaking for myself: After a long night of partying, lots of Cuba Libre and short sleep I managed to drop my kite in the pool of a hotel when I didn’t realize the wind dropped because of a wind shade. Luckily it was only the pool and I didn’t hit anyone or completely destroyed my kite in the palm trees.
5) Always, I mean always, know the chicken loop release of your kite when going to the water with new equipment
Most brands already have the same kind of chicken loop release nowadays but always try it once on the beach when rolling out your bar. When something happens you’re stressed and have to react fast so you should know how to release and also how to put it back. I once tried a kite from a friend and only wanted to go to the water for a quick 10-minute sunset session. The safety released by accident, I was out on the reef in the waves and had no idea how to put it back together. The session ended in an hour of swimming, being washed by waves.. Now I know better 😉
6) Get informed about the spot you are kiting at before hitting the water
It just takes a few minutes, ask some kitesurfer on the beach or the local kite school about:
- wind conditions and what times of the day the wind is usually up
- if there are certain kite areas
- if the wind drops at a certain point downwind due to houses or other obstacles
- if there is anything special to consider like reefs or rocks in the water, sea urchins, sharp shells that can cut your feet or poisonous jelly fish
- if there is a rescue boat
7) If it’s possible, don’t go kiting alone
Coming from me, that’s a funny point as I’m traveling alone. Still: it’s always better to have someone with you to help you if something’s happening. If you’re alone, talk and connect to some people on the beach, which will probably happen anyway.
8) As a beginner or inexperienced kitesurfer always book rescue service if possible and avoid spots with offshore wind
I know, that’s a tough one for the ego, we always think as soon as we ride upwind for the first time, we are superheroes and nothing can ever happen to us anymore. It was the same for me. I went kiting at different conditions at a new spot with a bit too little wind and had to be rescued two times (I even sent the rescue boat away the first time, telling him I could make it back upwind until I almost landed in the rocks and he came to get me in the end). So safety first, put your ego aside and listen to the more experienced riders on the spot. Make your life easier by choosing a spot that has onshore or sideshore wind as you will have a lot of trouble getting back to shore with offshore wind. Offshore wind spots are dangerous for everyone, no matter how good you are, I know a lot of very experienced kiters who would never go to a offshore wind spot. (Still, I have to admit, I’m not one of them cause I love the flatwater that comes with the offshore winds).
9) Avoid accidents when starting and landing your kite
Sadly a lot of accidents happen here. So before you even choose your kite size, just check for a second what kite sizes the others are riding and how strong the wind is. Put up your kite in a place where you have enough space to launch and no palm trees or rocks close by. Choose someone who knows how to launch a kite. Before launching check if any of the lines are twisted. Some schools even teach you should hold one hand on the chicken loop release while launching the kite in order to release if something happens. I’m not sure about this one as I think for a lot of people it’s hard to launch the kite with just one hand on the bar so it makes the danger of something happening even bigger but just keep it in mind. One more note: you can of course self-launch and self-land your kite if you know how and the wind is not too strong but it’s always better to have someone help you as it’s safer for you and your kite.
10) Make sure you know how to do self rescue on the water
Just a few days ago I did a downwinder with a guy who had recently started kiting and could safely kite back and forth. Soon after we started he dropped the kite and couldn’t relaunch it cause the lines had twisted around the kite. So there we were, about 1 km out in the sea, kite pulling him towards the rocks. And he didn’t know how to do self-rescue. It all ended well but REALLY, learn how to do self rescue, you can’t rely on other kiters or the safety boats might just not see you. You should try being as independent as possible. Watch youtube videos like this one or ask some experienced kiter on the beach you know and trust to explain it to you.
11) If something happens in the water, stay calm.
This is really important and coming from my own experience as I freaked out a couple of times in the water and it didn’t get me anywhere. Sometimes your lines are somehow tangled around your kite and you can’t relaunch it or the wind is too strong to do a self rescue. The key (unless you are being dragged away from shore ore towards a giant rock) is to wait.. sometimes the kite untangles by itself, sometimes you will manage to stir the kite in the water back to the direction to the shore so even if you can’t relaunch it it will pull you slowly back to shore. I know it’s hard to remember in those situations, but try to stay calm.
12) Know the kitesurf rules
But more importantly, use your brain! Knowing the rules is important, but to tell you the truth: don’t rely on them! A lot of people will ignore them because they don’t want to follow them or simply can’t follow them cause they are beginners and so busy looking at their kite that they won’t even see you. So use your brain when kiting and don’t rely on a rule. Click here to see a simple infographic in which the rules are described.
13) Don’t get too close to beginners
I think we can all remember how we first started kiting. It’s really hard to estimate the distances and in the beginning it always seemed people were getting ways to close tom me. So just make it easier for everyone: leave the beginners more space, don’t get too close to them, also for your own good as they might crash or lose control as well.
14) Keep an eye on the overall situation around you on the water
If everyone’s going out of the water, make sure to check why. Especially when I was starting to kite or learning some new tricks, I was completely in my own world. I didn’t realize when the dark clouds and the storm was coming up (which usually kills the wind if you are on a spot with thermal wind) and in the end my kite just dropped in the middle of the reef and I had a long swim back.
15) Don’t try to rescue someone else by yourself…
… unless you’re insanely experienced. I think from the 10 times I tried to rescue someone, 9 times I had to be rescued as well as I then dropped my kite into the other’s kite and made the situation worse. So rather then trying to help the person by yourself, get someone to rescue him, drive back to the beach, ask the kite school or get the rescue boat or if you don’t know what to do, ask an experienced kiter on the beach and tell him what happened.
16) Check your equipment from time to time
Make sure you check your kite for any cracks that might just rip your kite in two when you crash it hard the next time. Also watch the quality of your bridles and depower line. I already had two accidents as once one of my bridles broke and the kite started looping uncontrolled and the other time my depower line broke. Both of the times I saw it coming but I thought „I can go in just one more time and then I’ll fix it“ and that’s when it happened.
17) Wear an impact vest and a helmet
Of course wearing an impact vest and a helmet makes kitesurfing a lot safer as well, although you won’t see a lot of advanced riders on the water with them, as it doesn’t look so cool. But actually trying the more advanced tricks it is good considering it – since then kitesurfing really becomes an extreme sport again.
18) Rules for a downwinder
Downwinders sound like a lot of fun and are often underestimated, which resulted in a lot of downinders that were really no fun in my time here in Brazil because I was busier rescuing people than riding. So here are a few tips on how to make your downwinder fun without any bad surprises:
- Never, ever do a downwinder alone! Even if you’re a very experienced rider, there could always happen something: a line or a bridle could break or you could get hurt in a way that would made it impossible to keep kiting.
- Stay together as a group. This refers to the first point as well: you are responsible for the people you are riding with. If they crash, you wait for them and don’t just drive off downwind.
- Know your level of riding and don’t do it if you’re still a beginner. If you still keep crashing your kite very often and are not safe riding upwind, you won’t get very far on your downwinder. Before you go for your downwinder, try going like a 100 meters downwind right at your spot just to get a feeling of what it’s like. Also, knowing how to go toeside can help you quite a lot in a downwinder.
- Go with someone experienced who know the conditions and knows about obstacles like rocks in the water etc.
- Don’t go for a sunset downwinder if it’s already getting dark or with unstable wind.
19) Surviving the worst case scenarios
There are some scenarios that are not very likely to happen – but if they do, here is how to react:
- Your fingers/hands/feet are getting tangled in the lines of your kite. Get everything out of there as fast as possible! If your kite gets power again and the lines are pulling it won’t end very well. Make sure to check if you have a kite knife in your harness or buy a kite knife if you don’t have one.
- One of your lines breaks or gets tangled in the bar so your kite starts death looping: watch this video for an explanation what to do next (not the best quality but really explains it quite well and detailed)
- If your lines start tangling with somebody and you’re getting pulled towards each other, immediately use the chicken loop release
20) Remember that your wellbeing is more important than any kite equipment would ever be
If you’re far out, it’s starting to get dark and the wind is turning offshore, it’s time to let your equipment go. Your life is worth more than anything else, don’t get yourself in more danger than necessary by holding on to your equipment.
// With all of that information I wish you lots of wonderful kite sessions!
I hope you are having a lot of fun in the water! Some of the situations I mentioned happen very rarely but I just want you to know what to do in that moment if it should really go down.
// Are there any more safety tricks you think should be featured here?
If so, I would love to learn about them in the comments!