Been windsurfing for 27 years and am thinking about going to a 3 day kite camp in April to try out the sport. One item I just can't understand: I hear about continual safety improvements on the kites over the years yet there are still experienced kiters getting killed. I can't tell if it's:
the safety equipment isn't 100% reliable even when enabled (i.e doesn't release power fast enough)
The safety equipment does not enable reliably (i.e. corrosion due to salt water; or something gets tangled in lines to prevent enabling)
the victims didn't have time to react to enable the safety equipment
the victims were using older equipment that does not have the latest safety equipment
I was in a shop last week and they told me about the improved safety of the newer 5 line kites. Is this just a small incremental increase in safety or a leap of large magnitude?
Thanks for any advice.
When it works, kiting is easy and fun, but things do go wrong a lot more than they do with windsurfing. I have had more gear problems and breakdowns, done more swimming and walks-of-shame, and been skunked because of weather more often in one year of kiting than in twenty years of windsurfing.
But there's no doubt in my mind that kiting is a lot more dangerous than windsurfing. In windsurfing when you lose control you lose power, but in kiting when you lose control you can still get a crazy surge of power from the kite. The modern bridled kites with their depower and safety systems only partially help. 5 line is the safest depower system, but if your kite inverts and powers up, the 5th line can slice it in half.
I think the main thing for safety is just to get familiar with your kite like a pilot would with an airplane, and ride cautiously, avoiding conditions you're not sure you can handle.
nothing is 100% safe! Look how much knowledge and money is in the car industry...and still many dying!!!
As mentioned before, it comes down to you...back in 2000 when we had no depower, no quick release, no knowledge at all, we still survived, since we were careful.
Keep 10 golden rules in mind, and you don't need safety at all!
- distance is your friend (always stay away from obstacles, keep enough distance so you could react if something goes wrong)
- check several weather forecasts, also the ones showing gusts
- launch standing in the water
- train to activate your quick release as a reflex
- don't play on the beach with your kite up
- immediately unhook (or activate your quick release) when the kite was caught by the kite helper
- launch and land with your hand on the quick release
- avoid onshore and offshore winds
- pre-check your gear and test your quick release
- leave the water immediately when dark clouds are around and fly the kite low so someone catches, so you don't stand on land with the kite up
which does not mean you should buy an old bar with an old QR...the newer, normally the better...
Wearing a life vest or impact vest and a helmet is a good idea, too, even though most people don't.
It's nice to have the flotation for long swims, body drags, water relaunches, etc., and it's nice to have a little head and chest protection when you're frequently smacking the water learning to ride the board or trying tricks. And, of course, if something really bad happens it might save your life.
I would rather not wear the safety gear because it looks stupid, but I do anyway because I plan to be kiting for many years, which is a lot of chances for something bad to happen, and I want to be wearing the gear when / if it does.
Its would be safe to say COMPLACENCY probably kills more kiters than failed equipment.
Toby has listed probably 10 Commandments for kiting.
For me no6 is the daddy of safety and would eliminate many accidents and about 90% fatalities.
I ask others. When you launch your kite, how often do you think you might loose control of it? Usually the answer is NEVER. My reply is "EVERY TIME" hence i have my hand on my release every launch and every land. Expect the unexpected. How many times has it saved me in 7 years......? 2-3 times to avoid an incident......and 1 time which had FATALITY written all over it.
Never get complacent , no matter how good you think you are, natures got a twisted sense of humour.
There's probably a lot of reasons. Here are some that I think contribute to the problem:
The Oops! Factor. 1-2-3 things in row go wrong and before you know it you're in deep shit. That happens in all walks of life and can only be avoided by thinking ahead and giving yourself multiple redundant options when doing stuff. Things like avoiding downwind obstacles and narrow, gusty launches and knowing your techniques and safety systems.
The Grip of Death. I see so many less experienced kiters and their first reaction is to pull the bar hard in and keep it there. They now have a fully powered kite that they are not controlling and is dragging them towards something hard and unpleasant. All they have to do is push the bar out or even drop it completely and the problem would disappear. This problem is double-edged. When you are overpowered you want to push the bar away to depower the kite. When you are underpowered you want to push the bar away to get more air speed and more power. The solution to almost every problem in kiting is to push out the bar.
Blind Stupidity. I watched an experienced kiter launch his kite, loop it several times and crash it into the bushes. He did this three times in a row. I had to ride in, land my kite and point out to him he was holding the bar upside down. He is not the first person I have seen do this. I've done it a couple of times myself (but I have always noticed before a problem arose). You need a good pre-launch checking method that actually checks the things that matter.
Ignorance/Over confidence: Newbies turn up at a beach with several very experienced kiters having a great time ... on 7 metre kites. Newb proceeds to launch 12m kite in cross-offshore conditions, combines several of the previous boo boos, then gets dragged off in to the water by the kite of death.
There's more but I've got stuff to do.
To add to the always/never list:
- Never go out further than you can swim in.
- Always go out in cross to onshore conditions so you get blown back to the beach.
- Always make sure you have downwind escape routes during launching, riding and landing (this is the most important of all).
the victims didn't have time to react to enable the safety equipment
More accurately, they weren't trained and prepared to enable or activate the safety gear or in some cases there really isn't enough time. Wind can go from barely manageable to lofting/dragging velocity in negligible time in hazardous weather.
Question, if you know in advance there is a good chance you won't have enough time to avoid an injury if something happens, then what should you do?
Easy short answer, AVOID the event (often excessively strong or uneven wind, poor downwind buffer, excessively large kite, inadequate familiarity with the gear, etc. etc.). What do you do if you drive off a cliff? Not much, avoid going off the cliff in the first place.