Let me first preface this by saying that while I have been kiting for 5 years and consider myself intermediate, I have never done a drift launch or any sort of launch not on solid ground, I have been fortunate enough to always live near sandy beaches. I may not even fully understand the proper definition of a drift launch vs other types of water launches, so I will try to explain exactly what I am referring to. I am also not an instructor and do not know what proper instruction protocols are. I do however, have an idea somewhere in the back of my head that drift launches are an advanced move and not without unique risks, and I would not attempt one without first seeking instruction and having some support nearby (and I'd want to try it in shallow flat water, light winds, the first time).
A good friend recently went for his first lesson with a company local to him. It took place at a beach site, where the instructor launched the kite on the beach, and then transferred the hook to the student's harness once in shallow water a safe distance from the shore (sounds like the right way to get a student's kite in the air, same thing happened with my first lesson long ago). The student did some body dragging for just under an hour, but the lesson was cut short by wind. A week later, the student went back for a followup lesson. The instructor this time opted to take him into deep choppy water (via jet-ski) and relatively high wind (the student reported feeling overpowered on a 7m, but admittedly a student has no frame of reference for that claim). The student had an extremely scary stituation in deep water while attempting to launch the kite with the instructor nearby, which was relayed to me (by the student) as follows:
The jet-ski stopped, and the instructor had the student get off and hook into the harness. While the student floated and attempted to unwrap the lines (again, already hooked in!), the instructor stayed on the jet-ski and took the kite downwind and pumped it up, instructing the student how to keep unwrapping the lines. Once the kite was inflated, the lines started pulling tight (no surprise there!), but the student had not quite fully completed unwrapping the lines from the bar yet! Before the student could finish unwrapping and even attempt to launch, the kite powered up and lofted him out of the water. From his description to me (which he reports was the instructor's description to him after the fact), the slack lines had developed a tension knot causing the kite to be permanently powered up (and also inverted)... it happened fast enough that he did not know what happened. He was lofted 3 times repeatedly and slammed each time into the water hard enough that he thought he would black out. After the third time he had the presence of mind to punch out, and it did depower the kite.
To me, in my inexperience, it seems incredibly wrong and dangerous to have the student launching like this in these conditions. I know that in a self rescue once, in very light winds where my lines went slack before I punched out, I managed to get a tension knot around my quick release rendering it useless. In this situation I was in shallow water, light winds, and near shore, so I was still able to bring the kite in by one line, but I made a mental note in the future: slack lines are to be feared, if they can cause a QR to lock up. And in this case with my friend, the slack lines are exactly what caused his kitemare. Again, he WAS smart enough to punch out (thank god), but what if his QR had been tangled up too? (or worse, a hand or foot?) I have no idea how dramatic this situation actually played out since I was not there, but I wonder if the instructor is able to chase the student in a situation like that and intervene, if either (a) the QR is fouled or (b) the student is not smart enough to QR. As worst case scenarios play out in my mind, I wonder if drowning is a real concern there? Did my friend almost drown? (hard to say without seeing how fast he was really moving, again he has no frame of reference) The student reported to me that the instructor looked terrified when he finally got his hands back on the student.
To me, it sounds like the instructor was having the student do his first ever self launch as a drift launch. The student says he did not realize this was a big deal and was not given any specific instruction on how to do the launch, other than the instructor shouting at him from the jet-ski to keep unwrapping the line as he pumped the kite. Again, this just sounds wrong on many levels to me. Wouldn't it be much, much better for the instructor to drift launch himself (as he launched himself at the beach), and then transfer the flying kite to the student?
What do other experienced instructors think?