A reprint of an article that appears in the current AKA "Kiting" magazine follows:
K I T E B O A R D I N G is an astounding extreme sport where you can hurl yourself 15 to 30 ft. or higher into the air and 40 to 60 ft. or more downwind with wild abandon. While you are defying gravity you can spin, flip upside-down, take your board off and slip it back on and otherwise style big time. These moves come with time and experience but in the beginning you can still feel the stoke of ripping across the water at speed, with the wind rushing past your face and spray blasting from your board. Sounds good ... WELL IT IS!
Wait a second though, what was that about hurling at speed 30 ft. high and 60 ft. downwind? You mean me? I weigh 185 lbs. you mean fling all that up in the air over those distances, WOW! That is some MAJOR POWER, yes it is! Even if I blow a landing all I will do is make a big splash, yes, most of the time that is true. What if this happens over land by accident though, but if you are good enough this won't happen right?
No ... experience has shown that skill alone will not necessarily carry the day if things go wrong in kiteboarding. It can help but no where near as effectively as avoiding the problem in the first place. It pays to be methodical and careful while your kite is in the air and you are on or near land. Many kiteboarders are learning that all this power that makes this extreme sport such a blast can also painfully spank you and then some if things go wrong. Weather dependent sports, gotta love 'em and you had better respect them and use good judgment to keep having fun, safe and whole.
So, how do you get into this incredible extreme sport? Get adequate professional training, know and ride within your limits in suitable weather conditions, follow the Safe Kiteboarding Guidelines as well as other good practices and WEAR SAFETY GEAR! All this should help to keep you safer while you are grabbing all the addictive stoke that this extreme sport can deliver.
Helmets, who needs 'em? Hockey players, snowboarders, football players and even sky divers never used to, but they do now. They went to the "school of hard knocks" and came away after enough time and injuries concluding that keeping your brain in gear and functioning is more important than showing off your doo. What other extreme sport can you think of where you can toss yourself at the speeds and to the heights of kiteboarding where helmets are not commonly used, hmmm? Folks are getting injured or coming close to it for want of a simple lid. Think you don't need one or it isn't cool, think again.
So, what makes a good kiteboarding helmet? It should be light, have low drag, be well fitting, well padded and secured to absorb some of the hard, fast impacts that kiteboarding can deliver. It should not collect water excessively and drain readily. You want your helmet to protect your most valuable asset, your brain and not load up with excess water weight or force on impact due to drag to avoid causing neck problems. There are not a lot of purpose built kiteboarding helmets out there at this stage in this young sport. So you need to select the best wakeboarding or kayaking helmet that you can come across at this point. More discussion of ideas on some helmets, impact vests/PFDs and other safety gear appear online in an article located in the Kiteboarding Safety Resources at:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/kitesurf/ ... EFERENCES/
under: 1b. Safety Gear Ideas
Impact vests or personal flotation devices (PFD's), what good do they do? Well they keep you warm, help you float which can be very nice if things go wrong and they will go a long way towards protecting your torso from impacts. Impacts again, jeez ... it is only water right? Yes, but if you hit hard enough it can hurt. Many pro kiteboarders and others have broken ribs on impact and may not have if they had an impact vest or PFD on. This year a bunch of hot looking, functional impact vests have come on the market specifically for kiteboarding. A good vest should be comfortable, well fitting, not obstruct or impair your harness and should be thick enough to offer reasonable protection. Pockets are also a great thing, for another safety item, change to call for a ride if you need one!
So how about that engine, your kite, that pulls you at incredible speed and power to fling you at speed skyward? Do you want to be able to shut down the power or do you want to go for the complete ride hitting whatever if your session cascades downhill unexpectedly? Also, do you want to release your problem, a overpowered and possibly out of control kite and send it flying off downwind if things get too gnarly for oblivious bystanders to try to deal with? The only reasonable answer is yes, you want to be able to shut down the power and you want to keep the kite from flying wily nily off downwind to plague someone else's day. So how do you do this? It goes back to proper training, building careful experience, using good judgment to avoid this nasty perdicaments in the first place. It also means using a working, tested kite depowering leash and a reliable means of releasing your attachment to the kite, the chicken loop. There are a lot of "spinable" kite depowering leashes out there today. There is no valid or responsible excuse not to use these very useful devices for kiteboarding.
You can always just unhook from the fixed harness line or chicken loop, right? No, unfortunately in many cases kiteboarders simply couldn't muster enough strength to unhook or perhaps react quickly enough to avoid serious problems. People have been going to snap shackles but these mechanical releases may not be all that reliable unless they are properly rigged, maintained, free of sand, not excessively loaded, etc. This year quick release (QR), chicken loops have been introduced. These QR chicken loops seem to be pretty reliable and relatively inexpensive. Kiteboarders should look into using these devices because when you need to unhook in an emergency ... YOU NEED TO UNHOOK, first try and quickly!
Kite depowering leashes are a MUST unless you think brakes should become optional in cars. If brakes are optional sometimes cars will have 'em and stop and other times they will just slam through your wall and park in your living room!? We need to assume responsibility for this powerful kite that we chose to take out and have fun with. We need to keep control over it at all times and if things go wrong to try to safely depower it while keeping it attached to ourselves.
Knives and gloves are an excellent idea too. You have all that line up, 400 ft. of the stuff in many cases. Do you think it would be good to have some means of cutting some of that line if things go wrong? That is a lot of line to be tangled in while in the water potentially with a powered up kite attached to it. Wearing a good hook knife or knives in easily accessible areas makes very good sense. Cave divers wear up to 5 knives and they generally have only one line out at a time. Also, wearing good full finger gloves to help cut down on wear and tear on your hands and more critically to help in line handling are very nice to wear routinely.
A whistle can be a very good thing to signal an oncoming boat to avoid your line in the water or yourself for that matter. It can also really help to get people's attention onshore should you need it. They are inexpensive, take up very little space and can be very valuable if things go wrong. There are lots of other safety items that kiteboarders may want to bring along, adequate wet/dry suit protection, cell phones in waterproof carriers, etc. Some of the main items are described above. Safety gear is often for "just in case" for those rare times when things come undone in a seriously negative way. When was the last time your car seatbelts or airbags saved your life, what about those oxygen masks that pop down on airliners or any one of a multitude of other devices we routinely take for granted and possibly don't even notice? We accept these things and use them because they makes sense, to help us deal with and over come "just in case."
Kiteboarding safety gear ... please think about using it. If things go wrong we can benefit from all the help we can get sometimes. In the meantime, shred hard, smart and enjoy this great sport for all that it can offer.
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