I was interviewed by Gerd Kloos of the German publication, Kite Magazin about the squall loftings at Strand Horst in Holland in recent months. CLICK IMAGES FOR FULL SIZED PAGE IN GERMAN
Although not a direct translation of the above pdf copies of the article, the original interview questions and answers in English follow:
1. Could you describe the circumstances of the accidents in the Netherlands?
A cold front passed inland into the Netherlands from the North Sea as forecast for that afternoon. The front was predicted to bring winds of bft. 5, with gusts to bft 6 to 7 with extreme gusts on the order of bft 9. The forecast was apparently fairly accurate which can't always be counted on in many parts of the world. The front clearly showed up on color radar and satellite imagery. Some experienced kiters even warned others at the beach about the incoming hazardous weather. Despite this, numerous kiteboarders ignored the forecast, radar information and obvious incoming black threatening cloud and continued to ride. Or, perhaps some chose to land, perhaps too late. It was stated the squall line moved in very fast, surprising some. Squalls can move over land in excess of 95 km/hr or about 3 km every two minutes. If you can see only three km or less, assuming you bother to look at what is coming in from upweather, you may have two minutes to analyze the situation and react. One kiteboarder was lofted on to some rocks along the shore and suffered fatal injuries. Another kiteboarder was lofted over a bathroom building and substantial distance from the water suffering serious fractures but survived. Several kites were quick released with some catching in trees.
2, The cause of the accidents was obviously the sudden storm. Is the weather often a cause of accidents?
Yes, unstable weather is a frequent cause of kitesurfing accidents. In a recent evaluation of kiting fatalities in 2006 and 2008, hazardous weather was an important factor in almost half of all kiteboarding losses. Failure to perform proper weather planning and monitoring was a significant cause in about 70 % of all fatalities. Historically, hazardous weather has also been an important factor in kiting losses. For every fatality, there have likely hundreds of non-lethal accidents worldwide with similar causes in the past.
3, Do you believe that kiteboarders are not well informed about the risks of storm. Or do you believe that kitesurfers are too risky, meaning too ignorant or just too careless?
I believe in some cases kitesurfers are unaware of the hazards of storms. In yet other cases I believe they down play them or fail to properly educate themselves as to the harsh realities. Some may feel they can "manage" through excessively violent wind gusts and direction changes through technology and skill. Kites have practical limits for depowering, some wind gusts are too great and direction changes too erratic. Depowering requires correct, timely action by the kiter and for all the mechanisms to work as intended. This doesn't always happen and as a result, kiteboarders are injured. You never know in advance how strong a squall will be and what sort of conditions it will cause until it is on you. Kiteboarders may come from windsurfing or perhaps look at them riding through storms and think, well they can handle it and so can I. Windsurfers aren't lofted a hundred meters or more inland by strong wind gusts unlike kiters who are readily vulnerable to such things, just add too much wind. It pays to understand and act upon critical differences. Kiters may risk more than themselves in launching in unsafe conditions and as such they have a larger responsibility.
By ironic contrast, some kiters worry about shark attack at times. To my knowledge no kiters have been killed by a shark and only a handful attacked. This unlike large quantities of swimmers and surfers worldwide. Compare this to the dozens of kiters killed by storms and likely hundreds injured worldwide. Despite this, storms seem to be a lesser threat in some minds. Still trying to understand this myself as reason doesn't seem to form a major part of these relative concerns.
4. Which kind of clouds and other weather indications should kitesurfers never ignore?
I believe kitesurfers should do routine weather planning and monitoring for each session, see below. There is still more information in this regard at fksa.org. This will vary among areas and with available weather resources. Still, it seems most of the following is available in much of Europe. They should evaluate the following in consideration of their experience, equipment, in launch area selection and whether to even go kitesurfing. There are plenty of times, when the reasonable answer is no, I will wait until the weather hazard (i.e. cold front squall line passes).
1. Marine and hazard weather forecasts. They may understate severity at times, although not always. You need to develop your own conservative judgement as well.
2. Color radar and satellite, on loop, to see if strong storm cells are inbound and how fast.
3. Check realtime wind reports locally and upweather in the direction the weather system is coming from. Sometimes you can see violent weather hundreds of km upweather hours before it arrives in your area. Storms may be characterized by violent direction changes, powerful gust spikes and the like. Dramatic temperature changes can come as well. Direction changes is they shift offshore or cross over land creating excessive gusts can also be hazardous, e.g. Mistrals.
4. Look at weather (synoptic) maps on loop and see what major systems are inbound and at what speed. Systems can stall, change development of course despite possible trends you see online.
5. While you're at the beach and on the water, keep your eyes open. If threatening weather comes, you should be on the beach and secured before there is any significant change in wind speed, direction or temperature. DO NOT wait too late, if necessary Emergency Depower and swim into shore. With your impact vest and strong swimming skills getting back to shore shouldn't present a serious problem, right?
Clouds to watchout for; those that bring severe, violent weather in YOUR area. Things can differ worldwide. In short, cumulo nimbus clouds warrant respect, clouds that lead strong weather fronts, shelf clouds, lenticular clouds and still more. I believe all kiters have a responsibility to understand visible weather and cloud signs that indicate hazardous weather in their area.
5. How many lethal or serious accidents did you collected in your documentation?
There have been 96 kiteboarding fatalities that I have heard about and learned some details of worldwide since 2000.
6. The most important causes of accidents?
"Operator error" or use of poor judgement. Judgement governs all our choices and actions. Choosing to go out in the wrong conditions, at the wrong location, with the wrong gear or insufficient training or experience, is just that, our choice. We may not give these choices all the consideration they deserve or may lack the knowledge or experience to make them. You can have a very demanding and exciting kiting career while not risking killing the lot, and yourself, through poor choices. It takes knowledge, some analysis, carefully assembled experience but it is readily done. I believe this should be a source of pride in the kiting community and something to be worked towards commonly as a mark of prowess and accomplishment.
7. The kites have been incredibly improved in the last for years. Have you noticed a decrease of accidents in our sport?
Since flat (BOW, hybrid) kites have been out, there has been a significant reduction in kiting fatalities related to impact trauma and lofting. This while numbers of kitesurfers have increased too. At the same time, fatal impacts still occur, largely due to "operator error." In a kiteboarding evaluation of accidents in 2006 to 2008, fatal impact trauma was four times more likely to occur with traditional C kites as compared to flat kites.
8. Which is in your opinion the most important improvement for the safety of the kitesurfers?
Development of knowledge, awareness and good responsible technique. In terms of hardware, the substantial increase in the ability to depower a flat kite as compared to traditional C kites. Still, mechanisms fail and even these kites have practical limits in high gusts. Also, people will fail to act properly in high wind emergencies making all these developments of no use. The goal needs to be to avoid the emergency in the first place.
9. Which parts must be improved very urgent.
I would say to build better awareness, to dispel the perception of "weather immunity" that some may have. It is a false, dangerous belief that will cost some of our number dearly. Not everyone is harmed in storms, just enough to make it a bad idea. On the hardware side, to improve the reliability of emergency depowering and hardware, standardize Quick Releases, bar colors and labeling.
10. Some information about you:
You have been observing accidents since....?
Since 1998 and with more focused interest since my own near fatal lofting in 2000.
Which manufacturer asked you for some advice?
Cabrinha kiteboarding has shown strong and continued interest in the area of kiteboarding safety. Best Kiteboarding has contacted me as well in the past. Flysurfer referred Kite Magazine to me in the first place four years ago, thanks for that Armin.
11. You are going still kiting, although you are best informed man about kite accidents?
Information is power, it really will "set you free" and ideally to enjoy and safer, charged kiting session too. All the accidents I have evaluated over nine years indicate that the vast majority were readily avoidable. If hazard awareness, appreciation and avoidance were as well developed as they should be, the accidents may well have never happened or with lesser consequences. I look to the example of bluewater sailors, cross country hang glider, off piste alpinists. All these take their environment, its understanding and prediction in all seriousness. It is an imperative and source of pride in their kind to have this knowledge and use it. I believe the same should apply to kitesurfing.
12. Which is the most important advice to avoid an accident during kiteboarding?
I believe it is conveyed by the three "A's," kitesurfing hazard awareness, appreciation and avoidance. Always be aware of what hazards exist, appreciate their significance, don't ignore or downplay them understand how to avoid them through proper training and experience development. Work to build knowledge and skill in these areas and give respect to those that have done so. Our sport can be "dangerously easy" or appear to be simpler and less threatening than it may actually be. Work to learn how to pursue it right and have a long, fun kiting career!
I have attached a photo, it was from an almost 100 km kiteboarding race in 2008.