I just heard about an accident today involving a very experienced kiteboarder. The rider was doing a downwinder with a 20 m LEI kite in lighter winds, roughly 12 mph gusting to 17 mph side to side onshore. There were some 4 to 6 ft. ground swells forming about 300 ft. offshore.
The rider repeatedly tried to relaunch his kite from the water with no success. He then decided to "self-rescue" by winding his lines up on his bar, swimming up to his kite.
A breaking wave caught his kite and moved it towards shore at speed with considerable force. He became tangled in the kite lines with lines snaring his hand and wrapping around his neck. He rapidly tried to free his neck from the lines and eventually succeeded. He was not able to free his hand however. The rider was blown/drifted the approximate 300 ft. to shore with the lines wrapped around and sliced into his hand. The rider reportedly wasn't carrying a hook knife nor was he wearing gloves.
Bystanders responded rapidly once the rider came to the beach and rushed him to the hospital. The kiteboarder has suffered a laceration to the bone around one thumb, tissue loss from other parts of his hand along with vascular and potential nerve damage. Treatment is still ongoing.
Wave loading on a kite can be tremendous, far in excess of loads that might ever be realized in wind given the greater specific weight of water when compared to air (800 times greater!). We worry about line cuts in gusty winds, wave loading puts wind loading to shame in terms of shear force when it comes to cutting potential.
Speaking from personal experience it is hard to be certain that you are actually free from entangling lines when your kite is floating on the water. That means you could be tangled and potentially injured by an accidental relaunch or by a wave catching and loading up your kite. The risk of injury goes way up if you are winding up your lines if the kite relaunches with substantial (which normally shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be possible if you wind up your lines unevenly for at least one wingspan or more at the start) or if it is caught by a wave.
So, what to do?
Specific conditions of your circumstances need to govern your decisions in this of course. The goal is to get your kite and yourself into shore as quickly and safely as possible. Damage to kites in waves is easy to do and line cuts can also happen and potentially be quite severe. As with many other things in kiteboarding, avoidance of ever falling into something like this is best for a reliable outcome. Otherwise things can get a little uncertain and complex depending upon actual conditions. A few ideas for consideration follow.
If it looks like you are going to have your kite caught by waves before you can secure your kite, some guys might elect to hang on to the control bar and drop it at the first sign of it being caught by a wave. Some might even detach their kite leash to avoid loading the kite up as much as possible. If your open kite is caught by a wave it might be torn as many of us have learned the hard way, particularly if you are still attached by the kite leash. Still that beats causing a significant tear in YOU. Also, you need to be fairly confident that the kite wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t auto launch and run off downwind without you once it hits shore. It is important that there not be bystanders in the water between you and the shore in this of course. This is one reason to avoid crowded areas when wave riding.
Normally, it would be best to limit winding your lines up on your bar when you are confident that you can do this before any waves catch your kite. A kite can still impart some significant load in a wave even if the lines are wrapped unevenly. Sailing in by Ã¢â‚¬Å“bailing outÃ¢â‚¬