I asked Shannon what he took away from this experience. He said to never underestimate the power of the wind (and WEATHER). Shannon knows what it is like to be injured and to be forced to take time off the water. For that reason, if he had an indication of events to come, he would have depowered his kite while still in the water and away from shore. He thought that he could unhook and still be standing on the ground. He felt that it is possible that an even higher gust hit when he pulled down the bar to unhook, powering up the kite just as the stronger wind hit. Shannon generally tries to be a bit underpowered when he chooses a kite as the improved efficiency and control makes it possible to do tricks more effectively than when overpowered. He estimated that he would normally pick the 18 m Nemesis for max winds up to around 15 kts. sustained for optimal control and trick performance. Shannon ended up trying to cope with winds double that speed and possibly more.
Squalls are hazardous and have resulted in some fatalities and many serious injuries among kiteboarders. Once winds gust beyond a certain level, our ability to continue to stay on the surface and cope dissappears. In the lofting in Cabarete, a kiteboarding instructor was lofted by a 51 kt. gust with his kite relatively low and almost in the hands of an assistant when the squall hit. As a result the rider was lofted over 800 ft. horizontally and 100 ft. high. In such overpowered conditions it is probably easy to have a low kite rocket higher off the ground due to uneven bar pressure before you even realize it. This kiteboarder steered his 11.9 m RRD kite lightly toward a pine tree, hitting at a high rate of speed presumably and suffered limited injuries miraculously. More in the KSI under: 32. Incident# 3 3 02 in the 2002 volume. Such strong gusts and sometimes more occur with some frequency during the summer months in South Florida in squalls. Above a certain windspeed, skill becomes almost irrelavent as physics takes over, IF you still have a kite up in the air and are not in a position to instantly depower your kite. It is hard to edge to compensate for an overpowered kite if you are airborne.
Some ideas on how to try to avoid something like this follow:
1. Check weather radar, forecast and hazardous weather (wx) warnings before going out, such as at: http://nws.noaa.gov/
and for unstable winds (excessively gusty or changing in direction) at: http://www.ikitesurf.com/
2. Checkout the sky in all directions for signs of unstable weather before you launch and regularly while you are riding. It is easy to forget to do this but in squall season it is an important step.
3. If you see a squall moving in, often marked by black clouds BUT not always in all areas, get into shore quickly, bring down and fully secure your kite BEFORE any change in temperature, windspeed, direction, etc.. KNOW what unstable weather can look like in YOUR area. A lot may ride on this basic but highly important knowledge.
4. If you are too late to land your kite, depower your kite immediately using your kite leash, even if you have to swim a ways into shore. DO NOT GO TO SHORE AND STAND AROUND WAITING FOR SOMEONE TO CATCH YOUR KITE. People have been killed for making this mistake. When in doubt, COMPLETELY depower your kite by pulling your Quick Release and dropping your bar, while you still have the option.
5. Use the most reliable and well maintained quick release that you can find. Relying upon being able to manually unhook has not be possible in many loftings in the past. You need a quick release mechanism but it needs to be easily found and WORK. This has not always been the case.
Frequently physically and mentally rehearse activating your Quick Release, an emergency is no time to figure out how to activate this device. Your reactions need to be immediate and spot on. Finding and releasing your QR should be second nature to improve the odds of coming through a bad go to.
6. Use a good helmet and impact vest, they might help if something like this grabs you. If you don't have them on, the benefit is obvious, NONE. Trouble can catch up with the BEST of us, have a care out there.
More ideas on how to try to avoid being lofted appear at:
Moral: This could happen to anyone once exposed to unstable weather. Squalls are bad news, avoid them.
Thanks to Shannon for sharing his experience with us.
It would be good if other promenient riders passed along some of their hard won lessons to the rest of us. You folks paid the price, often in pain, why not try to create something positive out of a bad experience? Feel free to email me at <firstname.lastname@example.org or PM me at ricki to pass along what you have learned. Thanks!