Kiteboarding FAQ

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Frequently asked questions about kiteboarding.

Contents

History

Kites originated in China thousands of years ago (two kite masters Kungshu P'an and Mo Zi flew kites as early as 478 BC) and have managed to remain unchanged until the modern time, when multiple line controllable kites were introduced by George Pocock in 1826. For the first time in history, instead of letting the wind fly the kite, a multiple line controllable kite flyer can actually pilot the kite on the sky. Click http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~et3m-tkkw/history-table.html for a chronological table of kite history and http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~et3m-tkkw/history.html for a bibliography related to history of kites.

When flying across the sky, a kite generates lift like an airplane wing. Since lift is proportional to the size of a kite, some kite flyers realized that if you make a kite big enough it would generate enough power to propel a vehicle on land, snow, ice or water. This type of kite is called traction kite. Certain forms of traction kite has been used by many pioneers such as George Pocock in the past, but it only became popular in the early 1990's and its popularity has made traction kite flying more a sport than just a recreational activity. While a windsurfing sail is dependent on the wind to generate power, a kite is only dependent on the wind to fly. When a kite is flying across the sky, it creates its own wind (apparent wind) which is faster and therefore produces much more power than the actual wind can provide. Since lift is proportional to the square of the wind velocity, if the apparent wind of the kite is twice that of the actual wind you will get four times as much power from the kite. This simple fact is not easy to appreciate until you actually fly a traction kite. Numerous first-time traction kite flyers have been injured in the past for misjudging such power.

As soon as traction kite was introduced, a number of kite flyers started thinking of using kites to replace conventional sails in water sports such as windsurfing. To make this popular, you need a kite that can be launched directly from the water. After years of research, a number of water relauncheable kites were introduced: Wipika inflatable kite (introduced by the Legaignoux brothers in the 80's), Kite Ski frame kite (introduced by Bill & Cory Roeseler in the 80's) and in late 1990's FOne foil kite (Raphael Salles), Concept Air foil kite (Michel Montmigny and Benoit Tremblay), Arc (Peter Lynn) and Naish inflatable kites (Robby Naish & Don Montague). While the fundamental technologies are different and the degrees of relauncheability vary, these kites share the same characteristic that allows a kite flyer to launch them from the water after a fall. There are also a number of other pioneer kitesurfers with their passion and devotion has helped to make the sport feasible in the early days: Laird Hamilton, Manu Bertin, Laurent Ness, Flash (Marcus) Austin and more. Thanks to all those pioneers, a new sport named kitesurfing was christened and destined to be the most exciting sport for the new millenium.

Is kitesurfing safe?

Kitesurfing is not as dangerous as some other sports such as hang gliding; however, kitesurfing is more dangerous compared to other "safer" sports such as windsurfing. In kitesurfing or any other forms of power kiting, safety has to be taken seriously. Make sure you follow the safety guidelines and always use a safety release system.

Can a kitesurfer go upwind?

Yes. With proper equipment and skill, a kitesurfer can easily go upwind. However, all beginners are likely to go downwind.

Can I kitesurf in very light wind?

Yes. You can kitesurf in wind as low as 5 knots with the equipment currently available on the market (large kite and/or board). Since the sport is still very young, future equipment is likely to be improved such that one may be able to kitesurf in lighter wind.

Can I kitesurf in very strong wind?

Yes. You can kitesurf in very strong wind over 40 knots with equipment currently available on the market. At the kitesurfing competition in Leucate, France, 1999, a number of kitesurfers could maintain control in 50 knot gusts.

Can I relaunch the kite from the water?

Yes. You can relaunch the kite from the water after a fall. The degree of relauncheability may vary depending on the type of kite you are using.

What equipment do I need to kitesurf?

To kitesurf you need:

  • A kitesurf kite (with a certain degree of water relauncheability),
  • A kitesurf board,
  • A kite control device,
  • Accessories (board leash, safety release system, harness, life jacket, wet suit, helmet, water shoe, etc.).

What types of kite can I use?

If you are an experienced kite pilot, you can use any traction kite to kitesurf; however, as a beginner, you are much better off with a kitesurf kite that can be relaunched from the water after a fall.

There are a number of kites on the market for kitesurfing. All of them has a certain degrees of water relauncheability. There are mainly three types of kitesurfing kites:

  • Inflatable kites
  • Framed single skin kites
  • Ram air foil kites

Inflatable kites normally have an inflatable leading edge and 5 or more inflatable battens to give it a permanent "crescent moon" shape (this type of kite is also call an inflatable sled or LEI). They are very dependable to relaunch except for certain conditions such as in very light wind (less than 6-7 knots) or when the bridle is inverted (more difficult but still relauncheable). The original founders of Wipika are the inventor of the inflatable kites and has licensed the technology to Naish and many other manufacturers such as Cabrinha, Neilfryde, Liquid Force, Sling Shot, North etc. All inflatable manufacturers continue to develop and market their own version of the kite. Due to the permanent "intrusive" shape of the kite (to facilitate water relaunching), the kite is always "powered up" even on the water. One needs a good working safety release system when using this kite.

There are generally two types of inflatable kite, the low AR 2 line and higher AR 4 line inflatables. The advantages of 2 line inflatable kites are ease of use and stability. The advantage of 4 line inflatable kites are higher performance and better power control (by changing the Angle Of Attack or AOA of the kite).

Due to many good characteristics, excellent wind range and wide range of choices, inflatable kites have more or less dominated the kitesurfing market and majority of kitesurfers are using inflatables.

Framed Single Skin Kites

Frame single skin kites normally have a leading edge made of fiber glass or graphite, one main batten in the center and a number of thin battens along the chord to give the kites the permanent shape. Similarly to windsurfing, it will take quite a bit of practice to learn how to water launch a 2 line framed single skin kite (with the help of a 2 line reel bar). Once one gets the hang of it, these kites are probably the most dependable kites for water relaunching. The only time one may not be able to relaunch these kites is when the wind is light (less than 8-10 knots). KiteSki is the inventor of the relauncheable 2 line framed single skin kite system. KiteSki used to have Banshee manufactured the kites. Both KiteSki and Banshee developed and market their own version of the kites (which could be very different).

After a fall, a framed single skin kite stays flat on the water; therefore, a safety release system may not be needed. However, it is wise to have a safety release system to easily retrieve the kite and the control bar (the kite and the control bar may fly a fairly long distance down wind before landing on the water).

For some reason, framed single kites are becoming less and less popular among the kitesurfers and rarely one see any kitesurfer using framed single skin kites for kitesurfing anymore.

Ram Air Foil Kites

Ram air foil kites have no rigid structure. The shape of the kite is formed while flying. These kites have shapes that are very close to airplane wings and therefore, probably are the most aerodynamic kites. Ram air foil kites have been on the market for a long time and have been used by many buggiers. In the early days of kitesurfing, Concept Air and F-One released the first water relauncheable ram air foil kites, the Concept Air EX's Wave and the FOne ATK kites. These kites normally have a limited number of air intakes and a valve system to prevent the air to escape after a fall. Due to this characteristics, these types of kite are also called closed cell foil kites. According to a number of kitesurfers, once one knows how to water launch these kites, they should be very dependable (especially in moderate to strong wind). As closed cell foil kites retain their shape after a fall, one should have a safety release system when using these kites.

After Concept Air and F-One, a number of companies started to introduce their new ram air foil kites. Quadrifoil, Windtools, Peter Lynn, Jojo, Boom Vector and Flysurfer have introduced water-relauncheable foil. The new Quadrifoil water-relauncheable kite is called Kitesurfer, the Windtools kite is called Mosquito Pro KS and the Peter Lynn kite is called Waterfoil.

In spring 2000, Concept Air introduced the New Wave, the first foil that incorporate a system allowing the kitesurfer to control the power of the kite by pulling on the third line to change the shape of the kite (therefore changing the camber/projected surface of the kite). The Flysurfer apparently uses similar technique. The Jojo neutralize the center portion of the foil to control its power. The Boom Vector is the only current foil that use AOA to control the power of the kite.

Peter Lynn has also introduced a new type of foil kite called the Arc. The Arc is mainly a closed cell ram air foil kite with the shape of an inflatable. Similar to a 4 line Wipika, an Arc kite can also be depowered by pulling on its front lines to change the angle of attack of the kite.

Since 2001, the inflatable sled kites have more or less dominated the kitesurfing market due to their "legendary" wind range and reasonable high performance. Most of the foil vendors has also introduced the low-end beginner foils attempting to attract the beginner market. One notable exception is the introduction of the Jojo Rage from Jojo to attract kitesurfers who are a bit more adventurous and want to try something slightly different than the comfortable zone of the inflatables. Also, other foil vendors such as Flysurfer and Boom Vector have introduced new foils trying to regain market share from the inflatable kites.

Currently inflatable sleds are more or less dominating the kitesurfing market while foils (both traditional and closed cell) are dominating the kiteskiing, kitesnowboarding, kitelandboarding and buggying markets.

What types of kite control device can I use?

You can use a 2-line (or 4-line) control bar or a pair of 4-line handles to control the kite.

What types of board can I use?

You can use a surfboard-like kiteboard (with foot straps) or a wakeboard-like kiteboard (with foot straps or bindings), a pair of water-ski-like skis (with bindings) or anything in between to kitesurf.

Generally, kiteboards are classified in to two groups: directional and bidirectional boards.

Directional boards have a distinct "head" (bow) and "tail" (stern). A directional board always travel "head first". To change direction on a directional board you have to jibe (to turn the "head" of the board in the reverse direction) Bidirectional boards have no distinct "head" nor "tail". Both "tips" of the boards are identical. A bidirectional board is sometimes called twintip (longer and narrower bidirectional board) or a wakeboard (shorter and wider bidirectional board, similar shape as a wakeboard). A bidirectional board can travel in both direction. To change direction on a bidirectional board, you simply go reverse.

Can I use the kite to pull me on snow or ice?

Yes. You can use your kite in the winter with your skis on snow or on ice.

You can also use a snowboard with your kite. Snowkiting is very similar to kitesurfing with a bidirectional board (especial in more than 1' of powder snow).

Which boards can I use?

Allboards103.sized.jpg

The picture above shows all the "boards" you can use with your kite. From left to right:

  • Short skis for use in pure ice
  • Medium skis for all conditions
  • Long racing skis for speed
  • Snowboard
  • A bidirectional board (a wakeboard)
  • A small directional board for all conditions
  • A larger directional board for light wind

Can I use the kite to pull me on land?

Yes. You can use your kite with a buggy (normally 3 wheels) on land. Also, click here and here for pictures of Dave Folkard's 2 wheel buggies.

Buggies are traditional kite vehicles on land; however, the newer generation of land kiters start to use skateboard-like board for land kiting for more challenges. On parking lot pavement, they use standard skate board and on grass or hardpack sand, they use bigger boards with larger wheels (sometimes called a mountain board).

Can I use the kite with a boat?

Yes. You can use your kite to pull a boat. Peter Lynn has released a small boat for use with a kite. Check http://www.peterlynnkites.co.nz for a picture of the boat.

Many has successfully sailed on a 2 or 3 people canoe or kayak with the front person controlling the kite and the rear person steer the canoe or kayak.

Do I need an assistance to launch or land the kite?

You normally do not need any assistance to launch or land your kite unless you are in a crowded and busy beach with considerable shore break. Different kites have different launching, landing and water relaunching techniques. Your vendor should be able to provide you with the appropriate instructions (if they cannot provide you with such information then for your safety and the safety of the others, do not purchase any kite from them).

How much does it cost?

A kitesurf board normally costs between $500 to $900 and a kitesurf kite normally costs between $500 to $1200 including control device. A larger kite may cost more and smaller kite may cost less

I don't have $1500! How can I get into this sport?

You can buy used kitesurfing equipment. You can also make your own kite and convert your old surfboard in to a kiteboard. You can also build a kiteboard out of wood. Check the board builders forum on Kiteforum.com and Zero Prestige.

How hard is it to learn how to kitesurf?

Learning how to kitesurf is actually easier and takes less time than learning how to windsurf. However, the learning curve is much steeper. For example, one of the first kitesurfing moves you need to learn is water starting, which is a rather advanced technique in windsurfing.

How can I learn to kitesurf?

You should learn kitesurfing from a reputable local kitesurfing school. If none is available in your area, you may want to travel to learn kitesurfing.

What is the wind window?

The wind window is the area where the kite can fly. For all its practical purposes, the wind window is basically the area you can see with your eyes (85 degrees to the left, 85 degrees to the right, 85 degrees upward) when you are facing straight down wind.

What is the typical wind range of a kite?

Different kites have different wind ranges. Normally, the range between the lowest wind and the highest wind of a kite is about double the wind speed (the highest wind is twice as much as the lowest wind). Some kite may have a wider wind range (especially the 4 line inflatable kites) and some may have a narrower wind range.

Can a kitesurf kite reef automatically like a windsurfing sail?

None of the current kitesurf kite has an automatic reefing system except for the KiteSki kite (claimed by its vendor).

How does a kitesurfer control the power of a kite?

A kitesurfer can control the power of the kite using the bar by sheeting it out, so the frontlines get shorter, and the backlines longer. This way the frontlines pull the fronttube into the wind further, and changes the angle of attack, giving the wind less surface to hit the kite. You can also fly the kite further into the wind window, by flying it low above the water. This way you can also edge harder forcing the kite to go to the edge of the wind window even further.

How many kites do I need?

The number of kites you need is dependent on the conditions at your local beach. Normally riders have a 2 or 3 kite quiver. Sizes and ranges are according to your weight, skills and the wind strengths you will ride in.

What line length should I use?

The right line length to use is dependent on the kite size and the condition. Given the same kite size, use longer lines for less wind and shorter lines for more wind.

The standard line length is between 23-27m. The shorter the lines the faster the kite flies, but the less power it creates flying through the wind window.

What line strength should I use?

For an inflatable kites, you should use line strength at least 2.5 times your weight. For example, if you weight 200 lb., use at least 500 lb. lines.

If you use a 4 line foil kite, the main lines should be around 2.5 times your weight and the brake lines could be around your weight. For example, if you are 200 lb., the main lines should be at least 500 lb. and the brake lines should be at least 200 lb.

How do I change direction on a 2-strap kiteboard?

Kitesurfers do not change feet when they change direction on a 2-strap (or 2 bindings) kiteboard. They simply go from a heel-down to toe-down position when jibing (for both directional or bidirectional boards) or simply reverse the direction (for bidirectional boards only).

How do I change direction on a 3-strap kiteboard?

Kitesurfers change feet similar to windsurfing when they change direction (jibe) on a 3-strap directional board.

Is it easier to jibe or to go from heel-down to toe-down position?

If you are a water skier, wakeboarder or snowboarder, to go from heel-down to toe-down is easier. If you are a windsurfer, to jibe is easier.

In any case, one should learn how to do both. To change direction by jibing or by going from heel-down to toe-down should be the fundamental kitesurfing techniques that one should master.

How many kiteboards do I need?

Normally you need only one kiteboard (1' shorter than your height for bidirectional board and the same length as your height for directional board). If you live in a light wind area (5 to 15 knots) with some super high wind days (20 to 30+ knots), you may want to consider having 2 board: a larger one for regular days and a smaller one for super high wind days. If you are into wave or course racing, you should consider having an additional directional board.

How many fins should I have on my board?

Directional kiteboard can have from 1, 2, 3, 4 or even 5 fins. The fins are mainly used for directional control. While the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th fin may help to go upwind some what, it is the upwind rail of the board that act as the main fin for going upwind. More fins will definitely slow the board down. Most directional kiteboards have 3-4 fins.

If you use a bidirectional board, they normally have 4 fins, two on each tip.

Can I build my own kite?

Yes. You can build your own kite. Check the Zero Prestige PDF.

I am a windsurfer, why should I learn kitesurfing?

Kitesurfing is complementary to windsurfing and you should learn kitesurfing especially if you are already a windsurfer. Furthermore, if you live in colder climate, you may want to get in to kitesnowboarding or kiteskiing in the winter to complement you windsurfing in the summer.

While windsurfing in less-than-15 knots is generally "windsuffering", kitesurfing in less-than-15 knots generates a lot of fun (some kitesurfers can go out in wind starting from 5 knots and some kitesurfers can even jump in wind starting from 10-12 knots). While windsurfers normally need 6' wave and 20 knots of wind to gain any decent altitude, some kitesurfers can gain higher altitude in 10 knots in flat water.

On the other hand, in 25+ knots, currently, windsurfers can go faster (especially on a beam reach or an up-wind run) while kitesurfing in high wind can be much more dangerous than windsurfing. Besides, being able to both windsurf and kitesurf offer you more perspectives of the conditions at your local beach.

I am a windsurfer, is it hard to convert?

As a windsurfer, you already know how to have good balance on a board and know the "way of the wind". It should be easier for a windsurfer to learn kitesurfing than for an ordinary person. However, the learning curve is still pretty steep as you need more balancing act in kitesurfing not to mention doing that while controlling a nervous kite which tends to pull you out of your board. Once you get pass the beginner stage, you can progress faster in kitesurfing than in windsurfing.

How fast is a kiteboard compared to a sailboard?

Given the same condition and top-of-the-line equipment, a kiteboard is faster than a sailboard on a downwind run and slower than a sailboard on an upwind run. A kiteboard is ridden fairly flat almost as flat as a sailboard on a downwind run and its smaller size makes it goes faster. A kiteboard is normally ridden 30 to 45 degrees edging to the water on an upwind run and this edging make it less efficient and slower than a sailboard.

Furthermore, in light to moderate wind, a kitesurfer can fly the kite to generate more power during lulls. Thus a kitesurfer can go faster than a windsurfer in light and moderate wind conditions. In stronger wind (more than 15 knots), the dynamic "feature" of the kite makes it less efficient than a windsurfing sail. Thus a windsurfer can go faster than a kitesurfer in stronger wind.

Can I use my wakeboarding, snowboarding or water-ski skills?

Yes. Controlling a kiteboard is very much like controlling a wakeboard, a snowboard or a mono-water-ski.

Can I kitesurf where people are windsurfing, water-skiing, jetskiing, or whatever?

Yes. You can kitesurf on fairly crowded water but it is much safer to kitesurf in un-crowded places especially if you are a beginner.

How many kitesurfers can kitesurf in a space that can normally accommodate 100 windsurfers?

A kitesurfer can use lines up to 30 m in length and normally flies the kite in the forward half portion of the wind window. This means a kitesurfer would need a space up to 30 m in width and 30 m in length. As the normal "clearing" distance between two windsurfers is around 5-6 m. This would allow only 10 kitesurfers to kitesurf in a space that can normally accommodate 100 windsurfers.

If all the kitesurfers follow the same rule and try to fly the kites at the same diagonal angle then the minimum clearing distance required is only 15 m. This would allow up to 40 kitesurfers to share the space that normally can accommodate 100 windsurfers.

I'm a kite buggier, is kitesurfing much different?

Yes. Your kite skills will give you a big advantage in keeping the kite out of the water and controlling the kite power, but riding a board is a whole new thing. It requires a lot more practice than buggying. Don't expect to be able to go upwind on your first try as you did in buggying. Give it at least 10 hours of practice time to be able to ride upwind, and more than that to be able to stay upwind. More if you have never done any kind of board sports before (snowboarding, water-skiing, wakeboarding, etc). You also need a lot more wind to kitesurf than to buggy (about twice as much wind).

How fast is a kiteboard compared to a buggy?

It's certainly a lot easier to go fast in a buggy, and buggying top speeds are currently higher than kitesurfing top speeds. The biggest difference is in light winds when you may not be able to consistently plane the board. Don't sell your buggy if you live where the winds are usually 8 knots or less. However, kitesurfing is more challenging and exciting: the greater power from a bigger kite, the undulating, enchanting surface of the water, the leaning of your body way back over the water, the jumps, etc.

Do I have to be the athletic type?

Not really, at least not to kitesurf casually. Since you should normally use a harness, your body weight is more of a factor in how much kite power you can handle than your strength. You should be strong enough to unhook the kite from your harness when you need to, though (do a lot of pull up). Kitesurfing is not very aerobic - you don't quickly run out of breath like you do when running. The kite does most of the work. Muscle fatigue can wear you out, but as your skills improve it becomes less strenuous.

Is there a discussion group on the net for kitesurfing?

Yes. There are a number of discussion groups on the net. Normally every country has a national and also local area forums. An international forum in English with many people from around the world can be found on Kiteforum.com

I am convinced now so how do I start?

Kitesurfing is a dangerous sport. It is wise to take lesson at a local reputable school. Find a list for schools on Kitebeaches.com

Disclaimer

The owners, webmasters, authors and contributors of this FAQ make no representation nor warranty regarding errors, missing of and correctness of the information contained in this FAQ. Use the information contained herein at your own risk. The owners, webmasters, authors and contributors are not responsible for any loss or accident to you or to other third parties including loss of business, loss of sale, equipment or property damage, injury or death resulting from you or other third parties using the information contained herein.

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