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Kitesurfing basics you should know before you hit the beach

girl riding a kite board
Artur Didyk/Shutterstock

Kitesurfing and kiteboarding are two of the fastest-growing water sports in the world. They are similar, but the two sports differ subtly. Kitesurfing uses a one-way board that is designed primarily for wave riding. It is an actual surfboard that has been reinforced for the strain of use with a kite. Kiteboarding uses a modified double-ended board that moves the same, with either end facing front. Kiteboards are used primarily for cruising, jumping, and doing tricks, and they are the easier board to ride. 

Whether you want to become a kiteboarder or a kitesurfer, beginners should start out with a kiteboard to learn how to control the kite. You can easily learn kitesurfing basics on the more forgiving kiteboard. After mastering staying upwind, transitioning, moving through midsize waves, and controlling the kite without looking at it, intermediate-level kiteboarders are prepared to try out the more challenging kitesurfing experience. If you love water, wind, and sunshine, this could be your next favorite sport.

Are you prepared?

There is a common misconception that kitesurfers need above-average upper-body strength. Actually, the body’s core muscle groups take on most of the work. And although a strong core is helpful, all you really need to get started is an average level of fitness. Just as important is your comfort level in the water and waves where you’ll be learning. If you’re thinking of taking the whole family, kids typically have enough coordination to learn kiteboarding by age 10.

Take kiteboarding lessons

Start with lessons. Kiteboarding comes with some inherent risks, so no one wants to learn the hard way. The best way to learn and gain early confidence is by taking a class from a qualified instructor. Most new kiteboarders need between six and 12 hours of instruction to gain the knowledge, skill, and confidence they need to go out on their own. A three-day kiteboarding vacation could be just the way to get started. In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to shorten the learning curve and make the most of instruction time.

Learning how to kiteboard is a technical process, with both wind and water dynamics at play. Other board sports, like skateboarding, snowboarding, and wakeboarding, build kinetic skills that transfer into kiteboarding. If it’s been a while since you’ve ridden and you’re waiting for the first day of kiteboarding class, go ahead and dust off the old skateboard and knock some of the rust off. 

You can also get a head-start on dry land by practicing with a trainer kite. These kites are designed to develop muscle memory and a feel for the wind. This will be time well spent when you finally get on the water. 

Also, watch instructional videos to get a taste of what’s ahead. You will learn the same things in class, but watching videos in advance will prepare you to digest the instruction more completely.

kiteboarder setting up gear on the beach

Heading out on your own

Once you’ve taken lessons and gained some competency in kiteboarding, the next logical step is to buy some gear and strike out on your own. Although it is technically possible to go alone, it’s better to take a friend. Beyond the routine safety reasons to go with someone else, your friend will be an invaluable help with launching and landing. 

Start your adventures the right way to boost the fun level and minimize mishaps. A good checklist will help you stay organized and not miss out on a day of kiteboarding because you left important gear at home. Before leaving, make sure you have the following:

  • Kite
  • Control bar
  • Board 
  • Harness
  • Pump
  • Safety system
  • Wetsuit, gloves, and booties
  • Helmet
  • Life jacket
  • Containers for wet gear
  • Sunblock
  • Food
  • Water 

Follow a routine

When you arrive at the beach, following a consistent progression each time will help protect your gear from excessive wear and tear and keep you safe on the water. Consistency also reduces downtime, which means more time on the water and less time deciding what to do next. 

Gear up

Start by suiting up. Apply sunscreen and get dressed for the water before messing with your other gear. Grab a snack and take a good, long drink of water to keep your energy up.

Next, lay out your gear in an open area, inspecting each piece as you go. The leading edge of the kite will be farthest upwind. Unroll the lines from the bar as you walk downwind. Place the board on the sand beyond the bar. 

Take off

Pump up the kite, secure all air valves, and flip it right side up. Use several handfuls of sand to anchor it against the wind as you continue preparations. Clear your bridles and extend them in front of the kite. Untangle and connect the lines to the proper locations on the kite. At this point, the gear is all set. 

Land safely

At the end of the ride, follow your routine in reverse. Saltwater, sand, and UV rays wreak havoc on fabric, so shake out your gear before packing up. Be careful not to fold your kite too tightly, as doing so can cause any remaining sand to grind into the material, gradually shortening its lifespan. Before heading home, go through your checklist to make sure you haven’t left anything behind. At home, pull out your gear, hose off the saltwater and sand, and let it thoroughly air-dry in the shade before storing it.

kiteboard rider performing a jump

Be safe and have fun out there

As noted earlier, a buddy can be a big help. More to the point, the helper should actually be the more experienced kiteboarder who can self-launch, self-land, and help with board retrieval and other issues on the water. But, in the absence of a mentor, a second rookie is better than going it alone. 

Some of the most common kiting mishaps involve tangles with other beach users, including other kiteboarders, during setup, launch, and landing. Always be aware of physical obstacles, as well as other people. Be patient, take your time, and use common courtesy in traffic.

The more time you spend on the water, the more likely you are to encounter the unexpected. Keep your gear in good condition, inspect it every time you use it, and trust it. Many times, new kiteboarders get into perceived trouble, such as a loss of wind that ends with the kite going down and then panic. Learn and practice different ways to deal with windlessness, kite tangles, line breaks, and relaunch techniques before you need to use them. Soon enough, these skills will become second nature, and all you’ll be thinking about is your next kitesurfing destination.

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