Kitesurfing For Beginners: What Is It? Who Invented It? And, Where Can You Do It?
An explanation of kitesurfing, the history behind it, and the best locations for it.
Kitesurfing. Kite. Surfing. What is kitesurfing? What is it exactly? Seriously! Kitesurfing?! Is it a sport that combines the ballet of kite-flying, with the poetry of surfing? Sort of. But, in many ways, kitesurfing is so much more than that. There's a depth to kitesurfing that may well have passed you by if you're only knowledge of it revolves around those bizarre photographs of Sir Richard Branson kitesurfing off an island with naked supermodels. Because, despite our constant wrist pinching, that naked supermodel thing definitely happened.
Moving on from that, let's break this whole kitesurfing topic down a bit. The first thing you should know about kitesurfing is that it's actually a specific style of kiteboarding. Wait, we can explain. Kiteboarding, you see, is a surface water sport that brings together elements of snowboarding, wakeboarding, windsurfing, paragliding, skateboarding, and gymnastics. The kiteboard used is similar in size to a wakeboard, and the kiteboarder is strapped to it with bindings. Like some sort of wind-manipulating superhero, a kiteboarder utilises the energy of the wind by moving his power kite in certain directions.
Kitesurfing, however, differs slightly from kiteboarding in that it uses a standard surf board which more often than not has no bindings attached. Stylistically, kitesurfers focus more on the riding of waves than hitting the big air and even bigger tricks that feature in the world of freestyle kiteboarding. Kitesurfing requires a location with wave breaks, while kiteboarding can happen anywhere with water and be anything you want it to be. That being said, nobody is going to shoot you down if you say "kitesurfing" when you mean "kiteboarding" or vice-versa. People who do this sort of thing are a pretty chilled bunch, more often than not.
Who Invented Kitesurfing?
Depending on how far you go back, the sport of kitesurfing can be traced to a variety of innovators in the 20th century. In 1903, for example, a man called Samuel Cody worked on a "man-lifting kite" and succeeded in crossing the English Channel in a lightweight canvas boat powered by a wind-harnessing kite. Moving time forward by a whopping 75 years, Ian Day's wind-utilising kite-catamaran exceeded speeds of 40km/h in 1978.
However, it's arguably a year previous to this, in 1977 when the sport of kitesurfing as we know it today was born. The spectacularly named Gijsbertus Adrianus Panhuise, from the Netherlands, secured a patent for a water sport that used a surf board which could be manoeuvred by a wind catching parachute device tied to a trapeze type belt. The patent itself did not actually result in any commercial interest of note, but its existence means that Gijsbertus Adrianus Panhuise should be considered the official father of kitesurfing.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, two brothers from the Atlantic-facing side of France developed kites specifically for kitesurfing. Bruno Legaignoux and Dominique Legaignoux made a notable breakthrough in 1984 when they secured a patent for an inflatable kite design that his since been used as the basis for companies to develop their own products.
Peter Lynn took things up a notch when, in 1990, he pioneered land-based kite buggying in New Zealand. Combining a three-wheeled buggy with an early form of the modern-day parafoil kites now used widely in kitesurfing, the activity proved to be an absolute hit with the punters. It's estimated that over 14,000 buggies were sold between 1990 and 1999. By this point, action sports people had really taken to the idea of utilising the wind to bring about the adrenaline rushes they so craved.
An American aerodynamicist named Bill Roeseler, and his son Cory Roeseler, spent the early nineties working on their "KiteSki" idea. The KiteSki utilised a two-line delta style kite (delta kite = bird-shaped triangle kite) that could be controlled with a bar mounted winch/brake. The kite offered great manoeuvrability as it combined excellent water launching capabilities with an ability to fly upwind (i.e. into the breeze). During the mid-nineties, Cory Roeseler visited kite buggy developer Peter Lynn in New Zealand to demonstrate the KiteSki. This coming together of two kite-minded people stands as a significant landmark in the development of kitesurfing.
In 1996, the big wave surfer Laird Hamilton joined forces with kitesurfing pioneer Manu Bertin off the Hawaiian coast of Maui. The pair played a major role in illustrating the potential of kitesurfing. This legitimisation of the sport by Hamilton in particular is one of the main reasons for it's huge popularity today. While Hamilton and Bertin were getting their kite-based kicks over in Hawaii, Raphaël Baruch was busy toying with windsurfing boards and various foil kite combinations. It was around this time that kitesurfing was established as the sport's official name, over the lesser used "flysurfing."
In 1997, the Legaignoux brothers evolved and then commercialised their revolutionary kite design called "Wipika." This kite structure brought together preformed inflatable tubes with a simple yet effective bridle system to the wingtips (the bridle system transfers wind forces on the kite to the control unit - it also supports the kite's integrity during stages of deceleration). Bruno Legaignoux's passion for kite design has seen him continue to work on improving kite designs. His development of the bow kite design (bow = arch shape) has since been licensed to numerous kite manufacturers.
In the same year, 1997, Raphaël Salles and Laurent Ness, launched kiteboards that had been constructed specifically with kitesurfing in mind. Like a kite caught on a morning breeze, the sport of kitesurfing was drifting from a place of obscurity to mainstream acceptance. This idea was underlined when the first official competition was held on Maui in September 1998. Pub quiz enthusiasts should remember the name Flash Austin, as he was the winner of this inaugural event. Around this time, schools and shops specialising in kitesurfing were starting to pop up left, right, and centre.
It was confirmed in May of 2012 that the course racing version of kitesurfing would feature as a sport in the Rio Olympics of 2016; replacing windsurfing in the process. However, an unprecedented u-turn from the ISAF's General Assembly in November of 2012 saw the windsurfing event brought back in place of kitesurfing. As things stand at this moment in time, kitesurfing is still a non-Olympic sport and will not feature until the Tokyo 2020 games at the earliest. In what can only be described as a positive step for the sport, kiteboarding has been confirmed as an official event for the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires.
Kitesurfing Locations And Destinations
If you're starting to feel giddy tingles of excitement running up and down your spine whenever you read the word 'kitesurfing', there's only thing you can do to fix that. Look up some of the world's most awesome kitesurfing destinations (see below), and give it a go. Now, obviously, if you're a kitesurfing beginner we do recommend you get some lessons first rather than just rob a kitesurfing equipment store and make it all up as you go along.
Before we whip out the map and start pointing out some popular kitesurfing destinations, let's quickly deal with some of the basic things you're looking for in a kitesurfing spot. Locations with steady onshore winds of somewhere between 10 and 40 knots are ideal. Large expanses of water, water is an essential - obviously, and uncluttered launch areas are other things to look out for. The majority of kitesurfing takes place along ocean shores, usually in sight of a beach. However, it's an activity that can also be done on large lakes, inlets, and even rivers.
In terms of kitesurfing in the UK, there's plenty of destinations worthy of your attention. If for example you find yourself down in Poole, Dorset, (widely considered to be the capital of UK kitesurfing), why not check in with the Poseidon Kite School. If you believe that the only way is Essex, PUSH Kiting in Clacton on Sea offer professional lessons for a variety of kite-based activities (including kite buggying and kite surfing). Other great UK kitesurfing destinations include Shoreham in West Sussex, Gwithian Beach in Cornwall, Rhosneigr in Anglesey, the Island of Tiree in the Hebrides, and Brandon Bay in County Kerry.
Thinking more globally, Vietnam is thought by many to be the world's ultimate kitesurfing destination. Great wind, warm weather, cheap beer, stunning beaches; what more could you possibly want. If you're keen on kitesurfing, or looking to learn kitesurfing, Vietnam should definitely be on your list of places to visit before you die. Kitesurfing in Florida, kitesurfing in Aruba, kitesurfing in Puerto Rico, and kitesurfing in Costa Rica are other cracking destinations where you can easily satisfy all of your kite-based urges.