Kitesurfing for beginners can be an intimidating experience. There's so much to know, so much to understand, that it can all get a little bit overwhelming. To the untrained eye, all the equipment might even make kitesurfing seem like a load of fiddly nonsense that's not worth bothering with. But hold on there, kitesurfing beginners. Yes, there's quite a lot of equipment to get your head around but don't let that stop you from kitesurfing.
The UK and Ireland's best kitesurfing destinations, for example, contain plenty of wise and knowledgable experts, top-class lesson centres, and rental shops capable of answering any question you can think of. Here, in this article, we're going to tell you what each piece of equipment does, and why it has an important role in your kitesurfing experience. You'll soon be able to regale your friends and family with the fascinating differences between inflatable and ram air foil kites. Exciting times? More like...ex-kite-ing times (am-I-right?!).
Rather than looking at the entire kitesurfing set-up as one complete thing, you're best off breaking things down on a component-by-component basis. View each individual piece of kitesurfing equipment as a player in a team. Each player offers things that help the team, a team that with you at the helm, have the best possible chance of kitesurfing well. And so, with that in mind, let's break it down and introduce you to the squad.
1) The Kite (including bridle)
2) The Lines
3) The Kite Control Device (including an all-important safety release system)
4) The Board (including fins, and foot straps/bindings, and leash)
5) The Kitesurfer - You (including harness, life jacket, water shoe, wet suit, and helmet)
Technically speaking, any kite that generates sufficient pull can be used for kitesurfing. Ideally however, you want a large one that's easily controlled. Other factors that should always be considered are the ease with which the kite can be relaunched when it's in the water, upwind sailing performance, the ability to handle jumps, and the levels of control one would have over the power of the kite. Just like there's certain advantages and disadvantages to using a particular ski while skiing or a particular snowboard while snowboarding, different kites offer the user a different set of positives and negatives.
Inflatable kites have been a big player on the kitesurfing scene for many years, and with good reason. These kites, which are usually extremely reliable at the point of relaunch, have an inflatable leading edge, and multiple inflatable battens width-wise to ensure the kite has that permanent crescent moon style shape. It's worth mentioning If you ever see the term LEI used to describe a kite, this stands for "Leading Edge Inflatable."
Those up to speed with the history of kitesurfing will no doubt be familiar with Bruno and Dominique Legaignoux. The Legaignoux brothers, who founded Wipika, took the sport of kitesurfing to the next level when they invented inflatable kites and licensed the innovative design to manufacturers. One thing you should know about this kite design is that it's always "powered up." The permanent curvature of its shape means users can relaunch easily on the water. Of course, because of this, a good and well-serviced safety release system should always be used in conjunction with this kite (as it could feasibly start dragging you off somewhere, even when you don't want it to).
Flat Inflatable Kites (Bow Kites)
If you're talking about pioneering developments in the world of kitesurfing, you can bet all of the kites in your kite-cupboard that the Legaignoux brothers have had something to do with it. The flat inflatable kite stands as the next stage in the evolution of the standard inflatable kite discussed above. In a nutshell, this type of kite combines a bridle on the leading edge with a flat bow profile. The trailing edge is usually concave, as is the case with bow kites, but it can also be flat or convex.
The flat inflatable kite has numerous advantages over the original inflatable kite. Firstly, it can fully be powered down. Secondly, they're able to handle a far wider range of wind conditions. Thirdly, they're easier to relaunch. Unlike the permanently inflated kite, this design means the chances of you getting dragged off somewhere against your will are significantly reduced. The safety release harness, while still important, will probably be used a lot less if you decide to use a flat inflatable kite. The advantages that flat inflatable kites have over standard inflatable kites has seen them dominate the sport since 2006.
Framed Single Skin Kites
These kites, which have fallen out of kitesurfing favour in recent years, traditionally have a leading edge made of either graphite or fibre glass. They have one main batten down the centre, and additional battens fixed in place to give the kites their permanent shape and structure. Because of their rigid construction, kitesurfing with these kites is not massively dissimilar to a windsurfing experience. Launching in water with these things can be tricky initially, and will take a lot practice. Once you get the hang of it however, these kites are arguably the most reliable for water relaunches. Unless, that is, the wind drops to below 10 knots; in which case, you might have some problems.
If you fall over in the water, the weighted-shape of these kites mean they tend to lay flat. With that in mind, a safety release system is not necessarily as essential as it is with other kite designs. However, for ease of retrieval, it is recommended you have a safety release system so that the kite and the control bar stay close in choppy conditions.
Ram Air Foil Kites
Like a teenager ambling through life without purpose and direction, ram air foil kites don't really have any structure to speak of. The shape of it is formed during the flying stage and so, in this regard, they differ massively from the framed single skin kites discussed above. Their in-air shape means that they're arguably the most aerodynamic of all the kitesurfing kites.
These kites often possess a valve system that will prevent air from escaping after a fall. This particular characteristic means they're often labelled as "closed cell foil kites." If you were to ask an experienced kitesurfer, they'd tell you that once you learn how relaunch in the water with these kites you'll be able to really depend on this design especially during middling to strong winds.
In general, modern kitesurfing use either four or five lines. The best lines for kitesurfing are Dyneema/Spectra and or Kevlar. They have minimal stretch which, in the long run, should serve you well. Ideally, due to the water-based nature of the sport of kitesurfing, you want lines that float in water.
The lines for a two-line kite should have a minimum strength equivalent to 2.5 times your own body weight. For a foil kite with four-lines, the main lines' minimum strength should be equal to 2.5 times your own body weight while the all-important brake lines should have strength equal to your weight. If this all sounds a little complicated, or maths isn't your strong point, don't worry; the experts at the kitesurfing centres will sort you out.
When considering kitesurfing line length, people should always take into account the size of the kite and general wind conditions. The most commonly used line lengths are usually somewhere between 20 metres and 40 metres in length. Although not 100% accurate, a shorter line should be used when you're feeling overpowered and a longer line if you're feeling underpowered.
Shorter lines reduce the risk of the kite picking up uncontrollable speed, whereas longer lines will extend the kite's flight path and allow you to harness far more power from the wind. Again, if you have any doubts and/or concerns, always ask an on-site expert for further guidance.
It might sound like we're stating the obvious here, but without a control device you're not going to be able to control the kite. Most kitesurfers use a four-line control bar for a four-line inflatable, and either a pair of handles or a four-line control bar for a four-line foil. By using a control device, the kitesurfer can utilise the wind and manoeuvre themselves anywhere they want (within reason).
With the aid of an inflatable kite control bar, with two lines at the front and two lines at the back, you can swing the kite left by pulling the left end of the bar with a vice-versa action resulting in you sending it right. If the bar is horizontal, or in a neutral position, the kite will continue down its existing flight path.
Handles, often used with foil kites, work in a similar way to the bar control device in that when you pull on the left handle you'll turn the kite to the left and vice-versa when you pull on the right handle. Pulling gently on the brake lines with slow you down; pulling hard on the brake lines will stop the kite, and pulling extremely hard on the brake lines will help you and the kite to change direction.
It's extremely important that whichever control device you use has a highly reliable safety release feature. This system, if it's working properly, should allow you to disable the kite at a moment's notice. If used, the safety release system should allow you to easily retrieve the kite and its relevant control device (otherwise, you'll probably end up losing your kite). The safety release system should be tested in conjunction with your control device beforehand. Be sure to test it in shallow water close to land, rather than on the land itself. This is to minimise the risk of the kite crashing into dry land and breaking on impact.
If you want to go kitesurfing but think that using an ironing board would be silly (it would be), then you might want to learn a bit more about the different boards you can use.
Whichever kiteboard you end up using, you'll be able to trace the origins of it to a variety of other action sports. In the case of the bi-directional board, also known as a twin-tip, the snowboarding and wakeboarding influences are clear to see. They're usually very thin, and have difficulty floating by themselves. These boards use straps or bindings to attach the kitesurfer's feet to the board. They're absolutely ideal for sending it on jumps, and serving up stylish tricks. It's disadvantages come to the fore when wind conditions are light, and the kite is too small. Nowadays, this is the most popular board design for kitesurfing.
Directional boards in kitesurfing are predominantly influenced by the worlds of surfing and windsurfing. They're slightly thinner than a surfboard, and have sharper edges. In terms of length, these boards are usually somewhere between 140cm and 230cm. They're great for going fast, and for general kitesurfing in more gentle wind conditions. If you're particularly skilful, it is possible to do tricks on them. However, because they're larger than twin-tipped kiteboards it's far more difficult to control them when things get windy. These boards are now used far less than the more freestyle-geared bi-directional boards.
Notable Manufacturers And Board Brands:
With all this gear, you'd be forgiven for thinking that a kitesurfer's job is fairly easy. Surely, surely with all that gear they just have to stand there and let the equipment do the work? Wrong. Kitesurfers are, to use engineering imagery, a fifth cog in the kitesurfing machine. Without them, the whole thing comes crashing down in a soggy water-logged mess.
They must constantly position the kite in response to the wind, in order to generate power. They must edge the board accurately to provide the required resistance to go upwind, and be the "glue" that brings together the power of the kite above them and the kiteboard just beneath them. And, of course, they must steer the whole thing; avoiding obstacles and other people in the process.
Because kitesurfing boards don't usually float, it is recommended that a life-jacket is worn when out on the water. To prevent permanent tension on the arms, kitesurfers usually have a harness system attached to the control devices round their torso area. Water shoes are also highly recommended if there are rocks or potentially dangerous things under the surface. Helmets, especially in strong wind conditions, should be worn to protect the kitesurfer's head area. Kitesurfing beginners, for obvious reasons, will be spending a lot more time in the water so should wear a slightly-thicker-than-normal wetsuit.
And, that's it for now. Kitesurfing school dismissed.