You've got questions 🤔. We've got answers. Therefore, you've come to the right place to learn about everything you need to know about very basics of kitesurfing. Through countless conversations with curious tourists on the beach, eager sfamily members at holiday dinners, or semi-interested co-workers, we've compiled the most frequently asked questions. And their associated answers, below.
We thought good and hard about what are the first questions routinely asked.
In this article from our
kitesurfing blog, we've set out to answer them directly.
This post should be good for those who are just starting in their journey into kitesurfing.
It's not meant for the seasoned veteran, or even intermediate rider,
because you already know too much (in this case you might like to
watch the top 7 kitesurfing videos instead).
For all interested, please read on to get the 21 foundational questions about kitesurfing squared away.
No. Most kiteboarders wish this was more true, but it's not. While kites are wings, they are not effecient enough to create never-ending upwards lift on the rider. In this way, they are more like parachutes. Parachutes let you down to the earth slowly / controllably. Yes, like parachutes, in strong enough winds, they can get unruly. And very powerful. However, kites do not take off like a hot air balloon🎈 and never return to earth.
While you can use kites to jump and lift you of the water for periods of seconds (approximately 1 - 30 seconds, depending on skill level and wind speed). The rider generally returns back to the water's surface for a soft landing. To try again and again for longer hang time.
Short answer... less than it used to be. Longer answer... depending on the rider's skill, weather conditions, and physical surroundings, kitesurfing safety will range from minimal to extreme. Kitesurfing has grown up a lot since it's raw beginnings in later 90s and early 2000s. The equipment and release mechanisms are leaps and bounds more reliable and safe for all levels of kitesurfers. This evolution is very positive from a safety standpoint, and it's much easier to get started now without much risk.
Just like any other sport, kitesurfing involves some physical risks. Riders do have to be careful, since there exists a level of extreme and unknown when dealing with mother nature and the wind. There are definitely a few principles that, when known, greatly reduce your exposure to injury. Contact your local kitesurf shop to learn more. Examples of these are knowledge about wind speed, direction, interference, as well as knowledge of safety systems.
Approximately $1,500 - $2,500 will get you started kitesurfing. There is a wide range of kitesurfing equipment available for purchase. Much of which is very reliable and not budget-breaking. You can purchase new from reputable shops, or used from reputable local kitesurfers. Ultimately, you need a kite, board, harness, air pump, bar & lines.
We do recommend kitesurfing lessons, in addition to purchasing the actual gear you'll need. There is a trade off in terms of time and cost when it comes to lessons. You can learn on your own, or under the guidance of a mentor/friend who is experienced, with time on your side. Diligence, practice, trial and error will factor into this approach. Alternatively, you can speed up the process (and potentially improve safety) by learning from a real lesson center. In a matter of days you can progress significantly faster when proper lessons are taken.
Learn how to fly the kite. To get started kitesurfing, you need to know practical experience flying a 2-line kite. Kite flying skill is 80% of the sport. The other 20% is board skills. That means, people who know how to fly kites have a significant advantage in learning how to kitesurf. Flying 2-line kites is not hard. However, it does take practice and experience to know it well. And there's no substitute for actual experience. Muscle memory is an interesting concept.buy a practice kite
You can buy a kitesurfing practice kite to get you started. This is what we recommend for people who want to make the most out of future kitesurfing lessons. Practicing with a small 2-line kite will give you the basic mental model of flying the kite, the wind window, and power generation. These kites can allow you to practice in safety, on your own, with very small risk to yourself and others. All that it requires is some open space (field, beach, frozen lake, etc.) and some wind to get started! Learn how to fly a small kite extremely well, and you'll able to advance very rapidly compared to others.
Generally, no. You'll find it very hard to rent or purchase kitesurfing gear. If you are IKO (International Kiteboarding Orgnization) certified, it will allow you to access more advanced locations, and in some countries rent gear. We recommend you look into getting certified in general, after you know how to kitesurf. Then when you happen to be on vacation, without gear, and somebody does happen to be renting, you can verify your skill level, and maybe rent the gear.
Otherwise, for learning, you can not simply rent or borrow kitesurfing gear. For one, since you don't know anything about flying kites, you are bound to break / rip / pop the kites. And no one will let you do that to their gear. Therefore, you generally have to buy your own gear. Taking kitesurfing lessons provide the chance to learn on someone else's equipment, and it a big plus to taking lessons.
Approximately 50 hours. That's the amount of kite flying time necessary to reach level-1 in kitesurfing. It takes this amount of time to have seen / experienced a variety of wind speeds, wind directions, weather patterns, etc. You can kitesurf in much less than this time, but you won't be any good. Some people progress very quickly at around 50 hours, reaching intermediate status or beyond. Others are slow and steady up to 50 hours and beyond when it comes to skill level. Either way, you need at least 50 hours behind a kite to be comfortable and confident.
Once you get the basics of riding, many decide to explore other styles. Hydro-foil boarding, surfing, wakestyle, freestyle, racing, and many more modes of kitesurfing await you once you hit 50 hours. Kitesurfing can take years to master given the varying equipment, locations, and individual strength. Given enough time, you might even become a "wind junkie" 😜, riders affectionately known for chasing the best wind conditions and riding spots around the world from season to season.
No. Kitesurfing does not require incredible strength. Here at San Francisco Kitesurfing, we've taught students in all types of physical conditions. From teenager to 90 years old, across the full gender spectrum, slim to large, and everywhere in between we've gotten to kitesurf. Luckily, the kite provides all of the energy, and you just need to learn how to control it and position your body accordingly. Yes, it's a good workout, and people who do it regularly tend to get more fit, but you needn't start that way.
In fact, we've found that people who are less strong, and more about finesse to learn quicker. This is because they don't try to overpower the kite. Kitesurfing is not about brute strength, as much as it is finesse and subtle movements. This is why being less muscular can actually be an advantage.
Yes. Kitesurfing is an excellent full body workout. Edging the board strengthens your legs. Balancing your weight and center of gravity against the kite's pull strengthens your core. Steering the kite strengthens you arms and shoulders. And anticipating the kite's movements, and reacting accordingly, is a great mental workout.
In general, kitesurfing works your whole body and mind. After kitesurfing during the day, you can rest assure that you'll sleep well at night 😴. You'll also need to eat more, since you'll be burning tremendous amount of calories. If you're hungry after kitesurfing in SF Bay Area, check out our list of SF restaurant recommendations to fuel up. You won't need to worry much about portions and dieting as long as your kitesurfing often.
It doesn't hurt. If you have prior experience with tangential sports such as sailing, surfing, wakeboarding, kite flying, snowboarding, or skateboarding, you'll have a leg up on others. While it's definitely not mandatory, and sometimes can cause false sense of confidence and bad habits, other sports are advantageous. For example, people familiar with sailing will know how to read the wind. Wakeboarders will understand how to board start with less energy and more balance. Snowboarders will have a knack for transitions and riding toeside or heelside.
If you have the time or opportunity, getting a supplemental wakeboarding lesson is the most helpful. This is because you'll learn the kite skills in the kitesurfing lessons, but it'll be really useful to have some board skills when you get to that point. Wakeboarding is the most similar sport to kitesurfing. This is because you ride similar equipment in the water, and have a serious source of pull (albeit at a lower angle) when wakeboarding. We often say kitesurfing is like wakeboarding, only you're steering the boat (i.e. kite) at the same time while riding 😉.
South Padre Island, Texas. Of all the places we've kitesurfed in the United States and world 🌎, South Padre Island, Texas is #1 for learning to kitesurf. South Padre, or SPI for short (not San Padre), has all the essential ingredients. Calm & flat water, warm temperatures, strong & steady, and friendly kite schools make SPI great for learning. We recommend reaching out to Jeff at Air Padre Kiteboarding to set up your kite vacation. Tell him SF Kitesurf sent you.
While we wish San Francico, CA was the best place to learn to kitesurf, it isn't. There are some inherent challenges to learning to kite in SF. It's definitely not impossible by any means. But the colder temperatures, strong winds, and large waves lend themselves more to advanced riders. In fact, the SF Bay Area is #1 for kitesurfing in the world if you're an expert rider. The waves, wind and beaches are top-tier. And conveniently located within an amazing, international, tech city of San Francisco. Sorry SF beginners, we know you're up for a good challenge.
At least 10 mph. No more than 35mph. Wind is necessary to kitesurf. When it's uncomfortable for others to be on the beach, that's when kitesurfing is gets good. Ah yes, flying sand is pelting your legs, getting in your hair, and turning inside out umbrellas. Especially the beach umbrella 🏖 tell-tale sign. When you see beach umbrellas starting to flip or fly, that's the best time to start to rig your kitesurfing gear.
Sure you can kitesurf in light wind. With modern day foil boards, people are able to ride in lighter and lighter conditions. Down to about 5-8 mph now. Although, this requires considerable skill. Also, high winds 💨 are desirable by many. Winds over 35 mph provide big jumping opportunities Thrill seekers on small kites really enjoy high wind days. Here at SF Kitesurf, we find the best wind conditions are between 16mph - 26mph. This speed wind makes for power, yet control while concentrating on riding waves.
Most riders can jump 15-20 feet. Height is a key marker of a kitesurfer's ability to control their kite, ride their board, and push their limits. Contrary to belief, you don't need waves to jump. You use the kite as a means of upwards pull through certain movements of the kite while riding and initiating a jump. Jumping is actually relatively easy, and intermediate riders are able to start hurting themselves right away when trying. Going up is easy. Coming down softly and in control of self and kite takes more practice.
In recent years, kiters riding surfboards, skimboards, foilboards, and other strapless boards have also begun pushing the limits of jumping. Knowing how to position the board against the wind, and making use of your hands to steer the kite or grab the board all factor into this advanced jumping ability. We're now seeing guys and girls riding strapless jumping just as high as those strapped into their boards with bindings and foot straps. If you're interested in watching and learning, check out our top kitesurfing videos blog post to see the pros in action!
Not really. For the most part it's relatively easy to avoid getting tangled up with other kitesurfers. When viewing from the beach it looks like kites get very close to one another as they pass. However, the kites, lines, and riders are actually several hundred feet from each other typically. It looks close, and may be in certain circumstances, but there are general principles that help keep things straight. For example, riders cross eaching other will position (or park) their kite at a higher or lower level in the sky while they pass each other. Similar to airplanes flying at designated altitudes, this allows for predictability and space between kites and lines.
The most kite tangles we tend to see happen in racing events, freestyle competitions, and when too many people ride on one beach. When this does happen, there are a series of safety protocols to take. Releasing your safeties and helping each other out in the water. For this reason and more check out our writing about 10 reasons why kitesurfing downwind is better than upwind. This will teach you about how going downwind promotes more safety for yourself, other kitesurfers, and onlookers by keeping proper distance.
1999. The French Legaignoux brothers are credited for the invention and bringing to market the modern 4-line kitesurfing kite. Throughout the 1990s there was much research and development to create water relaunchable kites. The 90s were a wild time for kitesurfing with 2-line fixed power kites reigning supreme among those bold enough, and strong enough, to hold on. By the end of the decade (1999), The Legaignoux brothers invented the modern 4-line depowerable kite, and the early 2000s saw considerable advancement of the sport in terms of number of riders and safety standards.
Anyone that learned to kitesurf before 2005 did so on C-Kites. After 2005, an even more safety-oriented kite emerged (thank you again to the great Legaignoux brothers), the modern Bow kite. Bow kites allow for additional depower. This allows riders to "dump" the unnecessary wind, instead of just holding on for dear life.
Some advanced kitesurfers still prefer the C-kite shape for it's raw power and instant feedback. Think of C-kites like a manual car, and Bow kites as automatic transmissions. If you know how to handle a manual sports car, you can get more power and control from the vehicle. But if you opt for the utomatic transmission (Bow kite), you'll be rewarded with a smoother, easier, and safer ride. Most kites you at the beach since 2010 are modern variations of the bow kite. If you see an C-kite, the rider is either very experienced, or an unfortunate beginner who bought one used on Craigslist.
Most of the time. Ever since the invention of the 4-line kite, and even more so with the Bow kite (see above), relaunching kites from the water's surface has become much more simple and quick. Yes, once in a while your kite will crash into the water. This happens if you're not paying attention, or you lose control, or in some circumstances when your gear malfunctions. All is not over when you kite goes down. Thankfully, you can re-launch your kite, and get going fairly easily. Because of the inflatable struts in the kite, it doesn't take on water, and can fly just as well when wet.
Do you want to crash your kite? No. It puts undue stress on the seams, and your body. Also, a wet kite 💦 is heavier in the sky, and when packing up sand sticks to it more easily (making it heavy and dirty). When it comes to kitesurfing in the waves 🌊, there's an additional danger of a wave hitting your kite when it's crashed and pulling you undesirably underwater. Or waves can tear your kite's fabric, rendering your kite useless. Our first rule of kitesurfing in the waves is don't crash your kite. Life is easier when you keep your kite flying in the air. Learn to do this 100% of your session, and you'll have much less stress. But if you can't, you can generally relaunch it.
You're safe. When you let your kite go, you tend to be more safe now than before. There are a few ways the kite is connected to the rider. The 1st is through holding onto the bar. The 2nd is through their harness and a loop on the bar that connects the rider to the equipment. The 3rd is a last resort safety leash. When you let go of the bar, the kite actually depowers and loses the majority of it's pull. But it's still connected to you through safety system 2 and 3. Therefore, it doesn't go anywhere, it just becomes less powerful.
However, there are times when kitesurfers decide to release safety mechanisms 2, and then 3. This happens in more dangerous (or potentially dangerous) circumstaces. For example, you may be forced to let go of the kite if the wind picks up very unexpectantly to high speeds, or a line breaks and you lose control of the kite (rare, but can happen), or you get tangled with another kiter's lines (rare again, but see question above about running into other kites). When these situations occur, the rider will flag out his/her kite onto one line by pulling safety system 2. If that's not enough, they'll completely let it go by pulling safety system 3. In which case, the kite is completely disconnected from the rider. The kite is now on it's own, and will generally end up on the beach. And the rider may have to swim back; however, they'll be out of the immediate danger of the hostile situation.
Through the bar and lines. Most kites have 4-lines (2 front and 2 rear lines). The front lines are attached to your harness and provide support, lift, and pull. The rear lines of the kite are for steering and power. The rear lines attach to the ends of the bar, which the rider can manipulate for steering and additional power from the kite. It takes practices to fly the kite and control the multiple variables all at once. Steering left/right and sheeting in/out (i.e. powering up/down) are the two main actions to control the kite in the sky.
The most common control issue new kitesurfers have is attemping to steer the kite like a car, instead of a motorcycle. Many initially believe that to control the kite, they must do so like turning the car's steering wheel clockwise or counter-clockwise. However, kites are steered more like motorocycles 🏍. You need to push and pull on the handles to get the kite to react. It all comes down to relative line length. The kite steers left when you pull on the left side, and right when you pull on right side. If you aren't changing the line lengths relative to one another, the kite does nothing. So, remember to steer like a bike or motorcycle when you start practicing flying your kite.
Into a medium-sized back pack. Kites pack up pretty small. The only extra equipment necessary is the harness, bar/lines, kite pump, and board. The kite itself will pack up into the size of a carry-on airplane bag. While the kites have a range of 6 - 16 squared meters of canapy, depending on your kite, they pack up pretty tight. The air you pump into the leading edge and struts are what make it look so large in the sky. On the beach, with the air released, you can easily put into your car trunk or bike rack.
Experienced kitesurfers tend to have more than 1 kite. They'll own a small kite for strong winds, a medium sized kite for average winds, and may even have an oversized kite for light winds. You don't need 3 kites, but most tend to have at least 2. All this starts to add more weight and space of wherever you're storing the equipment. If you only had one size kite, we recommend a 9 - 12 meter kite for most conditions and rider sizes.
Kitesurfing has come a long way in 20+ years. So many great athletes and riders. A different blog is bound to highlight the most contemporary riders, the social media masters, but we'll highlight the original badasses of kitesurfing. These individuals influenced the influencers of today. These guys and girls are some of the originators of style and power.
We recommend you look into: Andre Phillip, Ruben Lenten, Aaron Hadlow, Lou Wainman, Susi Mai, Bruna Kajiya, Sean Best, Robbie Naish, Jason Slezack, and... comment below to recommend others we add to the list.
The list is growing. There are so many great spots in the world for kitesurfing, that we won't be able to name enough here to satisfy the reality. Cape Town, South Africa. Mauritius, Africa. Wellington, New Zealand. Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Florida Keys. South Pardre Island, Texas. SF Bay Area (Waddell Creek), California. Maui, Hawaii. Hood River, Oregon. Tarifa, Spain. Tulum, Mexico. Cabarete, Dominican Republic. La Ventana, Baja California. These are a few of the most well known kitesurfing locations. They're all known for great wind, nice water, and beautiful views. Feel free to recommend adding more to our list, and we'll get them posted :)
Comment on this post. Ask us whichever questions we failed to answer. We know there's more, and we'd like to hear from you and continue the conversation. Let us know what questions you have!