Kite Surfing 101: Basics For Beginners
I’ve written about kite surfing before and had one or two lessons, but last week after almost 10 years working around the sports elite, I had the chance to learn with one of the worlds best surfers and kite surfers; Josh Mulcoy. LUCKY ME!
Not only was I learning with a man who has his own world (seriously…check out Mulcoy’s World) but I was doing so in an environment that was packed with pro’s, with the best equipment, and in the best place in the world if you love water – Namotu.
It does not get much better than this. It’s no surprise I was fired up to get top tips from my own kite surfing 101 onto paper and out to those who are waiting for an excuse, or the extra push to give this sport a go.
Here’s a quick intro from my experience on
- Recap of Steps
- How Quick Can You Be Up and Riding
1. First Up – Safety: Most people associate kite surfing or kite boarding with being dangerous, especially if you watch the YOUTUBE videos! Times have changed and today’s equipment has built-in safety mechanisms. Kiting couldn’t be safer, especially if you learn with an accredited school and use or purchase suitable new gear or second-hand but tested equipment.
- Kites have evolved and are safer, easier to use, relaunch and manoeuvre than ever – they come with efficient quick release and de-power systems, all adding to the sport’s safety
- There are international accredited instructors that know what they are doing – if you’re heading into this sport you need to learn from people who have got the right qualifications. It’s easy to check you’re with the right school or lesson plan. Before I got into the water with Josh I had learnt to fly a trainer kite, set up lines, launch my kite and body drag from an accredited BWSurf Jeep kite school.
- You progress at your own pace – seldom will you be on the water with an instructor unless you’re ready to be there. Trainer kites, wind basics and safety steps are in place to ensure you’ve got basic kite skills and the ability to read conditions. Like anything it’s all about creating a sound platform with some solid knowledge to increase your enjoyment in the sport.
- There are amazing places to learn in a fun way. Combine learning to kite with a holiday or make it a way to keep active over the weekend. There are plenty of options and a good online network to find the best spots to learn with great coaches.
- Safety is up to you too – if you’re out on the water with no understanding of conditions, the area or using the right size kite for conditions – then you’re looking for trouble. Use common sense and get the basics sorted so you can practice safely
2. The Gear: Everything you need can pack up into a smallish backpack (plus your board).
A) Boards: There are two core types of board
It’s best to select a board that has been shaped by a surfer so can use the same board when you’re surfing and bring that style to your kiting. It’s up to you whether you’ll use straps.
Used for flat water, tricks and mostly seen in kite surfing competitions like the PKRA. These boards have straps or a wakestyle boot.
There is a third type: A speed or racing board – longer and used for flat water speed and slalom courses.
B) Kites: There are three key types of kites: Hybrid, C and Bow Kites. Originally most kites were a foil design and these have evolved now to kites with struts and a leading edge .
Foil (the original ones all used to be foil kites)
Kites with Struts are the ones see these more often (seen in the pic to the left). More common for freestyle and tricks are the ‘C’ kites. These usually have 4-5 controlling lines and maintain power constantly.
Bow and hybrid kites are a more forgiving with the ability to de-power (often by 100%). They have a swept-back profile and concave trailing edge.
When you buy your own kites you will have a ‘quiver’ with different sizes for your varying conditions – for example the windier it is the smaller the kite.
Don’t rush into buying the first kites/set you see. Do you research and make sure you choose ones that best suit you – i.e. tricks and flat water or waves for example will require some different kites. There is so much information on buying second-hand and how to select your gear that it pays to go online and have a hunt around. Check out the videos from BWSURF (I do lots of collaborations with these guys and they are super professional and can provide great advice for all levels).
C) Bar: Every kite has a bar – it’s how you control the kite. The bar size corresponds to the kite size. Kites as of 10m need a bigger bar than their 5,6, or 8 sized counterparts. Using the bar is not about brute force but technique, understanding the wind and letting the kite work its magic. During lessons you’ll have to set up the lines, attach them to the kite understand the launching, powering, de-powering and release systems.
Either a waist or seat harness. Most people use waist harnesses however when you’re learning some prefer a seat harness to give extra support and feeling of being able to lean back and sit into the harness while the kite takes all the pressure. Make sure you have a harness that fits well, sits on your waist and not your hips and is firm enough that it doesn’t ride up. Ask your instructor if you are not sure and don’t be afraid to communicate when you’re out in the water if you feel your harness is too big or too small.
- You may be asked to wear a helmet pending the school you are learning at
- Impact vests and wetsuits
- Booties for coral beaches and conditions you need to protect your feet while you are spending time on the beach learning
- You will also need a pump to pump up your kites….
3. A quick recap of steps from trainer kite to standing up on the board:
Trainer Kite: Once you’ve been shown all the gear above and given a short safety briefing you’ll most probably fly a trainer kite on the beach and learn about the wind direction, the power zones and get a feeling for “the window” (where the wind will have the most power and you can learn to work the kite).
It’s a good idea to have fun with this and make sure you are really comfortable moving the kite through the power zones.
Using The Real Kite: When you’ve mastered the trainer kite you will learn to set up the full size kite, learn about the bar, harness and start launching and flying the larger kite.
Knowing where to stand when launching how to walk up wind are part of the on the vital beach skills that impact your safety and that of others.
Body Dragging: If you’ve mastered kite control, can learn how to power and de-power and do figure 8’s then you’re probably ready to start body dragging in the water.
This phase is KEY as it’s vital you can manoeuvre the kite while you are in the water, go up wind to retrieve your board if lost, maintain direction and relaunch in diffident wind conditions.
Getting Up On The Board: By Namotu came around I had mastered this and was ready for the board. If you’ve persevered through those first steps then the best is yet to come, once you’re on the board controlling the kite everything surprising, becomes a lot easier.
4. How quickly can you be up and riding?
Board skills – if you have never surfed, wake boarded or snowboarded it pays to go to a cable park or try wake boarding to work on these skills. It’s not always necessary but can help speed up the process.
Depending on your skills you can progress from beach to board in a matter of days. Don’t forget it’s also wind dependent – so be patient. It’s a great idea to have a taster session, then maybe plan a holiday to quickly develop your abilities.
Once you are up and riding there are all sorts of elements to master. From riding up-wind to figuring out if you want to pursue flat water wake-style or wave/kite surfing.
What’s next for me?
In 3 weeks I’m back in Fiji to running the Namotu Kite Week Retreats with Ben. Most of all I’m super excited I’m at the stage where I can get up on the board. For me it’s going to be kite surf instead of wake style because I have surf right outside my front door. There’s a long way before I’ll be ready to tackle the surf, but I’m certainly going to enjoy the journey along the way.
Go out and give it a go – you’ll be out there being fit and active without even realise you’re working out.
Kite Weeks in Fiji with Ben Wilson