This is a copy of the Kitesurfing FAQ originally developed by Hung Vu (with some contributions from Mark Frasier) for the Kitesurfing School web site. You may find a more up-to-date version at http://www.kitesurfingschool.org/faqs.htm.
Kitesurfing, kite surfing, kiteboarding or flysurfing (if you speak French), is a new exciting water sport for the new millennium. Kitesurfing is a very, very young sport. In 1998, there were probably only a couple-dozen kitesurfers in the world (there was a "world cup" back then in Hawaii but some of the winners were starting learning kiting a few weeks/months before the "world cup"). The population of kitesurfers has been growing rapidly to around 1.5 million kitesurfers world wide by the end of 2012 (wikipedia). The idea behind kitesurfing is very simple. A kitesurfer stands on a board with foot straps or bindings and use the power of a large controllable kite to propel him and the board across the water. This simplicity also makes kitesurfing challenging. Your body is the only connection between the kite and the board and you have to control them both at the same time: piloting the kite on the sky and steering the board on the water.
Kites originated in China thousands of years ago (two kite masters Kungshu P'an and Mo Zi flew kites as early as 478 BC) and have managed to remain unchanged until the modern time, when multiple line controllable kites were introduced by George Pocock in 1826. For the first time in history, instead of letting the wind fly the kite, a multiple line controllable kite flyer can actually pilot the kite on the sky. Click http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~et3m-tkkw/history-table.html for a chronological table of kite history and http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~et3m-tkkw/history.html for a bibliography related to history of kites.
When flying across the sky, a kite generates lift like an airplane wing. Since lift is proportional to the size of a kite, some kite flyers realized that if you make a kite big enough it would generate enough power to propel a vehicle on land, snow, ice or water. This type of kite is called traction kite. Certain forms of traction kite has been used by many pioneers such as George Pocock in the past, but it only became popular in the early 1990's and its popularity has made traction kite flying more a sport than just a recreational activity. While a windsurfing sail is dependent on the wind to generate power, a kite is only dependent on the wind to fly. When a kite is flying across the sky, it creates its own wind (apparent wind) which is faster and therefore produces much more power than the actual wind can provide. Since lift is proportional to the square of the wind velocity, if the apparent wind of the kite is twice that of the actual wind you will get four times as much power from the kite. This simple fact is not easy to appreciate until you actually fly a traction kite. Numerous first-time traction kite flyers have been injured in the past for misjudging such power.
As soon as traction kite was introduced, a number of kite flyers started thinking of using kites to replace conventional sails in water sports such as windsurfing. To make this popular, you need a kite that can be launched directly from the water. After years of research, a number of water relauncheable kites were introduced: Wipika inflatable kite (introduced by the Legaignoux brothers in the 80's), Kite Ski frame kite (introduced by Bill & Cory Roeseler in the 80's) and in late 1990's FOne closed cell foil kite (Raphael Salles), Concept Air closed cell foil kite (Michel Montmigny and Benoit Tremblay), Arc (Peter Lynn). While the fundamental technologies are different and the degrees of relauncheability vary, these kites share the same characteristic that allows a kite flyer to launch them from the water after a fall. There are also a number of other pioneer kitesurfers with their passion and devotion has helped to make the sport feasible and spread rapidly in the early days: Laird Hamilton, Manu Bertin, Laurent Ness (Axelair), Robby Naish (Naish Kites), Don Montague (Kiteboat.com), Flash (Marcus) Austin, Dave Culps (Kiteship.com), Stefano Rosso (Yahoo Kitesurf group), Hung Vu (KitesurfingSchool.org) and more. Thanks to all those pioneers, a new sport named kitesurfing was christened and destined to be the most exciting sport for the new millenium.
There have been a few known fatal accidents while kitesurfing so for kitesurfing or any other disciplines of power kiting, safety has to be taken seriously. Make sure you follow the safety guidelines at http://www.KitesurfingSchool.org/safety.htm and always use a safety release system.
Yes. With proper equipment and skill, a kitesurfer can easily go upwind. However, all beginners are likely to go downwind. Check a pioneer beginner's log at http://www.KitesurfingSchool.org/kitesurfinglog.htm to see how long it would take for a beginner to learn to go upwind.
To go upwind on a free sail system such as a windsurfer, the sailor move the sail backward to move the center of force behind the center of resistance of the board, fins and keel.
On a kitesurfing system, a kitesurfer holds the kite in his hands and his feet transfer the pull of the kite to the board; therefore the center of force is normally between his two feet. The kitesurfer can move this center of force slightly by transferring his weight to his front foot or his back foot. To go upwind on a kitesurfing system the kitesurfer has to move both the center of force and the center of resistance:
Move the center of force backward by transferring his weight more to the back foot.
More important, move the center of resistance forward by pressing the windward edge to put the board from 15 to 45 degrees to the water.
So to go upwind on a kiteboard simply "ride" on its windward edge.
Yes. You can cruise in wind as low as 5 knots with the equipment currently available on the market (large kite and large directional kiteboard). For jumping you may need around 7-8 knots.
Yes. You can kitesurf in very strong wind over 40 knots with equipment currently available on the market. At the kitesurfing competition in Leucate, France, 1999, a number of kitesurfers could maintain control in 50 knot gusts. However, kitesurfing in 30+ knots is very dangerous so make sure you have the skill to do so.
Yes. You can relaunch the kite from the water after a fall. The degree of relaunch-ability may vary depending on the type of kite you are using.
To kitesurf you need:
A kitesurf kite (with a certain degree of water relaunch-ability),
A kite control device,
Accessories (safety release system, harness, life jacket, wet suit, helmet, water shoe, etc.)
There are a number of kites on the market for kitesurfing. All of them has a certain degrees of water relauncheability. There are mainly three types of kitesurfing kites:
Flat Inflatable kites (Bow kites)
Framed single skin kites
Ram air foil kites
Modern kitesurfers use a control bar with a center power trim line (chicken loop line) to control the kite and its power by changing its Angle of Attack (AOA)
You can use a surfboard-like kiteboard (with foot straps) or a wakeboard-like kiteboard (with foot straps or bindings), a pair of water-ski-like skis (with bindings) or anything in between to kitesurf.
Generally, kiteboards are classified in to two groups: directional and bidirectional boards.
Directional boards have a distinct "head" (bow) and "tail" (stern). A directional board always travel "head first". To change direction on a directional board you have to jibe (to turn the "head" of the board in the reverse direction).
Bidirectional boards have no distinct "head" nor "tail". Both "tips" of the boards are identical. A bidirectional board is also called twintip (longer and narrower bidirectional board) or a wakeboard (shorter and wider bidirectional board, similar shape as a wakeboard). A bidirectional board can travel in both direction. To change direction on a bidirectional board, you simply go reverse.
Most modern kitesurfers use a bidirectional board (or twintip) due to its ease of jibing and more control when jumping. Directional boards are only used in special cases (very light wind, wave, etc.)
Yes. You can use your kite in the winter with your skis on snow or on ice. Check http://www.KitesurfingSchool.org/kiteskiing.htm for more information on kiteskiing on snow and ice.
You can also use a snowboard with your kite. Kitesnowboarding is very similar to kitesurfing (especial in more than 1' of powder snow). Check http://www.kitesurfingschool.org/kitesnowboarding.htm for more information on kitesnowboarding on snow.
The picture above shows all the "boards" you can use with your kite. From left to right:
Short skis for use in pure ice or tricks
Medium skis for all conditions
Long racing skis for speed
A bidirectional board
A small directional board
A larger directional board for light wind
Furthermore, you can use other winter toys:
You can find a list of most kitesurfing vendors at http://www.KitesurfingSchool.org/kitesurfinglinks.htm#Commercial Links.
A kitesurf board normally costs between $500 to $700 and a kitesurf kite normally costs between $700 to $1200 including lines and bar. A larger kite may cost more and smaller kite may cost less
You can buy used kitesurfing equipment. You can also make your own kite and convert your old surfboard in to a kiteboard. You can also build a kiteboard out of wood. Check http://www.kitesurfingschool.org/board.htm and the boardbuilding group at http://groups.yahoo.com/boardbuilding for information on how to build your board.
You can buy used kitesurfing equipment at http://www.kitesurfingschool.org/used.htm. Furthermore, kiters normally post used equipment for sales at various kitesurfing groups and forums at http://kitesurfingschool.org/mlist.htm.
Learning how to kitesurf is actually easier and takes less time than learning how to windsurf. However, the learning curve is much steeper. For example, one of the first kitesurfing moves you need to learn is water starting, which is a rather advanced technique in windsurfing.
You should learn kitesurfing from a reputable local kitesurfing school. If none is available in your area, you may want to travel to learn kitesurfing. Click http://www.KitesurfingSchool.org/schools.htm to see a list of kitesurfing schools in the world. If you have to learn kitesurfing all by yourself, at least see some instructional video and/or take a look at the Kitesurfing School web site at http://www.KitesurfingSchool.org.
The wind window is the area where a kite can fly. For all its practical purposes, the wind window is basically the area you can see with your eyes (85 degrees to the left, 85 degrees to the right, 85 degrees upward) when you are facing straight down wind.
A kitesurfer controls the power of the kite using the bar and the trim line (chicken loop line) to change the kite's AOA (therefore changing its projected surface). The kitesurfer can also control the power of the kite using the speed control method as described at http://www.KitesurfingSchool.org/howto.htm#2. Kite Power Controlling.
The number of kites you need is dependent on the conditions at your local beach. Ideally, you should have 3 kites: a light wind kite (5 to 15 knots), a moderate wind kite (10 to 20 knots), a high wind kite (15 to 30 knots). For an typical kiter, this means a quiver consisting of 18m, 12m and 8m inflatables.
Most kitersurfers doesn't go out in wind less than 12 knots and therefore can be satisfied with only 2 kites. For such kiters, this means a quiver consisting of a 16m and a 10m inflatables.
The right line length to use is dependent on the kite size and the condition. Given the same kite size, use longer lines for less wind and shorter lines for more wind.
The standard line length is 23 - 25m. In high wind, you may want to use shorter line length for more control of the kite; however, don't go shorter than 15m as you will loose much of the "jumpability" of the kite.
For inflatable kites, you should use line strength at least 2.5 times your weight. For example, if you weight 200 lb., use at least 500 lb. lines.
If you use a 4 line foil kite, the main lines should be around 2.5 times your weight and the brake lines could be around your weight. For example, if you are 200 lb., the main lines should be at least 500 lb. and the brake lines should be at least 200 lb.
Modern kites normally sold with lines and bar so you normally don't have to worry much about lines and bar.
Modern kitesurfers choose control bars over handles for ease of operation while jumping. Almost everyone now uses control bar except for some kiteskiers using old foils.
Kitesurfers never change feet when they change direction on a bidirectional kiteboard. They simply go from a heel-down to toe-down position when jibing or simply reverse the direction.
Kitesurfers change feet similar to windsurfing when they change direction (jibe) on a directional board.
Some kiters prefer to go heel-down in one direction and toe-down in the other direction especially for tiny directional boards.
Most modern kitesurfer choose a 2-strap bidirectional board due to its ease of jibing and more control when jumping.
For some special cases, some may want a 2-strap or 3-strap directional board (very light wind, wave, etc.).
Use foot-straps unless you want binding for whatever reason.
Bindings attach your feet firmly to the board, therefore provide more precise control and "feel" of the board. However, they could be clumsy and very hard to get in or out when you are on the water.
Modern kitesurfers prefer foot straps for ease of entry/exit and also for certain advanced tricks where you take 1 or both of your feet off your board while in the air (it looks very cool!)
Normally you need only one kiteboard (normally a bidirectional board 40cm shorter than your height). If you live in a light wind area (5 to 15 knots) with some super high wind days (20 to 30+ knots), you may want to consider having 2 board: a larger one for regular days and a smaller one for super high wind days.
If you live in a high wind area (15+ knot most of the time) you should choose a bidirectional kiteboard around 40cm shorter than your height. If you live in a light wind area (5 to 15 knots most of the time), you should choose a larger kiteboard (10cm shorter than your height for bidirectional board or 30cm longer than your height for directional).
If you ride in waves, use a directional board from 5' to 6'1" depending on your height.
For inflatable, the most popular size is 12 m2 flat surface.
The equivalent flat inflatable kite is a 10 m2.
Different kite types have different aerodynamics and therefore there is almost no correlation between the sizes among them. From experiences, for foil to inflatable comparison, use the approximated 8/12 factor (i.e., a 8 m2 flat area foil is somewhat equivalent to a 12 m2 flat area inflatable).
Same kite types are somewhat similar aerodynamically and their powers are proportional to their sizes (a 10 m2 kite deliver twice as much as power as a 5 m2 kite of the same type). Furthermore, kite size and rider weight are proportional (you should use a kite 1/2 the size of the same type of kite someone twice your weight uses in the same wind).
A safety release system is a system that allows the kitesurfer to disable the kite anytime.
The flat inflatable is the kite with the best safety system. By simply letting go of the bar, a flat inflatable kite is fully depowered. For whatever reason, should the kite is not completely depowered, the kitesurfer can activate the main safety system to completely disable the kite.
For inflatable, the safety release system makes one line (either one of the front line or back line for a 4 line inflatable) about 1 kite span longer than the other lines (applicable to both 2 line or 4 line inflatable) to disable the kite when you stop holding the control bar. For foil, the safety release system pull on the brake lines to collapse the kite and have it gently landing backward. Both of the systems have a safety leash attaching to your harness or wrist to allow you to retrieve the control bar.
Normally you cannot disable your kite while hooking in and have to activate the safety release system to detach your harness from the control bar. The exception here is the flat inflatable kites. With flat inflatables, you can hook in all the time and simply let go of the bar to fully depower the kite. For whatever reason, should the kite is not completely depowered, the kitesurfer can further activate the main safety system to disable the kite.
You need a safety release system because:
If you drop the control bar, your kite may continue flying and injure someone or damage something downwind.
You may loose your kite
You may have a long way to swim to shore and may become shark bait.
You may become a paraglider by hanging on to your kite in very strong wind.
Furthermore, you may want to use a kite which can be fully depowered by simply dropping the control bar because:
You may not have time to activate your safety system while the kite is pulling you into a hard obstacle.
You may be unconscious while the kite is pulling you into a hard obstacle.
Yes. You can build your own directional kiteboard or convert an old surf or windsurf board to a kite board. Your directional kiteboard should be from 5' to 6'10". As a general rule-of-thumb, the front foot straps should be placed just behind the center of the board. The back foot strap should be your-shoulder-width (or slightly larger) behind your front straps.
Many has built their bidirectional boards from wood very inexpensively. Check http://www.kitesurfingschool.org/board.htm and the boardbuilding group at http://groups.yahoo.com/boardbuilding for more information.
Kiteboard can have from 1, 2, 3, 4 or even 6 fins. The fins are mainly used for directional control. While the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th fin may help to go upwind some what, it is the upwind rail of the board that act as the main fin for going upwind. More fins will definitely slow the board down. Most bidirectional kiteboard has 4 fins.
If you use a bidirectional board, you may want to ride it finless once you are used to edging. Check http://www.kitesurfingschool.org/finless.htm for information on riding finless.
Yes. You can build your own kite. Check the Kite Making section of the Kitesurfing School web site at http://www.kitesurfingschool.org/kite.htm for more information on how to build kites.
Kitesurfing is complementary to windsurfing and you should learn kitesurfing especially if you are already a windsurfer. Furthermore, if you live in colder climate, you may want to get in to kitesnowboarding or kiteskiing in the winter to complement you windsurfing in the summer.
While windsurfing in less-than-15 knots is generally "windsuffering", kitesurfing in less-than-15 knots generates a lot of fun (some kitesurfers can go out in wind starting from 5 knots and some kitesurfers can even jump in wind starting from 8-10 knots). While windsurfers normally need 6' wave and 20 knots of wind to gain any decent altitude, some kitesurfers can gain higher altitude in 10 knots in flat water.
On the other hand, in 30+ knots, currently, windsurfers can go faster (especially on a beam reach or an up-wind run) while kitesurfing in high wind can be much more dangerous than windsurfing. Besides, being able to both windsurf and kitesurf offer you more perspectives of the conditions at your local beach.
As a windsurfer, you already know how to have good balance on a board and know the "way of the wind". It should be easier for a windsurfer to learn kitesurfing than for an ordinary person. However, the learning curve is still pretty steep as you need more balancing act in kitesurfing not to mention doing that while controlling a nervous kite which tends to pull you out of your board. Once you get pass the beginner stage, you can progress faster in kitesurfing than in windsurfing.
Given the same condition and top-of-the-line equipment, a kiteboard is faster than a sailboard on a downwind run and slower than a sailboard on an upwind run. A kiteboard is ridden fairly flat almost as flat as a sailboard on a downwind run and its smaller size makes it goes faster. A kiteboard is normally ridden 30 to 45 degrees edging to the water on an upwind run and this edging make it less efficient and slower than a sailboard.
Furthermore, in light to moderate wind, a kitesurfer can fly the kite to generate more power during lulls. Thus a kitesurfer can go faster than a windsurfer in light and moderate wind conditions. In very strong wind (more than 25 knots), the dynamic "feature" of the kite makes it less efficient than a windsurfing sail. Thus a windsurfer can go faster than a kitesurfer in very strong wind.
Yes. Controlling a kiteboard is very much like controlling a wakeboard, a snowboard or a mono-water-ski.
Yes you can. Furthermore, the tricks are normally more challenging as you have to do them at twice the altitude and controlling the kite at the same time.
You can probably kitesurf in crowded water but it is dangerous. Try to get way upwind or downwind of the crowd.as soon as you can.
It is much safer to kitesurf in un-crowded places especially if you are a beginner.
A kitesurfer can use lines up to 50 m in length and normally flies the kite in the forward half portion of the wind window. This means a kitesurfer would need a space up to 50 m in width and 50 m in length. As the normal "clearing" distance between two windsurfers is around 5 - 6 m. This would allow only 10 kitesurfers to kitesurf in a space that can normally accommodate 100 windsurfers.
If all the kitesurfers follow the same rule and try to fly the kites at the same diagonal angle (with 15 degree margin for flying error as proposed in http://www.KitesurfingSchool.org/rules.htm) then the minimum clearing distance required is only 15 m. This would allow up to 40 kitesurfers to share the space that normally can accommodate 100 windsurfers.
Yes. Your kite skills will give you a big advantage in keeping the kite out of the water and controlling the kite power, but riding a board is a whole new thing. It requires a lot more practice than buggying. Don't expect to be able to go upwind on your first try as you did in buggying. Give it at least 10 hours of practice time to be able to ride upwind, and more than that to be able to stay upwind. More if you have never done any kind of board sports before (snowboarding, wakeboarding, etc). You also need a lot more wind to kitesurf than to buggy (about twice as much wind).
It's certainly a lot easier to go fast in a buggy, and buggying top speeds are currently higher than kitesurfing top speeds. The biggest difference is in light winds when you may not be able to consistently plane the board. Don't sell your buggy if you live where the winds are usually 8 knots or less. However, kitesurfing is more challenging and exciting: the greater power from a bigger kite, the undulating, enchanting surface of the water, the leaning of your body way back over the water, the jumps, etc.
Not really, at least not to kitesurf casually. Since you should normally use a harness, your body weight is more of a factor in how much kite power you can handle than your strength. You should be strong enough to unhook the kite from your harness when you need to, though (do a lot of pull up). Kitesurfing is not very aerobic - you don't quickly run out of breath like you do when running. The kite does most of the work. Muscle fatigue can wear you out, but as your skills improve it becomes less strenuous.
Yes. There are a number of discussion groups on the net. Stefano Rosso has set up the original Kitesurfing discussion group on the net since June 1998 and since then it has been the most popular email and web-based kitesurfing discussion group. You can find more information about this group by going to http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/kitesurf/. There are also a number of more recent discussion groups and forums, click http://www.KitesurfingSchool.org/mlist.htm for the list of all known kitesurfing groups and forums.
It is wise to take lesson at a local reputable school. Check http://ikointl.com/iko-kite-members-community?field_usercountry_iso2=AU for a list of kitesurfing schools in Australia. It is also wise to review the HowTo and the Tips section of the KitesurfNoosa web site at http://www.kitesurfnoosa.com/kitesurf-safety and http://www.kitesurfnoosa.com/kitesurf-tips.