Just Try It: Kitesurfing

What is it?
Kitesurfing is an evolution of windsurfing, where the sail is a kite that looks like a small parasail wing with inflatable parts. You control it via a boom (a small metal bar), which you hang on to using a body harness. The boards look more and more like wake-boards, i.e. compared to windsurfers they are smaller, lighter and bi-directional. Kitesurfing is one of the most exhilarating and mind blowing water sports invented by humans, or simply the best way to cruise on the water and get big air, even in light wind. Since the kite lifts you up, pros can get 30 meters of air with a ramp as small as a 2-foot wave!

Where can I do it?
It depends on your level. Pros can do it on any slippery surface with winds above 10 knots, even on flat snow powder fields. Beginners need an empty beach, shallow and flat water and sandy bottom. Winds should be blowing between 10 and 18 knots, preferably perpendicular to the beach. The bay of Cape Cod would be excellent, the ocean side terrible. Also recommended are Margarita Island (Caribbean) or Beauduc (Camargue, France), but you can find hundreds of good spots on the East Coast and in Europe.

How difficult is it?
First, do not try and learn by yourself; it’s too dangerous. It’s easier than windsurfing, but it still takes a long time to reach a decent level (where you can jibe and jump.) However, you can get your first runs in 3 to 5 days. These first days are a blast! After that, you have to spend a lot of time to improve. You start of by learning to maneuver the kite, in shallow water and without a board. High above your head, the sail has little power and makes you feel like a feather, but right in front of you it catapults you away!!! Very quickly, you’ll be able to cruise and only your knees will touch the water. Do that with a buddy though: you can’t take off nor land the sail without help! When you get a good feel for it, go get your board and try water starting. You’re in a good shape if your master any of the following sports: wakeboarding, funboarding or power-kiting.

What kit do I need?
A good instructor, who knows the spot well, will provide you with all the equipment – don’t buy it until you reach a good level. He will give you a life vest, a helmet, 2 leashes (1 for the board, 1 for the kite). Ask for a quick release system on the harness lines (once the kite starts pulling hard, it’s very difficult to unhook your harness without one.) A wetsuit is useful, even in warm water, to protect your skin from scratches.

Will it hurt?
Definitely not the average Joe’s sport. Accidents can be extremely violent. The kites have incredible power and can drag you for 100s of yards: so stay far away from rocks, cars, tourists… anything that can hurt you or that you can hurt. Most accidents actually happen on the beach. So be cautious, use an instructor, know your limits, watch out for others and have fun!

Neeraj Kerhade (NC): “The first time I went kite surfing I figured it would be pretty easy. I mean, how hard could it be to fly a really huge kite attached to your body with a harness. I have to say, it’s a lot harder than it looks and the pro’s really make it look easy. You have to practice a lot to get really good and you want to have a good instructor. But once you get kind of decent, the feeling of cruising through the air is just awesome!”

April 22, 2003
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