Deciding to get into a sport like kiteboarding is a big deal. Once you make that leap, it’s an even bigger deal to make sure you learn how to properly control your kiteboard to maximize your enjoyment of the sport. It also helps to minimize the risk of injury to you or someone else and avoid a bad experience. How do you learn kiteboard control?
Watch videos, read instructional articles and consider taking lessons. Learning to control a Kiteboard takes lots of physical practice. Kiteboarders need to acquire many skills, knowledge of the kite mechanics and how your movements affect the kiteboard’s speed, power, and direction while on the water.
Read on to learn about the different ways to control your kiteboard and how to maximize your learning experience.
Get Ready on Land First
Is there anything more intimidating or daunting than trying a new extreme sport in ocean water with no experience? There are so many risks involved with extreme water sports, and to throw in something as unpredictable and technical as a giant inflatable kite with an immense power potential that requires finesse and skills, makes it that much riskier.
Jumping right in is setting yourself up for failure. With so many factors contributing to the overall experience, it’s not a sport you want to do on a whim. Kiteboarders spend hours putting in the work. You must first learn on land – the coordination, technical skills, and aerodynamics of flying the kite as well as the intricacies of board handling.
You really don’t have to go all-in with nothing but determination and adrenaline.
In fact, it’s recommended that you don’t because you could hurt yourself and others and also damage valuable equipment in the meantime.
To prepare, the most difficult aspect must be mastered first: Controlling the kite. The kite itself is unpredictable enough at first, so trying to learn to control it in the water adds much more difficulty. You can practice skills on land, including how to trim your kite before and after launch.
If you already have the full-sized inflatable 10m kite and board set, then use the kite you’ve got. If you don’t already have that equipment, consider a “Trainer Kite.” The Trainer Kite is precisely what it sounds like: it’s a kite you train with.
Trainer kites are a fantastic option for land practice for many reasons. They are recommended for beginners and children especially but encouraged for all who are learning to kiteboard. They offer a variety of benefits, including:
1) Significantly Smaller Than a Full-Sized Kite
Often measuring only approximately 7 feet (2m,) instead of the typical 33 feet (10m) of a full-sized kite, they are much smaller. As a result, they are also much lighter. This makes them much easier to transport and quicker to use since they rarely have any pumping required.
The size and weight reduction make them easier to handle as well. The learner can start practicing steering and piloting techniques and skills before they are ready to take on a full-size kite.
Another problem that they minimize for learners is restricted locations for flying. Trying to find a place to practice flying a full-sized kiteboarding kite can often be a challenge. They are large, heavy, and powerful. They can quickly become a danger to spectators or others, sharing the area with the pilots.
Trainer kites can minimize that problem because they are less threatening and intimidating to spectators. If one of those 2m trainer kites were to come crashing down, it wouldn’t be nearly as disastrous as a full-sized kite doing the same.
2) The Initial Investment is Much Lower
Sometimes the financial aspect of jumping into a new hobby is the most daunting part. A full set of kiteboarding equipment can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars up to several thousand. It will depend on your preferences, but either way, it’s quite an investment.
Trainer kites keep that initial price down to as little as $100 or less. With the investment so low, the risk drops substantially, and it can give a beginner the mental freedom to try it out for themselves before paying a hefty price.
There is another advantage to the lower price. Flying on land is riskier for the kites because it’s not nearly as forgiving as the water when the kite happens to crash. Since the actual kite itself could be subject to damage from beginners making a mistake or accidentally mishandling it, it’s comforting to know it won’t be thousands of dollars going down the drain.
3) They Are Great for Kids
The nature of the smaller and lighter kite makes it perfect for children learning to control a kite. This can give kids the chance to get over all those beginner tricks and slip-ups with the trainer kite.
Then, once the parent feels confident the child will be able to successfully control the kite on a board, they can look into the kiteboards and full-sized kites.
Its small size sets them up for success. They are easier to maneuver, control, and steer for little hands. Some kids and adults find that they are enjoyable to use with skateboards or snowboards, although this is more rarely seen.
4) They Are Helpful with Learning Your Kite Handling Skills
Whether you decide to take formal kiteboarding lessons or learn it on your own, this can save you a lot of hassle. You can master it on land and then, by the time you’re in the water at a lesson, you can focus on other board-related skills rather than the kite handling skills.
Once you have decided whether you are going to use a Trainer Kite or a regular Kiteboarding Kite, you can then begin to practice some of your handling skills. An example is the kiteboarding dark slide.
Learn About the Wind Window
The wind window refers to the area in the air at which the kite has enough power to hold its own weight and remain in the sky. It is always located downwind of the pilot, which is the way that the pilot faces. This positioning allows the kite to pull the kiteboarder in the water.
It’s a dome shape with three different power zones that can shift slightly depending on the wind’s strength and direction. These are also subject to change if there are any unusual gusts or lulls in the wind.
The lower zone, further away from the pilot and forward, is much closer to the ground. Here the kite has turned on its side, and the wind is pushing directly into the kite at its strongest. It is the higher power zone.
As you move outwards towards the outer edges of the dome, the power decreases gradually. The middle section, just surrounding the power zone, contains the more moderate power.
Then on the furthest edges of the dome in all directions is the low power zone, which borders on the dead zone. This zone is the point at which the kite can still maintain its altitude but just barely; it struggles to support its own weight, let alone pull a boarder along with it.
The radius of the dome, as mentioned by The Kite Surf College Channel (see video below), is simply the distance from the pilot to the rim of the kite. Many kiteboarders use a system for identifying the wind window angles by comparing them to the top half of a clock:
- 12 lies at the top center of the dome
- 3 on the lower right-hand side of the dome and the pilot
- 9 on the lower left-hand side of the dome and pilot
This system is helpful for knowing where the kite is at all times and how to guide it so that it gets you where you want when in the water. Practicing moving the kite from one zone to the other, or around the different clock locations, is recommended.
It takes a lot of practice to get the kite in the right power zone for your preference and skill level, so practicing on land without a board in the water is the preferred approach.
Practice Getting to Standing
Getting started on the board is tricky in the water. Usually, you are in the water with your board in one hand and your kite control bar in the other, and you have to figure out how to get your board onto your feet and get yourself to a standing position so that the kite can pull you on your board.
There are different ways to do this, but the most common way is to start and stop without a board in an open and clear beach or grass area.
You can follow these steps to practice your water start and stop on land:
- It is recommended to start in a sitting position with your kite at 45 degrees directly in front of you in the medium to low power zones.
- You’ll then want to tilt your control bar to one side to initiate a steep dive of your kite, generating power.
- After that, immediately begin sheeting the bar towards yourself to increase its tension and power more, which will put your kite lower to the ground and into the power zone.
- This will enable the kite to lift you off the ground and into a standing position.
- Then sheet the kite forward (away from your body), giving more slack to the kite’s back lines and lifting it into the lower power zone so you can sit back down easily.
If you repeat this several times, getting comfortable with the motions and the power required to get you to a standing position and then release you back to sitting, it should help immensely once you are in the water with a board, ready to kiteboard.
Steering the Kite
After you’ve spent significant time getting comfortable with the starting and stopping of the kite and have familiarized yourself with how to use the power zones to your advantage, you might be ready to hop into the water. It may still seem intimidating, but your practice will serve you well. Now is the time to work on your steering.
Just Like Riding a Bike
The phrase, “Just like riding a bike” is used in the kiteboarding community to help beginners understand the control bar’s dynamic for steering. Their instincts tell them to steer it heavy-handed with aggressive turns and pushes, as they respond to the pulling and the strength of the kite in the wind. This could not be further from the right way to do it, though.
The control bar of a kiteboard is often compared to bike handles rather than a car steering wheel. It looks and acts like the handles of a bike. As such, it requires much more delicate, controlled movements.
It responds to gentle tilting from left to right to tip it in the direction you would like it to go, and then as it dives lightly or heavily, it will pull you with it.
The dome-shape of the wind window works very much to the advantage of the pilot. The kite’s natural movements can give you a sense of where you will head and what the wind is like. It is meant to be a technical and skillful sport, adding to the challenge and the pilot’s satisfaction.
When you would like to increase the kite’s speed and strength, you simply pull the control bar towards you. This will tighten the kite’s back lines and pull it down into the high power zone, giving it the maximum effect. When you are in this zone, the kite will pull you faster and harder.
When you would like to decrease the kite’s speed and strength, you release the control bar away from you (also called sheeting). This will give the kite’s backlines more slack and the kite will, in turn, lift up and stabilize into the medium to lower power zones. When you are in those zones, the kite will pull you slower and more gently.
A helpful tip for avoiding jerking movements is to make sure that you are holding the control bar with a gentle grip, keeping the tension in your fingertips rather than in your palms. It helps you remember how delicate your movements must be.
Also, keep your hands closer together on the control bar. When your hands are closer together, it is more difficult to make drastic movements.
How the Kite Works With the Wind
The kite’s aerodynamics and mechanics are not too complicated and are important for the kiteboarder to understand to work with the kite successfully.
The kite’s backlines work similarly to that of a sailboat sheet. When sailing in a boat with a sail, you pull the sheet and face the sail directly at the wind to create the most force to propel the boat forward. The kite line works in the same way.
The dome-like shape of the kite’s fabric can harness the lift and drag necessary to counter the weight of the kite against the wind and atmospheric pressure. The lift is the air that rushes down around the kite, propelling it upwards.
As the altitude of the kite increases, so does the air’s pressure and, along with it, the lift. This enables the kite to fly higher up, keeping it in the lower power zone.
The drag comes from the line that is pulling the kite downwards against the lift. The back lines tilt the face of the kite into a horizontal or a vertical plane.
These lines are connected to the control bar.
When the line/control bar is pulled in towards the pilot’s body, the drag is increased, and the wind and pressure create more lift and push harder in response, creating more power.
The kite flies with less speed and power when it is in a position up above the pilot, 90 degrees from the horizontal earth, rather than directly downwind and in front of the pilot. This is because it is now on a horizontal plane. The edges of the kite are creating less surface drag than the bulk of it.
Once the kite’s bulk is facing the wind directly, it is then on a vertical plane.
That is when it is in the power zone closer to the ground and directly in front of the pilot. These concepts can help keep the pilot in control of the kite to steer it where and when they would like to.
Are You Ready to Try It Now?
Now that we’ve gotten a solid plan in place to learn to control a kiteboard successfully, the fun can begin. To avoid catastrophe the first few times in the water, try your kite out first. Whether it is a full-sized kiteboarding kite or a much smaller and beginner-friendly trainer kite, practice on land. Then you can start to learn How to do a Beach Start.
First, you’ll be getting your kite up into the wind window and moving through the different power zones. After that, you’ll work on standing and stopping. Once you’ve mastered those, it’s time to hit the water and practice your steering, putting those skills to the ultimate test by learning kiteboarding transitions to level up your fun.
Just like riding a bike, right? Surf’s up!