An exhilarating activity combining the elements of water with the masterful execution of mechanics, the global sport of kiteboarding has grown incredibly throughout the years. And there is one specific element to the sport that has continually attracted the attention of participants and onlookers alike – “going upwind.”
To ride upwind well, you’ll need to lower your kite height and pay attention to its angle. Speed will be important; going too slow will cause you to stall. Keep your front leg straight with a slight bend on the back leg. Steering with one hand improves balance, and keep your eyes focused on direction of movement.
Going upwind is a skill that separates beginners from legends. If you can master this skill, then your experience as a kiteboarder will show for itself. However, everyone has a starting point. This guide will teach you all you need to know about going upwind, so read on to learn more.
Learn the Difference Between Upwind Riding and Downwind Riding
There are fundamental differences between riding upwind and downwind. Experienced kiteboarders will likely have been told that riding upwind is what you should aim for. There is a good reason behind that.
Riding downwind refers to riding “against the grain.” You are riding into the wind, rather than with it. This is why the “walk of shame” is so popular with beginner kiteboarders. The wind’s power, without strength, will cause anyone to sink into the water.
If you have ever tried to run against the wind, you likely remember how difficult it was to gain much traction. The concept is similar in kiteboarding. As your kite pulls you forward, the wind pushes back against it. If you have a good momentum going, this “battle of wills” can throw you off balance.
Riding downwind takes practice as well, but its efficacy is challenged. Kiteboarders prefer the freedom and thrill associated with the sport. Riding upwind embraces that challenge without issue.
Embracing the power of the wind, your kite, and your board will propel you through the water at insane speeds, which becomes a pivotal point in upwind riding. With the speed and the height of your kite, you can generate enough momentum to jump 50-70 feet in the air.
It is not a good starting point for beginners who have yet to understand the extent of control and speed.
Riding upwind is so popular because it is exhilarating. The opposite of riding upwind, the wind pushes you along here. Depending on the direction of the water, you may have that pushing you along as well – but that is unlikely.
Furthermore, riding downwind keeps your momentum going. It is more challenging to control, but it does not take as much practice. With downwind riding:
- You will find it easier to navigate the waters
- You will find it less taxing on your body as a whole
Unlike riding downwind, to master riding upwind, you will need to follow certain techniques.
Master the Technique
Riding upwind involves keeping your board at an angle against the wind. Beginner kiteboarders tend to experience their upwind at around 10-20 degrees, but experienced boarders can ride at angles much larger than that.
Moreover, your technique is only as good as you make it. It goes without saying that each kiteboarder has their own prerequisites or necessities. However, no matter what, to master riding upwind, you will need to blend multiple riding techniques into one.
Lower Your Kite Position
Understanding the importance of kite position will help you ride upwind. Your kite is designed to help tether you to a position, allowing for increased balance and guidance when riding.
Remember that riding upwind involves riding at an angle. Therefore kite position matters. The higher your kite, the more it will tether you vertically. With your kite pulling you upward, it will be harder to ride upwind.
Instead, lower your kite position a few degrees. Experiment with this until you have found the perfect height for you. You will want your kite to be pulling you horizontally across the water rather than straight up into the sky.
Figure Your Speed
Speed is perhaps the most important factor in going upwind, and it is also the hardest thing to get right. If your speed is too slow, you will find it hard to generate enough wind to ride upwind. The faster you go, the easier it is to ride upwind, but your control will be tested.
Instead, try to angle your board between 10 and 20 degrees while maintaining a pretty brisk speed. If you feel comfortable here, angle some more. It is more about your comfort than anything else.
Perfect Your Stance
Riding upwind blends many things together, but your stance is one of the most important elements. You will want to:
- Take One Hand Off the Kite: Steering your kite with one hand will help you to keep a better rotational balance on your body.
- Keep Your Head in the Steering Direction: Keep your eyes on the prize. Wherever you look is where you will end up going.
- Plant Your Front Leg Straight: Keeping your front leg straight will help you to keep your balance when riding upwind.
- Bend Your Back Leg: Keep your back leg bent, but not too much.
- Place More Pressure on Your Back Foot: The pressure on your back foot combined with the placement of your legs will help you better edge, provided you maintain your speed.
Each of these tips will help you ride upwind. Furthermore, they will help you avoid the dreadful “walk of shame” more attributed to the beginners of the sport.
Change Your Reach
A somewhat difficult concept to explain, reaching is essentially the definition of maintaining a 90-degree angle with the wind. Doing this is necessary in kiteboarding because you will likely want to return to the same spot you started at without losing momentum.
To do this, you will have to blend the elements of riding downwind and riding upwind. Leaning further back on your board and taking further control of your kite will allow you to change your reach. Once you find the “pocket” that allows you to control your momentum, you have mastered another technique.
Your reach is important for:
- Perfecting Your Balance
- Integrating Speed and Power Dynamics
- Safely Navigating Back to Starting Points
- Maintaining a Consistent Speed
It can be difficult at first, but with repetition, you will get it in no time.
Change Your Hand Positioning
In general, it may appear to be more stable to ride upwind with two hands on the bar. Over time, you will learn that more advanced riders tend to only do it with one. Why is this?
- Using one hand gives more freedom of movement
- Using both hands limits your ability to react
Practice adjusting your hand positioning to see what feels best for you.
Use the Water to Your Advantage
When riding upwind, the water is to your advantage. You will either be dealing with small, choppy waves or larger, heavy waves.
When riding over smaller waves, adjust your balance by hopping over the waves as you gain speed. You will find it easier to deal with speed adjustments as you get used to the water.
With larger waves, let your board and kite guide you. You will be picking up speed with the movement of the wind and water. Combine this with a well-adjusted stance, and you will find it easier to gain the boosts you are looking for to ride upwind.
Water is not the only natural phenomenon at play here either.
Use the Wind to Your Advantage
Your body composition matters with the wind, alongside your kite and board. While the water will largely remain an independent variable, the wind can change without notice.
Here are the other factors that you will need to keep in mind:
- The Smaller the Kite, the More Wind You Will Need: If you have a kite with a smaller amount of surface area, you will need more wind to push you along.
- More Mass Equals More Wind: Depending on your size, you may need more or less wind to help you gain momentum.
- The Larger the Board, the Less Wind You Will Need: Go for a bigger board to increase your ability to ride upwind.
- Be Wary of Wind Conditions: The wind can change suddenly. Be wary of sudden shifts in direction or gusts.
- Straps: Straps on a board secure your feet, keeping you from falling off the board. If you do not have straps, this can easily happen with stronger wind.
Find Your Zone
Finding your zone is an integral part of kiteboarding in general, and it entails riding where you are most comfortable. Repetition is your friend, but maybe not in the midst of ten other kiteboarders.
Ride out to an area where you know you can practice without interruption and use it to hone your abilities.
It goes without saying that mastering this technique takes time. It is a constant bundle of trial and error, often teeming with avoidable mistakes. Take a look at some of those mistakes below.
Avoid Common Mistakes
Kiteboarding is a dangerous sport without even factoring in the awesome ability to launch 50 feet into the air. To properly execute upwind riding and to ensure your safety, try to avoid these mistakes:
- Do Not Edge Too Far: Edge too far, and you will find yourself going downwind pretty quickly. Find a comfortable speed and edge with that to gain better control.
- Do Not Let Your Kite Fly Too High: The higher the kite, the greater potential for it to knock you off balance. Keep your kite in a mid to low height range.
- Do Not Watch Your Kite: This is self-explanatory, but keep your eyes ahead. Looking at your kite will throw you off balance.
- Try Not to Lean Too Far In: Steady your balance. Leaning too far in will pull you downwind.
- Power Up: Do not be afraid of a little speed. You will need this power and speed to generate enough strength to pull you upwind.
Find some type of center. Each body composition is different, and people require different variables to ride upwind. However, some confidence paired with some common sense will not hurt.
Choose the Correct Equipment
Choosing the correct kite size is a crucial part of riding upwind. If your kite is too large, you will find yourself struggling to gain control as the wind changes direction. On the other hand, if your kite is too small, you will need to constantly manipulate it for control. Riding upwind is all about allowing physics to do the work for you.
To ensure you can properly go upwind, you need to know what type of kiteboard to get. Below are a few options you can consider.
2020 Liquid Force NV
A kite known for its versatility and performance, the NV performs well for all types of riders. However, in regard to kiteboarders, this kite’s adaptability and responsiveness help them gain perfect control. In addition, the design of the airframe is squared, and the diameter is larger than previous NVs.
These specifications are perfect for those looking to ride upwind for the thrill and also for those who like a more subtle balance of performance and leisure. Do not forget to include the construction of the Liquid Force NV, which is built to take a beating with the specifications below:
- Supportive Configuration – The bridle is strong and does not change shape in rough conditions.
- Tejin Triple Ripstop – A type of material built to last.
- Bombproof Construction – A layered frame that guarantees durability.
The Liquid Force NV does not market to amateurs. It is a kite for those true to the sport and will help you master upwind riding.
2019 Slingshot Rally
If you are looking for a kite that will help you in your journey to riding upwind, in addition to just being a great kite in general, the Slingshot Rally is your kite. This kite is all-in-one and does everything superbly well.
From having a hybrid shape to having tapered wings, you are choosing a kite that will help you master control, speed, and safety in one. Moreover, the kite is known for helping with boosting – giving you the airtime you are looking for in upwind riding.
Lastly, there are no pulleys with this kite. You have full control and incredible precision, and to ride upwind well, you will need both of these.
The 2019 Duotone Rebel is a sporty kite, one worth having, especially if you are looking to go upwind. The Rebel is known for the airtime it grants due to a few distinct features, namely:
- Its tapered design
- Its incredibly wide wind-range
The kite is capable of performing in a giant range of wind strengths without issue.
Additionally, if you are an aggressive rider, you will find that this kite supports your style. It is constructed to respond quickly to all types of handling and turning. Moreover, this kite supports boosts and jumping due to its design. You will find going upwind much easier with this advanced kite.
These are top of the line kites, perfect for the task at hand, but it is time to jump into discussing a few boards, which can be equally valuable.
The Carbon Element By Liquid Force
For riders looking for a board that is equally dynamic and responsive, this is the board for you. It has features that also tailor to fierce, aggressive riders – perfect for upwind riders. Even if you have not gotten the technique down, this board rewards failure.
Speed accompanies the construction of the board, being incredibly lightweight and sleek. Also, its flexibility attracts competitive riders who are looking to perfect their craft.
The Carbon Element is perfect if you are looking to take your upwind riding to the next level or looking to add riding upwind to your already incredible arsenal of techniques.
The Gonzales is what one would refer to as a “forgiving” board. We mean that, regardless of whether you are the world’s best or a beginner, this board will support your level. It is easy to use, but its specifications reward the ease of use regardless. It is dynamically flexible, but it is also soft.
Comfort will be important in choosing the best equipment, and this board handles that well. It has a mono concave bottom to ensure a smooth upwinding experience, and it offers the boards in five distinct sizes. The adaptability of this board is endless.
Furthermore, control is something you will be looking for in whatever board you decide to purchase. The Gonzales offers you superior control with its rounded outline, helping you correct yourself while you master your craft.
The cool names do not give these boards justice, including this one. While it is marketed as a friendly board, the Crisis is so much more than that. With this board, which is superiorly flexible with a rocker designed for staying upwind, you will find it easy to practice.
Regarding the name of the board, the Crisis guarantees just the opposite. It is known for having:
- Powerful overall design
The Crisis will, in fact, keep you from having a crisis. And the attached kite fins will keep you engaged, competitive, and wildly precise.
As you see, choosing the correct equipment is crucial to both beginning and mastering going upwind. Without the proper equipment, you will hinder yourself from excelling at the craft. But even if you have the best kite or board out there, you will also need to understand the technique and the basics.
Riding upwind is an integral skill in kiteboarding. Once you have found “your balance,” you will find yourself zipping through the water with excellent control, an impressive and fun technique, and a new level of confidence.