Kitesurfing vs Kiteboarding: What’s the Difference?

The terms kiteboarding and kitesurfing are used interchangeably by many, and although they have many similarities, kitesurfing and kiteboarding actually refer to two distinct activities. What equipment you need and what precisely you can do depends on whether you are kitesurfing or kiteboarding.

Technically kiteboarding and kitesurfing are the same sport, but the terms refer to different activities within that sport. Kiteboarding uses a twin tip board to ride on open water while kitesurfing uses a directional board to ride waves.

The difference between kiteboarding and kitesurfing may seem minimal, but it has a large impact on how the overall sport is classified and what activities can be performed within each area. Keep reading for an in-depth take on the difference between kitesurfing and kiteboarding and why those differences matter.

Kiteboarding

Kiteboarding is a sport that at its most basic consists of being dragged around on a board by a kite. Kiteboarding is closer to wakeboarding than surfing. Instead of riding waves, a kiteboarder is pulled along the top of flat water.

The Board

The easiest way to distinguish between kiteboarding and kitesurfing is the board. Both activities use a kite, but the different types of board cause the activities to differ.

Like wakeboarding, kiteboarding uses a twin-tip board, which means that it can be ridden in either direction. However, a kiteboard is not the same thing as a wakeboard!

Although a kiteboard has a twin tip it also has some other unique characteristics. A kiteboard must be lighter than a wakeboard to allow it to be pulled easier by the kite. A kiteboard also tends to have foot straps that are easier to slip on and off than a wakeboard’s.

Kiteboarding can also be done completely strapless, which is common when doing freestyle kiteboarding. 

Events for Kiteboarding

The board type and location of kiteboarding lend themselves to different areas of performance and competition than kitesurfing.

  • Freestyle: The largest area of kiteboarding competition is freestyle. Freestyle is a competition with twin-tip boards that focuses on a rider’s ability to perform tricks. There are also freestyle events for kite surfers.
  • Wake-Style: Wake-style refers to using a kiteboard while strapped to perform wakeboard-like tricks.
  • Park Riding: Park riding means using wakeboarding obstacles such as ramps to perform tricks and aerials. It is similar to wake-style.
  • TT: R Slalom: This is a slalom kite race that uses twin tip boards rather than one-directional race boards. Much as kiteboarding serves as a beginning step to kitesurfing, TT: R slalom is seen as an event that can be used to guide younger competitors into kite racing.

Kiteboarding on Land

Some people, especially in the United Kingdom, also use the term kiteboarding to refer to the same activity performed on land. Kiteboarding on land is different from kiteboarding in the water. It requires a specialized skateboard, and land kiteboarders often use a different type of kite as well.

Kiteboarding on land is commonly referred to as landboarding or land kiting in order to avoid confusion. Landboarding is considered a distinct sport from kiteboarding/kitesurfing with completely separate organizations and competitions.

Kitesurfing

While kiteboarding is similar to wakeboarding, kitesurfing is essentially surfing with the use of a kite. It takes place closer to shore than kiteboarding and makes use of waves rather than open water.

The Board

Like with kiteboarding the way to immediately identify kitesurfing is by the board. A kitesurfing board is like a surfboard. It is a directional board that does not have straps.

Unlike kiteboarding, you could try kitesurfing with a normal surfboard. However, there are a few distinctions between kitesurfing boards and surfboards to keep in mind.

Although the idea behind kitesurfing is to get up to strapless, many kitesurfing boards come with a place for straps. Kitesurfing boards are also made to be more durable, meaning they are often both heavier and stiffer than a surfboard. This allows the boards to stand up better to the jumps and tricks of kitesurfing.

Because kite surfers get additional power from their kite, kitesurf boards also tend to be smaller and shorter than traditional surfboards.

Kitesurfing vs. Surfing

Because they make use of the same style of board, kitesurfing and surfing are similar disciplines. However, kitesurfing tends to be seen as an easier sport to enter. The use of the kite makes it easier to bail and control the ride than surfing with just a board.

Therefore, surfers may have an easier time learning to kitesurf than a kitesurfer learning to surf.

Events for Kitesurfing

Just like kiteboarding, kitesurfing has events and activities for which it is better suited.

  • Freestyle: Like kiteboarding, kitesurfing also has a freestyle category that focuses on jumps and tricks. While you can freestyle in both kiteboarding and kitesurfing, kiteboarders and kitesurfers do not face off against each other in freestyle competitions. Competition events stick to one discipline.
  • Surfing: This may seem painfully obvious, but it is the most important difference when it comes to what you can do kiteboarding versus kitesurfing. Kitesurfing allows you to ride waves. The directional board can cut through chop and perform the sharp turns necessary to surf. You can try surfing on a twin tip board, but it will prove much more difficult.

How Exactly are Kiteboarding and Kitesurfing Connected?

Even though they are technically different activities, there is a reason people continuously mix the terms kiteboarding and kitesurfing. The two activities are part of the same extreme sport and are closely connected.

The best way to get into the overall sport is to start with kiteboarding. Once a person has achieved at least an intermediate level of kiteboarding they can try to expand to kitesurfing as well.

Thus while kitesurfing and kiteboarding are two distinct activities, because they use a lot of the same skills many practitioners can do both activities. Because kiteboarding is seen as the starter activity, you are more likely to encounter a kiteboarder who cannot kitesurf than a kitesurfer who cannot kiteboard.

Why Do People Start with Kiteboarding?

Most lessons will start you on kiteboarding with a twin tip board even if your ultimate goal is kitesurfing. This is because it is much easier to learn the kite basics on a twin tip board.

Kitesurfing involves being able to control the surfboard and the kite at the same time. Twin tip boards are not as hard to control, and they are used on flat water where a learner can focus on the kite without worrying about waves as well. Controlling the kite is the most important part of both kiteboarding and kitesurfing, so you need to master that aspect first and foremost.

Twin tip boards are also easier to get into the air than surfboards, so they are a better place to start learning freestyle.

Why Do People Switch to Kitesurfing?

Trying kitesurfing after starting with kiteboarding is often a natural progression. Many people who start kiteboarding want to surf waves, and, as we have already said, you need to kitesurf to ride waves. For them, kiteboarding is a step to their ultimate goal, kitesurfing.

Besides the riding waves aspect, many claims that kitesurfing is healthier. It puts less pressure on the knees and hips which for some can result in a less painful experience.

Challenges in Moving from Kiteboarding to Kitesurfing

As this whole article has discussed, kiteboarding and kitesurfing are not the same thing! Thus, moving from one to the other involves growing accustomed to their differences and even learning some new skills.

Turning

The biggest challenge in moving from kiteboarding to kitesurfing lies in the boards: twin tip versus directional. A twin-tip board can travel in either direction, but a directional board requires jibing if you want to turn.

What does this mean? Riding a twin tip board you can ride in one direction, and then simply turn your kite to turn around and ride in the other direction. You do not have to move your feet, but will simply be riding with a different foot forward.

For example, if you start on a twin tip board with your right foot forward, when you turn your kite to head back in the opposite direction you will be riding with your left foot forward.

Directional kite surfboards, however, can only be ridden in one direction. Therefore when you turn you will also need to switch your feet. This is known as jibing and will require a good deal of practice to master. You can expect to fall off your board a lot.

Going Strapless

Technically you can ride with straps or strapless both while kiteboarding and kitesurfing, but the two activities have opposite tendencies. Kiteboarding usually involves straps to help secure the smaller and lighter twin tip boards, while kitesurfing tends to be strapless to make it easier to move your feet, especially when jibing.

The surfboards used when kitesurfing tend to be larger, and being able to move your feet gives a greater sense of control when riding waves. However, since many kiteboarders ride with straps learning to go strapless when kitesurfing is a hurdle.

You can begin kitesurfing with straps to make the transition easier, but many encourage the switch to strapless with kitesurfing for the best experience. There are also those who kitesurf with only a front strap to give both more freedom without losing all security.

Changing Stance

Anyone who has participated in any type of board sport from skateboarding to snowboarding to surfing knows that the right stance is essential to success. Because they use different boards, switching from kiteboarding to kitesurfing also requires making adjustments to the stance.

Kiteboarding uses a stance that puts more weight on the back foot, while kitesurfing puts more weight on the front foot. Surfboards have greater buoyancy than twin tip boards, so the feet need to be more spread out and the weight shifted forward to hold the board down.

While changing stance may not be as challenging as learning to jibe, it often involves retraining ingrained habits.

Why Does the Difference Matter?

If kiteboarding and kitesurfing are so similar why does the difference matter at all? Is kiteboarding just an activity for those who cannot kitesurf?

Although kitesurfing and kiteboarding are covered by the same organizations, they are considered distinct at competitions. Kitesurfers are not better than kiteboarders. They ride in different circumstances and with different expectations.

Essentially twin tip board riders do not face off against directional board riders in the same event at a competition. Even though both kiteboarding and kitesurfing have freestyle events, at a competition there would be a freestyle event for twin tip riders (kiteboarding) and another event for kitesurfing.

Kiteboarding and kitesurfing may be easily confused, but they are distinct enough that they cannot be judged side by side. A kiteboarder and a kitesurfer will be riding in different conditions and performing different styles of tricks.

Breakdown of Kiteboarding versus Kitesurfing

Here is an easy-to-follow breakdown to summarize everything we have thus far noted about the difference between kiteboarding and kitesurfing.

KiteboardingKitesurfing
Twin Tip BoardDirectional Board
Similar to WakeboardingSimilar to Surfing
Done in flat open waterDone in waves; usually closer to shore
 Back Heavy StanceFront Heavy Stance
Tends to be Strapped (there are exceptions)Tends to be Strapless (there are exceptions)
Best place to start learningBest attempted after gaining intermediate kite skills
Overall smaller board (thinner and lighter)Overall bigger board (wider and heavier)

Beware! Terms Can Still Vary

Have you ever noticed that people around the world often have different names for things even if they speak the same language?

Even though you now know the difference between kiteboarding and kitesurfing remember that not everyone does. The fact of the matter is that these two words are still used interchangeably a lot, and which word people tend to favor has a lot to do with where you are in the world.

Basically, if you see or hear the term kiteboarding or kitesurfing used, you should probably clarify how the word is being used. Do they mean all water kiting in general, or are they referring specifically to twin tip riding versus surfing? We cannot promise that everyone uses these terms in the same way.

Sailing or Surfing?

Part of the problem with the terms used in this sport comes from disagreement about how the sport should be classified. Some believe that kiteboarding/kitesurfing is a sailing sport because of the kites. Indeed we find many sailing terms in the world of water kite sports such as upwind, downwind, and jibing.

Others, however, prefer to think of kiteboarding/kitesurfing as a surfing discipline because it uses a surfboard. Of course, twin tip boards are not surfboards so this presents a classification problem for twin tip board riders.

Those who think of water kite sports as being a type of sailing prefer the term kiteboarding as it separates the sport from surfing. Those who see water kiting as closer to surfing prefer the term kitesurfing.

The Third Water Kiting Activity: Hydrofoil

In order to truly keep all of your terms straight in the water kiting sports world, then you should also be aware of the third style of water kiting that is neither kiteboarding nor kitesurfing: kite hydrofoil.

Like with kiteboarding and kitesurfing, the distinction with hydrofoil comes down to the board. Kite hydrofoil simply refers to being pulled on a kite by a hydrofoil board rather than a twin tip or surfboard.

The Board

What exactly is a hydrofoil board? A hydrofoil is simply a flat surface that lifts an object traveling in water. A hydrofoil board consists of a board on top of a shaft connected to a hydrofoil.

When a hydrofoil board gains speed, the board rises out of the water on top of the shaft, and the hydrofoil is what skims along the surface of the water. This results in the board and rider riding about a meter on top of the surface of the water.

How is Kite Hydrofoil Different from Kiteboarding and Kitesurfing?

Just as kitesurfing and kiteboarding cannot be fairly judged alongside each other, kite hydrofoil is also a separate category. Hydrofoil boards feature the least resistance which allows them to go faster than twin tip and directional style boards.

Hydrofoils are thus great for racing, but they are not as suited to performing tricks as kiteboards or kitesurfing boards.

Another Confusing Name: Windsurfing

While we are discussing the distinction between terms, you should be aware of yet another sport that involves wind and boards on the water: windsurfing.

Windsurfing is surfing on a board with a sail attached. The sail catches the wind and propels the board rather than a kite.

Windsurfing is a completely distinct sport from kitesurfing and kiteboarding. However, its use of wind and a board on the water makes it potentially easy to confuse with kite sports. Remember that the main thing that groups kiteboarding, kitesurfing, and kite hydrofoil together is the kite! Windsurfing does not have a kite, and thus it is not part of the same sports group.

Conclusion

The main difference between kiteboarding and kitesurfing lies in the boards, which changes where the riding is best done and what kind of skills are necessary to be successful. Despite their differences kiteboarding and kitesurfing are closely connected under the same water kiting sports umbrella.

Ryan C

Kitesurfing, flyboarding, jet skis and snowboarding are my top interests. Active in watersports since age 10. Got my boating license as soon as I turned 15 years old. That Red/Black RXP-X in all the photos here belongs to me. Most of the flyboard photos and video examples here are from my exploits.

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