So You Want to Be a Kiteboarder? Here’s What You Need to Know.
By Paul Lang
Originally Published in the June 2009 issue of The Kiteboarder Magazine
Every kiteboarder has been approached by someone on the beach and asked, “What’s that sport called? How much does it cost? Is it hard?” The first two questions are easy to answer: It’s called kiteboarding and it costs about $2000 to $2500 to get started. Is kiteboarding hard? Well, that depends. We’ve seen people of all ages who the sport is easy for – people who are up and riding having fun on their first or second day. We’ve also seen people struggle for months, even years trying to learn the basics of the sport, always aspiring for a fun session that doesn’t end in a swim, but never quite getting there. For most new kiteboarders, the experience of learning to ride lies somewhere between those two extremes. There is no doubt that learning to kiteboard is a humbling experience for everyone when first starting out, but anyone can learn to kiteboard with a little determination and a lot of guidance from a qualified kiteboarding instructor.
While kiteboarding is not an extremely difficult or physically demanding sport, there are a few things to consider before you commit to becoming a kiteboarder. To be a kiteboarder, you need the following:
Swimming Skills: You must be a reasonably strong swimmer and be very comfortable in the water. When things go wrong out there, you may have to swim back in and a lot of people greatly overestimate their swimming skills. The general rule of kiting is, don’t kite further out than you’re prepared to swim.
Time: Kiteboarding takes time to learn. If you are looking for a sport that you only want to do a few times a year and be reasonably good at, kiteboarding is not it. Kiteboarding does not have to take over your life, but you do have to be willing to put the time in to learn the sport and wait for good conditions.
Responsibility: As a kiteboarder, you are using gear that can be very safe or dangerous to use if you do not operate your gear responsibly. You must be aware of your surroundings at all times and be honest in judging your skill level and whether or not you can go out in certain conditions.
LESSONS ON LESSONS
The most important part of becoming a kiteboarder is finding a qualified and competent instructor. A good instructor will make sure that your learning experience is a safe and fun one. A lot of people who are attracted to kiteboarding have never taken lessons in any sport, so why should kiteboarding be any different? Kiteboarding is different because you can put other people at risk if you do not know what you are doing. It’s one thing if you hurt yourself learning a new sport, but it’s something completely different if you loose control and injure someone who was just trying to enjoy the beach. This opens you to lawsuits and threatens beach access for all kiteboarders. Some people look at the expense of kiteboarding lessons as being a reason not to get them. You should think of lessons as cheap insurance. A proper kiteboarding lesson will not only give you the skills and knowledge to be able to safely launch and fly your kite, but will also greatly speed up the learning process and could end up saving you a great deal of money in the end. It makes no sense to shell out $1500 or more for a new kite, only to destroy it because you decided to save $300 on lessons. What if you injure yourself because you don’t know what you are doing? An injury can cost way more than a lesson in terms of money, time, and lost income. If you look at kiteboarding lessons in those terms, you cannot afford to not take them.
The first thing you have to decide is where you are going to take your lesson. If you live in an area that has light or unreliable wind, you can have a much better experience traveling somewhere with more dependable conditions. In ideal conditions, you can learn and accomplish more in a week than you can in months of struggling in light and shifty wind.
Whether looking close to home or looking for an exotic holiday, the internet is a great place to find out what is available. However, don’t book a lesson just because a school has a slick website. Do a little homework before you sign up for a lesson with any school and check out the magazine’s Kite Pages section for schools that carry insurance and certification to help you narrow down your options.
Insurance: Does the school have insurance? Insurance is very important to protect not only the school but also the student in the unlikely event that there is an accident during the lesson.
Referrals: Every good kiteboarding school has tons of stoked students that love to talk about how much fun they had during their lesson. If a school is unwilling to give you referrals from previous students, you may want to keep looking.
Students to Instructor Ratios: Ask the school how many students each instructor teaches at a time. The lower the number the better. To maximize your time with the equipment, consider doing private lessons.
Refunds/Weather Delays: Ask the school what happens if the weather does not cooperate. Kiteboarding is a weather dependant sport, so both the school and the student need to be flexible to accommodate the wind.
Equipment: How current is the equipment that the school uses? You want to learn on gear that is as up to date as possible. What teaching aids does the school use? Is boat/PWC support available? Do the instructors use helmet radios?
Certifications: There are currently competing organizations certifying kiteboarding instructors and also many great instructors who are not certified, but a school that employs certified instructors shows that they were willing to jump through the necessary hoops and expense to keep their instructors current.
Don’t be afraid to call different schools and talk to them about what you want to do. It’s important that you choose a school and instructor who you are comfortable with and who will teach you to kiteboard safely.
What to Expect
Going into your lesson, the most important thing to understand is that you will not be jumping 30 feet into the air and shredding waves by the end of the day. Kiteboarding has a very steep learning curve at the beginning, so you will be learning a lot and improving very quickly, but expect your first days to be humbling. Most lessons can be broken down into three sections:
Beach Talk: Almost every beginning kiteboarding lesson begins with a talk on land, as there is a lot of information that should be passed on to the student before you touch a kite. Topics generally include the wind window, weather, local conditions, choosing a beach, basics of kiteboarding and most importantly, safety.
Basic Kite Skills: After the beach talk, you will learn how to rig, launch, and fly a kite. Some schools start off with trainer kites, which teach you the basics of kite flying. You will be learning some basics with the kite here, but not playing with the full power that can be generated. That comes in the next step.
Water Time: The first few times you go in the water with the kite, you will not be taking a board with you. This step is unceremoniously called body dragging. This allows you to focus on learning to fly the kite without the complication of learning to ride the board at the same time. In this step you will work on relaunching the kite and improving your kite flying skills and power control. Once you can body drag with a great deal of control, you are ready to try the board.
At the end of your lesson, talk to your instructor about what you did well on and what you still need to work on. If you are still excited about the sport after a long day or many days on the water, you are on the path to becoming a kiteboarder.
So I Took a Lesson, Now What ?
Now that your lessons are done, it’s time to buy some equipment and get some time on the water. Talk to kite shops in your area about what size kite and board works best for someone of your size in your local conditions. There may be a lot of great deals on the internet, but make sure you are buying gear that will work well for you with current safety and performance features and not because it’s cheap. Talk to your instructor and the local shops about where you should go to continue working on your skills.
When you show up to any beach as a rookie kiteboarder, talk with other riders before you go out. Kiteboarders are very friendly and nobody wants to see another rider get hurt. If a veteran rider says you should ride somewhere else or that today’s conditions are over your head, don’t take it personally – they simply don’t want to see you get injured. A great way to start your sessions as a rookie is to start every session with a quick body drag. This will give you a little more time to just focus on your kite skills before adding the board to the mix. If you find yourself struggling with the board, go back to the basics and do another quick body drag. Focusing on the basics until you get them dialed will make you a much better rider in the end as opposed to rushing yourself through the skills.
Originally Published in the June 2009 issue of The Kiteboarder Magazine