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When the Wind is Light, Go SUK
By Brendan Richards/Caution Kiteboarding
I gave up trying to be cool a long time ago, but my lack of coolness was firmly confirmed two years ago when I took an 11’ stand up paddleboard (SUP) out in 10 knots with a 6m kite. It was a complete failure. The only thing worse than the realization that I couldn’t make something seemingly simple work was that as a result of my stubbornness, I had to drag my kite and a monster board a quarter mile back up the beach in wind that was too lame to help me on the way down, but persistently spiteful on the way back up.
I had always considered myself at the higher end of the hierarchy of kitesurfing, one of the guys that could ride anything; a sheet of plywood or an inflatable dolphin (other things not cool), and do it with style. From that point on I vowed to warn anybody and everybody who floated the idea of kiting on a stand up paddleboard that it was by far the worst, most physical, and ridiculously pointless form of kiting.
Fast forward two years to this last spring when I had been demoted to Senior Vice President of Demo Operations for Caution Kiteboarding, which requires traveling with a truck full of kite gear and our new line of stand up paddleboards to demo events all over the west coast. Demos are typically held in locations that are known for wind, but that are almost guaranteed to have nothing more than an eight knot sea breeze because of some cosmic law that causes events to attract light wind conditions. Some people don’t mind demoing kites on the beach, but for me it’s about the water, so at some point my desperation combined with an abundance of stand up paddle boards led me to give SUKing (Stand Up Kiting) another try.
To make a short story longer – this time it worked. With 5-8 knots of wind I chose a 15M kite and one of our 10′ stand up boards. Our SUP boards are second generation style – wider and shorter with a hard edge in the tail for surfing. The steady pull of the larger kite combined with a better rail shape made it easy to put the board on edge for cruising upwind. The extra width helps you balance against the kite and unanticipated changes in wind strength and by experimenting with your feet and weight placement, you can get pretty efficient at cruising around in threshold wind conditions.
The novelty may wear off quick, so plan on trying a tail pivot jibe, duck tack, or going retro with old school windsurfer freestyle tricks.
A series of light wind demo events through this summer has given me more SUK sessions than I would prefer, but as I said, I gave up being cool a long time ago. Now I’ll settle for getting wet and being entertained, and on occasions that may involve SUKing.
- Start on your knees with the kite high in the window. Start with small power strokes. If you fall, aim for the water, and try not to skewer the board with your harness hook.
- SUP boards don’t come with a centerboard, so you have to sink the upwind rail in order to be able to track upwind. You will have to experiment with your board to find the optimal position.
- To turn the board you have to take a few steps back and sink the tail – a wider stance will help your feet push the board where you want it to go. You can rotate your legs, leveraging off the pull of your kite.
- In threshold wind conditions, where there’s just enough wind to keep the kite in the air, every knot helps. Make sure that you are either sinking the tail or one rail to fight against drifting with the wind.
- If you see a lull coming and you are worried about keeping the kite in the air, it’s best to keep the kite high in the window. Once the kite gets low and off to the side in marginal wind, it’s tough to bring it back up.