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WHEN THINGS GO WRONG: How to Get out of the 13 Most Common Kitemares
By Paul Lang

Originally Published in the February 2008 Issue of The Kiteboarder Magazine


Getting into trouble is a part of kiteboarding. Every kiteboarder has either had or will have an OH SH!T moment and how you handle the situation will determine whether you pick yourself back up and continue your session, or find yourself in the back of an ambulance. We have compiled a list of the most common kitemares and how you should react when caught in that situation. If you keep your wits about you and act rationally, you can keep the situation under control and will hopefully avoid injury to yourself, your gear, and your pride.


1. Kite Tangle: More people are getting into kiting every year and riding spots are getting more crowded. If you have not tangled up with someone before, chances are you will someday. When you find your kite tangled with someone else’s, do not immediately release your safety. Many times, the kites will still be flying, and if both riders cooperate and figure out what exactly is tangled, you can get out of it quickly. Hold both kites low to the water while doing this and unhook your leashes so both riders are ready to completely release their kites if things get dicey. If either kite is not controllable, BOTH kites need to be released.

2. Line Break: When a flying line or bridle line breaks, there is no way to avoid a swim back to the beach. Activate your safety system (you may lose the kite when you do this if your safety is attached to the line that broke) and pull yourself up to the kite using one line only. Once at the kite, hold the wingtips and self rescue yourself back to the beach.

3. Wind Dies: Keep the kite flying for as long as you can. If you suddenly do not have enough power to stay up on the board, it’s time to relive the good ‘ole learning days by doing a body drag. Hold your board on the surface of the water in front of you and body drag as close to the beach as you can before the kite will not stay in the air any longer. Loop the kite through the wind window to squeeze everything you can out of the dying wind. At that point, pull yourself up one line to the kite and self rescue/swim the rest of the way in.

4. Unhooked on Accident: First of all, every rider should be comfortable flying their kite unhooked so that when this happens, it’s no big deal. Practice unhooking and hooking back in until it feels natural. If you do come unhooked on accident, keep both hands at the center of the bar and pull in and down to hook in. If the pull is too hard, just let go. This will activate your safety and let the kite crash. You can then recover the bar, hook back in, and relaunch the kite.

5. Harness Releases or Breaks: If you are comfortable flying your kite unhooked, this is an issue that is easy to deal with. After your harness breaks, slowly bring your kite to overhead. Keep your hands towards the middle of the bar and ride back to the beach and land your kite. The further downwind you ride, the less pressure will be on the lines and the easier the bar will be to hold on to.

6. Caught in Big Surf: If you are caught in the impact zone, head back towards the beach. It’s a lot easier to go with the waves than it is to go against them. If you lose your board, don’t worry about it as the whitewater will probably wash it in to the beach for you. Simply body drag in to the beach. When your kite goes down in big surf, things get interesting. Try everything you can to get the kite back up before the next wave, but be prepared to completely release the kite before you or the kite gets pounded by a wave. When a wave puts you through the rinse cycle, you do not want to be anywhere near your lines. If you do not release your kite when the wave comes, you have a good chance of being tangled with the lines and your kite will be more likely to be damaged. Remember, you have no business being in surf that you wouldn’t feel comfortable swimming or paddle surfing in.


7. Tangled in the Lines: This is probably the scariest thing that can happen to a kiter. Do all you can to avoid it. That rusty hook knife on your harness probably won’t do you any good (try cutting an old line with it sometime to see if it works). The best thing to do is to start pulling on one line only so that you can get to the kite. This way the kite cannot power up and you have something to hold on to that floats while you untangle yourself. Don’t panic and kick your legs as this will only make the situation worse. If you cannot pull on one line, grab any line or lines (but DO NOT wrap the line around your hand) above where you are tangled and hang on. You will probably end up with line burns or cuts on your hands, but that’s better than around your neck.

8. Kite Deflates: One-Pump systems are great, but they make it possible for your whole kite to deflate if something fails. Your first sign that you are losing air is the kite will try to fold in half every time there is a lot of load on the lines. If this happens, get off the board and body drag back to shore with the kite on the edge of the window. If you keep the kite on the edge of the window and keep as little tension on the lines as possible, you can keep a kite flying until there is basically no air left in it. Do this by holding the kite on the edge of the window and swim in, as opposed to using the kite to pull you in.

9. Lost Kite: You should have a leash system to avoid this, but failures can happen and you may have to separate yourself from your kite in some cases (big surf, for example). There is nothing to do but swim when this happens, so you better be used to it. An impact vest or PFD will save you a ton of energy in this situation. If you have a big twin tip or a surfboard, turn your harness around (so the hook is on your back) and paddle on the board. With small boards, push them in front of you as you swim. Remember: Never ride further from the beach than you can swim. Spend some time swimming so you know how far this is.

10. Tangled Bridle: Any kite with a bridle can end up with a bridle tangle, which usually happens when part of the bridle gets caught on a wingtip. This causes the kite to loop uncontrollably. If this happens to you, immediately release your kite onto the leash. The kite should stop pulling and crash into the water. If it keeps pulling, release your leash and let the whole kite go.


11. Caught in a gust front: The wise thing to do is to completely avoid kiting in unstable weather, but some people still find themselves caught on the water when a gust front passes. Keep your eye on the weather and get off the water at the first sign of instability (dark clouds, sudden wind shifts, etc.). If you do find yourself on the water when a gust front moves through, bring your kite down along the edge of the window to the water and release it onto your leash. If you try to keep your kite in the air, you may end up being lofted. If the wind has switched to onshore and you do not have enough room to bring the kite down, immediately release it onto your leash and be prepared to release your leash if the kite continues to pull.

12. Kite is Pulling You Towards a Solid Object: The best way to avoid injuries in kiteboarding is to avoid solid objects. If you find yourself being pulled by your kite towards a solid object, you have to react immediately and your first action has to be the right one. Immediately release your kite onto your leash. Doing this HAS to be second nature so that you can react immediately. If the solid object is within one kite line length downwind of you, completely release yourself from your kite and leash.

13. Bad Landing: You can usually feel a bad landing coming, and there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of injury. If you feel like you are about to crash hard, kick your board off. Make sure you get both feet off the board as leaving one foot will almost certainly lead to a knee or ankle injury. If you don’t think you can get both feet out, it’s better to leave them both in than to crash with only one foot in the straps. Look up, spot your kite, and the higher your kite is when you crash the less the impact will be.


The first step of getting out of almost any kitemare is having a properly functioning leash system. When you release your kite onto the leash, there should be virtually no pull. It can be tempting to always hook your leash to your harness loop, but many kites will not completely depower this way. If your kite does not fully depower through the chicken loop, then your leash must be hooked up to a to a 5th line or a front or back sliding line, commonly called an Oh Sh!t loop. You need to know how your quick release works (and how to put it back together) and also must have a quick release on your leash so you can completely ditch your kite in dire situations.

The best way to get out of a bad situation is to avoid the situation in the first place. Rig your equipment correctly, check your gear, know your limits, and avoid questionable weather. You can never completely eliminate the risk from kiteboarding, but you can reduce your risk of injury by understanding and practicing how to react when you find yourself in the middle of a kitemare.

Kitemare Do’s and Don’ts
DO stay calm and think rationally about how to get out of the situation.
DON’T ever kite further from shore than you know you can swim.
DO go swimming so you are comfortable doing it and know your limits.
DO practice using your quick release until using it is second nature.
DON’T go kiteboarding in surf that you would not feel comfortable paddle surfing or swimming in.
DO use a leash system that allows you to fully depower
DO be prepared to completely release your kite if necessary.
DON’T completely release your kite every time you have a small problem. Your kite will become a danger to others and you better have a VERY good reason to let it go.
DO know your limits and be realistic about your skill level.
DO check your gear before every session.
DON’T rely on others to save you every time something happens.

Originally Published in the February 2008 Issue of The Kiteboarder Magazine