ETIQUETTE: Why You Need to Be a Responsible Kiteboarder
By Paul Lang
Originally Published in the August 2008 Issue of The Kiteboarder Magazine
It’s time to face a simple truth about kiteboarding: it’s growing, and local beaches everywhere are getting crowded. A few years ago, when it was rare to see more than 20 kiteboarders on the water together, there was almost always enough room for everyone to do their own thing and not bother anyone else. Now, that just simply isn’t the case. In some areas, 40 or 50 kiters might be a mellow day. It is no longer unheard of to have over 100 kites in the sky at one single beach.
With the escalating crowds have come increasing problems. Many people who have been kiting since the beginning feel they are entitled to do whatever they want. Riders who started on bow kites two years ago are so overconfident in their skills that they feel they can tackle any conditions out there. Many riders are so focused on landing a new move or riding one more wave that they either don’t notice or care that they cut other riders off.
Some riders like to jump near shore or in a crowd of kiters because they feel they can handle it. All of these examples are very bad for our sport and are causing tempers to wear thin. It has progressed to the point that the general feeling at some beaches is downright unfriendly.
Kiteboarding as a whole is still almost completely free of any outside regulations, and if we want to keep it that way, we all are all going to have to learn how to play nice. It’s time for everyone involved in this sport to seriously WAKE UP! If we want to keep local access and control over our own sport, we have to be able to rely on ourselves to enforce a reasonable code of conduct. Serious regulations are coming if we don’t do something about it now.
To sum it up, as long you are courteous and use some common sense, you can help keep kiteboarding kiteboarder controlled.
Don’t be a donkey – please encourage others to follow these guidelines.
- Getting into Kiteboarding
If you think this sport is for you, take a lesson. Don’t learn on your own. If you have friends that want to try kiteboarding, tell them to take a lesson. Kiteboarding is a sport that should require lessons. Yes, they are expensive and you may have to travel for them. Look at them as insurance.
Kiteboarding lessons are much cheaper than a trip to the emergency room or a destroyed kite. New kiters are much more likely to stick with the sport if their first experience was a controlled and positive one. All current kiteboarders need to insist that new kiters take lessons.
- Choosing a Site to Launch
If you are kiting in an area for the first time, do your research ahead of time to find out where you should ride. Show up at a known riding spot or local shop and talk to the local riders. Some areas have restrictions on where you can and cannot kite.
Simply launching wherever you want can put access at risk for an entire area. If you think you have discovered an epic spot with no one out, take the time to find out why it’s deserted – there probably is a very good reason.
- Setting Up
Good kiteboarding etiquette starts before you get on the water. When you arrive at a spot where kiters have already set up, take a minute and watch how everyone else lays out their gear and launches their kites. Go with the flow and do what everyone else does. Don’t inflate your kite on top of someone else’s lines.
Set your lines up the same direction as everyone else (i.e. upwind or downwind) so you don’t take up more than your fair share of beach space. Don’t be the guy who has to be different.
- Helping Others
If someone asks you to launch their kite, don’t hesitate to help. Too many kiters act like they don’t want to be bothered with launching and landing kites. Go out of your way to help others. When another rider comes in and taps his or her head, drop what you are doing and catch their kite. It only takes a minute – you’ll still have plenty of time to ride.
This should be a general rule for all kiters: help others. Answer questions that come from new or potential kiters. Launch and land kites. Help kiters in trouble without hesitation.
- Right of Way
In case you don’t already know them, here are the rules for when two riders meet:
- When two riders are on opposite tacks, the rider with their right hand forward has right of way over the rider with their left hand forward.
- When two riders are on the same tack, the rider further downwind has right of way over the rider further upwind.
- When one rider passes another, the rider being passed has the right of way.
When riding in surf, you must also add the following rules that apply in the surf zone:
- The kiter, windsurfer, or surfer nearest to the peak has the wave, and all others should back off.
- Never ride through a pack of surfers or spray them.
- When leaving the beach, yield to any kiter, windsurfer, or surfer who is on a wave.
- Only ride in the surf if you are surfing waves. Work your way back upwind outside of the waves.
When you meet another kiter, be courteous and position your kite in a way that allows the other rider to cross your path easily. If you are further upwind, hold your kite high. If you are downwind, bring your kite low. It’s as simple as this: Don’t be a dick.
There are a lot of waves out there; the ocean is not going to run out. Be the courteous rider on the water and everyone will be much nicer back on the beach.
- Giving Others Room
Why do kiteboarders tangle with each other? The simple answer is because they get too close. Honestly, there is no good reason for two riders to tangle lines. Every time it happens, one or both of the riders is being irresponsible and both riders’ lives are being put in danger. Be aware of what is around you at all times.
Look behind you before you turn. If another rider is in front of you, don’t ride all the way to the beach, forcing them to the sand. Don’t follow closely behind another rider. Give people room!
- Being a Beginner
There is nothing wrong with being a beginner. At one time, everyone on the water was one. If you just started kiteboarding, do yourself and everyone else a favor. Stick with conditions and locations that are within your skill level. I know it’s tempting to want to go shred head-high surf or throw kite loops in 30 knots, but you need to be realistic about your limitations.
Going out in conditions that are over your head is not going to make you a better rider. You’ll just end up struggling during your entire session and will be in the way of riders who are experienced enough to be out. If you want to progress your skills, stick with conditions you feel comfortable in. Take baby steps. Jumping from flat water and 15 knots of wind to six-foot shore pound in 25 knots is only going to end badly.
If you are at a spot where all levels of kiters ride, launch downwind of the main crowd until you are comfortable riding upwind. This will keep you separated from the more advanced riders, and everyone will be happier.
- Being the Local Pro
If you are the rider that others look up to at your local beach, you must act as a good role model. Every area has their rider or riders that everyone else aspires to ride like. If you are one of these kiters, others will imitate what you do. If you jump next to shore and in crowds, so will everyone else.
If you show no respect for surfers or other beachgoers, every other kiter in your area will do the same. If you ride and jump safely, show others respect, and take the time to help others, everyone will copy you. When you become the rider that everyone else looks up to, you have a responsibility to be a good role model and that responsibility must be taken seriously.
- Dealing with the Bad Eggs
Every beach has them. These riders are the ones who think they are so good that no one can tell them what to do. They crash their kite on the beach and in the middle of a surf lineup. They go out in conditions beyond their skills. They put every other rider’s privilege to kite in jeopardy every time they kite.
I know you can think of at least a few at your own beach. How do you deal with the trouble kiters? They must be confronted, and it’s your responsibility to do so.
- Confronting the bag eggs works best when you can have a whole group confront an individual. Don’t yell or argue, just tell the troublemaker what he/she is doing wrong and that they are risking your ability to ride. Getting a few friends to back you up will help your case.
- If you think someone doesn’t know what they are doing or are getting ready to go out in conditions beyond their skills, start by asking them questions like, “Have you ridden here before? What size kite are you going to put up? Have you been out in this much wind before?” If you think this person has no clue what they are doing and you think they are going to be dangerous, tell them they should wait for a more mellow day or refer them to an instructor. Again, don’t yell and don’t argue. If all else fails, simply refuse to launch this person’s kite and get others to back you up.
- If talking to the person doesn’t solve anything, you may have to take matters to the lifeguards or any other authority you might have at your beach. If this person really is a danger to others, tell the lifeguards what the problem is. Let them know that this person has been non-responsive to suggestions about safety and that they aren’t a representative of the other area kiters.
- Do not just let it go. At every riding spot across the country, a few bad eggs are putting other riders in danger. Don’t let a bad egg shut down your beach because you didn’t say something before they caused an accident.
If you are one of these riders, think about what you are doing. Do you want to be the one rider who causes a beach to be closed? If others at your local beach confront you, don’t get angry. Listen to what they have to say and take it seriously. There is not a single rider out there who is too good or too cool that they can’t ride safely and courteously. GET A REALITY CHECK. You are not that good.
- Creating a Community
Working toward create a feeling of community among kiters in your area will help to promote etiquette on the water. Why? Because people are much less likely to anger someone they consider a friend or someone they shared a few beers with at then end of the last session. If everyone knows each other, it also makes it much easier to confront the bad egg or eggs.
If you are a shop or school owner, this should be your responsibility and you should feel at least a little obligated to give back to the community that supports your business. Organize movie premiers or kite nights at your shop. Most kiteboarders like beer, so a few beers can go a long way toward getting a few kiters to hang out together. Everybody can do their part to encourage a feeling of community.
Be friendly with the other kiters at your beach – you will be seeing them every time the wind blows. Remember, it’s up to each and every one of us to keep kiteboarding under our own control. If we let our local spots get so out of hand that outside authorities have to step in and impose rules, we are going to see a massive and rapid decline in what we are allowed to do as kiteboarders. Follow the etiquette guidelines and be a good role model to others. As more and more kiters ride responsibly, there will be more pressure on others to do the same.
We make up a very small percentage of water users and it is too easy for the authorities to ban kiteboarding if they decide that we are a danger to others.