INSTRUCTIONAL: Off to the Rescue
By Paul Menta
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Do you help when you see another rider in trouble?

Most of us have experienced seeing another rider whose kite is down and is having trouble relaunching. Here’s my question: Did you consider helping out, or did you just watch as the kiter thrashed around, thinking to yourself that they’ll be OK? In the past few months, I have done more tow-ins, assisted relaunches and rescues than I have done in the past few years. For whatever reason, I have noticed that more riders seem to be getting themselves into more trouble. We are all out for the same reason and we all rely on each other to stay safe. If you see someone in trouble, you should want to help out, just as you would want someone to help you out if it was you struggling out there.

Too many times I have watched kiters struggling while no one helps out. This bothers me, so I started asking people why they don’t help riders that are in trouble. I was surprised to find out that most riders simply don’t know how to help someone out. This is a valid point; why risk getting in trouble yourself because you don’t know what you’re doing? There are many ways to help out, a few of which are described below. Remember, a little kite karma goes a long way.


Assessing the Situation

Signs to look for:

  • Kite down for more than three minutes and no attempt to relaunch
  • Seeing an emergency system activated, such as a flagging or completely released kite
  • Kite in neutral for a long time and no attempt at riding
  • Shape of kite on water not normal, i.e. deflated
  • Friend of kiter on beach looking panicked; go ask them what’s wrong
  • Body dragging back and forth multiple times, more than likely they can’t get to or find their board

What kind of trouble is the person in?

  • If they look injured or are not moving at all, the first thing you must do before you or others go to assist is to call 911 to let them know what’s going on so they can have professionals there as soon as possible.
  • Ride out to the person and look over the situation. They may only need a little advice to be able to return to shore on their own. A bit of moral support is very comforting when you’re out there on your own.
  • Talk to the person to determine what kind of trouble they are in. Are they calm or panicked? Ask them if they need help and start coming up with a plan.

Towing a Kiter In

If the person needs to be brought in because they aren’t going to be able to make it themselves, you will possibly need to bring something with you to tow them in. The best piece of equipment to have is a lifeguard buoy, which can be left on the beach for anyone to use in case of a rescue. The buoy should have 4-5 feet of line with a carabineer at the end of it. If you tow someone too close behind you, they will tend to be pulled underwater. Also, the buoy is great because if someone is panicked, you can toss it to them first. Once they have something that floats to hold onto, they will probably calm down. Be careful when approaching a panicked person in the water, as they may try to grab onto you and this could get you into trouble as well.

Wrong way, rider in trouble can be pulled underwater by hanging on to your harness.

Wrong way, rider can be pulled underwater by hanging on to your harness.

If you don’t have access to a buoy, then they can hold onto you. Do not have them hold onto your harness, as they probably won’t have the strength to hold on and will also have water coming over their head. Instead, have them grab your shoulders so they are at the same height as you. This will allow them to easily hold on and you will be able to quickly body drag in. Approaching by Kite When heading out to help on your kite, make sure you have some kind of plan in your head before you get there. If you are approaching a person with a downed kite, stay upwind of them.

Right way, tow by having the rider hold on to your shoulders.

  • Being upwind, you stay clear of their lines and they won’t drift into you.
  • You can speak to them so they can hear you since you aren’t yelling into the wind.
  • If you are having trouble hearing each other, use simple hand signals, like thumbs up or thumbs down. The OK symbol works as well. Make sure you both understand what is going on and what you will do to get back.

Plans for Pick Up

Kite is down, person is exhausted and needs help: Give them something that floats (a lifeguard buoy or your board) and then have them release their kite. You can recover the kite later after you make sure the person is safe. Once they are comfortable, go to them and get set for the body drag. When a person sees you and hears your plan, they will feel safer and things will go smoothly. Tow them in with the lifeguard buoy or body drag with them holding onto your shoulders.

Kite deflated in the water, person OK: Once you come upwind and can speak to the person, find out if they need support to float. Next, have them wrap their lines up to the kite and then roll up the kite as best they can. While this is going on, you should be riding around the person, watching them and giving advice or encouragement. If they can’t manage wrapping up the lines, simply release the kite and bring them in as the kite is going nowhere. Once the person is set, ride up to them and body drag them back in.


Kite down, but can’t relaunch: OK, this is always a tricky one. Ride upwind of the downed rider and find out what the problem is. If you feel safe flipping their kite over, make sure the kiter knows which direction you will try to relaunch them, so they can be ready and will turn the bar the correct way.

  1. Ride down towards the kite and ride by a few times to see if the lines/bridles are tangled and to sort out how you will approach the kite.
  2. Ride below the kite and sit in water with your board on. As you drift by the kite, grab the skin of the kite or part of leading edge to pull it over. As you continue drifting by, the kite should roll over. If it doesn’t work, don’t try again until you ride back up wind and drift by again. It is easier to take another try then to be past the kite and trying to hang on.
  3. If the kite relaunches, ride away from the kite as quickly as possible. Keep your eye on the rider until they are back to the beach.

Tip: Use the tension in your kite as you drift by to help you gain leverage to pull the kite over as you go by. In other words, just grab the kite, hold on for a second, and let your kite pull you away as you roll the kite over.

Kite released, rider and board only: Send someone downwind after the kite. As long as the wind is not offshore, the kite will make its way in. Ride up to the rider in the water and tow them in with the lifeguard buoy or body drag them in on your shoulders. If you have practiced it, you can tow them in while both of you ride your own boards.

Retrieving a loose kite or board: This is a move for advanced riders only. For this article, we wanted to focus on bringing attention to a possible situation and how to address it. We will follow up in detail with instructional on how to safely retrieve a loose kite or board in a future article. As with anything, practice makes perfect, so it would be great to practice these techniques with a friend on a light wind day. To prepare for rescue situations:

  • Practice rescue techniques so you aren’t trying to figure them out in an emergency situation.
  • Make a rescue buoy for the beach that all kiters know about and can use.
  • Body drag a friend around, so you see what it feels like.
  • Tow a friend behind you on a surfboard to see how it feels.

I have been doing this since the 90s in Maui when it was a common practice to retrieve a kite or person. You didn’t even think about it. If another rider needed help, you helped. Let’s get back to helping out someone in need; it will bring you good karma and lots of friends. Remember, we all end up getting rescued at some point.

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