Strapless riding is a great way to challenge yourself and have fun on even the flattest of days. One of the biggest challenges when riding strapless can be getting out past the waves. It’s common for experienced kitesurfers to forget how irritating the simple process of getting through the impact zone can be for new kiters.
Few words can describe the frustration of being taken out by the first wave only to be cleaned out and sent back to the beach by subsequent waves, a scenario exponentially irritating for the experienced kiter venturing into strapless territory for the first time.
The obvious drawback to strapless kiting is your inability to air out and jump clear over sets, and as a result you are left with two options; turn around and run away with a chicken jibe, or hit the wave directly by climbing up and over the whitewater. Here are some helpful hints to help you face off and take each set head on.
Pick a day with small waves and good wind, go through the motions on small waves, and figure out what works best for you, then scale it up to bigger waves. Most injuries and broken boards occur from trying to hit the wave when the lip is throwing. The timing of the wave may be unpredictable and being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be like hitting a brick wall.
The first element of getting past the impact zone is timing. You should size up each wave well in advance of contact with the whitewater. In the event the wave has not yet broken, (step 1) determine if you can speed up and make it up and over the clean face. If the wave is close to throwing, (step 3) you should slow down because hitting the wave right as it is breaking is much more dangerous because the lip is throwing down on top of you and the energy of the wave is at its peak.
If the wave has broken (steps 6+), you might consider slowing down so as to allow the wave to shed some of its energy and turbulence, making for a much more easier ramp to climb over. As the surf gets larger, timing becomes increasingly important and having a confident chicken gibe in your back pocket is a good idea as well.
As you approach the wave you should scrub some speed. A frequent first-time mistake is bearing off or hitting the wave straight on with speed. This adds uncertainty as you bounce off the whitewater with an unanticipated trajectory and generally causes instantaneous separation from your board for new strapless riders. The best technique is to slow down by applying back foot pressure and heading the board a few degrees into the wind (step 3).
The kite should be roughly positioned at 45° in the window during the approach and by the time you make contact with the wave the kite should be almost directly overhead. As you begin to climb over the whitewater you should have scrubbed most of your forward speed so that the wave is almost rolling underneath you, with the overhead pull of your kite making the upward transition a little smoother (step 5). By applying more pressure to your rear foot you can help the tip of the board ride up over the whitewater and allow the wave to roll under you.
You want to engage the wave (step 6) with your legs fully extended, allowing your legs to suck up or absorb the energy and turbulence of the wave. Without straps, you have to use your knees, the force of the wave, and just the right amount of kite power to get you and your board through to the back side of the wave. The larger the wave, the more challenging it can be to absorb the turbulence of the wave and maintain the connection between you and your board.
As you reach the top of the wave (step 9) you want to start thinking about shifting your weight to your front foot and using your forward hand to initiate a downward power stroke. At this point you have very little forward momentum because you ditched most of your speed in your approach and lost whatever forward movement was left to the wave. You will want to weight your forward foot, point your board downwind and power up your kite to get back up to speed and get ready to size up the next wave.
- If you find yourself down in the water with your board between you and the wave, use your kite to get away from your board.
- If you are in trouble, point your kite in the direction that the wave is coming from. This will pull you through the wave and keep the kite in the sky.
- When getting out, you want to go as slow as you can without sinking your board. This gives you the most control as you hit the wave and minimizes the impact on your knees and legs.
Brendan Richards rides for Caution Kiteboarding.