By Brendan Richards/Caution Kiteboarding/www.sckitesurfing.com
The idea of unhooking in the waves and blasting down the line with just one hand hanging on to your bar can sound pretty overwhelming to riders that aren’t used to unhooking, but getting the pull of your kite away from the center of your body opens up a whole new school of waveriding and frees up your body to perform in ways that just are not possible when your harness is connected to your kite.
With a little practice, unhooking in the waves isn’t as difficult as people usually think it is. Because you are traveling downwind on the wave, there really isn’t a huge amount of pull coming from the kite. The most difficult part of riding a wave unhooked is not holding on with one hand, but timing the kite’s movements with the wave.
Learning to Unhook
Starting in flat water, practice unhooking and hooking back in. Make sure that you have good board speed and bear off downwind before you unhook, as this will take the shock out of transferring the pull from your harness to your upper body. Prior to unhooking, put both hands close together near the center of the bar. This allows you to take one hand off the bar while reducing the amount that the kite will turn when hanging on with one hand. The first time you unhook you will be shocked by how much more drag and resistance you feel from your board and the intensity of the pull from your kite. The more downwind you travel, the less the kite will pull.
When hooking back in, the key to success is using both hands to pull the bar back to your body while hooking in with one swift move. With both hands centered on the bar, pull the bar towards your harness hook. As your trim loop approaches the harness hook, leave one hand on the bar as close to the center as possible and grab the quick release/chicken loop with the other hand and guide it back onto your harness hook. When polished into one swift move, this seems to be the easiest, fastest, and most reliable method of hooking back in. Some riders choose to keep both hands on the bar and guide the trim loop back onto the harness hook, but success at this method depends upon the rigidity of your trim loop and your muscle coordination under strain.
When things go wrong, be prepared to let go of the bar and grab the chicken loop with both hands. If you are using a high depower kite this will kill almost all of the kite’s pull. Once things have calmed down, you can lie back in the water and bring your harness hook to the surface and then muscle the chicken loop back to your harness hook with both hands on the trim loop.
Unhooked Wave Riding
When riding waves unhooked, your goal is to ride down the line with only your forward hand on the bar for as much of the time as is possible. Because the kite turns when only one hand is on the bar, the challenge is to time your hand movements with where you want to place the kite, where the wave is, and how much power you need. To slow the movement of the kite, you can hold the bar so your index finger is on the other side of the bar with the depower line between your index and middle fingers.
On a right in side-onshore wind, it goes something like this: Going down the wave, unhook and turn the kite to the right (towards the wave) until letting go with your right hand. Through the bottom turn, only your left hand stays on the bar, causing the kite to slowly turn left (towards the beach). If your timing is right, then the left hand has redirected the kite to the left side of the window as you hit the lip of the wave. Put your right hand back on the bar for a moment to redirect the kite back again towards the wave as you start another bottom turn. This takes a lot of practice to get right, so don’t be frustrated if you don’t nail the timing on your first few tries.
Best Conditions for Unhooking: You need steady wind, relatively smooth water, the right kite size, and an appropriately tuned bar to have a good time in the waves unhooked. If the wind is gusty or the water is really choppy, you’ll probably have more fun staying hooked in.
- Changes the center of effort/pull coming from the kite making riding on a wave feel more like surfing where your upper body often dictates your direction of travel.
- Adds another challenge. Riding unhooked completely changes kiting in small waves, making it fun and exciting.
- Makes you a more well-rounded kiter and less apt to panic if you accidentally become unhooked.
- Makes some delusional egomaniacs feel really cool, even though they continue to be complete hacks in the waves (more of a CON).
- Riding unhooked sets your kite at a fixed level of power, eliminating the benefits of the latest in depower technology.
- Unhooking works really well in slightly underpowered conditions, but makes wind quality and kite selection much more important.
- Makes you more likely to yard sale in the lineup and burn your friends (and enemies) while you sort yourself out.
- In the beginning, unhooked wave riding tends to offer just a few moments of brilliance when everything lines up surrounded by horrendously mistimed moves and repeated train wrecks.