Learning to Kitesurf, why Lessons are a good idea

Learning to Kiteboard; What I learned the hard way, so you don’t have to! My journey and stories of learning to kitesurf and how this has helped me be a better kite instructor.

I learnt to kitesurf or kiteboard in the very early 2000s, only a few years after its inception and when there were literally only a handful of people in Australia giving this crazy new sport a go. Kiting then was basically adrenaline-inducing experimentation: the equipment was dangerous, the learning curve was steep, there was no guidance and no knowledge to tap into. Some paid the highest price, with sadly my crewmate and friend becoming the first casualty in Australia. For the rest of us, we were fortunate to learn from our mistakes, and somehow, learn to kite successfully.

In this series of posts, I want to share what we learnt the hard way so you don’t have to.

 

Fortunately, over the years, improved technology has meant that kitesurfing or kiteboarding has evolved from providing truly knuckle wrenching dangerous thrills, to being one of the safest watersports, albeit with the same thrills from the early years. Providing you have been taught properly!

 

In those days, I worked on a racing yacht operating 3 day 2 night charters for backpackers. The owner of the yacht was a Californian professional yacht racer and surfer nicknamed CD (Californian Dreamer). CD was always looking for the next buzz and one day got whiff of this crazy kite flying idea with a surfboard coming out of Europe and the US. It took several months for us to track a supplier down, buy a kite and ship it into Australia. It was a Naish 8m 2 string contraption I nicknamed the death kite.

What we learned the hard way so that you don’t have to (and this one's a doozy),is that you always have to string the kite in the right configuration. Learning to kiteboard starts with knowing how to set up your kite equipment, which a good kite school and instructor will guide you through.

 

We, however, had neither! Nor did we have any idea what we were doing, but we did have youthful overconfidence and we did know that on the bar, red is left and green is right. So after pumping our kite up and placing it down facing the wind so it was secure, we started unrolling the bar lines and walking down wind, away from the kite. Now here is the crucial part. We walked in the same direction of the wind so when we laid our bar down we were facing the wind looking at our kite some 30m away (fortunately, long strings are a thing of the past!). With one half of the bar being red and the other half green we laid it on the ground, red on left, green on right, right? Back then the strings and the connection points at the kite were all identical, so no clues if you had attached correctly or not.

 

Little did we know we had just made one of the biggest, most dangerous mistakes you can when learning how to kitesurf. When you're facing the kite looking into the back of the kite, everything is in reverse. So left is right and right is left! So what you need to remember to do is to lie the bar down, upside down, red on the right and green on the left.

 

Feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves and because CD paid for the kite, he got to go first.

It was a stiff breeze of 25 kts, but hey we were sailors, we knew wind. CD connected himself to the harness, I launched the kite, in the power zone I might add. Woof - off he went on his face. The strength and power of the kite took me by surprise but I can assure you, not as much as it did for CD! I watched him being skull dragged along the beach, heading towards some pretty nasty looking rocks about 100m downwind of us. He covered that distance quicker than Usain Bolt being chased by a lion. There was nothing I could do; chasing him was useless.

He had no control because the steering lines were on backwards, so everything was in reverse. If he pulled right, the kite went left and vice versa. To add to that, there were no such things as quick releases or safety lines. No safety systems whatsoever! You had to use your brute strength to pull the bar down enough to unhook the chicken loop (supposedly named for those who were too chicken to use it, or so goes the myth). Thankfully for a brief moment the kite stopped pulling like a mack truck in a Mad Max movie and CD was able to unhook himself, releasing the kite with less than 10m to the rocks. The kite came crashing down into trees, leaving CD with nothing more than a bruised ego.

So began our journey of learning to kitesurf. Years later, I tell my students to relax, and enjoy their learning experience, because “Speaking from experience you don’t need to learn the hard way, I’ve done it for you.” This is so true; the advancement in technologies, the safety systems, and the knowledge of an instructor mean you should never ever have this type of experience, EVER!

Coming up in the next post I will talk about what we learned from this first attempt at kiting and why experience is often the better teacher than the industry standard or IKO recommended method. 

 

Trust me when I say I know from experience.

 

 

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