Your harness is possibly the most important part of your whole kitesurfing kit. It’s what keeps you connected to your kite and is the point where the power from the kite is transferred via your body to your board to drive you forward – or upward!
So, although it’s one of the least expensive of your 3 vital pieces of kit (kite, board, harness), it’s worth investing some time in choosing the right one. A well chosen harness can last you years, and it’s the bit that is most closely (very closely) in contact with your body. So it needs to be comfortable, functional and hard wearing.
Kitesurfing harnesses come in a variety of types so we’ll have a look at these and the various parts.
The Basics of a Kitesurfing Harness
There are various types of harness available but they all have some basic features:
Main body of the harness – With one main exception (board shorts harness) all kitesurfing harnesses have a supportive structure that wraps around your waist or hips, with a good amount of support at the back. They are always padded on the inside for comfort and a snug fit.
Waist Belt – Most harnesses especially waist harnesses, have a wide belt in the structure which is tightened with velcro flaps, and often elasticated. The purpose is to form a snug fit around your waist or hips.
Attachment straps and tighteners – The webbing straps attached to the main structure of the harness that keep the main body of the harness tight and also the point at which the spreader bar is attached. The straps are often called “compression straps”.
Spreader Bar (or hook) – The hook located at the front of the harness to which you attach the loop at the bar end of your kite’s power lines (the chicken loop). It is the point where the force from the kite is transferred to the rest of the harness, and from there to your body. Generally made from stainless steel and with a bar behind it to spread the load – hence “spreader bar”.
Most manufacturers offer a range of spreader bars that can be bought as a separate option. They come in different spreader widths and there are now sliding hook options where the hook can move from left to right. This can be helpful during moves such as toe-side riding where your body is facing in a different direction to the pull of the kite. However, the standard sized spreader for a given harness size will normally be supplied as a default. Any other options can be added later.
Spreader Bar Pad – This is a rigid padded piece of material which the spreader bar is attached to and basically stops the bar from digging into your body.
Leash attachment points – Small (about 3-4 cms diameter) D-rings on either side of the front of the harness. The safety leash is attached to either of these at one end and to the safety line on your kite at the other. If you fire the primary safety quick release on your chicken loop, this is what keeps you attached to the kite.
Safety leash – Not strictly part of the harness and usually supplied with your kite, or as a separate item. A length of line, usually slightly elasticated that keeps you attached to the kite when you fire the primary quick release (QR) on the chicken-loop. at each end will be a clip cleat. It prevents the kite from flying off downwind when you’re not attached via the chicken-loop or, if your riding unhooked, if you let go of the bar. The leash will also have at the harness end the secondary release. This is the last resort safety feature – usually a grab loop that you pull and which detaches the leash and releases you completely from the kite.
Rear Handle – Either a small handle or length of plastic encased line (a “handlepass strap”), attached to the back of the harness. It serves 2 functions:
Firstly to enable someone to grab you safely from behind if you’re getting dragged down the beach or through the water.
Secondly, in the case of the handlepass strap version, as an alternative point to which your safety leash can be attached. The main reason to do this is to allow the leash to move from one side of your body to the other during some rotational manoeuvers. (Don’t worry what this means at this point!).
Safety knife (or line cutter) – Most harnesses include a small closed knife, tucked tightly into a small pocket at the front of the harness. This is for if it all goes horribly wrong and you or another kiter end up with the lines wrapped around you or someone/something.
Types of Harness
There are 3 main types of kitesurfing harnesses:
Seat harnesses are often favoured by kite schools and beginners as they sit lower than a waist harness, with the main body of the harness around the kiter’s hips. There’ll be a good amount of material at the back to provide lower back support.
The main difference between seat and waist harnesses is that the body of the harness to a greater or lesser degree will have some structure around the kiters backside and leg straps that keep the harness from riding up.
A couple of manufacturers also now offer a hybrid seat/waist harness, which is essentially a waist harness with removable seat part. This is a great idea for your first harness. The only compromise is that, of the hybrids currently available, the waist harness is at the lower end of the product range and therefore not quite as snug a fit if you end up using it purely as a waist harness.
Waist harnesses are generally more minimalist than a seat harness and don’t have leg straps. They sit around the kiter’s waist/abdomen and will have a greater or lesser amount of support material at the back.
These provide a much lower amount of support than either of the other types and are essentially a climbing harness concealed within a pair of board-shorts. There’s a very minimal amount of back support. Probably not the best choice for a beginner – but hey they look cool!
Best Kitesurfing Harness for a Beginner?
Really this comes down to personal preference. Seat Harnesses are often used by kite schools as they sit lower and so the hook, and therefor the point of pull is lower. This makes water-starting easier for a beginner. Another advantage is that they fit more snugly and don’t ride up, which can be a problem for beginners in particular as they’ll spend a fair amount of time with the kite high in the air at the “twelve o’clock” neutral position.
The main disadvantages of a seat harness are that they are a bit restrictive on leg movement, particularly on the beach or if you have to swim or body-drag to retrieve your board. They are also sometimes likened to a large diaper so part of the choice is down to your own self-image!
The advantages of the seat harness are mainly that they don’t ride up and that the point of pull is lower so it makes water-starting a bit easier in the early days. Also, because they sit lower, around the hips rather than the abdomen, they can be a more comfortable choice if you are, how shall I put it….fond of your beer and burgers!
Waist harnesses offer a greater degree of flexibility, with no restrictions on the legs or hips. They are slightly easier to put on and offer a greater amount of freedom of movement. There can be a tendency to ride up or move round slightly but this can be avoided largely by making sure you choose a well fitting size and tighten it properly. The better waist harnesses also have memory foam padding on the inside so that within a few sessions they mould well to your body shape, which avoids the riding up and twisting issue.
A number of manufacturers now offer “hard-shell” waist harnesses that have a very rigid main body with memory foam on the inside. These, while a bit pricier, provide a great level of back support with reduced bulk and weight.
All this aside, I’m willing to bet that the first reason most people choose a waist harness is that they just look cooler!
Board-shorts harnesses are more like a seat harness in that the hook sits low. The main difference is that they have much less support. Probably best avoided for a beginner, but good for more advanced kiters looking for maximum freedom of movement.
How to Choose Your First Harness
You will have used a harness supplied during your lessons, so you’ll have a good idea based on that.
Price will come into it as well. You definitely get what you pay for with kitesurfing harnesses, so the more you can spend the better you’ll get.
The most important thing is to buy the right sized harness. If you have the luxury of a kite shop you can visit, try a few on. If not, pay close attention to the manufacturers size guide.
As a beginner you’ll want plenty of back support, so don’t go for the more minimalist harness available, these are more suited to advanced kiters who want to lay down some eye-watering tricks and want maximum freedom of movement.
But do think ahead, you’ll quickly progress from beginner to intermediate level and beyond, so choose a harness that you feel you’ll be happy with for at least a couple of years.
In my article “Best Harnesses for Beginners” I feature 6 different harnesses with varying price tags and type. Head over and take a look!
Windsurfing Harness Vs Kitesurfing Harness
It’s worth mentioning as quite a few kiters started off windsurfing or may even continue to do both.
A windsurfing harness will not work very well for kitesurfing. They are less supportive and the spreader bar is generally not as strong. Trust me, I’ve tried it!
However, a kitesurfing harness will work perfectly well for windsurfing.
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