So, you’ve seen people kiteboarding at a beach, on holiday, TV or maybe YouTube. The fact you’re looking at sites like this is great! Research is good, it means you’ve got an idea what it’s all about before you take the plunge and start spending time and money. But now you want to start learning how to kiteboard. There are basic steps that should be followed to get you safely to the point where you can go down to the beach with your own kit and start progressing
Get a Trainer Kite
This step isn’t strictly necessary but will mean that when you start investing in lessons you’ll already have an idea how a power kite works and the basics of steering a kite round the sky to generate pulling power. It’s also amazing fun!
A trainer or land kite is smaller than a water kite and a lot simpler (and cheaper). Generally speaking a good size range is somewhere between 2 to 4 square meters (a typical water kite will be between 6 and 14 square meters). The size you choose will depend on your weight and the wind strength you’ll typically be using it in.
As an example, I weigh about 85 kilos and when I was starting I used a 2.5m kite. This had enough power in a reasonably strong breeze (15+ knots) to drag me along the beach on my backside – Fantastic fun, but get a pair of tough and expendable trousers! But joking aside, this is a great way to experience how a power kite can be used to propel you along.
You can miss this stage out but it just means that more of your first few lessons will be spent learning the basics of kite flying. And, at £30+ an hour for lessons, the cost of the trainer kite soon becomes a good investment.
It’s also good fun in the future and a good way to pass the time on the beach when it’s not quite windy enough to get out on the water.
If you feel a bit more adventurous you could use it in conjunction with a skateboard.
Get Some Board Time In
Again, not strictly necessary, especially if you’ve already had experience surfing, wakeboarding, snowboarding, skateboarding or windsurfing, and to be honest, I didn’t do it because I’d been windsurfing for years already.
But if you haven’t been on a board before and you have the opportunity to learn some basic board skills at a cable park or wakeboarding, this will set you up well for when you start having lessons. The board skills involved in wakeboarding are very similar to those you’ll use in kiteboarding.
Combining a land board (basically a large skateboard with bigger wheels) with a trainer kite is an ideal way to get some groundwork in before you have lessons.
I’ll say it again – Get Lessons!
This is the only safe way of learning to kiteboard.
There are many watersports activities where you can borrow some kit and just have a go. But kiteboarding is a potentially dangerous sport if you don’t know what you’re doing. And no matter how much research you’ve done beforehand, or whether you’ve practiced with a trainer kite, you won’t be safe with a full size water kite until a qualified instructor tells you so. A loose kite on it’s own can easily take out innocent by-standers. But if you’re attached to it and getting dragged down the beach towards obstacles such as rocks, trees, boats etc it ain’t going to end well!
There are a lot of elements to learn – understanding wind direction, setting up the kite and lines, safety systems, controlling the kite, self rescue, rules of the water, avoiding other water users. And that’s before you get going on a board. A qualified instructor will take you through this step by step in a safe environment and with appropriate equipment.
Here in the UK we have the British Kitesurfing Association (BKSA) and the main international organisation is the International Kiteboarding Organisation (IKO). Both have a thorough accreditation process for instructors, including training skills, safety and first aid training. Look out for these letters when you’re seeking out an instructor or kite school. There may be others in some countries but check it out first. Both the BKSA and IKO have great websites with a register of instructors and locations.
Most instructors or schools offer taster courses where you can get a feel for what it’s about without committing to a whole course of training.
The main focus of your initial lessons will be setting up the kite and lines, trimming it, the safety release systems on kites, kite launching and landing and how to steer the kite through the “wind window” to generate power or lose it. You’ll also be taught how to re-launch the kite if it lands on the water, body-dragging – the art of using the kite to pull you through the water without a board, a crucial skill to enable you to retrieve your board when you get separated from it. You’ll also learn how to pack down the lines in the water and use the kite to float you back to safety if things go wrong.
Once you’ve got the basic kite skills sorted out you’ll be ready to make your first attempts to get up on the board and making your first short runs. And importantly you’ll start learning how to direct the board and get upwind, so that you can get back to roughly where you started.
The first time you get up on the board and riding tentatively along, probably for 100 meters, will be one of the most satisfying feelings you’ve had and it’s worth persevering with. It’s surprising how, once you nail this bit, you’ll soon be progressing to longer runs, turning and going where you want to.
How many lessons it takes before you can safely go out on your own will depend on previous experience, and your own ability to take on new concepts, but patience is a virtue at this stage and will set you up well for the future. Probably the bare minimum to be reasonably safe is 6 hours of lessons, but it can be a lot more.
Take your instructor’s advice on whether you have reached a stage where you can go it alone and don’t be ashamed to go back for more lessons after you’ve had the chance to practice on your own.
Buy Some Kit
Okay, so now you’ve had lessons. You’ve got the basics to a level where your instructor has advised that you can go and start progressing on your own.
Time to spend some money!
How much kit you need will change as you progress and decide whether you want to pursue a particular discipline, and depending on whether you want to get out in a wide range of wind strengths (trust me, once you’re hooked, you will – the first apps on my phone are wind forecasts and tide times).
The kit you’ll need is covered in another post, Kitesurfing Equipment for Beginners.
Your instructor is a good place to start. They can advise you on what size kites are appropriate to your body weight and strength and what size board to get.
Find a Beach!
Once you’ve got some kit, find a beach where kiters hang out and get down there. Talk to the locals and tell them you’re a newbie, you’ll be surprised what a friendly bunch we are! They’ll tell you what the local rules are, any restrictions on where you can kite, any hazards, and which wind directions and states of the tide are best for that location.
Most importantly, they’ll look out for you and help you with any techniques you need to master.
A great way to endear yourself to your new buddies is to offer to launch and land their kites, and they’ll do the same for you.
We’ve all been at the beach when someone turns up with “all the gear and no idea”, and we’ve all been that person ourselves once! But if you’re open and honest it will stand you in great stead. If you turn up, say nothing, launch your kite and straight away get yourself in trouble, you’ll only attract at best ridicule or at worst a good kicking!
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Be patient. There’s a lot going on when you learn anything new and you might struggle with some of the new techniques. If you’re struggling with anything in particular, like getting up on the board, riding upwind (typical problems we all went through), ask for advice, or consider another lesson.
But time on the water and perseverance will speed up your progress massively.
Don’t be hard on yourself. You know how to fly a big scary kite! That makes you a kiter, so be proud of yourself. Board skills are like riding a bike, you’ll fall off a lot at first, and until you master riding upwind you’ll end up at “Bozo Beach” and have to walk back upwind, but once you have it your progress will sky rocket.
Kiteboarding is so exhilarating that whatever else is going on in your life, you’ll forget it while you’re out on the water.
Smile, whoop whoop, holler!
I hope this has given you some helpful guidance on learning to kiteboard and how to go about getting started.
In other posts you’ll find advice on the kit you’ll need and ways to find it at the right price.
Feel free to leave a comment on this post or email me if you have any questions on firstname.lastname@example.org.