Kiteboarding looks awesome for one simple reason, it is. Throwing 30 foot+ high airs over the water, being catapulted upwards, sideways and any other way you want. But before you can fly, you will have to learn to walk all over again.
Kiteboarding has the power to pick you up and throw you 30 ft. + high and over twice as far down wind. That is why most of us kiteboard. Unfortunately what goes up must come down, and while none of us can actually fly, we are all affected by gravity. You would not teach yourself to paraglide or freefall parachute, so don't even think about teaching yourself to Kiteboard. Accidents happen, every day and eventually to every rider, the best you can do is be prepared and ride safely to minimize the risk to yourself and to others, following a few very simple rules will make your kiteboarding safer and more enjoyable.
Take instruction from a professionally qualified instructor or school. When they say you are ready, you are ready. The few hundred bucks you might save if you skip lessons won't seem like such a good idea when you are opening your wallet in the accident and emergency dept of your local hospital.
Buy your gear from a recognized shop, don't buy your first set of gear second hand over the web, you will not be able to tell if it is safe to use and it may not be appropriate to your needs and skill level. An instructor can advise you on the most suitable and cost effective equipment based on his experience of how you handle a kite. Teacher knows best.
Do not skimp on safety equipment. Buy a personal floatation device; this could be a life vest or a buoyant impact vest. Wear a helmet designed for water sports use; canoeing helmets are ideal. A whistle can be used to attract attention if you have ridden further out than you can shout. A good quality hook knife for cutting leader or flying lines must be considered an essential safety item. More than half of all serious accidents could have been avoided had the user owned and decided to use a hook knife to cut their lines sooner rather than later.
Remember it's just a kite; you can buy a new one. If you are ever in a situation where you feel like it's you or the kite, there is no decision, cut that sucker loose.
The following Safe Kiteboarding Guidelines have been generated from analysis of hundreds of kiteboarding accidents over the years. Funnily enough, riders make the same mistakes, year in, year out, reading and memorizing this will help you to avoid these same mistakes. Remember that riding safe isn't just about reducing the risk of injury to you; it's about reducing the risk, and the perceived risk to other beach users. We don't own the beaches, we share them, and by acting responsibly we can protect our beach access to ensure that we are able to enjoy our kitesurfing for years to come. Don't let 'the man' take away your right to ride.
NOTE: Riders must accept that even if these guidelines are followed, accidents, injury and even death may occur in the 'extreme sport' of kiteboarding. Kites can exert very substantial force with little or no warning. Sudden gusts, improper line attachment, mishandling, etc, can result in dragging and/or lofting, possibly with no time to effectively react. Your ability to safely depower your kite and otherwise manage in an emergency will weigh heavily on your technique, preparation and reliability of your gear.
Seek local, competent knowledge regarding safe local practices as special precautions may be indicated beyond those discussed here. If you are made aware of potential hazards you will avoid them and ride more safely as a result. By contrast, ignorance and indifference raise the hazard level substantially and have frequently been a factor in avoidable accidents.
Help others to launch and land, using reliable agreed upon visual and audible communications, this provides you and them with a valuable extra set of eyes over the kite before launch. Everybody mixes their lines up sometime; if you have an assisted launch your assistant is more likely to spot this than you.
Get involved with your local association or club and with local riders to try to preserve access to kiteboard, you have more power as a group of riders. If you see someone putting your access at risk by poor practices, grab several of your friends and have a friendly talk with the guy, show some interest, help them out, then explain your concerns. Don't ruin things for the local riders.
It's your kite. You are solely responsible for its safety and that of effected bystanders. I
Kiteboarders, particularly beginners should seek adequate, quality professional instruction. Beginners must avoid crowded areas particularly as kite control is still being developed. Beginners should body drag out at least 300 ft. (100m) from shore prior to water starting and should always stay out of guarded or restricted beach areas. Be careful in your launch area selection and be willing to drive and walk a bit further to have more ideal conditions.
Build your skill and experience carefully in side or side onshore winds less than 15 kts. Riders have been injured for choosing poor launches when far safer conditions were relatively close by. Be particularly careful in new conditions and at the start and end of the riding season. Many accidents occur in these times even among experienced riders. In kiteboarding, distance is your friend, so use it!
Know your equipment's limitations as well as your own. If you aren't 100% healthy or in doubt, don't fly! You should be comfortable with conditions and your gear. Always maintain an energy reserve while out kiteboarding. Hydrate regularly and wear adequate exposure clothing (wetsuit/dry suit), to deal with unexpected time in the water. Cold water kiteboarding requires additional critically important precautions as compared to warmer conditions and are beyond the scope of these guidelines. Don't kiteboard alone or further from shore than you are readily able to swim in from.
Regularly test and maintain a reliable chicken loop or kite depowering release. Relying upon manual unhooking alone to release your bar is unreliable based upon the accident experience. The rider needs to understand and accept that in an emergency, this quick release may not be accessible or function correctly in the critical seconds of the emergency. It is up to the rider to avoid the emergency in the first place and to aid proper function of the release through practice and maintenance.
Give way to the public on the beach and in the water at all times. Be courteous and polite to bystanders. Complaints have frequently led to bans and restrictions on kiteboarding in some areas and continue to do so on a regular basis. Never launch, ride or land upwind of nearby bystanders. Work to keep a minimum 300 ft. (100 m) buffer zone from bystanders.
Is the forecast and current weather acceptable, free of pending storm clouds and excessive gusty winds? Color radar can sometimes give a clue as to violent storm/gust potential. Are seas and wind condition within your experience, ability and appropriate for your gear? New kiters should practice in lighter, side or side onshore winds. Onshore winds have a much higher injury rate even among experienced riders and should be avoided. Offshore winds should be avoided in the absence of a chase boat. If storm clouds are moving in, land and thoroughly disable your kite well in advance of any change in wind or temperature, if necessary depower your kite while still away from shore. Lightning can strike many miles ahead of storm clouds. Learn about unstable weather in your area and work to avoid squalls and storms through tv, radio and internet information. Consider organizing an alert air horn and flag signal for your launch as a warning to riders of pending unstable weather.
Make sure your launch is open, free of downwind bystanders, hard objects, nearby power lines, buildings and walls, etc. Within at least 300 ft. (100 m), and preferably more particularly in higher wind. Too many riders have slammed into walls, parked cars, and trees with better launches not so far away at all. Some riders have needed in excess of 600 ft. (200 m), to regain control in violent dragging or loftings in higher winds. Avoid kiteboarding near airports and in low flight path areas, complaints have led to restricted access in some areas. Never fly your kite in the path of low aircraft in flight, moving your kite low to the water at the first indication of inbound aircraft.
Check to see what size kite other kiteboarders are rigging and get their input on conditions. Try to select a kite size for the lower to middle part of the wind range. Do not rig too large a kite for conditions and carefully consider advice of more experienced riders. Failure to act on prudent advice has cost some riders severe injury and even death. If you don't have a small enough kite to safely launch, don't!
Check your kite for tears or leaky bladders. If you have leaky bladders or tears in your kite, repair them before flying. Check all kite, harness, and control bar lines, webbing, pigtails, bridles, the chicken loop and leaders for knots, cuts, wear or abrasion. If the line sheathing shows any breaks or knots, replace them. The pigtails should be replaced no less frequently than every 6 months on inflatable kites. Inspect and test your quick release. Frequently, mentally and physically rehearse pulling your quick release in an imagined emergency situation. Make sure your flying lines are equal as they will stretch unevenly with use. If they have knots that can't be easily untied, replace your flight lines. Do not casually make changes to manufactured equipment. Whatever you do must work reliably in any conditions that may come.
Solo launching and landing are not recommended and should be avoided particularly in stronger winds. Launch with a trained assistant, using reliable audible and visual signals. If solo launching, make sure your kite is properly anchored with a substantial quantity of sand to avoid premature launch.
Never use untrained bystanders to help you launch or land. Riders have been severely injured by making this easy mistake. Rig your kite for solo launch at the last minute and launch without delay after careful preflighting, serious accidents have happened in only minutes during this stage. If you leave the kite unattended, wrap up your lines, deflate the kite's leading edge and roll it up. It is best to place the kite in a bag to avoid uv and wind damage.
Launching with crossed or snagged lines is one of the biggest launch time risks. Walk down your lines and examine them carefully. Pick your bar up and carefully look down the lines for twists, tangles or snags. While you are holding your bar look down the lines, shake your bar to make sure the center lines are connected to the leading edge of the kite. Be particularly careful, slow and methodical in high winds. Multiple, careful pre-flighting in higher winds is strongly advised. Rigging 'kook proof' connectors on our kite and lines is easily done with most kites and should be rigged on all your kites and bars.
Always properly depower the kite before launching so that you can readily hold the bar and release it if necessary. Always maintain minimum clear downwind buffer zones, particularly while flying unhooked. Physically and mentally rehearse managing emergency situations including just 'letting go' of your bar. Connect to your quick release once you are well offshore.
To try to avoid lofting or involuntary lifting. Do not bring your kite much above 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 m) from the ground and never to the vertical, within 300 ft. (100 m) of shore or any hard object. Never launch, fly or land upwind and close to the shore or hard objects or stand on the beach for an extended time with your kite in the air. Lofting kills.
Hazard avoidance is the key along with rapid preemptive, rehearsed actions. Do not fly your kite near vertical or sloped surfaces that can cause uplift and sudden dragging/lofting (walls, buildings, hills, tree lines, etc,). Avoid thermal generating areas as sudden thermal lofting can occur. Launch in the appropriate part of the wind window to avoid 'hot' or over-powered downwind launches. Make sure that there are no bystanders within your downwind buffer zone or close by in general.
Go offshore at least 300 ft. (100 m) without delay after launch. Stay beyond 300 ft. Until time to come in. If there are substantial waves where you need to put on your board consider body dragging outside the breaker zone first. The fun is offshore, danger to the rider & bystanders is near shore where most of the hard stuff is located.
Yield the right of way to all others in the water. Riders must yield to others when jumping, to anyone on your right hand side and to launching riders. When in doubt, stop. Kiteboarders should not jump within a buffer zone of at least two hundred feet (60 m) of others and objects that are downwind. Always be aware of the position of your lines relative to others, line cuts can be severe and tangled lines with another kite, deadly.
All kiteboarders are encouraged to master body dragging to aid in board recovery. Use of a board leash is dangerous and is generally discouraged due to the hazards of board rebound or wave driven impact. Injuries have happened with both fixed length and reel leashes. Wearing a helmet and impact vest is always advised but may not provide adequate protection against board impact as the boards can and has violently hit any part of the rider and have penetrated helmets. Wind extremes, white water, broken gear and contrary currents may impair ability to drag upwind for board recovery, resulting in a lost board. If there is risk of your loose board hitting bathers, find another launch.
Lofting or involuntarily lifting is one of the greatest hazards of kiteboarding. Avoiding unstable weather, keeping your kite low and getting offshore without delay are only a few of the measures necessary to avoid this threat. If despite all precautions you are dragged or lofted a short distance and have time to react, depower your kite as soon as you start to pause. You will likely be dulled by shock so mentally rehearse depowering immediately under such circumstances. Depowering ideally should occur before you are lofted, still offshore and away from hard objects. Multiple gusts can hit over a short period and you may be lofted a second or third time, so act to depower your kite as soon as you can. Do not assume that you will have a lull between loftings, sometimes you do and sometimes you don't. If you are air born over land, it is uncertain how and if you will come out of things. Focus on controlling your kite with small control inputs to avoid stalling the kite. Some have advised keeping the kite overhead after you are lofted and to try to gently steer towards the least hazardous are to impact. Other riders have said that reversing direction or transitioning after lofting has helped to reduce forward speed. It would be wise to accept and plan for the fact that you can be lofted at anytime you have a kite in the air.
Approach the shore slowly with caution. Keep your kite low (ideally within 10 to 20 ft. Of the surface), to try avoid lofting. Take care to avoid causing an accidental jump in well powered conditions while approaching the shore. Arrange for assisted landings at least 300 ft. (100 m) from bystanders, power lines, vertical surfaces, etc.. Never use non-kiteboarders for assisted launches or landings, as use of bystanders has resulted in severe rider injuries. Use mutually understood hand and voice signals to improve launch and landing safety. Riders have been killed standing around looking for an assisted landing when gusts have hit. If in any doubt, depower your kite even if you are still offshore. All riders should be comfortable with depowering their kite immediately even in deep water and swimming in to avoid being lofted or dragged in sudden gusting winds. After landing, properly anchor (or ideally deflate your leading edge and roll up your kite), disconnect and wind up your kite lines. Do not allow your kite to be accidentally launched. Kites should be placed in a safe area well out of bystander and vehicular traffic.
If all of that doesn't scare you off, and we hope it doesn't, then welcome to kiteboarding,
ride safe and have fun.