Learning to Kite FAQ
I get asked the same questions about kiteboarding on a frequent basis. This post provides independent answer to those questions. It is based on my personal experience and is written from a Wellington kiteboarder’s perspective. However, most of the advice will apply to learning in other areas.
How do I get started?
Taking a lesson with a qualified IKO instructor is the safest and quickest approach. Having your mate or boyfriend teach you is not always the safest option. At worst they may skip vital safety knowledge and put you in dangerous situations, or at best on gear that is not suited for beginners.
A qualified instructor can shortcut the time it takes to learn, by optimising delivery of the instruction. Usually provided as part of the lesson, is an appropriate range of kiteboarding gear so you don’t need to invest before committing to the sport. You will usually need to provide your own wetsuit however.
Although not essential, I found it useful to watch DVDs before lessons to gain an understanding of the basic concepts and progression. After purchasing all the beginner DVDs available, the best one I have found is “Kiteboarding progression” DVD. It does break down the progressions nicely, but has annoying repetitive music.
How much does it cost for a lesson?
Wildwinds lessons cost $195 for a 3 hour session. The instructor is a qualified (IKO), with over 5 years experience and has just returned from Egypt, where he was teaching full time. You will usually need at least 2 lessons and there is a minimum of 2 people per lesson unless you want to pay more and get private tuition. It’s always good to have a buddy to learn and progress with though.
Do I need to surf, windsurf, wakeboard or snowboard first?
No you don’t, but any of these sports help speed the progression when it’s time to get up and going on the board. However 80% of the skill is in flying the kite, so this does not translate directly to any of these sports.
Where do you go to Kiteboard?
Kapati coast is the best spot in the Wellington region for learning. Waikaniae is particularly good, due to its wide open beach and steadier winds. Waikanaie usually has less wind than Wellington spots, so is better suited to beginners. It can be frustrating in Wellington region to get the right conditions for learning, so you do need to be patient and take your opportunities when they arise. Please don’t go anywhere near Lyall bay if you are learning, as this is not a beginners spot and could cause us all to be baned from this area.
For a full description of the locations, check out the Wellington Kitesurfers forum or the Google map. Kiters in the Wellington region all use this forum to organise locations for the day and for general discussions.
What gear do I need ?
Most people start with one kite, board, helmet and westsuit. The size of your first kite will depend on your weight and what wind conditions you will be sailing in. Around the Wellington region we do experience gusty wind conditions so bow kites are preferred by the majority of riders due to the large depower range that these have. I found this article useful for understanding the kite size required when I started.
If in doubt about what you require, ask your instructor and try out some different sizes to see what suits you personally. Get the biggest board you can get hold of when you start as it will help you get up and planing quickly. Getting a second kite as quickly as possible, was one of the best decisions I made and allowed me to get out in a wide range of wind conditions.
Overall, kitesurfing is much cheaper than windsurfing to purchase/maintain and is similar in price to buying a decent full suspension Mountain Bike.
Do I buy new or second hand and how much does it cost?
This is a difficult one and will depend on your financial situation. In my case I have bought a mix of new and second hand equipment. There are pros and cons for either way. All I can give you is my experience, which is that second hand while cheaper is not always the best option.
It is often difficult to know what condition the gear is in if you buy off Trademe and cheap kites are not always the best investment or suited to learning. Having said that, there are some good buys out there on Trademe, providing you know what you are looking for. If you do buy off Trademe, pay a bit more for something in good condition and don’t get anything with a C shape or more than 1-2 years old.
Another approach is to buy new then turn the kite over every year while it is still in tidy condition and has good resale value. As an example, new Cabrinha kites selling for around $2000-2300 are currently selling one year on for around $1000-1400 on Trademe or $1600 new. You get the advantage of kiting on the latest gear and don’t have safety worries because the gear is worn out. I work on the assumption that kites will last around 2-3 years, this equates to roughly $600-1000 per year from new.
I started with a 12m kite and board purchased off Trademe ($600- Kite $400 board). The kite lasted about 3 months before I had problems with the lines, valves and bladder. This kite effectively became unusable and had no resale value. The repairs eventually became more than the cost of the kite. I replaced the original kite with a 1 year old Cabrinha Switchblade 2 ($1000) which has served me well but have subsequently upgraded to the latest Switchblade IDS 09 kite ($2300), as each kite generation seems to get more fun and stronger.
The original board I purchased ended up being too small (133cm) for me, so I sold this and purchased a new board for $1000 which was night and day in terms of getting me going and enjoyment of the sport. I got frustrated fairly early on with not being able to get out in windy conditions so bought an new 8 m kite ($2000), which I love and has open up a whole new wind range that I can sail in. This was the best decision I made and am not going to sell this kite in a hurry as it has got me kiting up to speeds of 44knots (81 km)!
Isn’t it Dangerous?
The early days of kitesurfing were particularly dangerous and gained the sport a reputation for injury and a significant number of deaths. This was primarily due to the lack of effective safety releases and depower in the kites.
These days the sport is much safer due to effective safety systems and the large depower range that most kites offer. If you take lessons and engrain the safety advice into your thinking, then the risks are manageable and the sport can actually be much safer than mountain biking from what I have experienced. The claim that kiting is safer than mountain biking is anecdotal and I would be interested in actual figures from ACC if anyone can provide them.
How long does it take to learn?
It is really dependent on the person, gear, wind and instructor. Some people are up and going kiting in both directions in under 4 hours. Most take 8-16 hours on the water to become proficient at going both ways on the board. From there your progression is dependent on how motivated you are to learn new tricks
Don’t I need to be strong?
The short answer is no, provided you select the right size kite for the conditions. Most of the force goes through the harness attached to your body and most people are surprised about how little bar pressure is required on the modern kites. It is actually possible to steer the kite with 2 fingers so strength is really not an issue even for smaller people or kids.