Monday, November 15, 2010

Kite Surfing - How To Learn?

So you want to go kite surfing?

I would seriously look into getting some kite surfing lessons. Even though it may seem like a lot of money right now, in the end it could save you a lot more and even your life. :)

Kite surfing is an extreme sport, first you need a HUGE kite to generate enough power to get you up planing on your board. Without the proper knowledge of how to setup, launch, land, control, power and depower your kite you are putting yourself in a huge amount of danger. Now lets add in the fact that you may not be aware of the surroundings or wind conditions at your local area - and you get yourself a recipe for disaster! As an example, we have a launch area here that is somewhat sheltered by trees and the surrounding areas. What this does is give you a false reading of the wind conditions. The winds on the ground where you are standing may feel like 12-15 mph....a person who is unfamiliar with this area will probably launch up a 13-15 meter SLE or 16-18 meter LEI kite....BUT the winds about 30-40 feet up are much stronger and when the winds on the ground are 15 the winds above are usually 25-30 mph. Launching a 16 meter in those winds is very dangerous. Only an experienced person who is familiar with this particular riding spot would know that. A certified instructor will know their area well and will have kite surfed on it regularly. He/she will know what the wind conditions are now and what they will be in an hour or so from now. They will know what to watch out for, what turbulent or currents you will need to be aware of and if there are any other (underwater) dangers that you will need to know about. Think about a sharp rock just a couple inches below the water could do if you wipe out?

The other thing to think about when you are trying to save money is that when you are learning you WILL eventually smash your kite into the ground, every beginner will crash quite a few times before getting the hang of it. With the costs of surf kites usually starting around 1,000.00 plus for the basic package, do you really want to buy your new kite and then start slamming it into the ground and possibly destroy it before you even get a chance to get up on your board? With a lesson you get to not only beat up on rented gear but you get the opportunity to try several different sizes or brands while you learn which will give you tons of shopping knowledge before you have to drop your own hard earned money on a kite. Also, the kite is only half of the package. Your board size, shape and type will play a huge factor on your overall performance and your learning curve. Too small of a board will make it much more difficult to get on plane and ride. A huge board will be easier to get up on but you will soon outgrow it and want to move to a smaller one. There are literally thousands of kite boards on the market to choose from and every one performs differently. By taking a lesson the instructor will size your body weight up to a board and kite configuration that will work best for you...and he will usually have the ability to change your board and or kite as conditions change to get you the best chance of getting up on a board and actually completing your goal which is to RIDE! If the instructor screws up your board size, it is super easy for him/her to just swap it out with the right one on the spot. Unless you have the cash to purchase several different boards when you are first learning, this is a luxury that you can only get with lessons. I know several people who are very talented riders who still pay for a lesson just so they can try out several different boards. In the long run it ends up saving them hundreds if not thousands of dollars that would have been spent on gear they couldn’t use or just wasn’t up to the “hype” that the manufacturer advertised about it.

Another thing to take into consideration is the length of time it will take you to finally get up and ride (your ultimate goal). I do know that there are some people out there that are pure naturals who can get a setup and within a few tries are up and the real world with normal riders a self taught rider will usually take one to two months (or even longer) before they are up and riding and another month or longer before they are proficient with transitions (turning) and going upwind. Most of the riders I know who have taken a lesson are usually up on their board within a week and are working on transitions and going upwind good within the first month.

I don't want to sound like a poster child for lessons (I am not an instructor) but the truth is that they are the cheapest, safest and fastest way to learn to kite surf. In the long run it will save you time and money to take a lesson. It may even save you some time in the hospital which will always cost you more than the lessons and your kite/gear.

Now, there are some things you can do to save a ton of money on your lessons. The first is to learn to fly a kite! Get yourself a good quality dual line or quad line power kite with a control bar and learn to fly it. The better you are at controlling your kite the less time the instructor will have to take teaching you to fly. Most of the time when a student goes in for lessons and they already know how to fly the instructor will watch and if he/she feels you are skilled enough with the kite and controls, if they are comfortable then they will start to work on your water starts, water re-launching and maybe some board control. They may even take you out in the water and start working on body dragging on your first lesson. If you don't know how to fly then your entire first lesson will have you on the beach learning the basics such as left and right turns, hooking up your lines (rigging), landing, launching the kite, safety systems & releases, etc... Nearly all of this can be self-taught and you and your friends will have a blast learning to fly. This can be done at your local park at your own time, so no need to try and schedule in time to get the basics of flying down....and no need to waste your time and money paying someone else to teach you how to fly a trainer.

I highly recommend a quad line kite because that is what you will be using on the water. Dual line kites will work but if you haven't flown a quad line power kite then you will need to learn this before you step into a full blown depowerable surf kite. One of the best kites to start off with for water use is the HQ Hydra. This is a water-relaunchable trainer kite that can be used on both the land and the water. The Hydra is the perfect kite for learning the basics of kite flying while also allowing you to learn how to do some body dragging and water relaunching in the water! The Hydra is a great trainer. Another kite that work well is the HQ Scout II Series kite. Although the Scout is not really considered a “trainer”, the smaller sizes (3 & 4 meter) can be used both for land boarding as well as a trainer for the water. This is a great kite that will usually cost less than $350.00 (depending on the size) for the entire package including kite, safety leash, lines and control bar. This is a super fun kite that you can fly constantly at your local park and learn the basics of quad line flying, control bar system, safety system, etc... and even use on a mountain board or buggy in the stronger winds, giving you even more experience in power kiting that you can translate to the water. It also comes with a link line that you can hook into an optional harness should you choose to go that far. You will use a harness for kite surfing so this is one more thing that you can learn without having to pay an instructor. Even though this kite will be considerably smaller than the ones you will use for surfing, it packs a ton of power in the right winds and can drag you all over the place. Depending on the size it will also be able to lift you off the ground so be cautious when learning and start with light winds and work up from there. There are other kites on the market as well as the HQ Scout and Hydra, just look at them all to make sure they are quad line, come with a control bar and are the right sizes for your wind conditions. Talk to your local kite shop and they should be able to get you a size that will be fun to learn with and powerful enough to keep it exciting.

When you are confident with your kite and know everything about it, then look for an instructor who will be able to teach you on the big surf kites. One of the things you want to look for in an instructor is what gear they will have for you. Do they have a huge assortment of different sized kites and boards for different conditions. How old is their gear? The kites that were produced 3 and 4 years ago are poor kites compared to what is available on the market today. Today's kites produce smoother power, are more stable in the air, launch easier and have better safety systems. Find out about scheduling and what will happen if you get out on a day that the wind is non-existent. Make sure that your instructor knows that you already know how to fly a quad line kite on a bar and see if they will be willing to work with you to get you out on the water faster or if they will insist that you spend your first lesson flying on the beach. ***this is a huge safety concern and every instructor will want to make sure that your skills are good enough, so even if you tell them you know how to fly they will probably want to watch you to make sure for themselves*** Make sure that your instructor is adamant on safety and stresses that you will be safe and teaches how to use all the safety gear properly. Find out how many people will be taking lessons at the same time as you? I have heard of some instructors who will try and book 5 to 10 people at a time. I don't really like this idea and would prefer to pay a little extra for personalized lessons that are geared around my skills and talents, not the average skill of my "group".

I hope this information will help you as well as anyone else who is interested in kite surfing. Kite surfing is an awesome sport that is arguably the most exciting sport on water. As a last note of advise, do it safely and you will be able to do it for a long time to come.

Good luck and I hope this helps you out.