Kitesurfing is often considered an extreme sport, inaccessible to the masses, but this is perhaps one of it’s biggest misconceptions and the reason that it is now one of the world’s fastest growing watersports. Discover what it takes to become a kitesurfer and start experiencing the buzz first hand.
I am often asked “Don’t you have to be really strong to kitesurf?”. As much as I would like to say it’s true, it really isn’t. In fact it’s probably one of the biggest misconceptions about the sport. Almost anyone can do it. In fact I have seen people in their 60’s of average fitness take up the sport.
The reality is that kitesurfing is as much about technique as it is strength. It’s true that some of the world’s best kitesurfers have the physique of a professional athlete, but these guys are top of their game and using their strength to complete complex maneuvers. The average kitesurfer who isn’t going for 30 metre jumps just needs a basic level of fitness and the ability to swim. And some patience!
So let’s say you have those basic prerequisites, where do you begin? Kitesurfing is not like other sports where you can be taught by an enthusiastic friend or relative. It’s always best to get a qualified instructor to teach you the basics, this is especially true of the safety aspects. Kitesurfing kites have enormous power and you need to know the basics in order to control them and keep safe. Safety systems have come a long way in recent years and there are a number of mechanisms that you need to understand to keep you out of danger. But don’t let that scare you! Done correctly, kitesurfing is an extremely safe yet exhilarating sport!
Before we proceed, for the sake of clarity, let’s just explain what exactly kitesurfing is. Kitesurfing entails using a large kite which you attach yourself to via a harness, to propel yourself through the water whilst standing on a board. That’s it really. There are various styles, for instance using a surf style board or a hydrofoil, but normally you will begin with what is called a ‘twin-tip’ board which is very similar to a wakeboard or snowboard with fins on the bottom.
Once you have chosen an instructor, it’s best to opt for a 3 day course as a minimum. Learning is broken into 4 distinct phases:
- Basic safety, equipment and kite flying on land
- Kite flying and body dragging in water (without a board)
- Kite flying and learning to attach and stand up on the board whilst in the water
- Riding and staying upwind
Each of these phases should be mastered before moving to the next phase. Usually the first few phases can be completed with a few days of training, and once you have mastered phase 3, you can move from ‘instruction’ to ‘supervision’ where it’s all about practice.
Many people give up in the early stages but those that persevere will be richly rewarded. A little bit like snowboarding, once you have mastered the basics your progression can be quite rapid.
Most beginners will opt to rent equipment during the learning phase which is something that most schools will offer. You will need to hire the kite, bar & lines, board and harness as a minimum. You can use your own wetsuit if you need one or you can hire.
Once you have mastered staying upwind then you are considered an intermediate or ‘independent kitesurfer’. The measure of this is being able to leave the beach and arrive back at the same spot without being pulled downwind by the kite. This is why you see many beginners walking up the beach so they can get back to their starting point before completing another practice run which will likely have them land back on the beach downwind from where they began.
When you are comfortable staying upwind, you can start learning some tricks. Normally you will start with riding ‘switch’ or ‘popping’ whereby you practice small jumps as you ride along. Once you are comfortable with popping you can start to learn to maneuver the kite in a way that generates lift, enabling you to achieve higher jumps. Top kitesurfers are able to boost 30 metres into the air. Check out Red Bull King of the Air, the annual kitesurfing contest hosted in Cape Town where the world’s best riders battle for the highest jump.
Kitesurfing is one of the world’s fastest growing watersports and one of the reasons for that is that it’s accessible to people of various ages and fitness levels. The kit can be expensive but you have the option to rent to start with, and there is a big second hand market if you are looking for a cheap set of kites to get you started. And if you want to show off your new-found addiction, get yourself a kitesurfing t-shirt to ensure you are looking the part. All that’s left now is to get out there and give it a go!