Kitesurfing is an extreme sport typically done on water, in which an athlete is strapped by the feet to a board, and is pulled by a kite. Like the name implies, it’s done with a kite and a board and combines elements of surfing, snowboarding, windsurfing, paragliding and sailing all rolled up in a dope-lookin’ package.
Dope indeed – kitesurfing harnesses the power of wind with the maneuverability of a board and packs more power per volume area than you’d get with a sail. The result is some pretty epic shit, with high jumps, incredible speed and some gnarly-ass stunts that attract some well-known folks to this growing extreme sport.
Yup, you really did see former US President Barack Obama kitesurfing after he left office. You’ve also seen extreme billionaire Richard Branson kitesurfing (he was the guy who taught Obama) and former Canadian Prime Minster Jean Chretien take up a kite at the tender young age of 79.
Trump doesn’t seem too big on kites…
Kitesurfing or Kiteboarding?
Before we go further, let’s clarify this:
Kiteboarding – What they call kitesurfing in the United States.
Kitesurfing – What they call it everywhere else.
I call it kitesurfing because I’m based in beautiful Victoria, Canada, and cause, well, I do whatever the F**k I want. Ha!
With that being said, the terms are used pretty much interchangeably. For our purposes, we call it kitesurfing, but you probably won’t get slapped too hard if the word ‘kiteboarding’ slips from your mouth.
What’s The Difference Between Kitesurfing and Windsurfing?
Kitesurfing is done with a kite. Windsurfing is done with a sail. While windsurfing is basically a sail attached to a surfboard, it’s not attached to you, the rider.
With kitesurfing, the kite is independent of the board, and the board is much smaller, but you are strapped to the kite with a harness, and controlling said kite with a bar. This allows for much greater height than windsurfing offers. The latter is basically sailing on a surfboard, albeit with plenty of style. If you fall off a windsurfing board, you fall in the water.
You don’t ‘fall off’ a kiteboard. You float, gear attached. And if the wind picks you up, well, you’re in for a ride.
Still, it’s that same wind power that can pluck you out of the water and do pretty awesome thing with time and training. Kite power is strong enough to pull cargo ships across oceans. So you can imagine what a kite can do with a dude on a board who knows what he’s doing.
Among others, some notable kitesurfing records include:
A 28.6 Meter Jump – With 8.5 Seconds of Air Time. You gotta love Air Time…
22 Seconds of ‘Hang Time’ – See above. Air Time rocks!
107.36 km/h Top Speed – Yup, you read that right. This record was set by French kiteboarder Alex Caizergues in November 2017.
A Transatlantic Crossing – In 2013, six kitesurfers crossed the Atlantic Ocean on kite boards, from the Canary Islands to Turks and Caicos – a 5,600km journey. They surfed four hours a day. The journey took just under a month.
You can kitesurf with many different styles. Like most extreme sports, kitesurfing continues to evolve. The most common kitesurfing styles include:
Freeride – Freeriding on a kiteboard is any style you want it to be. This is the most common style, especially for newbies learning the sport. The main goal with free riding is to have fun and learn different techniques.
Freestyle – Freestyle gets you more Air Time. It consists of big jumps and stunts done mid-air. Smaller boards and kites that provide good boost are best.
Waveriding – This combines kitesurfing and traditional ‘surfing’. Like you’d expect, waveriding on a kiteboard needs a break and waves, which the kitesurfer rides while ‘following’ his kite. Case in point, this video of a Portuguese surfer Nuno Figuieredo kitesurfing at Nazare two years ago. That’s balls.
Wakestyle – Wakestyle is full-on tricks and pretty techniques done mid-air. It may involved ramps and crosses over with wake boarding. It’s popular with younger riders and is ideal for flat water. You’ll need bindings for this.
Jumping/Airstyle – More Air Time (Hooray!). With Jumping/Airstyle, you’re jumping high, and may be doing kiteloops. You generally want a smaller kite and shorter lines for this, because kiteboard jumping needs strong winds. Risk goes up. Then again, no guts, no glory.
Speed Racing – Speed, give me what I need! You’ll get plenty of speed on a kiteboard, which is typically either a speed board, or race board with long fins. Your goal: ride as fast as possible over 500 meters, either informally or on a course.
Incidentally, one of the best places to see each of these styles is at a tournament called Windfest, at Nitinat Lake in beautiful BC, Canada. It’s taking place this year from July 26-28. #BCBiased.
The first gear you’ll need as a newb kitesurfer should be provided by your instructor as you learn the basics. You don’t want to skimp on professional instruction when you learn the technicalities of this demanding hobby. A lot can go wrong.
Kitesurfing gear is called a ‘Kit’. As a beginner, you’ll want the following:
Kite – The size of which will depend on wind strength in your area
Bar and Lines – You’ll need the right size and length to match your kite
Board – As with surfing, beginners usually start with bigger boards because they’re more stable.
Seat or Waist Harness – You may learn on a waist harness.
Safety Leash and Safety Kite – Because everybody bails.
Flotation Vest – A kitesurfing vest will have a space for your bar.
Helmet – You’ll want a kitesurfing helmet, made specifically for the sport.
Wetsuit – Because the ocean is F**king cold.
A few things to keep in mind about kitesurfing gear. Any decent instructor will supply your kit. If you buy a kit soon after your course, you may find you quickly outgrow it, like going from a seat harness and large board as a noob to a waist harness and smaller board with a little experience.
It’s generally fine to buy a used board, but it’s worth chasing the latest kites, bars and lines, because the technology continues to get better. Buy from a shop or someone you trust. You’re probably looking at a ballpark $1,000-$3,000 for your first kitesurfing kit.
GoPro extra. Epicness – worth it.
Tips For Beginners
As we’ve discussed, you’ll need training before you even think of getting on the water. A kite can take you some pretty rad places – and can slam you pretty darn hard against anything if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Most kitesurfing schools say you’ll be up and running in about 3 days of good training and a little elbow grease. The following tips may all help make that transition easier:
1 – Learn on a Trainer Kite
Let’s, Go, Fly-A-Kite! Sorry Sound of Music junkies, we’re talking about a Trainer Kite – a 2-3 meter traction kite that will teach you the basics of kite power sans water. You’ll learn about all sorts of neat stuff, like the ‘Wind Window’ and ‘Power Zone’, and the basics of kiting – which you’ll need very soon.
2 – Practice On Your Old Skateboard (Or Wakeboard)
Remember this article, about Poly Athletes and extreme sports that complement each other? Skateboarding and kiteboarding are a good example. They’re both board sports. Better yet, get on a wakeboard first. Get on ANY board, if you have one, before you kitesurf for the first time.
The more comfortable you are on a board, the more attention you can give to the kite.
3 – Watch Kitesurfing Videos First
If you can see it, you can do it. Well maybe that’s a stretch, but you may climb the pole of kitesurfing nirvana a little quicker by watching kitesurfing videos to show you the ropes.
Learn the lingo, equipment set up, kite set up and basic techniques. This won’t replace a good instructor, but it doesn’t hurt either.
Heck, here’s a good kitesurfing instruction video right here:
4 – Take Kitesurfing Instructions From a Qualified Instructor
This should be tip #1. Kitesurfing can be dangerous when shit goes sideways. The average kitesurfing course is 3 days and covers 4 hours of instruction and technique on each of them. There are plenty of kitesurfing schools. We’ll cover a few of them later in this post.
5 – Buy Kitesurfing Gear For Your Level and Local Weather
We’ve already covered this, but it’s worth repeating. Where you kitesurf will dictate the kind of gear you’ll need. Your instructor can likely help with this.
6 – Learn Kitesurfing With Similar Conditions To Your Local Spot
There’s no point learning kitesurfing in Los Angeles if you live on windier Vancouver Island. You’ll need gear and techniques that are ideal to where you’ll typically ride. If possible, learn kitesurfing in a spot with similar conditions to your own, or, preferably, at that location.
Kitesurfers are a community. You’ll often find them hanging with windsurfers, snow kiters and/or any extreme sport that harnesses wind power. You can mingle with kitesurfers here:
Kiteforum.com – Check out their kitesurfing forum to learn about gear, techniques and the basics of, you know. Arguably the biggest, most established and best kite forum pretty much anywhere.
Seabreeze – Kitesurfers Down Under will like Seabreeze – a board sport-themed resource with a good kitesurfing section.
Kiteboarder.co.uk – What he said, but for boarders in the UK.
KiteboardBC.com – Speaking of the Pacific Northwest, BC Canada is an awesome, awesome place to see, admire, and learn about kitesurfing with a high Epic factor – especially off Dallas Road in Victoria and Nitinat Lake, which we’ve already mentioned.
10 Kitesurfers to Watch on Social Media
Kitesurfing is a niche sport. There’s no Kelly Slater to follow, nor huge throngs of fans to chase them. That said, seek and ye shall find – while not ‘surf-like’ in numbers, the following pro kitesurfers have more than a fair share of devout follows. Wanna see epic kitesurfing? Follow these guys and girls:
Gisela Puledo – A 10 time World Champion and Red Bull favorite, Spanish kitesurfer Gisela Puledo makes it look easy. She’s recently taken time off the kitesurfing circuit and swapped her kit with a backpack.
She’s traveling – but you’re more than welcome to tag along on Instagram, Facebook and her Vlog.
Paula Novotna – Czech kitesurfer Paula Novotna brings a little east European love to the kitesurfing scene. She finished 5th in the 2017 WKL Kiteboarding World Cup.
Ruben Lenten – Dutch dude Ruben Lenten is about tricks, mega loops and wicked air time, along with his share of Red Bull kitesurfing videos. His most impressive feat, however, was the F U he gave to cancer, then getting back on the saddle. Here he is back in 2013 doing some wicked stunts at (I think) Columbia Gorge.
Ruben Loves Green. We love Ruben.
Youri Zoon – Two-time world kitesurfing champion Youri Zoon is Dutch, and he brings it.
Kevin Langeree – If it ain’t Dutch, it ain’t much, (right, Armin Van Buuren?). Kevin Langeree has that covered, along with some epic aerial kitesurfing skills you’ll love to watch.
Bruna Kajiya – Remember what we said about Freestyle kitesurfing? Bruna Kajiya is a great example of that – the Brazilian kitesurfer is the 2015 and 2016 World Freestyle Champion.
Nick Jacobsen – Danish kitesurfer Nick Jacobsen has balls big enough to fit in a dump truck. He brings kitesurfing love but, perhaps more impressive, he once jumped off the 1000 foot Burj Al Arab in Dubai.
Aaron Hadlow – The British are no strangers to kitesurfing. Aaron Hadlow is proof of that. He’s won the PKRA World Championship five times and was crowned ‘Red Bull King of the Air’ annually from 2015-2017.
Keahi De Aboitiz – Wanna see wicked waveriding on a kiteboard? Here’s your guy.
Annabel Van Westerop – One more Dutchie to cap our ‘best kitesurfers’ list. Annabel Van Westerop has competed freestyle since 2013. Like many kitesurfers, she’s a travel – and she does yoga.
These Kitesurfing Tournaments Will Get You Stoked
You won’t see much kitesurfing in films (and no, it’s not part of the Ozaki 8). A better way to appreciate this epic sport is to watch it for real. These kitesurfing tournaments are the best on the planet, and are great to watch if you want to see kitesurfing at its best.
Wind Voyager Triple S Invitational – Arguably the most prestigious kitesurfing tournament in the sport, this takes place off North Carolina each year. Coincidentally, the Triple S, as it’s called, started yesterday.
Where: North Carolina, United States
Annual Miami Kitemasters – The Miami Kitemasters is the tournament to watch for slalom racing and freestyle kitesurfing.
Where: Miami, United States
IKA Kitefoil World Cup – Another annual kitesurfing competition. The Kitefoil Gold Cup is an international racing tournament. It’s the crown jewel of the International Kiteboarding Association.
Where: Europe and Asia
Windfest – Big Air, Freestyle, Racing – take your pick. You’ll pretty much see all of at it Windfest at Nitinat Lake on Vancouver Island, Canada, because of the area’s consistent winds and ideal conditions.
Where: Vancouver Island, Canada
Where to Find Kitesurfing Lessons
It’s not hard to find kitesurfing lessons, particularly if you leave near a kitesurfing hotspot, like the Pacific Northwest, the southern United States, France, UK, Australia, and even the Great Lakes.
Hey, you don’t need an ocean to go kitesurfing. Wind and water is all you need.
To find a good instructor, Google ‘Kitesurfing lessons near me’ (now that’s creative, huh?).
Of course, you can combine kitesurfing with travel, as many folks do. If that’s the case, here’s a list of international kitesurfing schools. While not an exhaustive list, it covers the best known kitesurfing camps, and gives you plenty of options to get stoked and on the water pretty much anywhere on this crazy old planet.