Kitesurfing: How fear turns into (healthy) respect

Nowadays kitesurfing is declared as fun sport. So as the definition says, it’s fun. I totally agree. Of course, otherwise I wouldn’t do it! However some underestimate that kitesurfing under certain conditions is still what it was in its early years: an extreme sport.  And extreme sport is dangerous. Or can be dangerous, depending on how one looks at it.

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Crashing is part of the kitesurfing game. We have to go through that. (c) Helmut Fuchs/kitejoy

Though modern safety systems are incomparable to those in the initial years of kitesurfing (depower was non-existent or very low, and Quick release was also not really developed) unfortunately there are still tragic accidents. It happens that kitesurfers get badly injured or even die. Of course such incidents are frightening and can lead to doubts – on the one hand one absolutely wants to try kitesurfing, on the other hand he’s afraid.

But should fear be the reason to miss this totally awesome kite feeling? Don’t think so. That would be a pity. Cause like in other aspects of life one thing also applies to kitesurfing: Knowledge protects against bad experience, at least to a certain extent. If one knows about minimizing the risks, kitesurfing is quite a safe sport.

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Especially girls are worried wether they should start to kitesurf or not. I absolutely recommend to do it! Once you tried it, you will never want to stop again. (c) Helmut Fuchs/kitejoy

Relating to the question “Kitesurfing – should I do it or let it be?” you can find different types of people in the “yes” as well as in the “no” group. In the “no” party there are for example those who say that kitesurfing is too much effort. All the gear, the money, the driving around, the waiting for the wind … and so on and so forth. Many others are influenced by fear. Sorry for the cliché – but mostly this affects girls. I say mostly!!! It’s genetically determined that women tend to be more scared,  unfortunately there is no cure for this yet.
However, this man-woman-thing should not be discussed in this article. We want to talk about how to turn fear into healthy respect, right?

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Play safe, stay safe: Basic knowledge about weather and wind is really essential for kitesurfing. (c) Helmut Fuchs/kitejoy

Ok, before I start with concrete tips I would like to say a few words to a specific part of the “yes” group – people who are interested in kitesurfing and have no fear at all, but also no trace of respect. A dangerous state of mind. Why? Cause they think: “Why should I attend a kite course? It’s money down the drain. Kitesurfing can’t be that hard.”
Sorry, stereotype again, but very often you find these people inbetween windsurfers, who dismiss kiting as a “pussy sport” cause you don’t need so much physical strength for it.  Naturally they already know how to deal with the wind and that’s a clear advantage. And no question that windsurfing is a very tough sport! But in contrast to windsurfing for kitesurfers it’s not so easy to get rid of your gear when you get into trouble – e. g. when the wind suddenly picks up, there’s a problem with the lines or the kite starts to loop uncontrollably. If you never experienced it you cannot imagine how that feels – I would say like being pulled behind a truck, open full throttle. The power a kite can develop already surprised a lot of kiters!

But, let’s cool down …
Actually i don’t want to spread too much fear and ruin your interest in kitesurfing. Quite the contrary – I want to support it!
That’s why in the following you will find my tips how to minimize the risk and maximize the fun of kitesurfing!

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Safety basics: During kite lessons one learns how to control the kite and how kitesurfing gear and safety features work. Start to kitesurf without a course? Bad idea. (c) Helmut Fuchs/kitejoy

Kitesurfing rule number one: Attend a kite course first!!!

It may be tempting to learn kitesurfing from a friend or the partner. But, firstly due to reasons of safety, secondly for the sake of the relationship: Let it be. My opinion. Of course at first glance kite lessions may cost a lot of money – however, if you compare the invested money to the risks you take without a course, it’s peanuts. Even if your friend or partner is a qualified kite instructor who has all the skills to teach you properly – you still take the risk of personal squabbles.
Ok, ok … Exceptions confirm the rule. I know there are also many couples for who it worked perfectly that one taught the partner how to kite. As I said above: “Let it be” is my personal opinion.

Before booking kite lessions some points should be observed: Look for a kite school at a beginner friendly spot (use google, talk to people who have already done a course or ask experienced kitesurfers).
What’s beginner friendly? At best the wind is not strictly  onshore but sideshore ore offshore with a rescue boat. Flat water and constant wind conditions make it easier to progress at the beginning. Learning in gusty, wavy conditions is a little bit harder and more dangerous (but of course not impossible). Those who are  afraid of deep water should absolutely choose a shallow water spot – the unknown combination kite and wind will cause an adrenaline rush anyway, so you don’t need any additional anxiety caused by external factors.

Proper spots for beginners you’ll find for example in Egypt: Shallow lagoons with flat water, constant winds and warm weather. On the other hand it’s not basically bad to start kitesurfing at at more difficult spot. Why? Cause if you learn in heavier conditions, you might probably have it easier during your following kite carreer.  Very often people who come from Egypt and managed it there to go upwind in both directions experience massive problems when they wanna ride at a spot that offers no “lab” conditions. Yes, sometimes they even have to start from scratch. Of course this is frustrating!
But there’s also the other way round: Kiters who learned it at  spot with less friendly conditions will feel like a king if they ride in perfect flat water and constant wind for the first time.

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Kitesurfing at the Neusiedlersee in Austria: It may look cozy on the photo, but the conditions are rough. If you start there, it can be a challenge – but it’s also a benefit for your further kite carreer.  (c) Helmut Fuchs/kitejoy

Furthermore you should check the homepage of the kite school first. It should be certified by VDWS– (Verein des deutschen Wassersports) or IKO– (International Kiteboarding Organisation), the two big associations who qualify kite instructors and determine the training standards. I have a license from VDWS, my hubby did the IKO instructor license instead. Of course we always make jokes about which license is the better one, but of course both serve their purpose. The methods for the lessons may differ a bit, but each leads to success. Moreover, if one is a good teacher or not largely depends on character and motivation too.

During a basic beginner course (which usually is 9–12 hours – depends on the school, I will not make guarantees here) you should learn i. a.:

  • basics about wind and weather
  • everything about the wind window, wind directions (upwind, downwind etc.)
  • right of way rules
  • the main parts of a kite and their specific functions
  • which gear you need and how it works
  • kite and line setup
  • safety basics and kite gear safety features (Quick release and Co.)
  • launching and landing the kite
  • water relaunch
  • bodydrag, upwind bodydrag (how can I get back to my board when I lost it?)
  • depending on your progress: waterstart with board
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Kite students usually wear a helmet during lessions. Some schools also use board leashes (if the student loses the board, it can’t float away).  (c) Helmut Fuchs/kitejoy

So, finally the first kite course is done. Especially if one had super nice conditions and managed to ride the first meters, it’s normal to believe that from then on it will always work like this! Sometimes yes! But very often: Nope. For two reasons: a) For lot of beginners there’s some time between the course and the next opportunity to get on the water. b) Like already mentioned before: If the conditions at the spot are quite different to the ones at the school, one may be unlucky – and nothing works anymore.

Though this is frustrating it’s also totally normal. Just go on practising, and if you have the opportunity to do a refresher course or even a private lesson, do it! It’s well invested money.


Kitesurfing rule number two: Safety first

One knows it from driving a car: During the first time after driving school usually we conscientously observe what we’ve learned. But when processes become habits, very often sloppiness begins to spread. Cause we think that we can drive blindfolded, if necessary. And we develop bad habits: Some don’t belt up for short ways. If the traffic light is dark yellow already, we step on the gas. And so on, and so forth.
Yes, I confess that while driving a car I am sometimes quite negligent, and I am not proud of it! However I plead for maximum care in matters of kitesurfing. Not only I saw many dangerous situations with other kiters, also I experienced a lot of unpleasant situations myself.  Main reasons for those dangerous incidents have been carelessness and negligence.

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Tip: Always keep an eye on the weather! When the clouds are too dark, it may make more sense to enjoy a glass instead of starting another session. Btw, drinking alcohol and kiting don’t like each other. (c) Helmut Fuchs/kitejoy

So don’t take the risk and keep this points in mind:

  • Always check your gear (especially chickenloop, Quick release and lines) – optimally before and after your session, and clean it with water. Even when there’s no situation that requires it, make use of the Quick release from time to time. Some kiters don’t even know how their Quick release works! Take a look at it – so that you know how to fix it if the worst comes to the worst. A perfect opportunity to get everything checked is a day without wind – find more information and ideas in this article.
  • Time to buy your first kite equipment? Then you should inform yourself properly and if possible talk to someone experienced (or read the article in the link above). Buying any kite stuff only cause it’s cheap may end in a total flop! A beginner who buys himself an ancient C-Kite from 2001 may end at best frustrated – but in the worst case in hospital. Kite stations and schools often sell their equipment after the season, but if you buy it there you should take a look on how used it is (especially the kites, for boards it’s not sooo important). Anyway, it’s always good to have someone with you who’s well versed.
  • If you rent equipment it’s necessary to have it explained to you, cause different brands use different safety systems.
  • If you ride with board leash you have to wear a helmet. No exceptions!
  • Adhere to the right of way rules (BUT: Sometimes you are in priority – but the only way to prevent an accident is dodging. Then of course you should do it! Safety is always more important than ego ;))
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You did a kite course already but one year later you feel like you forgot everything? Do a refresher course or take a private lesson. (c) Helmut Fuchs/kitejoy

  • Work on your kite control: Having your kite under control makes you feel safer.  Practising launching and landing again and again makes sense, cause most kite accidents happen on the beach. Some schools don’t let their students do the launching and landing process by theirselves, instead the teacher hands over the kite to the student before the lesson and takes it over again when it’s finished.  Of course this system may have good reasons, but these students finish their course without having a clue how to launch and land their kite. Not good.
    If you experienced that you should quickly try to find a way to practise launching yand landing a kite before you go kitesurfing on your own! No one would be laughed at for this! On the contrary, experienced kitesurfers have gone through this process too and will pay their respect if a newbie asks for tips. Confessing that one is not able to to something requires balls! Braggers who pretend to know everything but thereby endanger themselves and others are annoying. If you once have this image, getting rid of it again can be hard.
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There is not always someone one the beach to assist a landing. If asking a person who doesn’t know how to do it, it’s essential to give proper instructions. (c) Helmut Fuchs/kitejoy

  • Self rescue and upwind bodydrag:
    Being able to do a self rescue can be worth a mint. Same for the upwind bodydrag. If you don’t know these techniques, you should learn them as soon as possible.
  • Launching & landing:  What to do when the beach is empty? Sometimes there’s no one there who can take your kite when you want to land. Or at least no other kiter. If asking someone who doesn’t know how to assist a landing, give him proper instructions. Same for launching, of course. Instructions should be clear and in detail – including the signs. For launching tell your assistant that he should not let the kite out of his hands before you show him the sign.
    And tell him not to throw it up in the air! It happened to me one time that a helper did this – and believe me, it was not funny at all. If the landing assistant is a non-kiter it’s super important to tell him how to hold the kite till you reach him and take it from him. Self launching and landing is also possible, but this should be well practised.
    Anyway, launching and landing are the processes that lead to most kite accidents. Therefore it’s also essential to keep an eye on the others too – does someone need assisting or is in trouble? If so, help each other. It’s a matter of etiquette. Read more about the kite etiquette and behaviour rules in this article.
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Essential knowledge for every kitesurfer: How to take a kite and put it down after landing. (c) Helmut Fuchs/kitejoy

  • Check weather and wind: Never go out when thunderstorms are around! And always keep an eye on the weather situation around you – and behind you, too. Especially thunderstorms may appear very fast out of nowhere.
    It happened to me and my hubby a few years ago, when a black wall of clouds came from behind and we have been so into our kitesurfing pleasure that we noticed it too late. I was out with the 9 when suddenly onshore gusts with 50-60 knots came in,  I was whirled through the air like crazy and the shore came closer and closer, everything happened super fast.  I had to release completely, otherwise I would have been thrown against the trees on the shore. Since then I always regularly check the sky behind me whilst riding.
    Also note that the wind forecast consists of basic wind and gusts. Take a look at the gusts!!! Beginners should not go kitesurfing in more than 25 knots – usually kite schools stop teaching then too.
Strong winds and wavy conditions – not the ideal playground the  for beginners. (c) Helmut Fuchs/kitejoy

  • If one is not sure about which kite size to choose, the best way is to ask the others on the spot or just look what they ride. In case of doubt take the smaller one! A lot of accidents are caused by massive overpower. If the kite is to small you can still change to the bigger one.
  • Before riding at a new spot ask the kite station for an introduction – and if there is no station, ask the locals. There are possible safety risks like shallows, currents, stones or corals which cannot be judged by naked eye.  If you are not an experienced kiter, don’t know the spot and no one is on site,  better let it be.
  • When you are a beginner never go kitesurfing alone.  It’s risky even for experienced kitesurfers.
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Kitesurfing in cold conditions: Lots of space on the water, but it’s better not to crash a lot … cause swimming in low temperatures is super dangerous. (c) Helmut Fuchs/kitejoy

  • In matters of personal kite skills everyone should be honest to himself.  A little self-underestimation is often safer than the opposite. 
  • Always wrap up warm enough.  Coldness makes you feel more immobile and this can be dangerous. Therefore kitesurfing in very low temperatures should only be for experienced kiters. As long as you ride the cold may not be that bad, but if you fall into the water or the wind drops and e. g. it takes some time to launch your kite again the water quickly cools the body, even if you wear a thick wetsuit or drysuit.
  • Also don’t underestimate summer heat – sunstroke and Co. send their greetings. Always pay attention to stay hydrated and protect your skin from UV-radiation.
  • In case of emergency you should have your mobile phone with you – on the beach, or if you go kiting alone, even in a waterproof case that you take with you whilst your session.
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Launching, landing, keep distance … every kitesurfer needs to know some basic rules. (c) Helmut Fuchs/kitejoy

  • After haunting experiences like hard crashes, sudden storms, collisions with others, troubles during launching or landing one often tends to hole up and avoid going for a session again. But does this make sense? The longer the interruption, the harder the comeback. If you want to continue, try to cool down. Bad experiences are part of the game, and sooner or later it happens to everyone. It helps  a lot to talk to others, cause nearly every kitesurfer had the one or other kitemare (read more about personal kitemares in this article). Also remind yourself to regularly go through all the safety rules. If you are afraid of e. g. launching, ask someone for help.
    Getting rid of fear is not always easy, but it’s also unlikely that the exactly same situation happens twice. Especially when the situation has been caused by personal negligence … cause you probably won’t make the same mistake again.
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Ouch! Sh… happens.  (c) Helmut Fuchs/kitejoy

Admittedly, it’s easy to get concerned when you think about all the things that might happen if you kitesurf.
But: Those who act reasonable and are aware of their self-responsibility don’t need to be afraid. Instead they can enjoy the pleasure of kitesurfing unlimitedly – without fear, but with awareness and healthy respect. Respect for the sport, forces of nature, equipment, other kitesurfers and awareness of the risks.

So I hope these information is helpful for you  – though the topic is not a very pleasant, but essential one. If you have anything to add, feel free to contact me or put it in the comments!

Finally, I found this funny and useful video about mistakes in kitesurfing. Check it out!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_1zWppsCEQ

Aloha, Anja

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4 Comments on "Kitesurfing: How fear turns into (healthy) respect"

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Andrea
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I’m really sorry to hear you say fear is genetically determined for girls. I love everything you write because it’s very relatable and relevant. But fear is not determined genetically, but the way girls and boys are raised differently. No child is born afraid. Unfortunately it’s a common misunderstanding.

Looking forward to read more of your stuff:-)

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