FAQ about kitesurfing VOL. 1: Seat or waist harness?

What’s better for me?

Especially in the beginning of a kitesurf career the whole equipment thing can be quite confusing. There are a lot of decisions to make: Which harness, which kite should I choose? Is it absolutely necessary for a beginner to take a big board? What about second-hand equipment – is it a good idea to search for used material or should I buy everything new? And so on and so forth. One problem is: Everybody tells you something different. One of your kite friends swears by only one brand, another one tells you to never buy one piece of this brand cause it’s bad stuff. In online kite forums where you hang around in hope of inspiration you find thousands of different opinions (and everyone knows it better than the others) – which is even more confusing.

(c) Helmut Fuchs
Seat or waist harness? An essential question for kitesurf beginners. (c) H. Fuchs

Well, what I can tell you: I’m certainly not enlightened in the matter of kite material. Nevertheless I decided to focus on specific equipment questions in my articles and to explain why I recommend something or advise against it.
Very important to say is, that I absolutely don’t want to affront anyone – I’m aware that there are already heaps of articles about this topics and that I don’t have the monopoly on truth as regards kite material. However – I am not an expert, but gained a lot of experience by trial and error. I cannot guarantee 100 percent objectivity. The content here is about my very own empirical values of the last years. If I can help or inspire with my articles I am happy about this and I feel honoured. (Yet everyone has to make his own experiences ;)).

But enough lamenting: Let’s come straight to the point. Here is a list of the questions I want to deal within this series:

Does it have to be a waist harness? (c) Helmut Fuchs

So let’s start! In Vol. 1 the point at issue is which harness is more suitable for your skill level and riding style.

Seat or waist harness? 

No question: Riding unhooked sounds cool, but every kitesurfer needs a harness (even if you make unhooked tricks ;)).  The purpose of a harness is to concentrate the pulling force of the kite to the body center. You need it cause it would’t be possible to hold the bar only with your arms while riding.

Seat harness: can’t slide upwards

During a kite course you usually wear a seat harness. It surrounds the hips and has leg straps too – this combination leads to a lower hook and therefore a lower pull point of the kite. Also the harness can’t slide up (which is quite nice for the beginning when your kite is often overhead). Due to the greater stability it offers a seat harness makes it easier to learn the waterstart and can also be comfortable für riders with back problems.
A disadvantage could be that if you are always riding with a seat harness you may never learn to improve the typical and not very sexy beginner posture on the water (which often looks like sitting on the toilet ;)). You won’t be happy to see this on pics later on.

Seat harnesses are mostly used for teaching. (c) H. Fuchs

Waist harness: more challenge for the core

As the name suggests a waist harness surrounds your waist. It has no leg straps and the hook is higher than with a seat harness. Generally it is said that for freestyle and wakestyle you should take a waist harness – cause it offers more mobility for legs and torso and the higher position is better for unhooking (and hooking back in again). It is easier to put on and off than a seat harness. One of the most important points for me is that waist harnesses lead to a higher training effect for the body, cause it demands more body tension from the rider (say “Hi” to your abs and core muscles!).

Seat or waist harness? My personal experience

After my kite lessons I switched directly to a waist harness. This was more accidently than on purpose. But I loved it from the first moment on (the freedom of movement!) and so I stuck with it. Unfortunately I was always in pain at my ribs after my sessions with this harness – which I didn’t feel why I was riding, maybe due to the adrenaline – but afterwards it was horrible. The problem was that it was a harness for men – not shaped for a female body. After some time I bought a new one, which felt like a three-weeks-wellness-holiday. Funny thing is that now I wear a harness for men again which fits me perfect and causes no pain, no matter how hard I’m riding.
So I can’t deny that I’m an advocate of waist harnesses. On the one side I love the higher body tension and training effect on the water (which leads to more core muscles!). On the other side cause it looks better – not only on the beach but also on the water.

Der Beweis: Sitztrapeze können auch cool aussehen. Hier zB in eine Boardshort eingebaut.
Hybrid: A boardshort harness is a good compromise between seat and waist harness.

But: I also know very good riders who prefer seat harnesses because they find it more comfortable or like that it can’t slide upwards. It’s also a matter of taste. What you shouldn’t do: Wear a waist harness just to be cool whilst you secretly wish to wear a seat harness. Really, in this case you should stand above it all.
Maybe you are searching for a compromise? Here it is: Some brands offer boardshord harnesses – a kind of a seat-waist-hybrid-harness integrated in a boardshort. Some like it because it feels like a seat harness but looks way cooler.

To sum up the pros and cons of both types of harnesses:

Seat harness

  • can’t slide up – even when the kite is overhead
  • some say: when you depower a lot you don’t have to arch your back as much as with a waist harness
  • greater stability and a safer feeling (important for beginners)
  • whilst riding you need less body tension than with a waist harness –> less training effect and risk of poor body posture (aka toilet posture ;))
  • reduced mobility

Waist harness

  • riding with a waist harness requires more body tension which affects the core muscles –> higher training effect
  • more mobility – which is not only important for tricks
  • better for freestyle/wakestyle/unhooked tricks
  • more exhausting than riding a seat harness (due to higher body tension)
  • can slide up due to the pull of the kite

Most important thing – no matter wich kind of harness you choose – try it before you buy it! If it doesn’t fit you properly, it will not offer

Am wichtigsten ist, dass das Trapez gut sitzt – sonst macht's keinen Spaß.
Only if the harness fits you well you will have untroubled joy on the water.

you the full fun potential. And who wants to feel his waist harness on his teeth or getting problems with breathing cause it’s far too tight? So try it on and, if possible, test it on the water too. Cause sometimes a harness fits quite well as long as you don’t ride with it. But a fitting harness is also substantial for your progress and performance.

For the ladies: Don’t be afraid of trying on a men’s harness – you may get no candy colors, but a good fit is worth much more.

So much for harnesses and what to consider finding the right one. Did I forget to mention something important?
And at the end, one question: Are there more FAQ about kitesurfing which are not on my list but you think they are important? Tell me, I am always looking for inspiration 🙂

Aloha, Anja

P. S. Vol. 2 will be about the question: Four- or five-line-kite? Coming soon!


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3. September 2016 8:59

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