I spend a lot of time talking to people about kiteboarding, which I am so very passionate about. I enjoy sharing my own experiences of learning with people who are considering taking up the fantastic and addictive sport of kiteboarding.
But a lot of people have some fears and misconceptions about kites and their power. Misconception number one, which was covered here (insert link here), is that you have to be strong in the arms. The next most common misconception is about the power of the kites we use. I often hear people say, ‘I’m scared the kite will just keep pulling me and not stop’.
Of course, even as a competent rider, there is always that fear, but by knowing how and why kites pull the way they do, accidents can be avoided (except if you don’t take any lessons, buy a “friend of a friend’s” 18-metre, heavy kite from 1999 and head out in 20 knots. Then you’re stuffed.)
The first thing to put your fears to rest is to understand how a kite works. (Now, I’m no scientist and will be explaining this very simply. Please direct your corrections to www.Im_just_trying_to_ease_your_fears.com.) Too many people believe that a kite ‘catches the air’ and that pulls you along, but this is not entirely true.
Now for Aerodynamics 101: The kite is shaped like an aeroplane wing. Basically, the wind has to separate at the leading edge, and most of the wind is forced over the top of the kite (indicated by multiple red arrows on the diagram), and a smaller amount goes under (the single red arrow on the diagram), then you pull against it from underneath (Force), the air passing over the top of the kite is travelling faster than that below, and this reduces the air pressure, creating lift.
Are you still with me? Well if this is sounding like gobbledegook, have a look at my fab illustration on this beautiful Cabrinha Drifter. And now I see you are all even more confused. Stay with me, the techie stuff will be over soon and you can make your way to the refreshments table….
The power from a kite is managed through changing what’s called the angle of attack. More angle of attack equals more lift, which in turn makes the kite pull harder. Pulling the back of the kite towards you (or down) makes more angle of attack. This is what happens when you pull on the bar, you change the angle of the kite, creating more or less pressure over the top of the kite. It’s a fine line, really, if you pull the bar in too much, the wing stalls and you ‘choke’ the kite, and when you let go of the bar, again, you lose the lift of the wing in the opposite direction.
To turn a kite, the same principles are applied to the wingtips. When you pull on one side of the bar, you generate more lift on that wingtip by changing its angle of attack. The harder you pull, the faster the kite will turn. Remember that kites in the water have a different set of rules because they are not flying. To relaunch a kite, first you must allow the airflow to resume over the wing so that it can fly.
So consider this: although the kite will fly of its own accord, you can always control both the steering and the power (through changing the angle of attack). Once you let go, the kite has no lift and will fall quickly to the water, with minimal pull. The kite will float and remain neutral until you take control once more. The only exception to the rule is when you don’t put enough air in the kite, then it can deform and fly itself somewhat.
Remember that you must balance lift with your body weight. If your kite is too big for you, then you are likely to have a rough time because depowering your kite can only do so much. Also consider that you may break a line. In this situation your kite will most likely spiral into uncontrollable loops. Don’t be scared of this, all kites these days are fitted with A1 Safety release systems. Simply hit your safety release and everything will stop.
So, thekey points to remember are:
• Get lessons – Nothing beats the advice of a trained specialist.
• Know how to self-rescue – You will use it, even if it’s only because the wind has died and it’s low tide.
• Get advice from a shop or reputable seller on which gear is suitable for you – be careful of ‘good deals’ and always ask lots of questions if you are not sure about second-hand gear.
• Do your research, but avoid the YouTube videos on all the bad things that happen to kite surfers. Focus on what you can learn to do right.
• The kite will only react the way you react – if you are aggressive, it will be a bumpy and powered ride, if you are smooth and relaxed, then you will more likely will enjoy the ride, with less stress.
• If all else fails – let go!