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Zero to Hero: Learning to Kitesurf in a Day

Learning to kitesurf is not the easiest undertaking, but it’s also not as hard as it may look. It takes most people between 15 and 20 hours of practice spread over several weeks to learn how to kitesurf. But, occasionally, an exceptionally motivated individual is able to go from ‘zero to hero’. That is: learn to kitesurf in one day.

When I decided to write this article on how to kitesurf I didn’t want to waste any time. Being an experienced wakeboarder and snowboarder, as well as having some experience surfing and windsurfing, I figured I was as good a candidate as anyone to go from zero to hero. Although in my relatively short seven-hour lesson I never quite got up on a board, I did learn what it takes to learn to kitesurf, and it’s really not that difficult.

My instructor, Joe Rueger of the Tainan Kitesurfing Center, walked me through the following steps learning to kitesurf.

Lesson 1: The Basics
First you have to learn the proper kitesurfing terminology so that your instructor can communicate instructions to you clearly. This includes a few pieces of equipment and kite positions.

Equipment
Kite – Used to harness the power of the wind and pull you across the water. Looks like a smaller, modified paraglider.

Harness – Attaches you to the kite.

Power Bar – Allows you to steer the kite and control the power or ‘pull’ of the kite.

Board – The board that you stand on as you zip across the water. Similar in size and shape to a wakeboard.

Bindings – The foot holders that attach you to the board.

Kite Positions – Horizontal (see fig. 1)

As with flying any kite, when kitesurfing you always stand with your back to the wind. If you are facing the same direction as the wind, the position of the kite from left to right is discussed in terms as if you are standing in the center of a large clock and the kite is near one of the numbers. Straight ahead is 12:00 and 90-degrees to your right is 3:00. To your left 90-degrees is also 12:00. The kite will always remain between 9:00 and 3:00 because if it goes any farther the wind will no longer hold it aloft.

Kite Positions – Vertical (see fig. 2)


The position of the kite on the vertical plane is discussed in terms of degrees; the ground being zero degrees, and directly above your head being 90-degrees.

Lesson 2: Power Positions (see fig. 1 & 2)

Once you know how to discuss the position of the kite, it’s time to learn the significance of the positions. This is important because the position of the kite determines the strength of the pull, or power, of the kite.

The formula for power positions is basically this. The most powerful possible position is when the kite is at 12:00 (directly in front of you), at a 45-degree angle – pretty much the center of the kite’s field of movement. The farther you move away from this position in any direction the less power the kite will have. If you place the kite at any extreme – 3:00, 9:00, 90-degrees, or zero degrees – it will have barely enough power to stay aloft.

Lesson 3: Controlling the Kite
Next, to learn how to control the position and power of the kite, you will start practicing with a trainer kite on the beach. The trainer is a miniature kitesurfing kite that maneuvers just like a real one, but that is too small to pull you anywhere.

You’re first attached to the kite by a harness. Your control over the kite comes in the form of a bar about 80 cm long that you hold onto like a set of handlebars. This bar controls the direction of the kite, as well as the power. The ends of the bar are attached by strings to the corners of the kite and the bar pivots on the main cord that attaches your harness to the kite. When you pull in on one side of the bar, the kite will turn in that direction.

The bar also moves towards and away from you along the cord that attaches your harness to the kite. Holding the bar midway between yourself and the stopper will keep the kite at full power. If you pull the whole bar towards you, or let the bar all the way out, it will de-power the kite. This is a failsafe for people who feel out of control. If you panic and let go of the bar and the kite completely de-powers.

Lesson 4: Sand Skiing
Once you’ve got the hang of the trainer kite, it’s time to strap on the big boy and try dragging yourself across the beach. First, you strap into a real kite. Then, you practice moving the through low-power positions. Then, when you’re ready you move the kite into a power position. It will jerk you forward and then, leaning back against the pull of the kite, you will ski briefly across the sand. Don’t worry, you won’t be pulled far. It’s very hard to keep the kite in a power position in this exercise. You’ll move the kite through the power position, and then out do a de-powered position, so the pull will only last a moment or two. This exercise teaches you where the power really is, and how it feels to be pulled.

Lesson 5: Body Dragging

The next step is just to get comfortable with a kite in the water. This is basically the same as sand skiing, except you’re dragging yourself through the water. You just move the kite in and out of power positions, pulling yourself along through the surf.

Lesson 6: Kite Surfing

This is it. You’ve mastered all the techniques. Now it’s time to strap on the board. To start you sit in the water with the board on, keeping the board near the surface of the water, just like starting on water skis or a wakeboard. Then you put the kite in the air, and move it into a power position. The pull of the kite should pull you up out of the water and, as you lean back, keeping the board’s edge in the water, you’ll start moving. And that’s it – you’re kitesurfing.

For information in Chinese on learning to kitesurf visit the Taiwan Kitesurfing Center website.
For information in English (in Taiwan) call Joe Rueger at 0956 100 97 1

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23 Responses to Zero to Hero: Learning to Kitesurf in a Day

  1. Nathan - As We Travel May 26, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    wow that is an impression post – we have made it our mission to learn how to kitesurf this summer – didn’t know much about it at all – but after reading this it really does sound like fun and like something we wanna do – thanks for sharing Matt! 🙂

    • Matt Gibson May 27, 2010 at 8:59 am #

      Thanks a lot guys! Good luck learning to kitesurf. If you choose to do it in Taiwan, let me know. I’ll hook you up!

  2. Migration Mark July 28, 2010 at 11:51 pm #

    Nice article, kitesurfing is also something I’ve wanted to try out for a while now, looks like a lot of fun. If I come to visit Taiwan next year, I’ll be sure to contact you!

  3. Matt Gibson July 29, 2010 at 10:25 am #

    Glad you liked it Mark. You should totally go out and try. If you put in a full weekend, you should be riding by the end of it. Be sure to give me a holler when you get to Taiwan. I have a (surprisingly) hard time dragging my friends here away from the bar to go do stuff like kitesurfing and paragliding. I’d sure welcome some company.

  4. david January 11, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    Hi Matt,

    I will be in Taiwan, Tainan for chinese new year visiting my relatives. I would realy want to spend this time to also learn kitesurfing. Please let me know if any of you guys will be there available to teach me. I am into some other extreme sports as freeride skiing and mountainbiking but I have wanted to learn kite for like 10 years now. Looking forward for your reply, tnx.

    David

  5. david volk January 11, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    Hi Matt,

    I will be in Taiwan, Tainan for chinese new year visiting my relatives. I would realy want to spend this time to also learn kitesurfing. Please let me know if any of you guys will be there available to teach me. I am into some other extreme sports as freeride skiing and mountainbiking but I have wanted to learn kite for like 10 years now. Looking forward for your reply, tnx.

    David

  6. surfer.kite April 5, 2012 at 3:40 am #

    kiteboard barcelona is one of the fastest growing water sport in the world.. its a great game, i have watched it live..

  7. Vicky June 5, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    Great tutorial! I’ve always wanted to try kitesurfing – I see people doing it and am just fascinated. Must be such an adrenaline rush. Hoping to try it out when we make it to Taiwan!

  8. aimee April 30, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    Nice post! Well written and helpful as had my first lesson today and this is great to refer to.
    Thanks!

  9. Matt Gibson May 1, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    Glad I could help Aimee!

  10. Martin Battrick April 3, 2014 at 6:00 am #

    Great post. Hey I am 59 next birthday . Experienced skier some 36years and windsurfed till 45 years of age. You have made me book a lesson.
    Never to old I hope ?
    Thanks Matt

  11. hediye July 27, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

    Great tutorial!

  12. 1 Ocean WaterSports December 3, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

    Great information. Thanks for promoting the sport in a good way. I kitesurf every day and its addictive 🙂

  13. Chris van Rensburg February 25, 2015 at 10:57 am #

    Hey Matt,

    I am very keen to start kiting but am not sure about a few aspects. Maybe yoù could give me some advice. I weigh 95 kg and have no experience. What size kite and board will I be looking at? I live inland and do not go to the coast often as it is about 6 hours drive. I will however go once every 3 months or so. The wind at the dams could range from 10 to 30 or even 40 knots and mostly gusty.

    I enjoyed your article and looking forward to your response.

  14. Tim October 18, 2015 at 8:29 pm #

    Hi there, As an ex-kite instructor, I can happily say your post offers a minimal amount of key information. But a good kite-surfer isn’t someone who can get on a board in their first day, in fact these people are the most dangerous.

    Only after your lessons (minimum two from an “IKO Certified School”) and body-dragging (minimum 2hrs) and water-relaunching should you be working with a board, preparing to stand-up and “Zip Along”.

    If you know how to get yourself back to shore, after suffering an equipment failure eg line break..Or confident enough to help rescue someone who is in trouble with their gear…Can you call yourself ready to go it without qualified supervision.

    The correct background for advanced progression into kiteboarding are other wind-sports, not so much board sports. Sports like Windsurfing, paragliding are helpful, because you understand the wind and, this sport is ALL about the wind. (90% Wind Vs 10% Board)..

    If you want to get a grip on the power of these things, first – just google “Kitemares”, “Erik Eck Kite” and you will see exactly what I mean, very quickly..But remember, the right equipment and proper instructor (“IKO”) can make this a dream experience for you.

    Again, an old friend of mine, returned from his holiday at a beach side town with two broken legs. He attempted to learn kitesurfing from his uncle. His uncle was apparently a good kiteboarder, yet still my friend was unable to wipe his own backside for months. Moral of the story – don’t spend time flying big kites on land. Go into the water WITHOUT a board. This is the best safe practice you can get – As long as there is noone in your way (100m clear downwind space).

    In my opinion, once you are at an intermediate level, riding waves in the surf – there is nothing else like it! AWESOME…DO IT – Just be careful when learning.

    Good luck

    • http://www./ November 25, 2016 at 3:26 am #

      Thanks for your comments. I really enjoy my job, it is so rewarding and the flexibility in terms of time it gives you is great and you only need a small amount of floor space, enough to stretch out your body, arms and legs etc. Just you and a mat is all that is really required to get started. Check out if there are any teachers in your area.

  15. steve February 16, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

    I disagree with the 0 to 90 degree chart I believe max power is directly down wind at 0 degrees where the kite catches the full power as the kite is flat to the wind.

  16. Pedro Damiao April 25, 2016 at 8:10 pm #

    Hi! There is a small lake next to my home, 40×80 meters. Do you think its dangerous to an absolut beginner (but expert snowboarder) to kite surf there with a 12m kite?

    • Matt April 25, 2016 at 8:17 pm #

      Hey Pedro. First, I need to point out that I am only a beginner and far from an expert.

      That said, I think it’s a bad idea to try on such a small body of water — especially if wind is strong. It would be easy to lose control and end up dragging yourself across the ground.

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