Zero to Hero: Learning to Kitesurf in a Day

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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.

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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