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There’s a common misconception that water sports like kitesurfing are extreme and come with a lot of risks, but how dangerous is this activity really?
Any time you mix high powered winds, unpredictable water conditions, and a device capable of flying high in the air, you’re bound to have to some concerns.
So it’s natural that people question the safety of kiteboarding from time to time.
When compared to other activities though, how dangerous is kitesurfing?
Most experts would rate it a low-risk sport when compared to mainstream sports, even though there are many tales of riders being badly injured, so it’s not as bad as you think.
Provided you are using the right gear, have adequate training, and never attempt anything out of your comfort zone, kiteboarding can be a relatively safe activity and one that comes with few risks.
We’ll explore the potential risks involved with kitesurfing and what’s earned it this reputation of being a dangerous extreme sport, so you can be a better-equipped rider.
With some tips for beginners and knowledge about the basic safety systems, best conditions to ride in, and what gear’s required, you can ensure that this sport doesn’t come with the associated risks so you can enjoy it without fear.
Is Kitesurfing Dangerous?
Kitesurfing often has a bad reputation of being a dangerous sport, but studies into the injury rate of this activity have proven otherwise.
There are many things to be justifiably fearful of when kitesurfing, thanks in part to the horror stories and videos that we’re exposed to, but with safe practice and the right gear this doesn’t have to be the case.
In 2016, a study published by the US National Institute of Health looked at the number of injured kitesurfing and windsurfing riders that presented to a local hospital over a two year period to see what the rates of incidents were.
For every 1,000 hours of riding, the hospital was presented with 7.0 injuries for kitesurfing alone, compared to 5.2 for windsurfing.
Although slightly higher, it showed there was no difference in the severity of injuries experienced while kitesurfing.
When compared to the rate of injury in other mainstream sports, these rates were actually quite low.
Although there’s a common idea that kitesurfing is dangerous, with the right equipment and respect for the rules and safety guidelines, there’s no need for it to be this way.
As responsible riders, it’s up to those who love the sport to follow these and ensure the rate of injury stays as low as possible.
What Are the Common Risks Associated With Kiteboarding?
Staying safe while kiteboarding isn’t just about making sure your own skills are up to par and following all of the rules.
But also being aware of the other potential risks on the water and remaining vigilant about them.
These are some of the common risks associated with kiteboarding and why we should be aware of them.
Wind and weather
Conditions can change in an instant in the water, and it’s your responsibility to understand the predicted weather and wind for the day and stay in if it’s going to be dangerous.
Various creatures in the sea pose a threat to our safety including jellyfish, sea urchins, and more. Dress accordingly to prevent any serious run-ins with sea life.
Other swimmers and craft
Be aware at all times of other people in the water and craft like boats, kites, and boards. Understand the rules in your area about safe distances that must be kept between you and others.
Failure with equipment can lead to serious injuries so make sure you always buy reputable gear in good condition and perform safety checks on everything before you head out onto the water.
It’s easy to become fatigued out on the water and misjudge how much strength is needed or fall victim to sunburn or dehydration.
Stay vigilant with your health to ensure you’re always in the best condition.
The Essential Kiteboarding Safety Gear
One of the best ways to prevent injury is by equipping yourself with kiteboarding safety gear, and this applies whether you’re an absolute beginner or seasoned professional.
Most sports come with their own designated safety gear and kiteboarding is no different.
So as you’re stocking up on everything you need for this water activity, you’ll have to tick off the safety supplies as well.
The harness connects the surfer to the bar which is attached to their kite and it provides support, greater control, and reduces the rider’s fatigue.
The two most common styles are waist and seat harnesses, both keeping you firmly attached to your setup.
Even a strong swimmer should be wearing a flotation device like a life jacket during kiteboarding to prevent drowning or struggles in rough conditions.
It’s essential to have an emergency hook knife with you to cut lines that become tangled and dangerous or to cut yourself free if you need to.
These sometimes come attached to your harness or can be purchased separately.
A good kitesurfing helmet should be able to protect you against the weather as well as impact.
They come in varying degrees of thickness and most are waterproof, so there’s no excuse not to wear one.
Being out on the water in the sun for any activity requires eye coverage, but glasses aren’t just good for UV protection.
A pair of safety goggles or glasses can keep water and debris out of your eyes and help with visibility while you’re riding.
Durable gloves make it easier to hold onto your bar without friction and also help in cold conditions where your fingers might otherwise go numb from the low temperatures of the ocean.
Is It Safe to Kitesurf at Night?
Once you’ve built up your skills to a place where you’re truly confident on the water, you might consider taking part in kitesurfing at night.
Although it can be tempting to do this, especially if you feel that you have the skills to navigate the water in the dark, it’s not recommended from a safety standpoint.
The biggest concern with riding at night is the reduced visibility, and not only what you’re able to see but other craft and people who are able to see you, as well as potential sea life threats.
You’ll also be at a serious disadvantage without light and unable to gauge the current wind and water conditions safely.
There is some kitesurfing gear on the market designed for use at night, like LED kites or harnesses with lights or reflective strips, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to do.
To reduce the risk of injury and accident, it’s only ever advisable to take your kite out when you have full visibility and are able to safely and accurately determine the weather conditions.
What Conditions Are Safest to Kitesurf In?
To ensure that you’re not surfing in dangerous circumstances, all kiteboarders need to know the ideal conditions for getting out onto the water.
There are three main things to consider when talking about conditions, including wind, weather, and surf, and all are equally important.
The wind speed and wind direction are two separate conditions that you’ll have to factor in before you head out.
Wind speed should be a minimum of around 8mph to get a trainer kite off the ground, but as your skills advanced and your kite becomes larger, the speed can be up to 35mph.
There should be no more than 8mph gusts otherwise you’ll find it hard to manage your equipment.
The wind direction doesn’t matter as much as speed, as most riders are capable of going in any direction.
Beginners usually start moving downwind as it’s less challenging but then can fly upwind when they feel confident.
The common ‘wind window’ that will allow your kite to fly is around 85 degrees upward, and 85 degrees to the left and right.
Where possible, you should be surfing in winds that go towards the shore or are parallel to it.
The morning of any kitesurfing expedition, you should do a detailed check of the local weather report, including surf and wind conditions.
Avoid taking your kite out in harsh winds, storms, heavy rain, or anything where your visibility or safety could be compromised.
Tides and currents should also be observed when checking the local weather.
You’ll need a good understanding of the waves when you’re surfing at the beach and how these will affect your ride.
A general rule of thumb to follow is that the harsher the wind, the larger and choppier the waves will be.
For a beginner, you should be surfing in waves under 3 feet until you progress with your skills. Even waves at this level can increase significantly when you’re traveling at higher speeds.
What Are the Kiteboarding Safety Systems?
When you’re learning how to kitesurf, one of the first things you’ll be taught is the kiteboarding safety systems that are put in place on your equipment to help you in an emergency.
These are three simple steps you can follow whenever you’re riding that can get you out of trouble, and every time you use new equipment you should test out each of them to see how they work.
Modern kites offer all three systems so you have triple the protection in case something goes wrong.
They should always be followed in this exact order and if you do find yourself in trouble, but most kiters will find it’s usually just the first step that’s enough to save you.
Release the bar
When we let go of the bar it means our kite loses its power, and will hopefully drop.
This works if the kite has crashed, you feel that something dangerous is about to happen, or the wind has become too powerful for you to maneuver.
Once the bar has been dropped, we can pick it up again when we’re ready to regain control and start over.
Activate quick release
If you’ve released the bar and still find that things are out of control, you should then release the chicken loop.
This will remove tension from one of the lines which should cause the kite to drop.
Only take this step if you’ve tried releasing the bar and it hasn’t helped, and things are still getting out of control.
Activate safety leash
The third and final safety system that modern kites are equipped with is the safety leash.
This should be your final option only if the quick release and releasing the bar hasn’t worked because once you do it, you’ll be totally disconnected from your kite.
Usually, this means your kite flies off and you won’t be able to get it back again.
What’s the Safest Beginner Kite to Practice With?
When you’re first learning how to kiteboard, it’s important that your gear matches your skill level.
As a beginner, there are some things to look for in your very first kite that will ensure a safe outing, and as you gain confidence and expertise with handling it, you can upgrade to something with a little more power.
Beginners should have completed adequate training before they even consider purchasing or using their own kite.
Before you attempt to surf on the water, you will need to practice on the beach where you’ll get the same wind conditions as you’ll experience on the ocean.
This will show you the difficulties of controlling a kite before you attach yourself to it and add a whole new challenge to the situation.
The most important features to look for in a beginner kite are all about safety.
These include the kite’s ability to handle harsh and high winds, the presence of a quick release system, its ability to relaunch after a fall, and how much depower it has.
The depower refers to how well it’s able to stop dragging or lifting after you let go of the control bar.
Expert kites usually come with minimal depower and are not ideal for those in the learning stage.
Kitesurfing Tips for Beginners
If you’re new to the sport of kitesurfing and want to reduce the likelihood of injury, there are some simple tips you can follow to make it less dangerous.
- The right attitude is important, so always listen to advice from more experienced riders and don’t attempt to do anything that’s outside of your capabilites.
- Having respect is essential for safety, and this includes respecting other kiters, people in the water, the local laws, and the environment.
- Upwind riders should always give way to downwind riders, and riders on the port tack should give way to riders on the starboard tack.
- Practice using your safety systems before you head out onto the water and do a safety check of your equipment to make sure there are no obvious signs of damage.
- Never go into the water if the conditions are above what you’re capable of. As a rule, beginners should stick to a maximum of 25 knots if they have less than 30 hours of practice out on the water.
- Always use a kite that is specifically designed for your weight and the current wind conditions. Most experienced kiters have more than one kite to suit the varying wind strengths.
- Tell someone that you’re going out kitesurfing before you leave so that there’s always at least one person aware of your whereabouts.
Being a responsible kitesurfer means following the rules, but also taking the time to understand everything there is to know about the sport.
We’ve got the answers to some commonly asked questions regarding kiteboarding and what might be helpful for a beginner to understand about safety.
How Fast Do Kitesurfers Go?
Most kitesurfers of adequate skill level will go between 15 – 25mph, but this will depend on the current wind conditions and the gear they’re using.
The faster the wind and the direction of it will usually dictate faster speeds, which is why it’s ideal for beginners to stick to calmer conditions.
Is It Easy to Learn Kitesurfing?
Most people spend between 8-10 hours in professional training classes to learn the basics of kitesurfing before purchasing their own kite to continue practice with.
It’s recommended to learn how to handle the kite in similar conditions before taking it onto the water and surfing with it.
Which Is Easier to Learn, Kitesurfing or Windsurfing?
Kitesurfing is usually easier to get started in because there’s less reliance on your own balance and strength.
Being close to the sail as you are with windsurfing means you need greater control, so many people find kitesurfing to have a shorter learning curve.