Ever want to combine the vertiginous adrenaline rush of paragliding with the wave-breaking high of surfing? Kiteboarding, a new extreme sport gaining momentum worldwide—especially among the tech elite of Silicon Valley—does just that.
Kiteboarders strap themselves onto high-tech boards and then launch themselves out onto the surf propelled by their kite, slicing waves and acrobatically maneuvering off and on the water from a standstill up to speeds of 60 mph. With so much power and so many variables to consider, there's a lot you'll need to know before you get going. The right gear can mean the difference between optimal control and a serious injury. Here's what you'll need to start your own kiteboarding kit, along with some solid advice from the experts. But first and foremost, all the kiting pros agree, if you're going to take on a sport that can suddenly rocket you into the air at high speeds, take lessons from a professional.
"The board that you strap to your feet is just as important as the kite you are flying over your head," says Ben Meyer, founder of the kiteboard manufacturing company Axon. "When buying your first board, get one that is easy to use but one that will be able to grow with you as your skills improve." Boards with a large surface area will be easier to get a good foothold for balance on but will also be harder to maneuver with on the water because of the extra bulk. "The best all-around boards are going to be in the 'Freeride' category," says Meyers. "Buy a board that has a fairly square outline, a moderate rocker, and a medium flex."
Karmen Brown of Cabrinha Kites suggests taking your height and weight into consideration when choosing your first board. Go for a size that will proportionately suit your body, but also think about a few other key features of the board and how they will translate for you: "bottom shapes, outlines, flex, and rocker," says Brown. "Each perform a unique function, fine-tuning how the board rides through the water according to its width from tip to tail, fin setup, rocker, and outline." Brown recommends testing out a few boards before you get one of your own. See what works for you and talk with your local kiteboarding shop about these points.
The kiteboarding pros recommend these boards:
The rules for picking your first kite should be much like the ones you use to pick your board. You're going to want to start with a kite that is simple and easy to control but advanced enough to take you over the next plateau of expertise. Most kites are designed for a particular style of riding, "but as a beginner, you want to looking to buy an all-around kite that typically falls in the 'Freeride category,' says Meyers. "Freeride kites are easily re-launched from the water, have stable and even power, and can handle a wide range of wind conditions."
Brown recommends starting with the Cabrinha Switchblade. It's top ranked as one of the highest-performance and easy-handling kites around, "with excellent relaunch to get you back on your board after you take a spill and easy handling once you are up and riding," says Brown.
The kiteboarding pros recommend these kites:
There are two styles of harnesses for kites: a seat harness and a waist harness.
Most beginners will opt for a seat harness while they're learning for the added security and fit. "A seat harness puts you into a sitting back posture while riding," says Meyers, "This is helpful if you struggle with back problems," but it also helps novice kiteboarders gain more control over the kite since "you can use more of your body weight as leverage against the kite." However, a seat harness has a few setbacks, it doesn't quite provide the freedom and range of motion that a waist harness does, and according to Meyers, "can put a little unwanted pressure on the man parts."
Waist harnesses offer a little more freedom of movement and mobility, but are harder to control. "A waist harness sits above your hips and requires a bit more back and core strength until your muscles get used to it," says Meyers. It "puts you into a leaning back and more controlled upright position. Proper fit is really important; you don't want too much pressure on your ribs.
Choosing which type of harness is best for you is ultimately a matter of comfort and fit but always make sure that the release system can be adjusted and released quickly and easily.
The kiteboarding pros recommend these harnesses:
The control system is the handheld mechanism that allows you to control your kite, the steering wheel so to speak. "As a beginner," says Meyers, "you should always buy the kite control system that is designed to go with your kite." More experienced kiteboarders with a deeper knowledge of how control systems work sometimes choose to customize their gear, picking and choosing their favorites. But if you're just getting into the game, stick to your kite's specific control system.
"All control systems have center-line adjustability to help power up or depower the kite as well as a safety system designed to be a quick and easy way to get out of trouble if the need arises," says Meyers. "That's where the similarities end, however. Every brand has its own unique way to accomplish both, and it is very important that you understand with intricate detail how the one you choose works."
The kiteboarding pros recommend these control systems:
Foot Pads and Foot Straps
Pads and straps will almost always come with whichever board you buy, but understanding how they work and getting the right fit is just as important as the design of the board itself. "Think of it like trying on a running shoe," says Meyers. "It doesn't matter how much technology is jammed into it, if your feet are uncomfortable, your performance will be compromised."
Pads and straps that don't fit right, or are of shoddy quality can render even the best of boards worthless, stifling the kiteboarding experience and putting you into possibly dangerous situations should you lose control. You don't want you foot to slip out midair headed for rocky shore after all. Use this rule of thumb: quality, comfort, and control. "If you hear the words, 'Yeah I know it doesn't feel all that great, you just have to break them in,' that system isn't right for you," says Meyers. "The best way to find out which pad and strap system is right for you is to try them on. If you can't get to a shop or are shopping online, do some research on how the pad and strap system is made and how it works. Beginners should be looking to buy a system that has a wide range of stance options, quality materials (the EVA foam used is similar to that of running shoes), with quick and easy adjustability. When you slide your foot into a pad and strap system, it should feel as though you are giving your foot a hug."
The kiteboarding pros recommend these footpads and straps: