Most of us have flown a kite. And many of us have flown one while on vacation at the beach since it’s an ideal place to find unobstructed wind. While on that same beach trip, you probably grabbed a surfboard or bodyboard and got your first feeling of riding on wind-driven waves. It was only a matter of time before someone had the ingenious idea to put these two activities together, creating one of the most extreme and exhilarating sports on the water.
If you’ve ever seen a kiteboarder, your first reaction was most likely one of stunned silence. Flying high and moving fast across the water, kiteboarders experience an adrenaline rush only found by harnessing the power of the wind. Like many extreme adventure sports, kiteboarding comes with a steep learning curve and can be frustrating. But, with proper instruction, it’s possible to pick it up quickly. With enough dedication and patience, you can learn to fly across the water, even on Alabama’s coastline.
Some sports you can figure out on your own. But kiteboarding isn’t one of them. While online instructional videos can help with a basic introduction to the sport, you will need to get an instructor to learn quickly and safely. Your instructor will show you how to set up your kite in the most efficient way possible, give you techniques to control your kite, teach a water relaunch, have different kites and boards to demo, and provide launch spots.
At its core, the sport is simple, requiring just a kite and a board. But, as you delve into the nuances of kiteboarding, it can become overwhelming. You’ll need some knowledge of wind patterns and direction, tides, and currents, along with wave period and height. After a season of kiteboarding, you might feel like a junior meteorologist and oceanographer.
Your propulsion power is wind—you need it to get moving, and you must be able to control the kite. At first, you’ll use a small trainer kite, and it will be more difficult to control in lower winds. As you’re learning, you’ll realize that winds of 10-15 mph are ideal.
It’s essential to know the difference between onshore and offshore wind. In the Gulf, you do not want to kitesurf on offshore wind or north wind. Offshore wind blows off the land onto the water, and it will push you straight out to sea, leaving you hoping for an assist from the Coast Guard.
Using a Training Kite
You will not use your first kite on the water. The kiteboarders you’ve seen soaring over the ocean have huge kites that can maximize wind power. When you’re just starting, you need to use a smaller training kite, which is usually about 3 meters square. Training kites are not designed to go on the water because they cannot be pulled out of the water, and a sinking, heavy kite makes for a dangerous situation.
There are trainers on the market designed to be used both on and off the water, but they won’t provide the kiteboarding experience you’re seeking. Your best bet is to seek out a second-hand trainer in good condition and use it until you’re comfortable enough for a full-size kite.
Other factors for your first kite, like the number of kite lines, or whether you should use a control bar or handles will come into play. For the trainer kit, the recommendation is that a three-line kite with a control bar offers the fastest route to a safe and fun kiteboarding experience. A three-line kite also allows you to fly it without help.
Practice Makes Perfect
Unless you live close to the beach, you probably won’t be able to train there regularly, and you’ll need to find other places to practice. As you’re seeking a spot where the wind won’t be obstructed, be smart, and avoid trees and power lines. Find an open park or a baseball or soccer field to get your practice in.
Shorten the Learning Curve
Even if you’ve never kiteboarded, there are plenty of sports that require similar skills. Kiteboarding involves balance, coordination, and strength. If you have ever wakeboarded, surfed, or skated, you can take the skills learned from these sports to the kite.
Once you’re comfortable with the training kite on land, it’s time to move up to a full-size kite. Sizes range from 7 to 17 meters. The most important thing is that your kite is the right size for the conditions.
The best board for beginning kiteboarders is known as a “twin tip.” It allows you to ride with either your right foot or left foot forward since both ends are squared off. This type of board allows for the shortest adjustment period, and you’ll be able to do all the jumps and maneuvers you want. You can use the board with or without foot straps.
A seat harness, which wraps around your hips, is the best bet for beginning kiteboarders. One item often underutilized by people new to the sport is the safety or by-pass leash. This leash stays attached to your body after you unhook from the kite and prevents your kite from flying down the beach.
It’s easy to get into trouble kiteboarding. However, if you take simple precautions, you can arrive back to the beach safe and ready to ride again. An instructor can school you on the specifics of what to do if your lines get twisted and teach you how to pull the chicken loop release. But, there are some common-sense measures a beginner kiteboarder can follow.
Gather as much information about your spot as possible. Know if there are any rocks or reefs you need to avoid. If you’re at a new place, watch other kiteboarders before heading out, and don’t go alone if possible. Also, you can avoid trouble by being aware of what other kiteboarders are doing. For instance, if the sky is darkening and everyone is heading in, it might be a good idea for you to follow.
Where to Go
While Alabama only has roughly 60 miles of coast along the Gulf of Mexico, there are many opportunities to kiteboard on the Gulf and in the bays. The Gulf is an ideal place for beginners, with small to flat surf and mostly southerly winds from May through September.
During the right conditions, you will find kiteboarders launching at Fort Morgan, Orange Beach, and Gulf Shores. One of the more popular spots that support all wind directions is Dauphin Island, one of the few places with a north-facing beach. With any of these beaches, make sure you’re a comfortable distance from swimmers and beachgoers, and respect any wildlife you encounter.
Written by Hap Pruitt for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.