Kiteboarding is about as dangerous as riding a bicycle. If you aren’t comfortable riding a bike you can also hurt yourself significantly, but at the same time its perfectly doable if you know what you are doing. Naturally you’ll have to know how the brakes and steering works, or what to do when you get a flat tire. Here a few guidelines you’ll need to kiteboard safely.
You don’t just go diving or skydiving either without a course with a certified instructor and accompanied exam. Or driving a car? That will require 30 lessons! You can learn to kiteboard much quicker and you likely will not have a theoretical exam, but without some lessons you’ll certainly start wrong. Take a lesson with a school that is certified with the IKO or KNWV. Only there can you be sure they use up-to-date equipment (safety systems, helmets, life jackets, etc), certified instructors and they are insured for accidents. During your first lesson(s) you’ll learn all about the equipment and its setup, safety procedures and have fun kiteboarding! You cannot learn all this just by reading a forum or this website.
Take care when buying equipment
The most important aspect when buying equipment is the safety system on the bar. These are getting better each year, so the newer the gear the more safe it is. Check and test the ‘quickrelease’ system. All kites have a different system but it comes down to one basic function: release all the power of the kite when you activate it. Meanwhile the kite will be flapping downwind from you. Both four- and five line systems must have a release system like this. The ‘safety’ (quickrelease) is usually on the chickenloop at the bottom of the bar and some you will need to push while others need to be pulled. If it is not a new kite.. again.. test this!
What else do I need?
Some harnesses have a built-in safety knife to cut through your lines in an emergency. Otherwise you should buy one for 5-10 euro. If you ever do get caught in your lines in the water you won’t have time to unravel it. If you are in trouble the line cutter knife is your escape!
When you start kiteboarding and are in the water a lot, the life jacket (or buoyancy aid) is a necessity. For a bit more you can buy an impact vest. The life jacket allows you to float, the impact vest gives you enough float to keep your head above the water. Some experience riders even use these, because as the name already implies, if you are trying a new trick and you fall hard and often, its nice to have a little extra padding.
Kiteboarders of all ages and sizes are wearing helmets. When you are starting out this is an absolute ‘must’. They are light – made from plastic, rubber or just styrofoam, so you’ll hardly notice it. Even later when you are trying new tricks or are in big waves the helmet can save yourbrain. And when it’s busy on the water it can happen that another kiteboarder crashes his/her kite on you!
Use a safety leash!
Any new kite with a bar also includes a safety leash. This leash attaches the kite to your harness, so when you use the quick-release, the kite does not fly away to hurt someone else. If you bought your kite second-hand you will need to purchase one. Also ensure that it attached correctly to a secure part of your harness. A leash has two attachment points. One of the two sides also should have a seperate quick release. That side should be attached to your harness, so if you get in trouble after releasing the kite, you can still release the safety leash! Smaller trainer kites might have a leash that attaches to your wrist. That is not sufficient when you use a real kite.
Using the safety release
You might get into problems with your kite – whether it is your fault or not. Someone else might fly his/her kite into yours, you can get caught in a gust or something else unforeseen might happen to you. The emergency exit is your safety-release. If you activate your safety release the kite will be flapping in the wind on a single line. Figure out how you should activate it and what you must do next. If you have release and the danger has passed, it is usually quite easy to relaunch the kite and keep going. Always check that the lines are not tangled, else you might need to walk or swim back to the beach to reset the rigging.
Back on the beach
In cases where your equipment faults or the weather suddenly is too extreme you may not be able to kiteboard back. In these cases there are only two solutions: bodydrag back or perform a ‘self-rescue’ with your kite. Bodydragging is as the name suggests – get yourself pulled back using your kite. If you cannot find your board you can use this method to get back to the beach and ask for help. During your kiteboard lessons you will learn how to bodydrag. The self-rescue is necessary if you are too far from the beach to swim or walk and your bar, lines or kite is broken. Using the method you learned during your lesson you must work your way to your kite. Then your can grab the outside struts (or grips on some kites) and let your kite pull you back towards the beach. This will ensure that you do not have to swim back!
Remember that these are things you should pay attention to and that you should have practiced at some point. You need to react quickly in an emergency, so you need to enable the quick-release. So check it out when you buy new or used gear. If in doubt, ask your instructor. Try to prepare yourself for these situations, because eventually they will happen to you too!