Kitesurfing for Beginners: 5 Essential Steps for Super-Fast Progression
A Beginner’s Guide to Kitesurfing
Kitesurfing is the world’s fastest growing extreme sport, and for good reason; it’s exhilarating, quick to learn and above all, really fun!
Some people find kitesurfing a little frustrating in the early stages, but you progress super quickly from the ‘total beginner’ stage to the ‘having fun’ stage. However, you need to learn with the right gear (a suitable kite, board and harness), at a suitable spot and with a qualified kiteboarding instructor.
How fit do I need to be to kitesurf?
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be super-fit to kitesurf. You’ll often see little 10 year old kids out on the water. Girls especially shouldn’t be put off by the preconception that you need massive biceps. It’s simply not true, with the right kite nearly everyone can kitesurf. It’s not really your arms that take the strain – the pull of the kite goes through your harness, so it’s your core that gets the workout. Having said that, you need to be comfortable in the water and you do need a reasonable level of fitness.
How much does it cost to get into kitesurfing?
The essential kitesurfing gear you need includes a kite, bar and lines, a harness and a board. If you’re buying new gear you need to allow about 1500 to 2000 GBP / 1700 to 2300 EUR for the full kit depending on the brand and spec you want. If you go for the previous year’s model you can often find some good discounts of 30 to 40% off the RRP.
There’s also lots of second hand gear available and it’s possible to get fully kitted out for around 500 GBP / 580 EUR. With second hand kites, you just need to know the year it was manufactured. Kites have evolved so much in recent years that when it comes to performance there’s quite a big difference between a new kite and one that’s 5 years old. Older kites tend to have less de-power (a key safety feature) and are more difficult to relaunch.
In addition to the kiting kit, you’ll also need a wetsuit and maybe some neoprene booties, and a helmet and buoyancy aid. If you’re buying new you need to allow about 250 to 300 GBP for all that.
If you are keen to take up and continue the sport we would recommend a 3-day kitesurf course to become more independent. Expect to pay about 290 GBP / 330 EUR which would include about 4 hours per day of tuition and all the gear you need.
How long does it take to learn how to kitesurf?
You can be up and riding with confidence in 3 days.
Kitesurfing is one of those rare sports that’s actually a lot easier than it looks. If you’ve flown a power kite and you’ve had a go at skateboarding, snowboarding or wakeboarding, you’re already more than halfway there. Typically, a 3-day, 4 hour per day course should see you up and riding with confidence. You’ll then need to get as much practice as possible to consolidate your skills and get comfortable riding up wind. The ability to ride upwind means you can stay out of trouble, avoid any hazards and get back to where you started.
Follow this 5-step guide to fast-track your kitesurf progression. You’ll save money on the extra lessons you don’t need and you’ll take the frustration out of the early stages of the learning phase.
Step 1: Learn to fly a trainer kite
A trainer kite is a small 2 to 3 meter traction kite that will allow you to safely learn the basics of kite flying before you hit the water. It’s an excellent way to learn about the wind window and the power zone, which you need to understand for kitesurfing.
Traction kites generally have 2 or 4 lines, but 3 line models do exist such as the Ozone Ignition which uses the third line for safety. A 3 m2 kite is ideal, but take care in very strong winds as even this small size can lift you off your feet.
If you master your basic kite skills on a trainer kite before your kitesurfing lessons, you’ll save loads of time and money, and you can always use it later for mountain boarding or snow kiting, or lend it to friends when you’re out on the water!
This video from KiteSurfCo provides a good introduction to the wind window and how to set up and fly your trainer kite:
Step 2: Dig out your old skateboard
There’s a huge amount of crossover in boardsports and getting good at sports like wakeboarding, skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding will mean that you’ll be instantly more at ease on your kiteboard. The advantage of being comfortable with the board is that you can focus on flying the kite rather than keeping your balance on the board. Wakeboarding is without doubt the closest sport to kitesurfing as the board is very similar. So, get down your nearest cable-ski centre and get comfortable riding a wakeboard. It’s a sure fire way to fast track your progression during your kitesurfing lessons.
Step 3: Watch some instructional kitesurfing videos
Watch as many videos on learning to kitesurf as you can. They’ll help you progress much faster when you come to take lessons. There are loads of great videos out there that teach you the basics. I can recommend the instructional kitesurfing series from Progression which take you from beginner to professional in 5 videos available on DVD or digital download. Otherwise check out YouTube and it doesn’t do any harm to watch a few different clips on the same subject. Remember, videos are never intended to be used as a substitute for professional kiteboarding instruction.
The series of videos from Progression Sports aim to get you up to speed before your lessons or refresh your memory of everything you’ve learned under instruction. The course covers:
- Location and Conditions
- Equipment and Terminology
- Kite Set Up
- Launching and Landing the Kite
- Body Dragging (including upwind body dragging)
- Water Re-Launch and Self-Rescue
- Waterstarts and First Runs
- Riding and Staying Upwind
- Changing Direction
For a flavour, here’s the Progression Kiteboarding intro video:
Step 4: Get some kitesurfing lessons from a qualified instructor
Don’t miss this step! Getting lessons from a qualified kitesurf instructor is undoubtedly the best way to progress quickly and safely. The good news is that if you’ve given yourself a head start by following the first 3 steps in this guide, you’ll cut down the teaching time dramatically.
Typically, a 3-day, 4 hour per day course should see you up and riding with confidence. An instructor will correct mistakes quickly and stop bad habits from forming.
Kitesurfing is an extreme sport and can be dangerous if it’s not given the respect it deserves. A 12 m kite accidentally pitched into the power zone can end in disaster. Even if you think you can learn on your own, teaching yourself will never replace the benefit of getting lessons. Plus, kite schools have access to loads of gear that will allow you to use a kite perfectly adapted to the spot and your skill level.
Be safe, have fun and get some lessons.
Step 5: Buy kitesurfing gear adapted to your level and local conditions
When you start out you’ll crash the kite – everybody does. Master your kite flying skills on a trainer kite as they’re a bit tougher and don’t have an inflatable leading edge.
Then you’ll be using the kitesurf school’s gear and it’s likely to get a good thrashing, which is a good reason for getting lessons before you invest in your own gear.
After your lessons, ask your school if they have any second hand gear for sale. They’ll often give you a good deal if you’ve done your course with them. In any case when you’re new to the sport it’s pointless buying brand new kit, it’ll just get trashed…
The following tips have been provided by Tantrum Kitesurf:
Extra Tip: Plan to learn somewhere that is similar to your local spot
Are you trying to choose between the hundreds of different schools and different locations all offering perfect wind, the best kit and super short training times. How can you possibly find the course that’s best for you?
Firstly, ask yourself the question, where are you going to be kitesurfing 90% of the time?
Of course all of us would love to be dashing of to remote, exotic locations with perfect wind and Pina Colada’s on tap every other week. The reality for most of us is somewhat different, and we find ourselves having to kitesurf wherever our nearest accessible bit of water happens to be.
Often this location won’t be glass flat, with a perfect 25 knots blowing over the top of it. Realising this, my advice would be to learn somewhere with similar conditions to where you are going to kite on a regular basis. If you learn on a flat, waist deep lagoon, sure your time under instruction will be shortened, however will you still be able to do everything you were doing out there when you return to the dumping shore break and choppy conditions of your local spot… I would say not.
This can lead to huge amounts of frustration and leads many to give up before they’ve even started. Of course if your local spot is a flat, waist deep lagoon then perfect, but then why would you take kitesurfing lessons anywhere else?!
Kitesurfing instruction on an International level is organised and controlled by the International Kitesurfing Organisation or IKO. Any school which is affiliated with the IKO has to have insurance and adhere to safety and teaching standards set down by the IKO.
The schools will most likely display their affiliation on their website or at least in their base of operations. If in doubt about a school or instructor you can check whether they are an official centre or official instructors on the IKO website, where all registered schools and instructors are listed for public viewing. Many countries now have a national level body as well, for example, the BKSA in the UK or the FFVL in France.
Kitesurf schools affiliated with these national bodies have to (in theory at least) meet equally strict standards as those to the IKO, so you can be sure they meet the latest standard for teaching methodology, insurance and equipment. Of course, this doesn’t mean that schools operating without affiliation are fundamentally bad, many schools have very good reason for not affiliating but it acts as a good guide to which schools are legitimate schools and which could more fly by night in nature.
Following these simple guidelines you can start to narrow down the field and hopefully pick a place to take your kitesurfing lessons that sees you not only learning safely, quickly and enjoyably but that also gives you the greatest chance of progressing when you get back home.
Please leave a comment below if you need any more advice on learning to kitesurf, or if you have anything to add to help improve this guide. Have fun!