This mini series of posts is aimed at the newbie kite surfer, looking for a bit of guidance on what kit is required to get started.
We’ll start with the flying part: Kite, Bar and Lines.
Kite surfing is usually performed with an LEI (leading edge inflatable) kite. The inflatable leading edge enables the kite to stay afloat on the water if when you crash it, giving you the opportunity to launch it and get going again as quickly as possible.
There are 3 basic shapes of kites, each with different flying characteristics:
1. C Shape kite
The C kite is the original design of the kite surfing kite. It has square corners, is comparatively narrow (from the leading edge to the trailing edge), and the lines attach to the 4 corners.
C kites can have 4 or 5 line setups, but in a true C kite, the 5th line only exists as a de-power system for safety, and to assist in relaunching the kite from the water. When the kite is in flight the 5th line has no tension and doesn’t alter the shape of the kite or affect its flying characteristics.
C kites provide a very direct feel at the bar when flying them.
C kites don’t offer a great deal of depower and they’re much more difficult to relaunch from the water than a bow or a hybrid. This makes them unsuitable for beginners. They’re better suited to advanced riders as they’re better for *unhooked tricks and provide more explosive uplift for big jumps.
*Unhooked is where you unhook your bar’s chicken loop from your harness. This means you’re being pulled along by holding onto the bar rather than the hook on your harness.
If you’re buying your first kite, don’t buy a C-kite. If you don’t know what you’re doing they can be extremely dangerous.
2. Bow kite
Bow kites have a concave trailing edge and a flatter (less C-like) shape when flying.
Bow kites are perfect for beginners as they have a very large wind range, can be quickly and easily de-powered, and they’re easy to relaunch from the water.
Bow kites don’t tend to suit advanced riders as they don’t perform as well when riding un-hooked, and provide a less explosive uplift for jumping.
3. Hybrid kite
Hybrid kites sit between the C-shaped kite and the bow. They’re designed to combine the ‘direct feel’ of a bow kite with the wind range and safety features of a bow kite.
The actual characteristics of the kite will depend on how bow-like or C-like the kite is.
All three types of kite come in 4 or 5 lines setups.
If you’re just getting started, I would recommend a modern bow kite with 5 lines. They’re easy to fly, easy to relaunch and have excellent safety systems. A good example would be the Rebel from North.
Don’t fall into the trap of listening to experienced kite surfers telling you that you need to buy a kite you’ll ‘grow into’, and buying something which is harder to fly. It’s much better to fly something which will flatten the learning curve a bit and get you up and riding. Once you have that dialed you’ll start to work out your own riding style and be better informed to decide which type of kite suits you. It’s not uncool to ride a bow kite. Pro riders use them for wave riding and freeride.
All kites have a wind-range, a minimum and maximum strength of wind that the kite can safely and effectively be used. The size of kite you need will depend on your body weight. for a 75kg man a 10m bow kite will typically enable you to get out in wind from 15/15 knots to around 28 knots (though as a beginner you’re unlikely to have the skill to work right at the limits of the wind range of your kite). As you get more experienced and the kite surfing bug really catches you, you’re likely to want to get out in stronger and weaker winds so you get out more. This leads kite surfers to buy more than one kite, usually referred to as a quiver. A typical quiver might contain: 7m, 9m and 12m kites.
Expect to pay
If you’re buying a 2 year old kite from ebay, you should be able to get a 10m kite for around £250. The current season’s model is more likely to cost around £900. If you wait until the end of the season there are always bargains to be had as shops sell the outgoing season’s stock to make way for the next season. Many pro kitesurfers sell their kit at the end of each season as they receive next season’s kit for free. Watch ebay and the kite forums for bargains.
Bar and lines
To fly your kite you’ll need a bar and lines. This is the system that connects you to the kite and enables you to steer it.
Just like kites, bar and lines sets come in 4 or 5 line varieties. They usually consist of:
- 2 front lines and 2 back lines. The lines are usually 20 or 25 metres
- A chicken loop. This is the bit that hooks onto your harness. They all have some kind of quick-release mechanism.
- Safety leash. This isn’t strictly part of the bar, but it is your most important safety feature. When you pop the chicken loop, the safety leash keeps you connected to the kite, but the kite is completely de-powered.
To ensure compatibility, the best bet is to buy the same brand of bar as your kite. Big brands usually make their new kit backward-compatible with their older kit, so you might have a new bar and a 2 year old kite and they’ll be OK. Always do your research though. If in doubt, ask at a kite shop or post a query on one of the kite surfing forums.
Be careful when buying used bar and line sets. Lines can be stretched to different lengths which will affect how your kite flies (that can be remedied), bars can be cracked, and safety lines badly worn. It is essential that your bar and lines are in good condition.
Expect to pay
If you do decide to risk a used bar and lines set, you might get one for £100, just be careful. If you buy new, watch out for the outgoing model for the current season and you could get one for around £250.
The harness is what connects your kite lines to your body, enabling you to be pulled along by your kite. There are 2 basic types of harness:
As its title suggests, the waist harness fastens around your waist.
Waist harnesses offer a good range of motion and as such are usually favoured by advanced riders. They also tend to be more comfortable to walk around in than a seat harness.
Beginners often struggle with waist harnesses because they can ride up, becoming uncomfortable and raising the centre of gravity making a crash more likely.
Seat harnesses still have a hook at waist height but they have extra material which sits beneath the buttocks, and leg loops. Seat harness are usually favoured by beginners as they stay put, and their position naturally keeps your weight out of the water. They tend to be very comfortable to ride in but less so when it comes to walking with your kite.
Seat harnesses don’t look as cool as waist harnesses (or so they all say).
Expect to pay
You can pick up a used harness for around £50. A new one can cost anything from around £80 to over £150.
OK, that’s it for part 1. Stay tuned for part 2 – Boards
If you have anything to add, please drop me a comment below.