“Can’t Wait to Get Back on the Water”: Kiteboarding After Surgery
11 Oct 2019
Whether you are a passionate hobby kiteboarder or a pro rider, at some point in your life you may have to stay off the water due to surgery—maybe because of a sports injury, or the much happier event of childbirth requiring a C-section. Last year appeared to be an unlucky one in my kite family: one of my kitebros tore the lateral cruciate ligament (LCL) in his knee, and I underwent major abdominal surgery due to an emergency right at the beginning of the summer season. Needless to say, the sentence “can’t wait to get back on the water” became a kind of mantra during the seemingly endless weeks of recovery.
Obviously, every surgery and every recovery process are different, but here are eight general tips that helped us a great deal to keep our sanity while having to stay on dry land, and then safely get back out onto the water as soon as possible.
1. Talk to Your Doctor About Kiteboarding
Most likely, your doctor does not know much about kiteboarding. Explain which muscle groups and joints are involved, best with the help of a video showing yourself riding. Specifically, ask about what is possible and/or dangerous post-op. If you have a medical doctor or other healthcare professionals in your kiteboarding community, you can also ask them for advice.
2. Stay Involved During Recovery
In order to keep your sanity, you can stay involved in ways other than going out onto the water yourself. Now is the time to select a skill or trick that you would like to learn after you’re back in the game, and to work on it by means of visualization—watch IKO videos, as well as videos of your favorite riders and kitebuddies.
Read up on theory, or complete one or more IKO eCourses to keep yourself occupied and distracted. Once you are out of the hospital and ready to leave the house, visit your kite spot. Watch other kiteboarders, chat with your kitebuddies, and work on your photography skills. Beach walks are also a great way to regain strength and stamina and get some fresh air. If you still have an old trainer kite lying around, dust it off and go fly it, sitting down or standing up…
3. Prepare Yourself With the Right Physical Exercise
Once it is safe to exercise, talk to your doctor and/or physical therapist about suitable types of low-key physical activities that can help prepare your body for the big day. Leisurely beach walks on the sand, swimming (at first with floatation aids to prevent any strain) and using a balance board (at first while holding on to a chair or wall) are all activities that will get your kiteboarding muscles back into shape.
4. Respect What Your Body Tells You
So your doctor has given you the green light to go back out onto the water four to six weeks after surgery. You launch your kite at the end of the sixth week, but you feel extremely uncomfortable (or in pain) already on land. Don’t push it—this is your body telling you that it is not ready yet! Conversely, you may end up being perfectly fine already in the fourth week post-op, especially if you were quite kiteboarding-fit to begin with and if you healed well. Listen to your body to make sure that you do not re-injure yourself and put yourself back to square one.
5. Do Not Kiteboard If You Are Still Taking Prescription Pain Medication
Do not go out onto the water if you are still taking prescription pain meds. Pain is your body’s way to tell you to stop, whatever it is you are doing. The adrenaline rush from kiteboarding will already do its share to numb any sensation of pain, and if you add prescription pain medication to the mix, you are very likely to do too much too soon. Also, keep in mind that most pain medications will slow down your reaction time.
6. Modify Your Gear
If you had surgery that affects the core muscles in your back or stomach—regardless of whether it was a large incision, or surgery with a scope—you may have to change your harness. You may need to switch from a waist harness to a seat harness, or vice versa. For example, you can turn your waist harness into a seat harness by clipping on snowkiting straps.
But be aware that there is no hard-and-fast rule for these modifications, and you will have to experiment for yourself. Many friends advised me to switch from a waist to a seat harness after my surgery, but the seat harness generated very uncomfortable pressure on my lower abdominal muscles. I decided to stick with my usual waist harness and loosened it just enough so that it would not touch the scar. In either case, wearing a binder under your wetsuit can give your abdominal and back muscles extra support.
If you had knee surgery, stay away from riding a board with boots for a good long while. Now may be the time to learn to ride a strapless directional board (if you haven’t already done so). That way your feet won’t be strapped or locked onto the board, which may result in potentially dangerous sideways and/or twisting movements in your knee joint. Use a support, such as a carbon knee brace or a neoprene compression sleeve, as directed by your doctor and/or physical therapist.
7. Enlist Your Kite Buddies’ Help
When you go out for the first time, have a kitebuddy follow you closely, or at least carefully watch you from the shore, in case you need assistance. Don’t venture out too far, so that you can come back ashore quickly if something goes awry.
8. Time Your First Session
Do not kiteboard for more than 10-15 minutes the first time after surgery. Either set the timer on your own water-proof watch or have a kitebuddy signal you when the time is up. In the excitement and relief to get back out onto the water, it is all too easy to stay out longer than intended. And it goes without saying that you must wear a helmet and floater…
All Is Well That Ends Well...
Both my kitebro and I are back and (after a few bumps in the road) doing better than ever. He is back to throwing megaloops and jumping big. I learned a few unhooked tricks, participated in amateur freestyle competitions and started hydrofoiling. Most importantly, after completing both the IKO Assistant Instructor and Instructor courses last fall, I now get the chance to share the stoke with my students…
A shout-out to the Women’s Kiteboarding Community on Facebook and all its lovely members, as well as friends who gave me advice based on their own experiences…
Disclaimer: The recommendations on this webpage are based on personal experiences and not meant to replace medical advice from healthcare professionals. It is your responsibility to inform yourself about the recovery process after the specific surgery you have undergone.