Five Faceplants Away from the Waterstart: Is Learning Kitesurfing Difficult?
24 Aug 2019
Many years ago, I sat on a summery beach near my house and watched kitesurfers zoom across the waves. It looked so fun and easy! There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to learn this sport.
Having windsurfed before, I thought I only needed to take six hours of kiteboarding lessons and then buy equipment. I was wrong—learning to waterstart took much longer than I care to admit. This was partly because my first home spot has a short season with few windy days, and partly because of its high waves adding another level of difficulty. Also, I was not really fit.
But even when I was crashing the kite left and right, knotting my lines into a ball, swallowing seawater and counting how many more faceplants I was away from finally managing a waterstart, it was a thrilling adventure that had me coming back for more. And then some more. To the point that I became a qualified IKO Instructor myself.
As an instructor, I now often get asked: “Is kiteboarding difficult?” The short answer is: “If I managed to learn it, you will, too!” As for the long answer…
A Complex Sport At First
Remember when you learned driving? So many things going on: steering, working the clutch, brake, and gas pedal, shifting gears, avoiding other cars, the driving instructor talking… Learning to kitesurf is similarly overwhelming at first: steering the kite, controlling the board, watching for other kiters, looking out for waves…
Kitesurfing is a complex sport since it combines the natural elements of wind and water—not always perfectly steady and easy to predict—with kite flying and board skills. Each separate skill requires some practice until it becomes second nature and you gain confidence in your abilities. In that sense, steering a kite while controlling the board with your feet is very much like steering a car through traffic while working the pedals.
Even when you become competent at one skill, simultaneously adding a second skill is challenging at first. Some beginners suddenly forget how to keep the kite in the air the moment they wade into the water with the board. The learning curve is somewhat steep, and rarely a straight line going steadily upward—anyone can experience a few setbacks! However, as any kiteboarder will tell you: the reward is worth the effort and most of us keep fond memories of our early steps in this exciting adventure (especially if learning with an IKO Instructor!).
Factors That Might Affect Your Learning Pace
Your learning pace very much depends on your previous experience. If you sail, paraglide or windsurf, you already know about the wind window. If you wakeboard, snowboard, surf, or skateboard, you already know how to balance on a board. Still, some skills are not transferable one-to-one. For example, as a windsurfer, I would hang on to the wishbone with all my weight, so it took time for me to unlearn pulling the bar like mad and crashing my kite over and over.
How much time and effort you invest also determines your learning pace. Taking a one-hour lesson every other weekend might not result in much progress. Long gaps between lessons require you to re-learn what you forgot in the meantime.
Your spot’s conditions play an equal role. If windy days are few, you will have fewer opportunities to take lessons and practice. If your spot has waves, there will be one more variable to think about, in addition to kite and board. For example, I remember a lesson where every single of my failed waterstarts ended with resetting the lines because waves immediately swallowed the crashed kite.
Your progress depends on whether you have a positive learning experience. Being afraid is counterproductive, especially if you become so tense that you grip the bar with white knuckles. In fact, the more relaxed you are, the better you will be able to feel the kite’s movements through the bar and to steer. Chances are if you learn with a qualified instructor, your progress will be faster, you will enjoy yourself, and rush to the kite spot every time.
Your fitness level is definitely less of a factor than you think. Most spectators believe that great arm strength is necessary—otherwise, how can you hang on to the kite? But because the kite is attached to your harness, it is your core muscles (abdominals and back) that do all the work. Kiting is a nice leg workout since you counterbalance the kite’s pull with the resistance created by pushing against the board.
You must have a bit of stamina since you will tread in the water and walk the kite back to the entry point before you learn to go upwind (affectionately known as “Walk of Shame”). One thing is certain: You must be able to swim well and long enough to get yourself back to shore!
Some people are lucky in that they are excellent kinesthetic learners—they are very body-aware and create muscle memory quickly. Others require more time. Maybe you have heard about the 10,000-hour rule. It takes that long to master any skill at the highest level. That’s a lot of time on the water to become the next Freestyle World Champion! Fortunately, you do not need to invest that much time to become a kiteboarder, it might even take less time than you think.
Lifelong Learning (and Happiness)
Kiteboarding is an amazing sport with infinite possibilities. Whenever I get asked how long it took me to learn kiteboarding, I joke: “I don’t know, after ten seasons I still haven’t stopped learning.” Still crashing and splashing—only now you can find me on light-wind days wobbling around on a hydrofoil, and during stronger wind, I am then five faceplants away from my next unhooked trick!
The point is, don’t let any of these challenges discourage you from jumping into this adventure. If you learn with a qualified instructor, soon enough you too will be riding on the water while having the time of your life. There might be a few speed bumps to get there, but trust me, it is so worth it.
7 Tips to Learn Kitesurfing More Efficiently
Learn with a qualified instructor at your IKO Center. We know how to break down skillsets into small steps; how to practice safely and efficiently; and how to modify lessons for your individual needs. We create a positive learning experience, and this will encourage you to practice more and enjoy every step of your kiteboarding journey.
Private lessons tailored to your needs, rather than group lessons, speed up progress. Do not skimp on lessons—if you invest more now, you will have fewer frustrations (and less destroyed equipment) later. Most schools offer cheaper lesson packages or discounts.
Be an active learner! Ask questions to your instructor. Become a Kiter Premium Member with the IKO. As a member, you have access to learning resources, such as videos, ebooks and ecourses. Between lessons, watch videos about relevant skills. Visualize yourself executing them. Visualization techniques help to speed up the learning process.
Spread out your lessons. For example, take two-hour lessons over three days. You will have to absorb a lot of information, and once you grow tired and your attention flags, lessons become less productive. Your body needs rest to consolidate muscle memory, and so does your mind to digest new information.
Take a one- or two-week trip to a kite spot with conditions suitable for beginners.
Create a supportive setting. Purchase your first set of gear to be independent of costly rentals (ask your IKO Instructor for advice on suitable equipment); make kitebuddies who share transportation and gear, exchange tips, and travel with you…
Relax and be patient with yourself. Don’t measure yourself against others. Everyone has their own individual pace, and certainly, no one is born with the ability to fly a kite…but we all can learn!