The Kiter’s Ultimate First Aid Kit: 21 Essentials (And a Shopping List)
30 Aug 2019
“When you go kiting, do you bring a first aid kit?” I recently asked a kite buddy. “No!” He hesitated and grinned. “But I do have one for my kite, in case it springs a leak!” “Well, what if YOU spring a leak, though?” We had a good, but uncomfortable laugh…
We don’t like to think about worst-case scenarios, but in fact, most kitesurfers will at some point experience a kiteboarding-related injury—from sprained knees over line cuts to coral reef scrapes. It does not matter how competent or cautious a kiteboarder you are.
Just recently I enjoyed a fantastic flat-water session, when I suddenly got clothes-lined by another kiteboarder who thought it wise to pull a wake-style trick half a kite length upwind from me. Losing control, he looped his kite directly into my path of travel—I never saw that one coming. Luckily, I got away with a line-cut on my pinky finger, and a severely bruised arm and ear.
This accident happened at a crowded spot, only 20 minutes by car from the nearest pharmacy. But many of us kitesurfers love to travel to remote spots and exotic locales with warm, flat water and coral reefs. Such locations rarely have a well-stocked pharmacy just down the road. Language barriers can also make it difficult to find what you need. Then it becomes even more important to carry your own First Aid Kit, to keep you riding with a small injury, or to take care of yourself until reaching a health care provider.
Kit essentials and when to use them
Below is a list of essential items recommended for a Kitersurfer’s First Aid Kit. Based on local marine life and other health concerns—such as digestive issues, allergies, parasites, or malaria—you can add or subtract items as needed.
At the end of the list, you can find a link to a printable list to take to the pharmacy when shopping to prepare for a session at a remote spot or for travel.
Water-proof band-aids, butterfly bandages and skin adhesive Use butterfly bandages and skin adhesive for cuts caused by kite lines; however, for very deep cuts seek medical attention.
Sterile gauze pads Use individually wrapped sterile gauze pads to clean wounds before applying a bandage, or—fixed with tape—as bandage covering larger surfaces.
Bandage tape Use cloth tape to firmly secure a band-aid by wrapping over it; to create a gauze bandage covering a larger surface, or to tape a fractured extremity against a hard object serving as a splint.
Sport tape Use rigid sports tape to support sore or sprained joints. Health care providers also use it to tape a fractured finger or toe to the adjacent one—known as “buddy tape”—to immobilize and support joint and bone.
If you suspect a fracture or severe sprain, seek medical attention.
Tourniquet A tourniquet is a tight bandage or strap that limits blood flow from a damaged blood vessel by compressing the limb. (If necessary, rip off a kite bag strap.)
Locate the site where the blood is coming from and apply pressure with sterile gauze. Place the tourniquet 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) between the heart and the injury and tighten it. Note down the time when it has been applied and loosen slightly every 15-20 minutes to prevent tissue damage
Knowing how to apply a tourniquet can save lives, especially in shark-infested waters.
Pen or marker Always note an accident’s time, especially when applying a tourniquet. In case of potential infection, circle the affected area to see whether redness spreads.
Scissors Use round-tipped scissors to cut bandages, tape, and (in worst-case scenarios) neoprene. For air travel without checked baggage, bring scissors measuring less than 4 inches (10 cm) from pivot to tip.
Tweezers These come in handy if you step on glass, thorns or splinters, and especially in spots with sea urchins.
Isopropyl alcohol or peroxide Bring isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol or peroxide for cleaning any open wounds. For air travel without checked baggage, consider airport security directives on liquid amounts, or buy locally.
Hand sanitizer Use hand sanitizer to clean your hands before touching any open wounds. In a pinch, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean minor cuts and scrapes.
Antibiotic cream Treat any open wounds with triple antibiotic cream after cleaning. Some creams come with added pain relief ingredients.
Fungicide cream (Active ingredient: Terbinafine hydrochloride 1%) Although beautiful, coral reefs have rigid, sharp edges and spikes and are coated with a layer of micro-organisms. Therefore, even small scrapes can result in a serious infection if left untreated.
We have found the following treatment most effective for killing micro-organisms deposited in the skin: (1) Immediately and carefully clean the wound with fresh water and generous amounts of alcohol or peroxide. (2) Apply antibiotic cream and bandage. (3) After 3-4 hours, clean the wound again, but this time apply a fungicide. (4) Continue to clean wound and alternate between antibiotic and fungicide cream every 3-4 hours, until healed over.
Seek medical attention if your skin shows red streaks or blisters; these may indicate severe, spreading infection.
Aloe vera cream Treat sunburn and irritated skin with aloe vera. While cosmetic versions also work, medical aloe vera creams are more effective.
Many medications, including some used to prevent malaria, can cause you to sunburn more easily. Take measures to protect against sunburn as appropriate.
Hydrocortisone cream Treat insect bites, sea urchin punctures, and jellyfish stings with hydrocortisone cream.
With both sea urchin injuries and jellyfish stings, get out of the water immediately and rinse the affected area, ideally with vinegar. If jellyfish tentacles or sea urchin spines are stuck, remove them with tweezers, to prevent more venom from entering the skin. Bathe the area in hot water (40-45 centigrade, 104-113 Fahrenheit).
If bits of sea urchin spine are stuck under your skin and tweezers cannot grab them, tape a vinegar-soaked paper towel and plastic bag over the area overnight. Because the spines consist of calcium carbonate, they will dissolve and/or work their way out.
Unless you have cuts, scrapes or burns in the same area, apply hydrocortisone cream to relieve discomfort, as directed on the package.
Stingray treatment kit Stingrays live in shallow water in tropical and subtropical climates. They avoid humans if warned, so drag your feet through the sand (aka “the stingray shuffle”). If stepped on, this elegant-looking creature can whip you with its barbed tail (which feels like a serrated knife), simultaneously depositing neurotoxin into you. Depending on the amount of soft tissue and nerve endings in the affected area, the pain can range from tolerable to excruciating. If the barb hits a blood vessel, heavy bleeding can occur.
Bathe the affected area in hot water (40-45 centigrade, 104-113 Fahrenheit), for 30-60 minutes. Repeat several times until the pain decreases. If bleeding, apply pressure. If a small piece of barb is visible, carefully remove it with tweezers. Do not cover or close the puncture wound; apply antibiotic cream, not ointment. If a larger piece of barb is embedded, bleeding is heavy, or signs of infection occur, seek medical attention.
Stingray treatment kits usually consist of two nested plastic bags with a heat pack activated by immersion or breaking (see kit instructions). They can also be used to treat jellyfish stings, sea urchin punctures, or injuries caused by venomous fish, such as lionfish or scorpionfish.
Lubricant eyedrops You should wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays, but sometimes even those are not enough. Seawater is also an irritant. Your eyes will be thankful for post-session relief.
Muscle pain relief Especially when kitesurfing in new and exciting spots, it is easy to overdo it. Bring your favorite cream, gel, ointment or sticky patches to support muscle recovery.
Avoid taking over-the-counter pain medication, as these can mask more serious issues and come with their own side effects.
Survival rescue blanket Foil-like blankets keep injured kiters warm, especially in colder climates, or if they are in shock.
How IKO Centers and Instructors can help...
When kiteboarding at a spot with an IKO Center, however, you can rest assured that you will receive help if necessary. Not only do IKO Centers gladly provide information about local dangers, but they are also required to have a First Aid Kit ready at all times. Moreover, all qualified IKO Instructors have a valid Medical First Aid Certification and will assist you in case of a medical emergency.
Disclaimer: The recommendations on this webpage are based on personal experiences with most commonly encountered kitesurfing injuries. They cannot replace medical advice from health care professionals. It is your responsibility to inform yourself about dangerous sea creatures or hazards at your kite spot or travel destination, as severe reactions requiring immediate medical attention beyond hot water treatment and over-the-counter medication may occur.
Many thanks for their advice to Jessica Flores Knechel, PharmD; Tom Kittiphanh, RTT; and Kenneth Spielvogel, MD.