If you get used to keeping the kite at 12, chances are that, one day, your kite is going to stall. Will you be prepared to react in the proper way?! Do you know how to avoid a gigantic faceplant in the sand?
Now, you might think, “what are you talking about, Gio? I can put the kite at 12 and remove my hands from the bar and drink a beer, do a pirouette, high five my best friend, read a newspaper, and my kite will be comfortably there at 12 waiting for me to tell it what to do.”
And I’ll tell you: “come to El Médano, or any other gusty spot, with 10 knots of gusts. Try that here and you let me know how it goes.”
Getting used to keeping the kite at 12 is dangerous. Not always, of course, but you shouldn’t get used to it.
Granted, if you are coming from a spot that has nice stable wind, you’ll have almost no issues there. But, if you want to become a more conscious kiter who knows the safest approach, keep on reading.
Too often we forget that kitesurfing is an extreme sport and we start to take stuff for granted. We think “oh no, that won’t happen to me” and then—karma comes and slaps you in the face! So, let’s talk about safety and which things we can improve to become an even more badass kiter!
If the wind is gusty and we keep the kite at 12, the chances are higher for the kite to frontstall and drop in the power zone. If the kiter is lucky, they are going to fall on the ground and be dragged for a few meters.
If the kiter is not lucky, the wind will pick up again while the kite is dropping in the power zone and you will be catapulted downwind. This is dangerous for the kiter, but also for all the other people that are at the beach.
I see an average of two people per windy day experiencing this in El Médano. No joke.
Even the IKO has taken a strong position on the kite at 12 o’clock issue:
Let’s start with the basics: What is a kite frontstall?
A frontstall happens when the Angle of Attack of the kite becomes negative (for example, the front lines lose tension or when the front lines are shorter than the back lines) and the kite drops forward toward the kiter. Granted, this mostly happens in light or gusty winds, but if you get used to keeping the kite at 12, when the time comes to test yourself in challenging conditions, you might forget about this and you could end up frontstalling. So, why not just avoid it altogether?
For me, the only reason to have the kite at 12 is when you move your kite within the wind window. In general, in our kite life, we barely have to keep the kite at 12 while at the beach.
Let’s review a few “kitemare” scenarios!
For the sake of this article, we will imagine our friend Joe. He’s a kite enthusiast and very eager to kite. He kites whenever he can. Joe is that one kiter friend who always has accidents and we never understand why.
This is Joe:
Kitemare Scenario #1: Trim the kite at 12
Joe remembers to trim his kite every now and then, and, when he does, he always trims it at 12 o’clock. While trimming the kite, two bad things might happen to Joe:
1) His kite frontstalls because he pulls on the trim and it might be stuck and, whoopsie, he creates a negative angle of attack. The front lines become shorter and Joe scores on his own goal—the kite frontstalls.
2) Joe’s kite has a too much of a positive angle of attack and it backstalls. The kite backstalls when there is too much angle of attack. The back lines are too short compared to the front lines, and vice versa. The kite will start to move backward, trailing edge first, lose all its power, and crash.
What Joe has maybe forgotten is that, while keeping the kite at 12, he’s making his life more complicated. When the kite is high up at 12 and it either front or backstalls, it’s a long way down. While frontstalling, a gust could come in and pull him away as the kite is in the middle of the power zone. When it backstalls, the kite could catch the wind and run toward the edge of the wind window, pulling Joe under the kite and frontstall as well! What a mess, Joe! And then everybody at the beach will say “oh, of course that was Joe…”
oh poor Joe
What can Joe improve? He could try to trim the kite with a 45 degrees angle, so if it frontstalls he could quickly move to find the tension in the frontlines. And, if it backstalls, the kite will already be on one side of the wind window and will be close to the ground. The damages in both cases will be less severe.
Bonus track: when a kite backstalls or frontstalls, never pull the bar. If it catches power again, by having the bar pulled, we would be immediately creating full power! And how many times did we watch Joe flying away on the beach?!?
Kitemare Scenario #2: Walk upwind with the kite at 12
Our dear friend, Joe, has just started to ride and he still needs to do his “walk of shame” to go back upwind. Joe walks upwind by giving his back to the wind, walking backwards, and keeping the kite at 12 with one hand on the bar and one hand on the board. Joe, my dearest, walking backwards limits your chances of seeing where you are going. There could be obstacles behind you, like boards on the sand, and you could fall.
Aaaand that’s Joe again
What can Joe improve? Try to keep the kite at 45 degrees. Joe would then be able to turn his body toward the direction he wants to go. It’s even easier to control the kite like this! And, bonus, he can see where he is going.
Joe’s evolution to kick-ass kiter
Kitemare Scenario #3: Being lifted with the kite at 12
It’s Joe’s first gusty and strong wind experience. He has never ridden with a 7-meter, and today is the day! Joe launches the kite, brings it to 12, and, all of a sudden, due to 10 knots gusts, he is being lifted vertically up in the air. He feels completely overpowered and out of control. The kite is pulling him up and he does involuntary jumps. You run to grab his handle, otherwise he would fly away.
First of all, he should ask himself if he’s at a level where he can ride overpowered and maybe go for a smaller kite (or a beer).
What can he improve?
What Joe doesn’t know is that by keeping the kite at 12 in strong gusty winds he has less ability to counterbalance the pull of the kite with his weight.
Joe could have tried to keep the kite on the sides (at 45 degrees). In this way, he can use his weight more efficiently. And most importantly, if he lets go of the bar, the kite will drop on the sand and the fall will be smaller and less powerful than if it has to drop from 12.
Kitemare Scenario #4: Adjusting anything with the kite at 12
Or with the kite flying in general…
As Joe lowers down to adjust his footstraps flying the kite at 12, he’s doing something dangerous. You think: “come on Joe, it’s quite difficult to keep one eye on the kite while you have to look at your feet, no?!” Also Joe could be pushing the bar down, shortening the frontlines, and the kite could frontstall!
Joe pushing down the central lines….
What can Joe improve? Adjusting his harnesses, footstraps, helmet, and drinking water (or anything else) it’s safer to do while the kite is parked. Sometimes, just for laziness, we think “it’s going to take only a minute” and sbadabammmm—karma. Imagine an F1 driver tying his laces while driving. It makes no sense.
Kitemare Scenario #5: Talking with the kite at 12
Joe just had the session of his life, but he is still not done. He comes out of the water, wants to share the stoke with his friends, and drinks a sip of water. He doesn’t want to park the kite because “it’s only going to take a minute.” As a result, Joe is standing with the kite at 12 for 10 minutes in the middle of a small, crowded beach.
Next time you see Joe doing this, please remind him to park the kite. It’s the safer option, as the kite could stall but also, when he stands up with the kite at 12 in the middle of the beach, Joe is a bit in the way of other kiters coming in and out of the water. Let’s be aware and respectful of the shared space on the spot.