The Ultimate Guide on Why You Should Learn to Kitesurf with IKO
01 Aug 2019
If you read our two previous guides, you should know by now what is kitesurfing and how you can start to learn this awesome sport. Our goal in creating these guides is to give you, the kiter (or soon to be!), as much information and resources as possible to help you get started on the right foot (or the left if you’re goofy).
However, you may have noticed one thing that we purposely omitted in the two previous guides, and this was to refer explicitly to the IKO. Actually, we tried to stay as objective as possible in order to give you the most accurate perspective on kiteboarding and how to learn the sport.
We think that knowledge empowers people, and if you reach your goal of learning kiteboarding safely and effectively thanks to our tips and advice, then we also directly contributed to our own mission of making the world of kiteboarding better and safer.
That being said, what we do here at IKO is taking concrete actions to strive for safe and sustainable growth of kiteboarding by developing services for Kiters, Instructors, and Centers that enable you to learn kiteboarding with confidence.
Now, in this guide, it’s time to talk about “us” (including you!). If you will, we would like to introduce those services to you and explain why you have all the benefits in the world (literally) to learn kiteboarding with the IKO. Essentially, we want to give you a better understanding of who we are, how the IKO works, and what exactly we do to enhance and facilitate your kiteboarding learning experience.
The International Kiteboarding Organization
By now, you probably have a better idea of who we are (especially if you read our previous guides), but we never formally introduced ourselves (how rude!).
We are the International Kiteboarding Organization (but you can call us the IKO for short). You might be wondering what exactly we do or even who is actually behind the IKO. So let’s take a look at what we are and what we do as an organization, and why we seek to play a key role in the development of kiteboarding.
What is the IKO?
The IKO was founded in 2001 by Frédéric Bené and Eric Beaudonnat in the Dominican Republic. It all started from a desire to share their passion for the sport and make it more popular and safe. From that initial vision, the organization grew year after year and now offers three areas of impact: enhancing the kiters experience, training and offering career opportunities to instructors, and helping kiteboarding schools thrive as IKO Centers.
As of 2019, the IKO has an active IKO Community of more than 100,000 certified kiters, 4,000 qualified Instructors and 250 affiliated Centers in over 60 countries. IKO is still operated from Cabarete, Dominican Republic, and employs a dozen staff members each playing key roles in maintaining the structure and providing services to its members (such as writing awesome ultimate guides like this one).
Fair question! Well, kiteboarding is a spectacular sport that is relentlessly rising in popularity and evolving throughout its growth. To ensure safe development of the sport, there has to be rules and guidelines defined with the safety and quality in mind.
This is why we created the IKO Standards, a set of quality measures and international requirements based upon the feedback of the IKO Community. Updated every year, the IKO Standards aim to foster safe learning, teaching and practice of kiteboarding.
The Standards produce more consistent results for students to become independent kiteboarders and take into consideration their safety and ability to learn effectively. They also provide quality criteria for training and instruction and allow for a unique and consistent international teaching system to be applied. In other words, wherever you are in the world, your learning experience is based upon the same quality criteria.
How the IKO works?
Now, the Standards are great on paper, but to have a significant and meaningful impact they need to be applied explicitly and practically on the field (or shall we say on the water).
This is why, on the one hand, the IKO trains instructors who commit to respect those Standards in exchange for a qualification recognized worldwide. On the other hand, the IKO affiliates as IKO Centers the kiteboarding schools that also wish to commit to those Standards in exchange for international recognition for the quality of their services.
Then, the IKO turns to you (and more than 600,000 students before you since 2001) to offer top-quality kiteboarding lessons that you can trust, thanks to the structure and the network of key actors that form the IKO Community. This is what enables IKO to offer what is best in terms of kiteboarding education where quality and safety are at their utmost significance.
With all of that said, you now might be wondering how does a dozen (hard-working) people at the IKO headquarters in Cabarete ensure that everyone respects and follow the IKO Standards (in more than 60 countries around the world)? Well, this is definitely one of our biggest challenges as a quality organization. But fortunately, we can count on the help from the IKO Community itself (Instructors, Centers, and Kiters) to assist our in-house Quality management department.
We have put in place designated channels of communication and created tools to better foster this collaboration. First of all, we built a public ranking and feedback system for IKO Instructors and IKO Centers. When a student is certified, they are invited to leave feedback on the quality of their lesson which impacts the ranking of the Instructor and the Center. Moreover, we have created a Quality Form (available on the homepage of the IKO website) that anyone can fill to report any situation pertaining to the Standards.
These ongoing feedback from Instructors, Centers, and Students are the determining factors of whether quality Standards are respected or not. Along with our Quality department, our two Support departments for Members and Centers work hand in hand to ensure your satisfaction.
The bottom line idea is that Standards need to be applied equally and respected globally by all IKO Members. If we all go in the same direction, the IKO Community is stronger and it contributes to the safety and the satisfaction of all the members.
Well, we still strongly believe that. And it turns out that one of the services we offer to advanced kiters and instructors is to train them to become qualified IKO Instructors. So now, let’s take a look at why we think an IKO Instructor is the best option you can go with.
What is an IKO Instructor?
An IKO Instructor is at least a Kiter level 4 that has followed and passed both the Assistant Instructor Training Course (AITC) and the Instructor Training Course (ITC) (more on those courses below).
Once they are qualified as IKO Instructor, they are granted one year of Instructor membership, which they need to renew every year to stay active. IKO Instructors need to have a valid (or “active”) membership to be recognized as instructors by the IKO. Why? Well, amongst other reasons, an active membership helps us control which instructor is still involved in kiteboarding (and therefore, still being proactive and up-to-date with the latest Standards).
As a side note, before you take a lesson with our IKO Instructors, you can check if their membership is active. To do so, simply visit the “Members” page on the IKO website. If you can find your instructor in the results pages, then your instructor is currently valid. Otherwise, if you can’t find him or her, then it might be because your instructor is expired. In that case, contact us or choose a different instructor that has an active membership.
Every IKO Instructors have to certify their students’ level at the end of their lessons. The teaching hours are then recorded which act as proof of their experience and allows the instructor to advance in their career. As soon as the Instructor candidates finish and pass their ITC, they become IKO Instructors Level 1.
After having registered at least 280 hours and 35 students, Instructors Level 1 get access to the Instructor Level 2 exam which they need to pass with at least 70%. After becoming an Instructor Level 2, they need to register at least 800 hours and 100 students to get access to the Instructor Level 3 exam. Same here, they need to pass the exam with more than 70% to become an Instructor level 3.
After Level 3, some instructors will progress to become Assistant Trainer and Examiners, which respectively allows them to train Assistants Instructors and Instructors.
With every level, also comes more benefits and responsibilities. An instructor Level 1 can teach one or two students with one kite in the air. An Instructor Level 2 can teach 4 students with 2 kites flying at the same time. An Instructor Level 3 can teach up to 4 students with 2 kites flying at the same time without assistance (or 4 kites flying at the same time with an Assistant Instructor).
The instructor level represents more experience in teaching kiteboarding and gives an indication of the commitment of the IKO Instructor. Those levels (and the teaching hours, number of students) are publicly displayed on the IKO members page which we encourage you to visit. You can also check the stars rating of your Instructor and the feedback from previous students.
What are the requirements to become an IKO Instructor?
In all, an IKO Instructor is someone who has decided to spend time and money to learn how to safely and effectively teach kiteboarding. It is someone that has expressed the wish to be professional. That, in itself, should set that individual apart from other so-called instructors. To better give you an idea of the investment needed to become an Instructor, let’s take a look at the requirements.
To become an Instructor, they first had to do an Assistant Instructor Training Course (AITC). The AITC is a 40 hours/5-day professional kiteboarding course created and developed by the IKO. Assistant candidates learn about safety, rescue skills and acquire extra theoretical knowledge such as meteorology, tides, equipment maintenance, basic aerodynamics, right of way rules, international signs (and more). It is a polyvalent course for riders and future professionals.
Upon the successful completion of their AITC, Assistant Instructors can attend an Instructor Training Course (ITC). The ITC is another 40 hours/5-day professional course created and developed by IKO to train candidates for kiteboarding instruction. Candidates learn key concepts about the teaching methodology, the learning curve in kitesurfing, mental state, and principles of communication. To pass the ITC, candidates also need to have a valid First Aid and CPR certificate.
The responsibilities of your IKO Instructor towards you
Ok, we’ve covered the technical part of being and becoming an IKO Instructor. Now let’s look at what it all means to you as a student.
Being an IKO Instructor is not only about passing a course and getting the qualification, but it is also about committing to a level of quality and assuming responsibilities toward their students. Therefore, IKO Instructors always teach according to the IKO Standards and the Center’s Spot Risk Assessment and Emergency Action Plan. That means that they respect the predefined guidelines for an optimal lesson and a safe teaching environment.
Your Instructor will teach you the safety directives and equip you with the safety equipment. Your instructor is also responsible for flying and checking a kite before letting you fly it and they should always wear all of the required gear to teaching.
IKO Instructors are trained to constantly assess their student's mental state. Psychology plays a big role in your progression. During our pro courses, Instructors candidates learn the in-depth ways of how to properly motivate, instruct and understand any individual.
But the responsibility of an Instructor extends beyond the actual course time. IKO Instructors are prepared for the lesson and on time, respect how students learn and adapt their lessons to your learning curve because they have your satisfaction in mind.
What is the bottom-line of all this? Well, IKO Instructors must make sure that their students fully understood all the elements that lead to safe and independent kiteboarding. In other words, IKO Instructors do not simply show you how to kiteboard, they teach you independence. The difference might seem subtle at first, but the impact is tremendous in practice.
Every day at the beach, we can often see which kiter has followed a kiteboarding course with a non-qualified instructor (or learned on their own). Although they are able to ride on the water and make it look like they are in control, the reality is that if something bad were to happen (e.g. the wind drops and they have to self-rescue, or something worse), they wouldn't know what to do.
This is because their instructors never taught them, or always did it for them and now they never actually practiced it. This is awful since these situations might be critical... and in kiteboarding, one small bad reaction at a decisive moment might lead to serious consequences.
Most of the time, it is fairly easy for the trained eye of a certified IKO kiter or an IKO Instructor to spot these people easily. There are signs and evidence that don’t lie: Launching a kite with the bar completely sheeted in, holding the bar with one hand under (palm facing up), wearing the safety leash in the back of the harness, or worse, using a board leash, etc. Put plainly, these students (or self-taught kiters) learned a poor technique that now translates into bad habits, which dramatically increases the risk of accidents for themselves and for others around.
An IKO Instructor will correct these bad habits as soon as they show up and will encourage a safe and responsible practice of kiteboarding. The way an IKO Instructor will teach you kiteboarding is through successful completion of every step of the training path. Although we are not striving for perfection at every step, the idea is to make sure that you clearly understood the situation, the possible outcomes, and the way to face it safely. Once this is mastered, we build onto that and move on to the next step, always continuously practicing everything you have learned previously while slowly increasing the tasks at hand (keep reading for more info on the Learning Path and our Teaching Methodology!).
An IKO Center is a kiteboarding school that chooses to affiliate its business to our organization (IKO does not own or partakes in any of its Centers activities). The schools affiliate their business as IKO Centers because they want to be recognized internationally for the quality and the safety of their kiteboarding lessons. Therefore, they commit to respecting the IKO Standards.
The IKO then allows the Centers to promote themselves using the IKO logo and the school gains exposure and international recognition. The IKO logo and brand name used on their website or on flags indicate to their students and potential customers that their business operates according to the IKO Standards.
The affiliation lasts for one year and Centers have to renew their membership and provide up to date documents to ensure that they still comply with the latest requirements.
The IKO additionally supports its Centers on increasing their business activity with promotions and advertising campaigns, as well as providing opportunities to organize professional training courses (such as the AITC and ITC).
What are the requirements to become an IKO Center?
A school that chooses to affiliate as an IKO Center needs to satisfy multiple requirements.
First of all, an IKO Center commits to employ only IKO Instructors (and Assistant Instructors) with a valid membership. What that means for you is you don’t have to wonder if your instructor is qualified or not, and you can be assured that you will be taught kiteboarding according to the IKO Standards.
Other than that, an IKO Center must have a general liability that covers them for kitesurfing, watersports or outdoor activities. That type of insurance protects the school from business-related activities such as property damage or bodily injury to a third party. To obtain such insurance, the school often has to meet specific safety requirements demanded by the insurer in regards to general safety. What this means for you, the student, is that the school goes one more step forward to ensure your safety while satisfying all the other requirements of the IKO Standards.
The IKO Centers must keep track of equipment and safety systems maintenance in a logbook. This way, the school knows exactly how many hours of use and wear each piece of gear has had. This helps to ensure that the kite, bar, lines, boards, and all the rest of the equipment are in good shape for your lessons.
To affiliate as an IKO Center, schools have to fill various documents such as a Safety Information Form, a Spot Risk Assessment and an Emergency Action Plan. Those forms prove that the school is proactive to prevent accidents and is prepared to react quickly in case something unfortunate happens.
Indeed, IKO Centers must have a lifeguard service or have a rescue craft available with the capability of rescue within a maximum of 5 minutes from the Center at all times. For that reason, all Centers need to set the safety and rescue procedures such as having an accessible phone and a first aid kit and defining the procedures to follow in case of an emergency.
Some schools we affiliate might already meet or exceed these requirements, while we help and encourage others to reach these standards through awareness and education.
IKO Centers ensure that all IKO Standards are respected and that all of the students are trained to become independent. This is why IKO Centers operate exclusively with IKO Instructors and Assistant Instructors.
The main responsibility of the IKO Centers is to provide a safe and fun environment to every student before, during, and after the lesson. In other words, IKO Centers ensure that your kiteboarding experience is enjoyable from start to end. For that to happen, they need to make sure that your safety is covered first.
Centers are committed to respect the maximum Instructor-to-Student ratio and supply (and require you to wear) all of the necessary safety gear. This includes a helmet, a harness with a handle at the back, a kite leash with safety release system (connected on the front part of the harness), an appropriate buoyancy aid (50 N) when in the water (even shallow) or on a boat, and a functional safety system on every control bar used for teaching. They ensure that all of the instructors also have their own safety gear, including a line cutter and will never, ever, have you use a board leash.
IKO Kiteboarding Lessons
An IKO Kiteboarding lesson is given by an IKO Instructor at an IKO Center. On one hand, the Instructor has learned the IKO world-reference methodology and on the other hand, the Center has proven through the IKO affiliation process that it offers a professional teaching environment. Together, they can provide you with a service that is on par with what we consider a safe and top-quality kiteboarding lesson.
The IKO Teaching Concept
An IKO lesson is based on the IKO Teaching Concept. The IKO Teaching Concept is designed to help kiteboarders reach a set of goals while creating and securing their independence.
The IKO Teaching Concept is based on the feedback loop principle, which means that you and your IKO instructor will interact continuously throughout your learning. You will be encouraged to ask questions, experiment and self-evaluate. As you progress, your Instructor will constantly set achievable, yet challenging goals and objectives for you.
This creates a rich, fun and positive learning experience that helps you progress while maintaining a continuous flow of motivation, challenges and rewards for the students as well as for the trainer. This continuous feedback loop helps the Instructor fine-tune the teaching method exactly to the students most efficient way of learning while still following the IKO step by step progression path.
The IKO Learning path
Progressing with your IKO Instructor puts you on a track toward becoming an independent kiteboarder called the Learning Path. On that path, the stones paving the route are made of the IKO Certifications Standards, which serve as criteria to reach a certain level of skills and progression in kiteboarding.
Basically, the Certifications Standards list in order all of the concepts and techniques you need to master to progress as a safe and competent kiteboarder. They also provide relevant insight on what will be covered during a kiteboarding course with an IKO Instructor, which is why we will have a look at each one of them right below.
Ultimately, the IKO Student Certification Standards are established to make the teaching and evaluation of the students' level easier and more efficient. Each Certification Standard is a step to experiment and learn, which builds on the previous steps and all your newly acquired skills. These Standards have been created after assessing worldwide input, experience and feedback to support a learning process that engages both short-term memory and muscle memory.
At the end of your last lesson with your IKO Instructor, you will be certified up to the level that you have reached. This is very important to your development as a kiteboarder, as it will help you become aware of your progression and understand your limits and potential after you are done with your course.
At that point, depending on your certified level, you can then choose to take more lessons with an Instructor, practice under the supervision of an Assistant Instructor, or go riding on your own if you have reached the correct level.
Discovery (Level 1)
The first step in kitesurfing is called the Discovery level. This part of the course is where the groundwork begins. Here you will learn not only the theory though all the on-land skills that will be practiced in the water too.
You will learn everything from doing an SEA (Spot, Environment, Activity) Assessment, to properly set up your equipment, using your kite safety systems and pre-flight checks. Once you have learned the theoretical aspects of flying a kite, you will proceed straight to hands-on practice whether on the beach or in shallow water. This will be your first experience piloting the kite in the air, how exciting! Here you will explore the wind window and train various skills like letting go of the bar (the most important technique for safety), twisting and untwisting the lines, flying and walking the kite with one hand and launching and landing the kite as the pilot.
Eventually, you will learn more theory about the wind window to gain more in-depth insight into what is actually happening and why. As you begin maturing and understanding you will practice using your kite's safety quick release and doing a self-landing. After having mastered the basics of flying a kite, you will learn how to wrap up and pack all your equipment. This first module in the learning path will take a couple of hours. Now you will move on to learning more skills and further practicing them in the water.
Intermediate (Level 2)
Once you have passed the Discovery level you will move into the Intermediate level. At this point, you can already launch, land and fly the kite all over the wind window with control. Now, it’s time to get wet!
With your IKO Instructor, you will learn how to enter and exit the water while controlling the kite as well as relaunching the kite when it falls in the water. Once you have successfully done these exercises you will begin exploring the power of the kite by doing power strokes on both sides as well as other body-dragging exercises with and without the board in hand.
Now that you have mastered these exercises, it will be time to learn some theory about the Right of Way rules (ROW) before going back into the water to do some steady-pull and water-start attempts with the board!
Independent (Level 3)
If you reached the Independent level of your kitesurfing journey, it means you have passed the Discovery and Intermediate steps successfully; congratulations! You are at the tipping point of the learning curve.
At the Independent stage, you should be comfortable and confident going in and out of the water, know the ROW rules and are getting the hang of getting up on the board in the water. You will practice stopping on command once riding as well as controlling your speed by edging your board.
Now comes one of the most important steps to be an independent kiter: learning to ride upwind! Riding upwind will help you maintain and gain ground while kitesurfing. Once you can go upwind you will continue working on riding skills such as sliding transitions, toeside riding and turns (and start adding a bit more flair and style to your riding!).
After you have gotten the hang of your riding it will be time to work on an important skill that could save you in the moment of an emergency. What is this skill you might be wondering? Self-rescue!
Practicing the self-rescue is an important training exercise that will help you better understand your safety system as well give you a way to rescue yourself in case of an accident from equipment failure or with another kiter. The self-rescue method is super important and is a complete section on its own; you can learn more about self-rescuing in detail here.
Once you complete the Independent step you will officially become an independent kitesurfer. From this point on, it is all about having a great time out in the water with fellow kiters, friends, family and yourself. You will realize that there are no two kiteboarding sessions alike. Every day will be a new experience and this is why so many falls in love with the sport.
But then again, your kitesurfing journey is not nearly over, if anything it has merely begun. It is at this point where you can begin venturing off by yourself and practicing. If you decide to continue your progression with an Instructor - you will move on into the advanced step of the sport.
Advanced (Level 4)
The Advanced level is a step in a kiters journey for those who want to not only be more in control of themselves as well as their surroundings. Here you will learn how to jump, jibe and combine your jumps with grabs.
In addition to learning these extremely fun and useful tricks, you will learn skills that will help you help others. You will learn how to recover a rider as well a board from the water and back to the beach. These skills will come very useful in cases of emergencies.
Once you have mastered these water skills you will learn the International Kiteboarding Signs and more in-depth theory about aerodynamics, weather, tides and your equipment. You will understand on a deeper level how and why your equipment works as it does and how to repair it. This step in your kitesurfing journey will bring you into the top 10% of kitesurfers from a knowledge and skills standpoint.
The kiteboarder level 4 is also the entry point for the IKO Assistant Instructor Training Course (AITC), the first step to a professional career as an IKO Instructor.
If you are looking to evolve even further into the 1% of the kitesurfing world - check out the next steps.
Evolution (Level 5)
The Evolution phase of a kiter’s learning journey varies into four disciplines: Freeride, Freestyle, Wave Riding and Hydrofoil. In an evolution course, you will learn and build a solid foundation of skills and understanding to progress further in the discipline being practiced.
Freeride The Evolution Freeride path is the most commonly practiced discipline around the globe as it can be practiced in any destination. During this time you will master your board and kite control by practicing and learning new tricks. You will learn blind riding, inverted jumps, jump transitions with grabs, backrolls, hooked-in tricks, surface loops, etc. Moreover, you will learn how to successfully prepare and supervise a downwinder. All these skills and tricks will make you an overall better and more proficient rider.
Freestyle The Evolution Freestyle is popular amongst those who want to take their freeriding a step further. Here you will learn frontrolls, hooked-in raleys, jumps with loops, advanced grabs, unhooked tricks and overall skills to go bigger (and higher!). This evolution is not for everyone as it is quite intensive and requires the rider to be in a more athletic state with good knees and back. The Evolution Freestyle will build a solid foundation for those who want to perform some of the most technical tricks in kiteboarding.
Wave Riding The Evolution Wave riding is especially popular in destinations with waves. Most of the time, this evolution path is practiced on a directional board (surfboard) with and/or without straps, although it is possible to practice on a twin-tip.
When you are learning this discipline you will study the theory about wave pattern rhythm and rip currents. Then, you will learn water skills such as passing the shore with and without a directional board as well as getting out of the shore break. Once you can safely enter and exit the water with your board you will learn how to make S-Turns, jibe, bottom turns into a wave and turn off the lip.
Now that you have all these skills locked down, you will practice them while riding waves over 1m. Once you are in the waves you will learn more advanced maneuvers such as floaters, snapbacks and riding downwind on a wave. All these skills will be practiced in waves of 1m and then in waves of 2m.
In the Evolution Wave riding path, you will practice both with and without straps on a surfboard. This will help you better master and hone your newly learned skills.
Hydrofoil The Evolution Hydrofoil is the latest craze in kitesurfing. In this discipline, you will start by learning about the terminology as well as the equipment. Then, you will practice new skills on land and in the water to carry, manage and put the board on your feet. Once you know how to manage the board you will go into the water to body-drag with it. After you have a solid foundation about hydrofoiling comes the actual riding practice.
The riding practice entails learning about the proper waterstart and riding technique. After you learn to ride the foil you will begin learning how to better master it by doing controlled stops and basic turns. In this advanced phase of the Evolution Hydrofoil - doing S-Turns, Toeside Turns as well riding topside and doing Jibes and Tacks will complete the Evolution course. At this point, you will have a solid foundation laid for your foiling future!
Focus on safety
Your safety is paramount to the IKO and the Certifications Standards highlight some of the most important concepts and techniques that are critical to make you an independent kiter.
Your IKO Instructor will make sure that you learn and practice repeatedly how to properly use the safety systems. This is done through a flight incident simulation. It is important to organize and repeat simulation exercises of flights incidents to make it automatic during your instruction.
Some of these simulations include:
Letting go of the bar: the first and most important safety technique that enables the kite to lose most of its power and drop.
Activating the chicken loop quick release: Using this key safety feature of your equipment enables the kite to flag out and lose all of its power.
Self-landing: Although you should always land your kite with the help of someone, this technique is important if you ever find yourself on a beach with no one helping you to land.
Self-rescue: One of the most crucial techniques for any kiter, the self-rescue allows the rider to safely get back to shore if the wind drops, if an equipment failure occurs or if you find yourself in any precarious situation.
Activating the kite leash quick release: the last resort that allows you to disconnect yourself completely from the kite (to be used only on very specific occasions).
Every kiter should learn and practice these techniques repeatedly, but unfortunately, this is not the case. Why? Because those techniques do not have a direct impact on whether you will ride or not, so many non-professional kite instructors will skip them in favor of getting you up riding sooner. However, this is a very serious problem, since these techniques are essential to any kiter and they can literally save your life if something bad happens (and trust us, every kiter will find themselves at some point in a situation where they will need these techniques).
The right knowledge
The safety aspect of kiteboarding is not only about knowing how to use the safety systems or the equipment properly. In fact, most of the safety measures are taken before even setting up the kite or flying it for the first time.
This is where knowledge plays its part in keeping you safe and making you a better kiter. Proper preparation before your session (knowing what to assess) and an understanding of the theoretical aspects behind the technique are key factors for improving your skills and being a safer kiter.
Your IKO Instructor has been trained to deliver this knowledge to you. Some of the important concepts you will learn are:
SEA assessment: Each kiteboarding spot has a different configuration and conditions can change every day. Before going kiting, it is necessary to evaluate each element such as the weather, the wind, the obstacles, the tide, the currents and other people around us.
Equipment selection: Which size of kite should you choose, what kind of board, how should you rig the kite?
Wind window theory: Where can the kite go in the air? Where does the kite flies with more or less power? If your kite falls, where does it go?
Launching and landing a kite: this is when most accidents happen but your instructor will show you the one trick to find the right angle and make it much easier and safer.
Right of Way rules: How can you prevent yo ur kite from going into others? Who has priority? Who should go first?
Wind effects: Wind strength, direction and flow quality can be disturbed by many factors and could possibly result in unpredictable and dangerous airflow patterns. Not bad to learn!
Much more: Trimming the kite, how to water relaunch the kite, etc.
As you can see, there is a lot to learn. And this is not even all of it, of course. As we said earlier, not every theoretical concept will get you closer to riding your board, but all of them are important to make you a well-rounded kiter.
IKO Instructors have committed to respect the Certification Standards and follow the IKO Learning path. This means that you will learn all of these techniques and crucial steps to become safe, independent and confident while kiting.
Proper equipment for learning
IKO goes above and beyond to make sure that you stay safe. The quality of the equipment you use obviously plays a critical part in your safety.
An IKO Instructor will make sure that you have the right equipment for your lessons and that you know how to choose the right equipment yourself. And because your IKO Instructor is responsible for your safety, your instructor will always test the kite in-flight first before passing it to you.
With an IKO Instructor, you will begin learning with a trainer kite. Often, what is referred to as a trainer kite is a 2 or 3 square foil kite with 2 lines (and no depower). However, according to the IKO definition, a trainer kite is any kite that cannot generate enough pull to unbalance its pilot. This can be any foil or inflatable kite equipped with a security system, with 2 or 4 lines and ranging a wide span of sizes and lines lengths as long as the pilot can control the kite without losing ground.
Any type of kite can become a trainer kite if it is the right size and set up with the right trainer lines. Most of the time, that means that the instructor will use shorter lines instead of regular lines (20 to 25 meters). Short lines are usually ¼ (5m), ½ (5m to 10m) or ¾ (10m to 15m) of the length of the regular lines.
What difference does it make? A lot:
It reduces de kite’s power. Makes it nearly impossible to loop.
Student mistakes have fewer negative consequences (physically and mentally).
It reduces the space needed for a lesson and reduces the negative impact on other beach users.
It is much safer in strong winds or gusty conditions.
Kite crashes are much softer, causing less damage to the equipment.
It allows the Instructor to be closer to the student for launching and landing.
It reduces the stress of the student.
It stimulates discovery.
Short lines are very important to keep you safe and to facilitate your learning. IKO Centers are committed to using short lines to teach beginners as long as the instructor thinks they are necessary and usually up until the first water-start attempts.
We’ve seen previously that a kite leash is an essential piece of equipment for your safety. Your IKO Instructor will make sure that your leash is attached to the front of your harness, as opposed to attached in the back or on the sides.
The reason is if you use the chicken loop quick release, but the kite for some reason still pulls you, the safety leash release in the front of the harness will always be reachable by both hands. This is one of those recent changes that are crucial for your safety and IKO was at the forefront of this requirement.
Speaking of your harness, your IKO Instructor will make sure to find one that fits you and is comfortable. The harness approved by IKO has a handle on the back, in case your instructor needs to hold on to you or to rescue another rider.
Apart from that, you will be wearing a helmet from the moment the lesson starts to the moment the lesson ends. We think wearing a helmet while learning kiteboarding is pretty self-explanatory.
A 50-Newton buoyancy aid when practicing on the water, even if the water is shallow: even though you know how to swim, this will help alleviate your weight in the water and help you relax to keep your attention on your task at hand: learning how to kite!
Enhancing Kiters Experience
Ok, now you know what kiteboarding is, how to learn it and why we think our Centers and Instructors is the way to go. To enhance your learning experience, IKO provides services to you to make your life easier and help you with your kiter journey.
Online booking and destinations pages
When you’re ready to learn kiteboarding with us, the training calendar for recreational courses is where you start! The IKO provides a platform for beginners to advanced kiters to find, compare and book top-quality kiteboarding lessons in schools around the world that choose to commit to our quality standards and affiliate as IKO Centers.
So many different places you can travel to, so many options to learn kiteboarding. Which one is the best? This is definitely a question that we get asked a lot. As we’ve mentioned previously, the learning process to become a kiteboarder is an important one and you want to make sure that you choose your school and your instructor wisely.
Booking your lessons without the IKO?
Here’s one way to book your lessons (without IKO): Open your browser and do a google search to find out which are the best spots to kitesurf near you or elsewhere around the world. You’ll soon find out there are lots of options, but which spot is good to start? Where can you safely learn as a beginner? When is it windy over there? When is the rainy season? Are there a lot of schools options?
After choosing a spot, you will need to do another google search for “best kiteboarding school in [destination you choose]” which would yield again tons of results, forcing you to click on each and every schools’ website and dig up the info you’re looking for. The, more questions: What are their prices? When are they available? Is it windy there now? When is the school opened? Do they teach group or only private? Are the instructors even qualified? Can they teach in my language?
If you’re lucky, you might find all or some of that info on their “Lessons” tab page. Otherwise, you might spend a lot of time looking around, maybe to realize at some point that the info is missing or (most of the time) not up to date.
And finally, when you get that info for two schools, how do you evaluate and discriminate between them? Is a 6 hours package at 499 Euros better than a 60 Euros/hour rate for 9 hours? Why does this school offer 3 hours on the beach and the other only 1.5 hours? Maybe you should send an email?
Sounds laborious, doesn’t it? Well… it is. The worst is that you might end up booking your lessons at a random school and feel worried and uncertain that you made the right choice.
Of course, you might be tempted to look for reviews on Trip Advisor or other websites as such. But here is our advice: although they might provide a bit more insight into the quality of the services, the reviews are based on subjective opinions and might not reflect the actual safety standards of the school. When you learn as a student, safety is something highly subjective because you are not aware of the reference (or the standards).
In other words, if nothing “bad” happens to you during your lessons, you might think that your instructor and your school did a great job. In reality, you might have been this close to an accident without even realizing it or might be missing out on some key knowledge to truly make you an independent kiter…
Ok, let’s not be too grim. But trust us, that happens too often! And here at IKO, we believe finding a kite school and booking your kiteboarding lessons should be a very exciting and fulfilling moment. Come on, it’s the very first step into your kiteboarding journey, and nothing short of a decision that can change your life forever (for the best, of course)!
Booking your lessons on the IKO website
So let’s take a look now at how we think to book your first kiteboarding lesson should look like.
You open your browser and visit ikointl.com. In the top search bar, you enter the destination (country or spot) where you want to find a school or travel to (you can also select the type of course in the next field). Then, click on “Search”.
Bam! There you have it.
On your screen will appear all of the lessons packages for the region you chose, from all of the IKO Centers that participate in the online booking program. You can refine your search by language, format (private or group lessons), time (hours and days) or price. If you click on one of the packages, you will get more info on the course itself and access the Center’s profile where you can learn more about the school, see all of their available packages, meet the team and read reviews.
Not bad, eh? This way you can quickly find options, easily compare prices, and conveniently book or inquire for more information directly with the school. We take NO commissions or any booking fees, so the prices you see are likely to be the best ones you can get. Just as if you would email or visit the school in person.
Why you should use the IKO online booking platform
In short, here are your benefits of using the IKO online booking platform:
Save time and find all options in one place to learn or progress in the most popular kiteboarding destinations.
Compare prices at a glance, check the ratings of the schools and read the feedback from previous students.
No booking fees or any hidden cost, all you need is to create a free IKO account.
Not ready to book? No problem, send a request to the school for more information.
Learn in the language you want! Refine your search by language for a better and more efficient learning experience.
Make sure that you learn with a qualified IKO Instructor in an IKO Center where safety is their top priority.
Contact the school directly through the IKO platform.
You do not find a lesson package in your preferred destination? Sign up for the training alerts and be the first we contact as soon as a new course is available.
Keep in mind that our search engine does not show you all of the existing kiteboarding schools in the world, but rather all of the schools that have affiliated as IKO Centers in that region. Of course, not all of the schools are affiliated as Centers, either because they do not meet our quality and safety Standards or haven’t been through the affiliation process (yet!).
However, the Centers that our search engine displays are the ones with an active IKO affiliation plan. You can be sure that you will be taught according to the IKO Standards at those Centers, with IKO Instructors.
Alright! Have you booked your kite lessons yet? If you did, congrats! That’s your first step toward becoming a real kiteboarder. If you haven’t yet, no worries! Actually, what we’re about to present to you will greatly help you prepare for your first lesson or might give you some more insight on kiteboarding to help you decide if you should go ahead and learn this amazing sport.
Kiter Free membership
As a kiter (or a soon-to-be kiter), you can create an account on the IKO website. This enables you to connect with the IKO and become part of our community of riders and professionals that strive for safe and sustainable development of kiteboarding.
When you create an account, you are automatically subscribed to the Kiter Free membership. This is a free membership plan that does not have any expiry date. Being a Kiter Free enables you to receive our monthly Kiters Newsletter with all of the latest blog tips and lets you join our Facebook group reserved to IKO Members.
Most importantly, the Kiter Free account is needed to access the IKO App and host your vCard when you get certified by an IKO Instructor at the end of your last lesson (more on that below!).
The IKO App
Creating a free account on the IKO website enables you to log in to the IKO App (which you can download on your mobile phone from the IOS or Android stores).
We designed the IKO App to be the ultimate kiter companion. Our goal is to facilitate your learning experience and make you a better kiter by providing you with all our knowledge on kiteboarding straight in the palm of your hand.
Becoming an IKO Member with the Kiter Free membership is the best start to your kiteboarding journey. It will give you some valuable insight into kiteboarding and keep you updated on the latest safety standards.
Kiter Premium Membership
Kiteboarding is a very exciting sport and understanding the theoretical aspects behind the technique is key to improving your skills and being a safer kiter. If you follow a course with an IKO Instructor, you will learn all of the necessary information to get you riding, jumping and, overall, make you a safe well-rounded kiter.
However, we realized over the years that some people just love to go deeper in understanding the full mechanics of kiteboarding and wish they were better prepared for their first kiteboarding lesson. And we can’t blame them, because learning kiteboarding is kind of a big thing!
Indeed, learning kiteboarding can be challenging for some people:
It is fairly time-consuming: there is a LOT to learn and you need to put in the hours to progress to the point where you can ride independently.
It can be scary at first! Kiteboarding is a very spectacular activity and it comes with its share of risks. Although your IKO Instructor is responsible to teach you all about safety, for some people it can represent a big step out of their comfort zone.
A bit of uncertainty: Kiteboarding is a sport where you are completely dependent on the environment. What can you do if there is no wind?
It’s kind of expensive: This investment moneywise can be quite daunting. Are you even going to like it?
It is technical! Watching sketchy videos on YouTube or getting average tips from brother-in-law just doesn’t cut it.
These are all of the reasons that motivated us to facilitate your learning experience by creating educational resources to address those needs. If you subscribe to the Kiter Premium membership, you can access more than 25 hours of online content made by the IKO and designed specifically for kiters to help you learn and progress in the safest and most effective way.
Benefits of the IKO Kiter Premium membership
In short, the Kiter Premium membership unlocks the full potential of the IKO App. It gives you access to the 10 Kiteboarder’s Handbooks, 72 minutes of videos (from levels Discovery to Advanced), and 20 eCourses, on top of giving you access to the exclusive Member Deals and IKO shop discounts.
As a kiter, what it means for you is that you can start learning as soon as you want, from the comfort of your home! Did you book your first kiteboarding lesson to start in two weeks? Great! Get a head start today and learn about the wind window, how to set up a kite, what are the right of way rules, and of course much more.
This will enable you to speed up your learning and get on the board and riding sooner. When your IKO Instructor will teach about any topic, you will already know exactly what they are talking about. You can then confirm your understanding of the subject and tackle the task at hand with confidence.
If you are riding already, even better! The Kiter Premium Membership will help you progress to the next step and push your limits with the Advanced and Evolution handbooks such as Freeride, Freestyle, Wave Riding and Hydrofoil. You want to boost and go BIG? Start unhooking? Go strapless surfing? Or maybe you finally decided to get on-board the foil train? This is what you need to get you there.
The Kiter Premium membership gives you access to all of our teaching experience boiled down and formatted in ebooks, videos, ecourses and infographics. With over 18 years of as the leading organization worldwide for kiteboarding education, you can trust in our knowledge and teaching methodology based on the feedback of our professional kiteboarding Community.
Is safety important to you? If you’re like us, it is at least as important as fun! The Kiter Premium membership will help you get familiar with the safety equipment and procedures for an enjoyable learning and riding experience. Do you hit a day without wind? No problem! Open the IKO App on your mobile, study what’s up next and be ready when the breeze comes back.
Overall, the Kiter Premium membership is designed as a facilitator to help you through your learning of kiteboarding and enhance your lessons with an IKO Instructor. Our end goal is to empower you by giving you the means and tools to undertake this wonderful experience with optimism, excitement and confidence.
Your lessons with your IKO Instructor are over? Hopefully, you had a great time and reached the level you wanted to attain. Keep in mind that this might be the end of your course but it is only the beginning of your kiteboarding journey! And the first step into this adventure is getting your kiter certification.
The kiter certification is a confirmation that you have reached a certain level of skills according to the IKO Certification Standards. Your IKO Instructor will certify you up to the level that you have reached at the very end of your last lesson. This kiter certification gives you access to your vCard, the official kiteboarding certification recognized by the IKO Community in more than 60 countries around the world.
The vCard is like a virtual identification card that displays information such as your name, kiter level and a photo (if you uploaded one). The vCard is hosted on the IKO app and is activated as soon as you get certified. For those who might remember our old discontinued kiter members cards, the vCard replaces them in favor of an on-the-go, impossible-to-lose, and more ecological alternative.
An IKO Instructor has committed to certify the level of each and every one of their students. The certification process is as important as any other steps in your learning experience since it will help you be aware of your progression and understand your limits and potential for further improvement.
If for some reason, you did not get certified at the end of your lessons, you need to request it (see below how to do it). Why? Well, you have invested so much in your kiteboarding lessons in terms of effort and time (and money!) and getting recognition for this investment goes without saying. And also, the certification enables you to save your progress in order to resume your lessons later right where you left off (in any IKO Centers).
Not only that, but the vCard acts as your kiteboarding license to access restricted spots and facilitate beach access around the world. If you show your vCard in any IKO Center, this will help them assess your level and allow you to rent kiteboarding equipment (if they judge you have satisfied a certain skill level).
So, how does it work exactly? Very simple. As we said, at the end of your last lesson, your IKO Instructor will go online and will certify you using your name and email address. Once it is submitted, the system will create an account for you on the IKO website (if you don’t have one already). You will then receive an email with a link to activate your certification. Voilà! Your certification is now saved online on the IKO servers.
Now, to access and display your vCard, all you have to do is download the IKO App, sign in, and click on “vCard”. We suggest that you had a portrait photo of yourself for identification purposes.
By the way, when activating your certification, you will be requested to confirm that the information about your lessons are correct and invited to rate your course and leave feedback for your instructor. This is not compulsory but helps the IKO with quality management.
Lastly, if you’ve followed a lesson with an IKO Instructor and have not received the email to activate your certification within 48 hours after the end of your last session, you can request your certification from the IKO website. To do so, create an IKO account using the same email that you gave to your Instructor for the certification. Then, log in to your account and click on the button "Request my certification".
You certification attests of your level at a point in time. Each time that you take further lessons, you will be certified again. If ever you’ve improved on your own, or if you’ve learned kiteboarding with a non-IKO Instructor and would like to be certified, you can visit your nearest IKO Center and do a riding assessment with an IKO Instructor.
Alright, this wraps up our guide on Why learn with IKO! If you’ve read all the way down to here, we hope that you found some valuable information and that you now have a better understanding of what we do here at IKO and why we do it.
The main takeaway that we would like you to leave with is this one: Kiteboarding is the best thing anyone can do and learning the sport should be a very enjoyable and thrilling experience. IKO Instructors are dedicated to sharing with you their stoke for kitesurfing, while behind every IKO Center are individuals bound by the same passion.
When you are in such good hands, it makes you feel much more confident and it leaves room for fun and a much more enjoyable learning experience. Our goal here at IKO is to get the safety aspect covered so that you can focus on your progress toward becoming an independent kiteboarder.