Learning Kitesurfing — what you should know before.
You would like to learn Kitesurfing? Fantastic! But before you stock up on your own equipment and kill yourself or others at the next quarry pond, I summarized some important things which will ease up your introduction to kite surfing and secure a safe start.
I’ve been asked a lot in the past how you know which kite surfing school is good or not, and I often met people that had a bad first experience with kite surfing. I myself have been a kite surfing instructor for 2 years now (VDWS license for 5 years) and have been from spot to spot and kite school to kite school, around the world, where I witnessed big quality differences. I therefore summarize all my information and experiences, so that your start in this really fantastic sport is not accompanied by negative experiences. It is very important that you learn kite surfing in a licensed school (VDWS or IKO). Nobody, really nobody should just go out and rent or buy kite surfing equipment, without any proper experience. A friend that can kite a little is also not an appropriate teacher. Kiting yourself does not necessarily mean being able to convey the sport methodically properly or to respond to threats. If one considers the risks and rules, kite surfing is learned quickly and safely. But it can also be very dangerous and cause serious injury, if you overestimate yourself thinking that you can learn it by yourself.
Choosing the Kitespot — Where to learn kite surfing the best and fastest?
Choosing your spot is of vital importance for your first, good kite surfing course. Generally, it’s worthwhile for most Germans to learn kite surfing at the German or Dutch coasts, as these are usually in reach to flexibly plan for a kite surfing course. Another option is to learn kite surfing while on a holiday. There are dozens of kite schools worldwide, but not every school is optimal for your learning, because of their location. The kite school could have the best conditions, but it wouldn’t do any good for you, if there is not enough wind. It is therefore necessary to consider the following aspects first:
The Wind Safety & Wind Strength
Whether there is enough wind on site, on which you plan your kite surfing holiday or course, can be easily found out based on wind statistics. To properly learn kite surfing, you ideally need a wind speed of about 4–6 Bft. The location of your choice should have a wind safety of at least 50% in order to spend as much time on the water as possible, rather than learning just the theory and dry-runs. The German Water Sports Association (VDWS) indicates a value of 3–6 Bft. for an optimal beginners course. This means that a course can only occur up to 6 Bft. or 25 knots. We talk about beginner courses here. The better your kite surfing level the more you can deal with stronger winds. Kite surfing courses should only begin with at least 3 Bft. or 10 knots. Why? Kites fly reasonable at around 10 knots. Launching the kite out of the water, is particularly difficult in light wind and requires a good technique. But you won’t have that in the beginning. Unfortunately, there are enough rotten apples among the kite schools that will go out onto the water at 10 knots or less, to cheat you for your refund of the course fee, with the justification: “But we were on the water.”. So if you do not want to be frustrated when getting out of the water because you tried to start your kite all day, ensure that the kite surfing school only takes you to the water at the right wind conditions. Keep an eye out for the wind indicators in the kite schools! A good kite school will discuss the wind strength and condition for the day beforehand.
The Water Depth — It’s easier to learn while standing
I can say from my own experience that I personally think that shallow water is best for learning. Why? A shallow spot means that the kite surf instructor has the opportunity to stand next to you and interfere if necessary, which helps you feel more safely. You will learn not only auditory but also tactile. If you should have problem the instructor can pick up the kite immediately, so you have a bit of time to catch your breath and concentrate on what the instructor tells you. This offers a higher feeling of security, especially in your first try’s. Shallow water also means that usually less waves exist. While strong waves or even shore breaks can be a lot of fun later on, they complicate the learning. You’re much more concerned with the water and more energy is needed to fight against the waves, which can also be an important psychological factor for rather anxious people and therefore it could hinder the learning progress. In addition, the kite instructor would have to help you from the coast or a boat and couldn’t just stand next to you. Most modern kite schools use a one-way Walkie-Talkie in this case, so your kite instructor can give you commands and correct you, while you cannot communicate with him (naturally, with x number of students it would be pretty confusing). Learning in kite schools, that teach in deep water and don’t use Walkie-Talkies, is strongly discouraged. In addition, a lifeboat should constantly be on hand to possibly intervene in dangerous situations.
Water temperature — Bikini/Boardshorts or Wet Suit?
The Netherlands and Germany are not known for Caribbean temperatures, but that shouldn’t discourage you from learning kite surfing in this region, except if you really cannot stand the cold. Between April and October and with the right equipment (decent wet suit) it’s easy to withstand the temperatures. Southern latitudes like the kite surfing Mecca Egypt, are providing year-round pleasant temperatures and offer excellent wind statistics by thermal winds.
Are there dangers at the Kite Spot?
Kite spot is not always kite spot. So what do you have to pay attention to, except water depth and water temperature? If you’re at the spot, sit down for an hour at the beach and observe the kite surfers. Generally speaking, almost every spot still holds dangers, which your kite instructor, of course, should make clear beforehand. The most common hazards at a kite spot are:
- Swimmer & other water enthusiasts
- Stones, reefs & shells
- Adjacent Nature Reserves & Animals
What impression do you have from the kite spot? Before booking a course, take your time and observe the kite spot and check for any of the hazards using the aforementioned aspects. Is it completely crowded? Do you think that the kite surfers are squeezed next to each other which leads to tangling of the kites? Is there a shallow area and how big is it? Are there waves, shells, animals, moles, etc.? All this is important to know. Inquire about these things in your kite school or local kite shop in advance — they are usually willing to give you information before you sign up for a course.
How you find the right Kite Surfing School
Now that you learned about all the important aspects of the kite spot, we’ll take a look at a few things to know before choosing the Kite Surfing School. The most important thing, when choosing a Kite Surfing School, is that you always look for a licensed School. There are two large, internationally recognized organizations like the International Kitesurf Organization (IKO). At these licensed schools you can be sure that the instructors are well trained, the equipment is decent, and most importantly: all the necessary insurances are available.
The Kite Surf — Equipment
Ask for the age of the Kite at the school! New Kites are vital for schools, because beginners often use the kites roughly and thus they are breaking faster. A good school changes their kites every year and uses only the newest material from renowned manufacturers to teach. Most big Kite manufacturers introduce new Kites every year. Simply ask what year the equipment was manufactured.
The remaining equipment should be customized to the individual kite spot and its conditions. A school that is located at the Dutch or German coasts for example should provide a fitting and thick enough wet suit (without holes) and neoprene boots without charge. Even schools that are located in the South should, so long as shells or stones are in the water, provide a pair of neoprene boots for free while kite surfing. Ask about the equipment beforehand.
Group Course or Private Lessons?
What is true for all forms of school, is also true for kite surfing: The smaller the group, the better your learning outcome. But this doesn’t mean that you have to take private lessons at the beginning, because the factor of the group dynamic and fun sharing your learning experience with other people makes a major contribution to your motivation! The best way to start is in small groups. There is absolutely no disadvantage in sharing your kite with someone else in the first lessons. It is very common and useful, as you will soon notice that you need a break from time to time and you can also learn from the mistakes of your partner! Ideally, there should be a kite instructor for every kite (two persons) at hand. In a large shallow water area, there shouldn’t be a problem for the kite instructor to even teach two kites, so four students tops, at the same time. It is strongly discouraged to be in a group with more than four students per kite instructor, because here you will notice a loss of quality. This refers to kite spots with shallow water. At deep kite spots with waves and/or potential hazards they should teach one on one without exceptions, in other words: the kite instructor should always be at your side. If that cannot be guaranteed: Stay away!
How long does it take for me to learn Kite Surfing?
Beginner courses last two to three days normally. Often kite surfing courses are offered over the weekend (Saturday and Sunday). A duration of eight to ten hours for a beginners’ course is useful, so the goal: “the first driven meters” can be reached. I would advise against a shorter course, because the time is not sufficient to make a real kite surfing experience. Following a beginners’ course I would advise to take an advanced course, which generally lasts for two days also. After the advanced course you should be able to drive a bit in both directions and you usually are confident enough to borrow your own equipment according to Level-3 of the VDWS license, to practice some more. If you’re stuck trying a new maneuver or trick afterwards, it might be worth to take some private lessons. It
definitely makes sense to put the kite surfing on a holiday, since you need at least four days to learn the basics, so you still have some time left on the water to improve your skills.
And if there’s no wind?
Inquire beforehand if you can get a refund if there’s insufficient wind. There are many kite surfing schools that offer so-called “camps” (five days of lessons including equipment, etc.), but a lot of these camps won’t give their students a refund if everything’s in the doldrums. I do not advise booking those camps, especially at spots where there is only a mediocre wind guaranty. You’ll find a lot of these kite surf camps host in Egypt, however you’ll have a very high wind security in that region, whereas camps at German coasts in the summer tend to be windless for a few days.
A small advice for you: Most kite surfing schools are rarely completely booked out, provided you are seeking a spot only for yourself. It makes perfect sense to wait for a good wind forecast and contact a school short-dated, because there often is still a spot left for you.
How much does learning kite surfing cost?
An important, or often crucial aspect are the costs. You should consider these naturally before a kite course. It’s ultimately useless to spend a relatively high amount of money for a kite surfing course, only to discover that you do not have the financial means to perform this fascinating sport regularly. Unfortunately, kite surfing is still not a low priced sport and compared to surfing or wind surfing you already have to pay a lot at the course. Why is that? Firstly, the groups at kite surfing courses are rather small compared to surf or wind surfing courses. With these sports you have 10–15 students for one teacher, while kite surfing ideally only has four students. Next, there are the material costs: surfboards for beginners are made of hard plastic, which last forever and cost, compared to kites which are pretty sensitive high-tech toys and should be switched every year (that applies only for training purposes, not your own equipment), almost nothing. In addition, a kite school has to have the right kite size for every wind condition. Therefore, kite schools have kites in sizes ranging from 5 to 14 square meters in corresponding numbers in stock. Insurances, material maintenance, etc., cost a lot in addition. Naturally, you have regional influential factors, whereby one can assume that kite schools know of their financially strong clientele, so that kite surfing courses in Vietnam are not much cheaper than here. Sometimes even the opposite is the case, because the kite schools use the good holiday mood of the tourists to demand preposterous prizes, for way to short courses. In this aspect our local schools in Germany and the Netherlands get a point, too. The prizes are generally fair, the training and the material is decent and the possibility exists to do the advanced course or private lessons in the same school.
So, what does it all cost? I consider the following conditions to be appropriate: Beginner Course in a group (8–10 hours / 2–3 days): 200€ — 300€
Private lessons (1:1): 60$ —100$
The prizes include equipment of course, i.e.: Kites, trapeze, neoprene, boots, insurance. A kite license is normally offered for an additional charge following the course and is mandatory so that you are allowed to rent your own equipment at kite schools and shops (for example as of VDWS-Level 3).
So to summarize everything:
- Shallow waters are preferable for learning.
- Groups shouldn’t be bigger than four students per teacher.
- Ideal period of time to learn kite surfing is 5–7+ days (thereof 2–4 days’ beginners course)
Those who follow these things will have the opportunity to learn kite surfing safely, in a short time and with a lot of fun. You have suggestions, or you want to learn kite surfing this year and have some questions? Then type away in the comments! Have fun and enjoy one of the most awesome Sports in the World!