kitesurfing update

All photos in this post are courtesy of Maya Ogorzalek. Thanks for the shots, and for the loaned kite, M!

Regular readers will know that I have been taking kitesurfing lessons. It seems to be a popular thing to learn this year, with lots of girls getting in on the action. I thought I'd give you a quick update as to my progress (if that's the appropriate word.)

I've had four official lessons so far (and one unofficial lesson). Here's what we did in each session:

Lesson 1: Kite control, set-up of the lines, safety features, and body surging. Used a 7m kite on half-length lines. More details here.

Lesson 2: Body surging and trying to get up on the board. "Trying" is the key word. Resulted in several face plants. We also practiced a self-rescue, which involves wrapping one of the central lines around the end of the bar until you get near the kite, then wrapping up all the lines in the classic figure-8 shape around the bar. Finally, the goal is to get the kite into a C-shape on the water, making it a sail that you'd use to tack back and forth back to shore. I used a 10m kite on half-length lines.

Lesson 3: Two solid hours of attempting to get on the board. I used a 10m kite on half-length lines. This session was mega-frustrating for me. I really didn't get up on the board for more than 2 seconds. My troubles were multi-faceted:

  • First, I found it challenging to keep the kite at 12 o'clock (directly overhead, where the kite is catching enough wind to stay alive but shouldn't be pulling you to either side) while putting on the board. I found myself accidentally leaning on the bar while trying to get both feet in the straps. The key is to use one hand to steady the kite while leaning into the board for stability. Best practice would suggest getting into the straps quickly, so the kite doesn't have time to move around (and drag you with it). I did get a couple blisters between my fingers on my left hand, since there is a rope in the middle of the bar that my hand had to straddle during the one-handed grip, and the pull of the kite caused the rope to rub my skin raw. Won't be using that grip again! 
  • Second, trying to get the exact right dip of the kite (from 12 o'clock back to 11 o'clock and then to 2 o'clock) takes a bit of finesse. Too small of a dive means not having enough pull to ride the board. Too large of a dive means... a face plant. At least in my case.
  • Third, knowing when exactly to lean forward and mount the board must come with practice, because it certainly didn't come naturally. I think my mistake was to wait for the kite to full-on pull me out of the water. It should be sort of a combined effort of rolling yourself up out of the water while the kite brings your weight forward.
  • Fourth, once on the board (or close to it), body positioning is crucial. Ideally, my front leg (in my case, my right leg) would be straight, my back leg bent, and I'd be leaning back against the pull of the kite with my hips forward. I haven't mastered "ideal" yet.
  • Fifth, positioning the board in the water so that I wasn't pulled in the wrong direction (read: face-first) posed a challenge. If both of my knees weren't somewhere near my shoulders, I'd begin to spin in the water, positioning myself in a disadvantageous spot. Then I'd have to pop off the board, reposition myself (and usually the kite, which was no longer at 12 o'clock), and start again.
  • Sixth, thinking about all these things within a 3-second period of time was mental overload.
After the third lesson, I had about a week before my fourth, so NS and I watched some of the Progression DVDs. I needed to visualize exactly what actions I should be taking, rather than just hearing from the instructor. It helped to see a kiter repeatedly demonstrate each move. My biggest take-away was being more aggressive in rolling onto the board, as well as keeping my front leg straight. A straight front leg will automatically shift the weight to the back leg, which keeps the nose of the board up enough to avoid the all-too-frequent face-plant situation.

Lesson 4: Again, this lesson was all about board work. This time, though, I was on a 10m kite on full-length lines. My instructor took me in a boat pretty far out away from the beach so that I could practice without putting the kite (or myself) at risk. (The closer the kite gets to the beach in Barkers, the closer it gets to the many trees. Kites and trees don't get along.) I think on my second try, I got up on the board and actually successfully skimmed along the water for several seconds! I followed that up with several of my classic face-plants. I think the full-length lines really helped me get on the board faster. My main issue during this lesson was keeping the kite stationary while I mounted the board in the deeper water far from shore. Although I didn't make great strides during this lesson, I left the beach pretty satisfied that I had gotten on the board a few times.

The next day was Saturday, and NS offered to take me out using his board and MO's 7m kite to do some practicing. The experience was both terrifying and rewarding. On the one hand, the wind was booking along at about 20 knots - windier than during any of my lessons. Trying to just stand still in the water proved to be a challenge. NS took me out as far as we could walk, patiently explaining every kiting procedure. My first attempt resulted in a wicked leap through the air, landing face-first in the water. I could hear N shrieking in laughter behind me. Even I had to chuckle thinking about what I must have looked like, nearly pulled out of my booties by an ill-guided kite.

But on my next attempt, I was up on the board, riding along, with N whooping in exaltation in my wake. His tangible excitement fueled my next few attempts. We spent about an hour in the water with a couple solid runs (as well as several failed attempts, and tons of walking the kite back out to sea). One of my last attempts landed me squarely on my face again, with water flooding my body through my eyes, mouth, ears, and nose. I was getting pummeled! Just a bit too much wind for my level of experience.

I really can't tell you how much I enjoyed kiting with N. He generally doesn't put himself out there as the most compassionate person in the world, but when he was teaching me, he was super patient and understanding. Even when I got frustrated, he didn't. And he made me believe that I'd master this sport.

I spent the rest of the afternoon soaking up the sun at the kiting beach, watching the more experienced kiters who were catching mega air in the blustery conditions.

N joined me. He had all but given up for the day, after having to teach me and then spending 45 minutes untangling lines that turned into a rat's nest when he accidentally crashed the kite. Sometimes chilling on the beach is just as rewarding. (At least, it is for me so far.)

Fortunately, N got some quality kiting in on Sunday before our Thanksgiving Feast.

My new favorite instructor

Progress will happen. My very own 9m kite is scheduled to arrive on island tomorrow. I'm hoping with each new day on the water, my on-the-board time will increase, and my face plants will decrease. And if not, there's always a sunny spot on the beach with my name on it.


  1. You are so brave, Jenn! So proud of you for trying this :) I'm glad you got some R&R on the beach!

  2. Enjoyed this blog entry =) Felt like I was out there with you, me whooping along with Nate... and of course doing a victory dance on the beach.

    Very impressed that you're tackling kitesurfing, and I know that you're going to master this sport! So cool that you have your own kite now too!