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Kitesurfing Equipment

Kitesurfing is the action of a kitesurfer manipulating himself and other components of a kitesurfing system to use the power of the available wind to propel the whole system on or above (jump) the water (or snow and land)

Blurring everything else!
Photo by Jennifer Madore of

There are 5 main components in a kitesurfing system:

  1. The kite (includes the kite's bridle).
  2. The lines.
  3. The kite control device (including safety release system).
  4. The board (including fins, foot straps or binding and leash).
  5. And the kitesurfer (including harness, life jacket, water shoe, helmet, etc.).

The following sections describe each component in details.  For a list of kitesurfing equipment vendors, please click here.  For a list of places where you can buy used kitesurfing equipment, please click here.


1. Kites

Any traction kite (large controllable kites that can generate pull while it is flying) can be used in kitesurfing.  However, there are a couple issues that make a certain type of kites more desirable for kitesurfing:

  1. Relauncheability:  it is desirable to have a kite that the kitesurfer can relaunch from the water after a fall. 
  2. High Performance:  It is desirable to have a high performance kite that could facilitate jumping and upwind sailing.
  3. Power control: It is desirable to be able to control the power of the kite dynamically on the water. The ability to control the power and the degree of control means a wider wind range for the kite and a safer kite.

There are a number of kites on the market for kitesurfing. All of them has a certain degrees of water relauncheability. There are mainly three types of kitesurfing kites:

  • Inflatable kites
  • Flat Inflatable kites (Bow kites)
  • Framed single skin kites
  • Ram air foil kites

Inflatable Kites

Inflatable Kite

2005 KiteLoose Patriot

Inflatable kites normally have an inflatable leading edge and 5 or more inflatable battens to give it a permanent "crescent moon" shape (this type of kite is also called an inflatable or Leading Edge Inflatable or LEI). They are very dependable to relaunch except for certain conditions such as in very light wind (less than 6-7 knots). The Legaignoux brothers, the original founders of Wipika are the inventor of the inflatable kites and has licensed the technology to many other manufacturers. All inflatable manufacturers continue to develop and market their own version of the kite. The patent was filed in 1984 so it has been expired.  Due to the permanent "intrusive" shape of the kite (to facilitate water relaunching), the kite is always "powered up" even on the water. One needs a good working safety release system when using this kite.

There are generally two types of inflatable kite, 2 line and 4 line inflatables.  The advantages of 2 line inflatable kites are ease of use and stability. The advantage of 4 line inflatable kites are higher performance and better power control (by changing the Angle Of Attack or AOA of the kite).  Most modern inflatable kites are 4 line kites.

Due to many good characteristics, excellent wind range, ease of jump and wide range of choices, inflatable kites have more or less dominated the kitesurfing market and start making major in-road to the kitesnowboarding, kiteskiing market with the introduction of the 5th line to facilitate relaunching on snow.

Flat Inflatable Kites (Bow Kites)

Classic LEI profile .vs. Flat LEI profile
(Bularoo .vs. Yarga)

After the expiry of the original inflatable patent, the Legaignoux brothers again worked on a new design consisting of a bridle on the leading edge (discussed first on the Kitesurf Group) and a flat bow profile (with a concave trailing edge).

Since the first successful introduction of the Legaignoux' Bow kites, many other designers have also introduced their own version of the flat Inflatable.  All flat inflatable kites have a simple bridle on the leading edge but the trailing edge can be concave (bow kites) or flat or convex.

A more detail discussion of the flat inflatable kites can be found at Flat LEI Kites

The major advantages of a flat inflatable over the standard inflatable kites are:

  • Flat inflatable kites can be fully depowered
  • Flat inflatable kites have larger wind range
  • Flat inflatable kites can relaunch easier

With such advantages, flat inflatable kites have replaced the standard inflatable kites as the dominant kitesurfing kite in 2006.

Framed Single Skin Kites

Kiteski Kite

Kiteski kite

Frame single skin kites normally have a leading edge made of fibre glass or graphite, one main batten in the center and a number of thin battens along the chord to give the kites the permanent shape. Similarly to windsurfing, it will take quite a bit of practice to learn how to water launch a 2 line framed single skin kite (with the help of a 2 line reel bar). Once one gets the hang of it, these kites are probably the most dependable kites for water relaunching. The only time one may not be able to relaunch these kites is when the wind is light (less than 8-10 knots). KiteSki is the inventor of the relauncheable 2 line framed single skin kite system. KiteSki used to have Banshee manufactured the kites. Both KiteSki and Banshee developed and market their own version of the kites (which could be very different).  After a fall, a framed single skin kite stays flat on the water; therefore, a safety release system may not be needed. However, it is wise to have a safety release system to easily retrieve the kite and the control bar (the kite and the control bar may fly a fairly long distance down wind before landing on the water).

For some reasons, framed single kites are becoming less and less popular among the kitesurfers and rarely one see any kitesurfer using framed single skin kites for kitesurfing anymore.

Ram Air Foil Kites

Foil kites

ConceptAir Leader

Ram air foil kites have no rigid structure. The shape of the kite is formed while flying. These kites have shapes that are very close to airplane wings and therefore, probably are the most aerodynamic kites. Ram air foil kites have been on the market for a long time and have been used by many buggiers. In the early days of kitesurfing, Concept Air and F-One released the first water relauncheable ram air foil kites, the Concept Air EX's Wave and the FOne ATK kites. These kites normally have a limited number of air intakes and a valve system to prevent the air to escape after a fall. Due to this characteristics, these types of kite are also called closed cell foil kites. According to a number of kitesurfers, once one knows how to water launch these kites, they should be very dependable (especially in moderate to strong wind). As closed cell foil kites retain their shape after a fall, one should have a safety release system when using these kites.

Concept Air is the first company introducing the a foil kite incorporating a system allowing the kitesurfer to control the power of the kite by pulling on the third line to change the shape of the kite (therefore changing the camber/projected surface of the kite).  Since then, many other companies (ConceptAir, Flysurfer, Boom Vector, Ozone, etc.) have introduced foils with systems that use AOA to control the power of the kite similar to inflatable.

Peter Lynn has also introduced a new type of foil kite called the Arc.  The Arc is mainly a closed cell ram air foil kite with the sled shape of an inflatable.  Similar to a 4 line inflatable, an Arc kite can also be depowered by pulling on its front lines to change the angle of attack of the kite.

Kite Wind Range

Different wind conditions require different kite sizes.  Since different kites have different aerodynamic, you kite vendor should be able to provide you a table recommending the wind range for a certain kite size.

Due to the ability of depowering the kite, modern kites' wind ranges are very large (usually double the wind speed, for example: from 10 to 20 knots wind range).  One normally only need 2 or 3 kites to cover most wind encountered at any location.

With the introduction of a new generation of flat inflatables which have a very wide wind range, a 2 kite quiver will now be more frequent among kiters.

Kite Size

Your kite vendor should be able to provide you all the technical details of the kite (flat surface size, projected surface size, etc.).  If your vendor cannot  provide you such information, here are the general rules-of-thumb:

  • A flat-surface 12m2 LEI (or from 10m2 to 14 m2 LEI) is a "standard" size that almost everyone should have.  This is the size that would accommodate all riders with the average win range we have on this planet.  So get a 12m2 LEI and ride with it for while then you will know which size you will need next for lighter wind and stronger wind (a rider normally needs 2 or 3 kites).
  • The difference between your two consecutive LEI kites should be around 3 m2 or 4 m2.  For example, 9 m2, 12 m2 and 16 m2 LEI would form a very good kite quiver
  • A 10 m2 Flat LEI is roughly equivalent to a 12 m2 LEI (so use this 5/6 factor when comparing a Flat LEI to a traditional LEI.)
  • The difference between your 2 consecutive Flat LEI kites should be around 4 m2 or 5m2.  For example, a 11m and 16m would form a very good kite quiver.
  • A 8 m2 foil is roughly equivalent to a 12 m2 flat surface area inflatable (so use this 8/12 or 2/3 factor when compare foil to inflatable)
  • The kite sizes are normally the flat-surface size of the kite (watch out for some vendors who still use some old arcane size indication methods)
  • Most foil kite projected surface is normally 90% to 100% of the indicated size.

Note that kite size and rider weight is proportional (i.e., if a 100 lb. rider uses a 5 m2 kite, a 200 lb. rider should use a 10 m2 kite) and most kite vendors provide the kite range table for 170 - 175 lb. rider.

2. Lines

kite line

Modern kites normally come complete with lines and bar so you don't have to worry much about the lines.  However, it is useful to read this section to understand the fundamentals.

Modern kitesurfing kites use 4 or 5 lines.

Line Type

Any good traction kite lines can be used for kitesurfing.  Select the type of line with the following characteristics:

  1. Use either Spectra (Dyneema in Europe) or Kevlar lines. These types of line may stretch only 4% which is much lower compare to the others
  2. If possible, use floatable lines.
  3. Use 400 - 500 lb. lines for the main lines (the lines in a 2-line kite or the 2 front lines in a 4-line foil) and 200 lb. for the brake lines (the 2 back lines in a 4-line foil).  Please note that there is no brake lines in a 4 line inflatable so use 400 - 500 lb. lines for all the 4 lines.

Line Strength

Line strength used is actually a function of your weight. The lines in a 2-line kite should have a minimum strength equals to 2.5 times your weight. For a 4-line foil, the main lines should have the minimum strength equal to 2.5 times your weight while the brake lines should have the minimum strength equal to your weight. For example, if you weights 200 lb., you should use at least 500 lb. lines for your 2 line kites and 500 lb. main lines, 200 lb. brake lines for your 4 line foils.  For the 4 line inflatable kites, the two back lines should have the same strength as the two front lines.

Knots, Sleeves & Splice

To tie your lines to the bridle or the control device, you need to make a lark's head knot at the end of the line. Since a Spectra and Kevlar line cannot be tied directly onto itself, it needs sleeving. A sleeve is a small piece of Dacron hollow line that a Spectra or Kelvar line goes through. The knots (2 overhand or figure 8 knots) are tied in that section.  These knots will reduce around 30 - 40 % the strength of the lines (this have been tested by Dave Culp, a pioneer kitesailor). If you use knots, just multiply the line strength figures above by a factor of 3/2.

The other option is to sew your sleeved lines together to form a loop. Use the following steps to make a sewed loop:

  1. Put a 30 cm sleeve at the end of a line
  2. Fold the sleeved portion to form a 15 cm loop.
  3. Using the very small zigzag pattern, sew the two sleeved lines together (the needle should go through both the sleeve and the line). Only sew 12 cm such that you end up having a small 3 cm loop at the end.

It has been claimed that a sewed sleeved line retains its original strength.

Another option is to splice your lines to form a loop (posted on the Kitesurfing mailing list by Roberto, Optikites):

  1. Lines get stretched, so open the wove pushing with your hands.
  2. Thread the end of the line into its own core for about 5 inches.
  3. Milk the line to make it even.
  4. Thread more 5 inches inside the core once more. Milk again.
  5. Steps 4 and 5 to finish the job (to make a finer job you could slip in the loop some Dacron sleeve before splicing).

To repair a broken line:

  1. Push one end inside the core of the other end of the line , starting from 10/15 inches below.
  2. Repeat the operation with those extra 15 inches you left on the other line.
  3. Milk the line to make it even, if the job is done carefully you will hardly notice the repair

Line Length

The line length to use is dependent on the size of the kite and the wind condition.  Line lengths between 20m to 40m are most commonly used.  As a general rule, use shorter lines if you are overpowered and longer lines if you are underpowered.  Shorter lines will restrict the wind window (the flight path of a kite) therefore reduce the risk of the kite picking up extreme speed that can generate uncontrollable power.  Longer lines will extend the wind window therefore increase the kite flight path to enable the kite to gather more speed for more power.

Most kitesurfer use 25m - 30m lines as that will give the most versatile range in kitesurfing for starting, going upwind and for jumping; however, be adventurous and try different line length as you may find a length that suit you better than the "standard" 25m - 30m.

The modern trend is to use shorter lines to reduce the space requirement.  Modern line length is 20 m to 25 m.

3. Control Devices

Control devices allows a kitesurfer to control the kites.  Normally, kitesurfers use a 4 line control bar for a 4 line inflatable, and a pair of handles or a 4 line control bar for a 4-line foil.  Using the control device, a kitesurfer can pilot the kite to fly anywhere within the wind window.  For all its practical purposes, the wind window is basically the area you can see with your eyes (85 degrees to the left, 85 degrees to the right, 85 degrees upward) when you are facing straight down wind.

Wind window

Wind window

Inflatable Control Devices

Using an inflatable kite control bar (normally with 4 lines, two front lines and two back lines), you can turn the kite to the left by pulling the left end of the bar and turn the kite to the right by pulling the right end of the bar.  If the bar is in a neutral position, the kite will continue on its current flight path and fly to the edge of the wind window (left, right, upward or downward edges).

The two back lines (control lines) of the kites are tied to the leader lines at the ends of the bar and the front lines (power lines) are tied to a center leader line.  There is some adjustable strap and/or "chicken loop" set up on the center line allowing the kitesurfer to shorten it to adjust the length of the front lines .vs. back lines to adjust the angle of attack of the kite (adjust the power of the kite).

If the twisting of the lines after a spin upsets you, you may want to rig a spin leash that allows you to untwist the lines easily after a spin (see the KiteLoose Swivel Control Bar below). 

Spinning bar

The KiteLoose 4 line inflatable Swivel Control Bar

Inflatable Depowering System

A 4 line inflatable can be depowered by shorten the front leader line (reduce the AOA) and empowered by lengthen the front leader line (increase the AOA).  This shortening and lengthening of the front leader line can be done via a chicken loop or a trim strap.  Some even tie the front leader line to their harness (can be released via a quick release mechanism).

For classic inflatable, some kiters even use a 5th line to help relaunching of the kite and also to be used as a safety system line.

Since the new Flat LEI can depower much more than the traditional LEI, the new Flat LEI control bar has a much longer trim strap and chicken loop line.

Flat LEI bar
A flat LEI bar

Foil Control Devices

Using a pair of 4 line handles, you can turn a foil to the left by pulling on the left handle and turn the kite to the right by pulling on the right handle. You can turn the kite faster by pulling on a brake line (the 2 front lines are called main lines; the 2 back lines are called brake lines). You can turn the kite to the left by pulling on the left brake line and turn the kite to the right by pulling on the right brake line.   If both the handles are in a neutral position, the kite will continue on its flight path and fly to the edge of the wind window.  You can slow the kite down by pulling slightly on both of the brake lines; stop the kite by pulling harder on both of the brakes lines; or make the kite moving backward by pulling very hard on both of the brake lines.

You can use a 4 line bar to control your foil.   The front lines are connect to the center of the bar (or about 20 cm from each other) and the brake lines are connected to both ends of the bar.

If you have a power steering bridle (a line connecting the front bridle to the trailing bridle), you can rig a 3 line set up by connecting your front lines to both ends of the bar and a center line to the trailing bridle.

Modern foils with AOA control use the same bar setup as 4 line inflatables.

Foil Depowering Systems

Foils have a rich set of depowering systems:

  • Depowering by changing camber:  This system allows a kitesurfer to shorten/lengthen the trailing line to increase/decrease the trailing camber of the kite to increase/decrease its power.  This system was used by Concept Air New Wave.
  • Depowering by neutralizing a section of foil:   This system allows a kitesurfer to flatten the middle section of the kite by pulling on a line to decrease the power of the kite.  This system was used by Jojo Rage and Windtools Mosquito.
  • Depowering by changing AOA:  Similar to an inflatable, this system allows a kitesurfer to change the AOA of the foil.  This system is used by Arc, Boom Vector, ConceptAir and Flysurfer.
  • Depowering by changing foil/sled shape:  This system allows a kitesurfer to change the shape of the kite from a flat foil to a sled and vice and versa.  More information about this system can be found at ConceptAir has recently released foil called Smart using similar system.

Reel Bars

A 2-line reel bar can be used with the classic 2 line inflatable. The main advantage of the reel bar is that it enables you to launch the kite easily in a crowded area and offers you the ability to sail with different line lengths without having to change the lines.

There were some other 4 line reel bar that can be used with 4 line inflatable kites.  For some reason, reel bars have never became popular among the kitesurfers.

Safety Systems

Regardless of whichever control device you use, make sure that it has a dependable safety release system (especially if you use inflatable kites).  This system should be able to disable the kite completely.  Once activated, the system should also allow you to retrieve the kite and the control device (so you do not loose your kite).  Make sure you test the safety release system incorporated with your control device in light wind condition before using it (the best place to try this is in shallow water as some kite may crash and break when you activate the safety release system on land).


Click for more information about safety and safety systems.

4. Boards

A beautiful home-made board

You can use almost anything as a kitesurfing board: skim-board, water skis, wakeboard, windsurfing board and of course, kiteboard.  Generally it is best to use a kiteboard which is specially made for kitesurfing.  A number of years of R&D and experiences have been put into designing those kiteboards.  You can also make your own kiteboards as in specified in the Board Building section.

Bidirectional Boards

There are mainly two schools of thought in kiteboard design.  The first school of thought comes from kitesurfers with wakeboarding/snowboarding background.   These type of kiteboards are called bidirectional board, or twintip, normally very thin, barely floatable by itself and use straps or bindings attaching the kitesurfers' feet to the board.  These boards are great for jumping and exotic moves in high wind.  They are less than ideal for light wind conditions (less than 10 knots) unless the kitesurfer uses a bigger kite.  These types of board are normally 110 cm to 170 cm long and 33 cm to 45 cm wide. Kitesurfers do not change feet when they jibe on these boards.  They simply reverse the direction (similar to wakeboarding) or go from a heel down to a toe down position when jibing.

Due to the ease of jibing and more control when jumping, bidirectional boards have more or less dominated the kiteboard market and modern riders normally use bidirectional boards.


Directional Boards

Directional boards from Stonker

The second school of thought comes from kitesurfers with surfing or windsurfing background.  These directional kiteboards are normally slightly thinner than a regular surfboard, sharper edges and having 2 or 3 footstraps (similar to a windsurfing board).   These types of boards are normally 140 cm to 230 cm long and 35 cm to 50 cm wide.   These boards are great for speed and light wind conditions.  While they would do well in jumping and exotic moves, they are normally larger and therefore harder to control in extreme high wind conditions.  Kitesurfers change feet similar to windsurfing when they jibe on these boards.

Only a few modern kitesurfers use directional boards.  Directional kitesurfers normally use directional board in light wind and in waves.  Sometimes in strong wind directional kitesurfers use a form of directional board called "Mutant" which is basically a small directional board with only 2 straps and has capacity to be ridden temporarily in reverse direction.

Fins and Other Accessories

All types of board may have fins or may be finless.  Even though fins may help to make the board go upwind, all fins are mainly used to keep the board going straight.  It is the upwind edge of the board that acts as the real fin providing lift to keep the board going upwind.

Hyperlite Roam 2007 finless board

2007 Hyperlite Roam, a new finless wakeboard

Similar to a surfboard, a kiteboard may have a leash attaching the board to one of the kitesurfer's feet (or harness).  Normally, a high quality, surf board type leash around 6' long is used as a kiteboard leash.  Since there are a number of board leash related accidents in the past, most modern kitesurfers abandon board leash and learn "body drag upwind" to retrieve the board instead.  Furthermore, with the new Flat LEI, a kitesurfer can fully depower the kite and swim back to retrieve the kite (no body drag upwind is really needed).

To further discourage the use of board leash, Ocean Rodeo markets a device called the "Go Joe" which makes a board flow down wind faster therefore easier to be retrieved. 

Generally, most boards specially made for kitesurfing can go upwind and beginners can learn to go upwind as soon as they can plan on the board properly.

Board Selection

Selecting one board from the others is more or less a matter of preference and the condition you likely to encounter at your local beach.  The main criteria in board selection are the board type and size.  Use the following guidelines for board selection in high wind area (15+ knots of wind most of the time):

High wind area Bidirectional (for most riders) Directional (for special reasons)
Most Kitesurfers 40cm shorter than your height  
Special Cases (wave, etc.)   30cm shorter than your height
For Learning 20cm shorter than your height 30 cm longer than your height

Use the following guidelines for board selection in light wind areas (5 - 15 knots of wind most of the time)

Light wind area Bidirectional Directional
1 board 30cm shorter than your height 20cm shorter than your height
2 boards
  • Your height for light wind
  • 40 cm shorter than your height for stronger wind
  • 30cm longer than your height for light wind
  • 30cm shorter than your height for stronger wind
For Learning Your height 30cm longer than your height

Instead of dependent on height, another rule-of-thumb for board selection is that board surface should be proportional to square root of rider weight (a rider twice as heavy as another should use a board 1.4 times the planning surface)

Board Length and Width

Newer generation of boards are wider and shorter than the traditional boards.  To select the appropriate wide board, just make sure that the newer wide board has the same planning surface as the traditional boards (up to a certain limits, boards with the same planning surface should accommodate the same wind range).

The modern board trend is to limit the length of the board (around 140cm for bidirectional and 5'2" or 155cm for directional) and simply make it wider for lighter wind.

Best Chubby school/light wind board is around 140cm long

Going Upwind

To go upwind on a free sail system such as a windsurfer, the sailor move the sail backward to move the center of force behind the center of resistance of the board, fins and keel.

On a kitesurfing system, a kitesurfer holds the kite in his hands and his feet transfer the pull of the kite to the board; therefore the center of force is normally between his two feet.  The kitesurfer can move this center of force slightly by transferring his weight to his front foot or his back foot.  To go upwind on a kitesurfing system the kitesurfer has to move both the center of force and the center of resistance:

  1. Move the center of force backward by transferring his weight  more to the back foot.
  2. More important, move the center of resistance forward by pressing the windward edge to put the board from 15 to 45 degrees to the water.

So the current way to go upwind on a kitesurf board is to "ride" on its windward edge. 

5. Kitesurfer & Associated Equipment

Compare to another sport such as windsurfing, a kitesurfer has a much more important role in kitesurfing.  While a windsurfer only has to trim the sail and steer the board in the desired direction, a kitesurfer has to do the following:

  1. Constantly move the kite and to put it in the proper locations in the wind window to generate power ("trim" the kite).
  2. Edge the upwind rail of the board to provide lateral resistance to go upwind.
  3. Act as a "universal join" to transfer the power of the kite to the board to make the board move.
  4. Steer the board in the desired direction.

This is why going upwind in kitesurfing is much harder than in windsurfing.  Any less-than-perfect move in any one of those 4 actions will result in the board moving downwind.  For example, if the kite is flying too high in the wind window, it tends to lift the kitesurfer up therefore makes it harder for the kitesurfer to edge the windward rail of the board properly.

A kitesurfer normally use a harness system (or something equivalent) to attach the control devices directly to the kitesurfer's body (to temporarily release the tension on the arms).  Any kitesurfing harness system can be used.  In general, a normal kitesurfing or windsurfing harness system is also sufficient (a chest, waist or seat harness).

Since a kitesurf board cannot float with you sitting on it, a life jacket is always recommended.

Use water shoes if there are rocks or other "unfriendly stuff" under the water.

As a beginner, you will be in the water more often so use a wet suit thicker than the one you normally use.  Normally a 3mm/2mm for summer and a 5mm/4mm steamer for early spring or late fall.

If you kitesurf in moderate or strong wind (15+ knots), you may want to wear a helmet to protect your head. A hockey helmet is sufficient.

Hook Knife
You may want to have a hook knife (available at your local sky diving or paragliding store or in some cases, a dicing shop) in case the line tangles with your body.  (photo from Art Dervaes).


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