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Light Air Kitesurfing

One of the many attractions of kitesurfing is that one can kitesurf in very little wind, as low as 5 knots.  As long as you can fly a traction kite, you can kitesurf.  Once a kite is airborne, it is weightless.  So in light wind condition, just go out with a larger kite and a larger board.  In the following sections, you will find the recommended equipment and techniques required for extreme light wind kitesurfing (5 - 10 knots).  Furthermore, You can kiteski (on snow) starting from what ever the wind speed the kite can fly decently (can keep the kite stay overhead without having to move the kite).  The following table shows the estimated minimum wind speed you need to fly a number types of kite decently:

Kite Type Minimum Wind Speed (in Knots) to Fly Decently
Inflatable 5
Flat Inflatable (Bow Kite) 4-5
Arc 4-5
Closed Cell Foil 4-5
Opened Cell Foil 3


Photo by Jennifer Madore of www.justcallmephotography.ca

Contrary to popular belief, kitesurfing and kiteskiing in extreme light air is very challenging and generates a lot of fun.  There is a lot of satisfaction, a feeling of possessing a divine power, coming out of being able to propel your board/skis very fast on the water in very little wind (easily 2 to 3 times wind speed on snow) - a feast unachievable by any other sailing crafts known to man.  In any case, being on the water is much better than staying on the beach.

Extreme Light Air Equipment

The following equipment and conditions are recommended for light air kitesurfing:

  1. A very large and very high performance kite (the larger the kite, the lower the wind you can kitesurf).   If you kitesurf in extreme  light wind (6 knots and below), most kites is not usually water relauncheable.  You can use any large high performance traction kite, just try to keep it in the air while kitesurfing.  Also note that a regular foil fly better than a closed cell foil in light wind.
  2. Use a faster turning and faster flying kite; some kite can fly very fast but can't turn fast enough (this is a tough combination but keep looking and in the end you will find a right kite for extreme light wind). 
  3. If you have a kite powerful enough to be fully powered up even for such light wind condition, you can use your normal kiteboard.  If you are somewhat underpowered even with your largest kite, then you would need a larger board.   The larger the board the lower the wind you can ride as the larger planning surface of the board will help in early planning and sustaining the planning when you jibe.   This also means that the larger the board the more wind range (in extreme light wind only) that it has over the smaller board.  Thus it is better to use a larger board in very light wind.   The larger directional board should be 1' to 2' longer than your height and the larger bi-directional board should be around your height.  Skimboards are also very popular among light wind riders.
  4. Very long lines 30+ m (especially for 5 - 10 knots of wind).  Basically just get a 10m line extension set and  just add this 10m extension to your line in extreme light light wind.
  5. Smooth water (a lake or a shallow bay). You can plan sooner and go upwind easier in smooth water than in choppy water.


Kiting with a skimboard on a light wind day
Photo by Bill Barker

Extreme Light Air Riding

Similar to windsurfing, it is very easy to kitesurf in moderate to strong wind but very challenging to kitesurf in light wind.  You have to be perfect in almost every move to keep on planning during lulls.  Following are the tips and techniques one needs to master for light air kitesurfing:

  1. If possible, use the fixed loop to harness more power of your kite.
  2. In very light air (less than 7 knots), all kites are very sluggish, it takes longer for the kite to response to your command and turn.  Anticipate this delay and command your kite 1/2 second before you actually want it to turn.  This anticipation is very important when you have to turn the kite up while it is diving downward.
  3. In light air, you have to predict the movement of the kite instead of reacting to the kite's movement by observing or "feeling" it (as you would normally do in high wind).
  4. When you command your kite to turn, do it forcefully.  For example, pull a control bar to the left such that the left end is almost pointing to your body and the right end is almost pointing to the kite to command the kite to turn left. If you use a 4 line kites with handles, make sure you use the brake lines to make the kite turn faster.
  5. Pump your line (pull the control bar up/down, up/down a number of times) to keep the kite in the air during a lull.  If you are in the water, try swimming backward while pumping your lines.  If you are on your board, try to edge the windward rail while pumping your lines.
  6. If you are loosing balance in a lull, bend you knee to keep your center of gravity closer to the center of the board.  As a general rule, do this every time you are waiting for the kite to turn in very light wind.
  7. If you are underpowered, move the kite continuously to generate power.  Try to use the entire available wind window (your command has to be precise, perfect and always anticipate the delay).  You can use the sine wave pattern, the figure 8 pattern or a combination of both (use the sine wave pattern will deliver slightly less power but will facilitate going upwind).  Normally your kite should be flying in the forward portion of the wind window.  If you are way underpowered, you can use a part of the backward wind window temporarily.
  8. When the kite goes up: move your center of gravity closer to the board and flatten your board to sustain high speed.  When the kite goes down: lean backward; edge hard on your windward rail and point your board upwind.  This will allow the board to sustain high speed and going upwind at the same time.
  9. Turn your board slightly upwind just before you turn the kite upward.  This will add more tension to the lines and make the kite turn faster.
  10. When your board start planning, the kite will fly much better due to the apparent wind effect.  Try to keep the board and the kite as stable as possible (don't stall them) to maximize the apparent wind effect (I once clocked 3 times the wind speed kiteskiing in very light wind around 6 - 8 knots
  11. Use the techniques described in Kitesurfing in an Underpowered Situation to get back to shore if the wind drops.
  12. Use the techniques described in Kitesurfing in an Overpowered Situation to handle the gusts.  Do not rush to shore to change to a smaller kite unless you are out of control and the "gust" stays for more than 30 minutes.

Extreme Light Air Jumping

It is possible to jump in extreme light air, especially from 7 to 10 knots (below 7 knots it is extremely difficult if not currently possible):

  1. To jump in very light wind, you need to use the forward speed of the board to its maximum potential.  So go as fast as you can before the jump.
  2. Keep the kite around 70 degrees vertical just before the jump.
  3. Move the kite backward, upward to 75 degrees backward (this movement will allow you to maximize the upward lift of the kite).
  4. Take your back hand off the control bar such that your front hand will force the kite to move forward as soon as you are off the ground (otherwise you won't be able to land properly)

 


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