There have been a few known fatal accidents while kitesurfing so
for kitesurfing or any other disciplines of power kiting, safety has to be
taken seriously. It is recommended that you take kitesurfing lesson
from a local reputable kitesurfing school. If you have to learn kitesurfing all by yourself, make sure that you have
read and fully understood the following before attempting to kitesurf:
Don't jump over the power line!
(fortunately, this is just a photography illusion)
Photo by Bill Barker
Modern kitesurfing more or less became popular since 1998. Pioneer
kitesurfers have been through generations of equipment and
had their shares of accidents. Even thought most had no clue of what
risks to encounter in the early days, many (including me) managed to stay out of serious accidents due to some
very simple rules and common sense that we practiced. Many
years have passed and kitesurfing is no longer a "mystery" as it was
in the early days. Kitesurfing know-how, Teaching Methodologies
and safety guidelines are very well-known and well published (web sites
http://www.kitesurfingschool.org, schools, books, videos, magazines,
accident databases, etc.). It is no longer acceptable for any excuse
of not knowing what risks to expect in kitesurfing or kiting in general.
Modern kiting risks are manageable as long as one
does it properly.
Personally, I would compare the risk of kiting similar to the risk of
driving a car in North America (for sure much less risk than driving in Paris or
Saigon). And similar to driving, there will be more serious and fatal kitesurfing accidents (like
driving, the risks are manageable but they're still there,
still require attention). I have been driving in North America for 25 years, driving in
Paris for a couple summers (and will be soon driving in Saigon). I had
my fair shares of minor accidents but managed to stay out of serious
accidents. So here it is: a table showing the Art of Staying Alive for
both kiting and driving:
The Art of Staying Alive
Don't kitesurf in severe weather (storm, thunderstorm, etc.) unless you absolutely must do so
Don't drive in severe weather (heavy rain, blizzard,
freezing rain, etc.) unless you absolutely must do so
When in doubt of the weather condition or equipment,
When in doubt of the weather condition, the car or the
road, stop driving.
Use your "automated" (dead-man) safety devices when
launching, landing or near hard objects.
Use your "automated" safety devices (air bags,
auto-locked seat-belt, ABS, etc.)
Don't attach yourself to the kite in certain conditions
(launching, landing, near hard objects)
Don't attach yourself to the car - wear your seat-belt -
in certain conditions (driving on ice - frozen lake)
Wear appropriate protection devices (helmet, PFD or
impact vest, etc.)
Wear appropriate protection devices (seat-belt, helmet
for formula-one racing, etc.)
Go slow and be careful in crowded place (near shore,
people and hard objects, etc.)
Go slow and be careful on crowded road.
Don't jump in crowded place (near shore, people and hard
Don't jump your car on crowded city streets (unless you
are filming some action movies of course ;-)
Be alert and prepare to handle unexpected risks (extreme
gusts, other "crazy" kiters, submerged rocks, etc.)
Be alert and prepare to handle unexpected risks ("black
ice", other "crazy" drivers, objects on the road, hidden driveway, etc.)
Take a Kiting Lesson
Take a Driving Lesson
Don't Drink and Kite
Don't Drink and Drive
Those the most basic rules and common sense all kiters should have.
Now read on for more safety details.
Use the following safety guidelines when kitesurf:
Do not kitesurf without a safety release system that
allows you to disable the kite at any moment.
Traditional kites cannot be fully depowered while the kitesurfer
is attached to the kite (chicken loop or chicken loop line).
When things go wrong, the kitesurfers activate a safety release system that detaches
themselves from the kite. While this system works when you are conscious and can
react fast enough, it DOESN'T when you are not conscious or don't have
enough time to react to a dangerous situation (a few kitesurfers have had serious
or fatal accidents in the past due to these devices). Use such
kite and safety release system
with care and only do so when you are out in open water. Also make sure that you
test your safety release system properly as described latter on in this page.
The new generation of kite (e.g. Flat LEI) can be depowered
fully by simply dropping the bar. Such kites are safer as once
the control bar is dropped, the kite become more manageable and the
kiter can have more time (and chance) to activate the safety release
to detach from the kite.
If you use a traditional kite which cannot be fully depowered while
hooking in to the chicken loop, do not hook in before launching and
landing. Depower your kite using the trim strap before launching or
landing. If you use a "spin leash" or "swivel bar", use the modern
bar that allows you to launch and land unhooked.
Don't launch, ride or jump upwind of people or hard
objects. Give yourself at least 1.5 line-length distance from those
Check your kite, lines and the set up before launching your kite.
Don't ask a non-kitesurfer to assist you in launching or landing
a kite (it is safer to launch and land the kite yourself than having a non-kitesurfer to
Attach the safety leash "permanently" to your wrist or
harness using Velcro tapes or a quick release.
Don't kitesurf near power lines or airport.
Don't kitesurf before, during, after a thunder storm or in stormy
Don't kitesurf in offshore wind.
Make sure that there is a "friendly" beach downwind from where you start.
Don't kitesurf in crowded water. Get out to the open water or any un-crowded area as
soon as you can.
Do not kitesurf in very strong wind if you are a beginner (in 20+
knots) and be careful even if you are an experienced kitesurfer (in 30+
Wear a life jacket or impact vest
Wear a helmet.
Flying lines can cut when the kite is flying. Never let yourself
or others even having a chance of getting tangled up with the flying lines (e.g. do not
fly your kite over other people, never wrap flying lines around your hand).
A kite should come with a working safety release system.
Don't buy any kite without a working safety release system. There are a
number of safety release system currently used by the kitesurfers depending on the type of
kite and control device they use.
2 Line inflatable safety release system:
For a 2 line inflatable, the safety release system makes one line
about 1 kite span longer than the other line to disable the kite when you stop holding the
control bar. The systems have a safety leash attaching to your left wrist (or
harness) to allow you to retrieve the control bar.
4 Line inflatable safety release system:
4 line inflatable kite safety system should be similar to a 2
line inflatable. For a 4 line inflatable, the safety release system makes one line
(either one of the front line or one of the back line) about 1 kite span longer than all
the rest to disable the kite when you stop holding the control bar. The systems have
a safety leash attaching to your left wrist (or harness) to allow you to retrieve the
For a 4 line inflatable, the modern kiters normally use a
"spin leash" that allows them to "unspin" the lines easily
after a spin jump. Most older spinning leash system requires that the kitesurfer
permanently attached to the chicken loop (the depower/empower line) even on
land. One of the modern spinning leash system on the market is the
Swivel Bar from KiteLoose which does not require the rider to
permanently attached to the chicken loop.
Swivel bar that
allows launching and landing unhooked
Most inflatable can be rigged with a 5th
line. The safety leash can be attached to the 5th line instead of any
of the other 4 lines.
Flat LEI safety release system
For Flat LEIs, the kite can be fully
depowered while hooking in; however,
the kiter should still wear a safety leash similar to a
A flat LEI bar
2 Line foil safety release system:
There is no way to safely disable a 2 line foil except for trying to land it on the
side of the wind window or to dump it in the water!
3 Line foil safety release system:
The safety release system for a 3 line foil is a simple Velcro tape wrist band (or
harness band) that attaches to the center leader lines on the bar (which attaches to the
brake lines or the trailing edge of the kite). If you attached
the safety leash to your harness (via a Velcro tape or a snap shackle), you can pass the
safety release line through the harness loop to make it a "spin safety leash"
allowing you to spin the bar to untangle the line.
4 Line foil safety release system:
The safety release for a 4 line foil with handles is a simple Velcro tape wrist band
(or harness band) that attaches to the kitesurfer's left wrist (or harness). From the
wrist band (or harness band), there are two lines (regular 500 lb. kite line is fine). One
line around 1'6" (or longer if you use shorter harness line, I use around 2' harness
line) attaches to the same spot on the left brake leader line as the left brake line. The
other line around 4' attaches to the same spot on the right brake leader line as the right
brake line. To disable the kite, just drop the handles.
For a 4 line foil with bar, the safety system is similar to a 4 line
Some safety systems are completely dependent on the quick release
systems (especially for 4 line inflatable kites). Don't rely on the claims of other
kitesurfers, equipment manufacturers or dealers, test your quick release systems yourself
(biological or mechanical) each time you go out as follows:
Find 2 tables about 4' high. Place them around 40 - 50 cm apart.
Place your control bar between the two tables (one end on each
Wear you harness, impact vest and all the associate clothing or
gloves (i.e., if you do both summer kitesurfing and winter kitesnowboarding/kiteskiing
then you need to repeat each test twice, each one with different clothing, glove, etc.)
If you use a fixed loop, hook in to you fixed loop and suspend
yourself in the air.
Hold the bar and make sure that you can unhook from the fixed loop
within 10 seconds. If not then you need more lift up exercise or a longer fixed loop
or a quick release on your fixed loop.
If you have a quick release on the fixed loop, make sure that it
works (within 10 seconds) by locating it and activating it while suspending yourself
attaching to the fixed loop.
If you use a chicken loop, tie the loop tightly with the bar so
you can suspend yourself by attaching to it.
Hold the bar and try to unhook from the chicken loop within 10
seconds. If you can do this consistently then it's great, you are one of the few who can
do it! If not, you need a quick release on your chicken loop.
If you have a quick release on the chicken loop, make sure that it
works (within 10 seconds) by locating it and activating it while suspending yourself
attaching to the chicken loop.
If you shackle in then tie the shackle line to the bar and
suspending yourself while shackled in. Make sure the quick release of the shackle works
within 10 seconds by locating it and activating it while suspending yourself.
Now your can feel better that your systems the way you installed
them on your bar are tested with your harness and clothing set up with the load of your
weight (if possible, you may want to wear some extra weight while doing the testing)
A prudent kitesurfer may want to repeat the same 10 steps after putting the quick release
systems in water and mixed them up in sand for a while (step 5 and 7 does not need to be
A prudent kitesurfer may want to have 2 or 3 quick systems
(preferable of two different types) so if one fails, the others can be used.
A kitesurfer must be familiar with the following techniques to self-rescue or to rescue
other kitesurfers or any other water users.
If your kite is still flying, just use its power to pull you and the board to the beach.
With this method, you normally can go around 60 degrees downwind either to the left
or to the right, so make sure there is a friendly beach in that direction. This is one of
the main reason why you should make sure that there is a friendly beach downwind from
where you started.
If your kite is on the water and cannot be relaunched for whatever reason (light wind,
bridle mixed up, broken battens, broken lines, water leak, etc.), you need to wind
all the lines in. In you are using an inflatable or closed cell foil kite, you
need to reel in with 1 line 10 - 12' out-of-sync of the other such that your kite will not
relaunch accidentally when to wind the lines in. If you use a reel bar, you need to pull
the left line 20'; reel both lines in 10' while holding the left line (at the 20'
position); pull the left line another 10' and continue to reel both lines in while holding
the left line.
If you are using an inflatable kite, you can use the kite as a sail to get you to shore.
After having wound the lines in, just hold the kite bridle with both of your hands and
position it to act as a sail to get you to shore. You can go only around 60 degrees
downwind either to the left or to the right, so make sure there is a friendly beach in
If you are using a foil and the water has yet gotten into the foil,
you can relaunch the foil using the bridle and park the kite on one side
to get to shore.
If you are using an inflatable kite and there is no wind, you can just hold the kite
with one hand while swimming to shore (you can hold the board with the
If you are using other types of kite (or the wind is pushing your inflatable kite off
shore), you need to pack your kite. You can pack a ram foil kite by folding both wind tips
together a number of time until around 3', 4'. Then you can roll the kite from the
trailing edge toward the leading edge. If you use an inflatable kite, you can use the same
packing method but have to deflate all the inflatable tubes completely before packing your
kite. If you use a framed kite, you have to use the packing method come with the kite.
Put the packed kite on top of the board and then hold the board with both hands in front
of you while swimming to shore. You can also hold the board and the kite with one hand on
the side while swimming to shore. If your board is big enough, you can lie on top of your
equipment and paddle to shore.
To rescue another kitesurfer, you should tell the other kitesurfer to pack his/her board
properly. You should try to stay within the same area (within 1 mile) while the other
kitesurfer pack his/her kite.
Once the kite is packed, you can stop beside the other kitesurfer. Make sure
that the other kitesurfer has wound all the lines in completely. The other
kitesurfer should put the packed kite on top of your board and holding your board with
both hand while you use power of the kite to pull both you and the other kitesurfer to the
beach. With this method, you can go only around 60 degrees downwind either to the left or
to the right, so make sure there is a friendly beach in that direction.
You can use a similar technique to rescue any other waters user as long as they can pack
their equipment on the water and can hold on to both your board and their equipment with
Getting lofted is one of the most serious dangers of kitesurfing. Due to the
high power requirement of kitesurfing, a serious wind gust can send the kitesurfer upward
if he/she has the kite park overhead. Getting lofted in the water is fun (it is
normally called tea bagging). It is getting lofted on land that normally results in
serious injuries or death.
Lofting video posted on Youtube.com
Following is the recommendation from Rick Iossi on how to avoid getting lofted:
Lofting is a reality for kiteboarders, fortunately for whatever reasons, a somewhat
rare one though. This may be due to critical timing of the gusts, while being airborne off
the water and more vulnerable to being moved along further and/or higher. Who really knows
at this point. Several kiteboarders have been lofted while standing still, so being
airborne isnt strictly required, but it helps. I have put together a set of
precautions that seem to make sense. Input is welcome, particularly from kiteboarders who
have been lofted.
Gusts are the most common cause of course, more rare causes could include the apparent
dust devil that occurred in Spain with Robert Sanchez's fatal accident and the thermal
bubble that lofted Eric in Oahu to an incredible 225 ft.
Pick your weather carefully. If the weather radar, wind plots imply squalls or unduly
gusty weather or if obvious storm clouds or other signs of unstable weather are moving in,
it would be a good idea not to go kiteboarding. When in doubt, dont fly, wait for
If you are stationary in the water or on land, try to keep your kite at the edge of the
wind window and near the surface. This may result in your being dragged as opposed to
lofted, so plan accordingly. Be ready to depower your kite at the earliest opportunity if
hit by a strong gust to try to avoid extended dragging and potential serious injury.
If you are near hard objects or if pronounced gusty conditions are developing, stay
unhooked and be prepared to let go or more ideally, use a snap shackle to secure your
chicken loop. It is important that the snap shackle is rigged properly to improve
reliability of release. If you do use a snap shackle, rehearse mentally, frequently,
" if I get lofted, pull the snap shackle release cord". In the shock of lofting,
your reactions may be slow, so rehearsing may help. Of course if you are already high over
land, this one is a very tough judgment call as riding things out may be the wiser course.
To avoid having to make such critical decisions in very little time, which may result in
injury regardless of the decision, the best course is to work hard to avoid circumstances
which may lead to lofting in the first place.
Avoid or simply dont fly with onshore winds or kiteboard within 300 ft. upwind of
hard objects. If you go out in onshore winds, which is NOT RECOMMENDED, kiteboard more
than 300 ft. offshore until it is time to come in. I would come in without delay, keeping
the kite low and be prepared to let go of your bar if lofted. This technique generally
requires assisted landings shortly after you make it to shore. Do not jump within 300 ft.
of shore or hard downwind objects. If feasible it would be a good idea to have assisted
launches and landings at least 200 feet offshore in onshore winds, thereby avoiding having
an airborne kite closer to shore than 200 feet.
Be particularly cautious while upwind of bystanders. If circumstances seem to support
possible lofting, it would be best not to launch at all. If the rider decides to go
despite this recommendation and prudence, he should move a substantial distance away from
Try to use shorter line sets if you are expecting stronger winds. Also try not to fly a
larger kite than supported by apparent conditions.
Always wear a helmet! Wearing an impact vest is also a good idea.
Do not come within 100' of substantial vertical surfaces or walls with onshore winds to
avoid potentially being lifted. In theory even relatively minor winds could cause
substantial uplift along the face of buildings, cliffs, etc.
Of course, kiteboarders can break all of the above guidelines and perhaps be perfectly
OK for hundreds of hours on the water, then again, maybe not. One kiteboarder I know made
it through two years of going out in virtually every kind of weather including two
hurricanes, before he smacked into a bad landing and serious injury onshore.
Unfortunately, sad experience has shown that given enough time, bad things have a way of
catching up with us if we go a little too extreme, too often. We really need to avoid
lofting, particularly near others, for both our own good and that of the sport.
Following is an interesting email about lofting that I received in May,
I have been looking over your site and have found the information
very useful to me as I am interested in all things kite powered. I am
a paraglider pilot looking to try kite surfing and was very interested
to read the section on lofting (this is a new expression to me). Just
thought you would like to know about my experience with lofting.
I was flying an Advance Off-road 3.8m power kite (ram air) in a
relatively sheltered field (high trees running along 3 sides of the
field. I'm not sure of the length of line but they are the standard
ones witch came with the wing. The wind that day was moderate and was
exerting a low pull on the wing. It was a good day to practice with
the kite, stalling helicoptering and spinning etc.
My wing control is generally very good as I am used to controlling
a 13m wing (my paragliding canopy) in wind up to 17mph.
A freak gust of wind caught my kite (3.8m ram air) witch lifted me
to around 10-12ft. I know this is not very high but the speed with
which I was lifted and accelerated horizontally was shocking! I let go
of both control handles ( I was flying it on a 4 line system with a
handle in each hand) and fell to the ground. Fortunately my father was
there to run after the kite as I couldn’t get up because of a hard
landing. Both my ankles were swollen and bruised by the impact, a day
spent sitting down was the result.
I am well aware of the power of the wind and know that every time
you fly any kite you are harnessing a truly powerful thing. This said,
I weigh 75kg and didn’t expect that to happen to me with that
particular size kite in those conditions. I was lucky and learnt a
great lesson that day.
Don't know if this is any good for your site but I thought it may
have been of some interest to you
The US Coast Guard initiates a full search whenever they determine a rescue is needed. This
results in very expensive resources being dedicated until the missing/distressed person is
found. Too often the Coast Guard has searched through the night for a windsurfer who has
made it safely to shore and was at safe home. It is important to follow-up with the Coast
Guard if you have been the cause of an emergency call. (this paragraph is taken from the
San Francisco Boardsailing Association website).
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