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Kiteboarding Equipment | Best Gear for Kitesurfers

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 a 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 Kitesurfing Gear Guide - Let's Get Started!

The following sections describe each component in detail.  If you are on a budget you can also buy used kitesurfing equipment.

Blurring everything else! Photo by Jennifer Madore. 

1. Different Types Of Kiteboarding 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 of 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 have a certain degree of water relaunch-ability. 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

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

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 made major in-road to the kite snowboarding and kite skiing 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 detailed 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 a larger wind range
  • Flat inflatable kites can relaunch easier

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

Framed Single Skin Kites

Framed Kiteski kite. 

These types of kites have a leading edge made of fiberglass or graphite, one main batten in the center, and a number of thin battens along the chord to give the kites a permanent shape. Similar to windsurfing, it will take quite a bit of practice to learn how to water launch a 2 line 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 was the inventor of the launchable 2 line skin kite system. KiteSki used to have Banshee manufactured the kites. Both KiteSki and Banshee developed and marketed their own version (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 downwind before landing on the water).

For some reason, framed single kites got less and less popular among the kitesurfers, and rarely one see any kitesurfer using these kites anymore.

Ram Air Foil Kites

ConceptAir Leader

These kiteboarding kites have no rigid structure. The shape of the kite is formed while flying. It has shapes similar to airplane wings and therefore, probably, are the most aerodynamic kites. Ram air kites have been on the market for a long time and have been used by many.

In the early days of kitesurfing, Concept Air and F-One released the first water launchable ram air 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 these characteristics, these types of kites 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 was the first company to introduce 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 the inflatable.

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

Kite Wind Range

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

How much wind range is needed for a kite?

Due to the ability to depower the kite, kites’ wind ranges are very large (usually double the wind speed, for example: from 10 to 20 knots wind range).  One normally only needs 2 or 3 kites to cover most winds 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 Chart (Flat And Inflatable LEI)

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. Kite Lines

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 Types For Kiteboarders

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.

Kite 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 2.5 times your weight. For a 4-line foil, the main lines should have a minimum strength equal to 2.5 times your weight while the brake lines should have a minimum strength equal to your weight.

For example, if you weigh 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.

Appropriate Knots, Sleeves & Splice For Kitesurfers

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 has been tested by Dave Culp, a pioneer kite sailor). 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):

Lines get stretched, so open the wove pushing with your hands.
Thread the end of the line into its own core for about 5 inches.
Milk the line to make it even.
Thread more than 5 inches inside the core once more. Milk again.
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 kite line

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

Accurate Line Length For Good Kitesurfing

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 use 25m – 30m lines as that will give the most versatile range 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. Kitesurf Control Devices

Control devices allow you to control the kites. Many 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, you 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 downwind.

Wind window. 

Inflatable Kite Control Devices

Using a kite control bar that is inflatable (normally with 4 lines, two front lines, and two rear 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 rear 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 central leader line.  There is some adjustable strap and/or “chicken loop” set up on the centerline allowing you 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). 

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 lengthening 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 to relaunch the kite and also to be used as a safety system line.

Flat LEI Bar For Depowering

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.
Waroo Safety Bar

A flat LEI bar. 

Kite 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 brake lines, or make the kite moving backward by pulling very hard on both of the brake lines.

4 line bar & 3 line setup

You can use a 4-line bar to control your foil.  The front lines are connected 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 centerline 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 kite 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.  The 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 was 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. 

Kiteboarding Reel Control 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 was some other 4 line reel bar that can be used with 4 line inflatable kites.  For some reason, reel bars never became popular among kitesurfers.

Safety Systems For Kitesurfers

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 lose 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 kites may crash and break when you activate the safety release system on land).

NEVER USE ANY CONTROL DEVICE WITHOUT A SAFETY RELEASE SYSTEM

You can use a 4 line bar to control your foil.  The front lines are connected 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.

4. Kitesurfing Boards (homemade?)

A beautiful homemade board.

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

Bidirectional Kiteboards (twin-tip)

There are mainly two schools of thought in kiteboard design.  The first school of thought comes from people with a wakeboarding/snowboarding background.  These types of boards are called bidirectional, or twin-tip boards, normally very thin, barely floatable by itself and use straps or bindings attaching the kitesurfers’ feet to the board.

Best Kitesurf Boards For Jumping

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 boards 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 Surf Boards

Directional boards from Stonker.

The second school of thought comes from kitesurfers with a surfing or windsurfing background.  These directional kiteboards are normally slightly thinner than a regular surfboard, sharper edges, and having 2 or 3-foot straps (similar to a windsurfing board).   These types of boards are normally 140 cm to 230 cm long and 35 cm to 50 cm wide.

Best Boards For High Speed

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 extremely 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 Kiteboarding Accessories

All types of boards may have fins or be without it. 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.

2007 Hyperlite Roam, a new finless wakeboard. 

Similar to a surfboard, a kiteboard may have a leash attaching the board to one of your feet (or harness).  Normally, a high-quality, surfboard-type leash around 6′ long is used as a leash.  Since there are a number of board leash-related accidents in the past, most modern kitesurfers abandon board leashes 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 (body drag upwind is not really needed).

To further discourage the use of a board leash, Ocean Rodeo markets a device called the “Go Joe” which makes a board flow downwind 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.

How To Find The Best Kiteboard

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 areaBidirectional (for most riders)Directional (for special reasons)        
Most Kitesurfers40cm shorter than your height
Special Cases (wave, etc.)30cm shorter than your height
For Learning20cm shorter than your height30 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 areaBidirectionalDirectional        
1 board30cm shorter than your height20cm shorter than your height
2 boardsYour 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 LearningYour height30cm longer than your height

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

Best Kiteboard Length and Width

The newer generation of boards is 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 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 when Kitesurfing

To go upwind on a free sail system such as a windsurfer, the sailor moves 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. More Kitesurfing Equipment

Compare to other sports such as windsurfing, a kitesurfer has a much more active role when surfing.  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 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 surfer up, therefore, makes it harder to edge the windward rail of the board properly.

Harness And Lifejacket For Kiteboarding

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

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

Water Shoes, Helmet And Hook Knife

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

You may want to have a hook knife. They are often available at your local skydiving or paragliding store or in some cases, a dicing shop. They are helpful in case of the line tangles with your body. (Photo from Art Dervaes).

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