First attempt at water kiteboarding

Ok, here is the round-up of where I am at to this point in kiteboarding on water:

  • I had a lesson almost exactly one year ago on an 11m. We got to body dragging but that was it. No board action.
  • I was able to use my trainer to body drag for a while one day after my lesson.
  • No, that isn’t much but that is where we are at.

I planned a week at the lake to try to get this sport nailed. As luck would have it this is the only week I can remember where we had five days without wind on the lake. I tried to get the kite out but the wind just didn’t cooperate. But I wasn’t going to let mother nature stop my progress. It has been about ten years since I have been on a board in the water too. So I decided to use this nice weather to try out the new Liquid Force Proof 151 I got from Kite Riders LLC. I picked it up new with straps for $200.

Now back to the ranch, I had my wife pull me around behind the jet ski on the kiteboard to get used to the board and how it acted. I think this was helpful because I was a little nervous about learning the board and the kite at the same time. I don’t know if it is the fact that I used to water ski at a competition level or that I do some snowboarding in the winter but I didn’t find it to hard to pick up the board behind the jet ski. I was jumping by the third try. Anyway, I would suggest getting in some board action before starting with the kite. If nothing else, the fewer things you have to think about the better when just starting.

So how did all this pan out on the water? Well, the board wasn’t an issue. But there were issues. First, the wind didn’t start blowing until we were packing up Sunday afternoon. My wife egged me into unpacking my stuff and trying it out.  The lake I am on has a shoreline filled with boats, docks, lifts, trees, etc. So there isn’t a good place to launch off shore. The wind was blowing out (off shore) from our beach. I know this isn’t ideal but the lake had little boat action going on and I knew I would have to hit the other side some time. That is a joke sort of. The lake is way to big to swim across for most normal people so I had my wife come out on the jet ski to help out if I needed to quit.

I rigged up and headed out. As always I was in a hurry. I’ll get to that later. I waded in the water and let the kite float out in front of me. This took a while because the trees block the wind near the beach. Once I got out to the wind I was feeling some pull. At first I had a hard time getting it launched but as the wind increased so did my luck. This whole time I am letting the kite carry me down wind which is out to the middle of the lake. Remember, I have a jet ski back up so I can bail any time. I wouldn’t recommend this approach if you are on the ocean unless you can swim the Atlantic. Floating through the water downwind was actually pretty relaxing. I didn’t have any traffic to worry about as I got towards the middle of the lake and I had plenty of room to make mistakes. The water is over my head since I left the dock and I am wearing a life jacket.

I start to get the wind figured out but launching the kite isn’t as easy as it was on snow. Eventually I get it up and from there I am able to keep it powered up most of the time. The one thing I wasn’t sure about is how to best maneuver the kite to get me out of the water. The boat pulls straight away but the kite doesn’t. A video I watched later noted to dive the kite from one side to the other to get up. That would have been helpful info earlier. So the moment you have been waiting for, I did get up. I got up and went for about 30 feet and lost my power and sunk. I think I drove the kite to close to the edge of the wind window. I did get up again and go for about 100 yards. That was fun. It reminded me of being a kid again when things are new to you so they are exciting. This was definitely worth the hour and a half I spent floating. It restored my hope that I will be able to figure this out too.

Side note:

I want to sent a note of thanks. While I was out on the water struggling a guy came out to give me some pointers. He also yelled at me from his boat to dive the kite to get up. Another thing he pointed out was I had my brake (blue and red) lines connected wrong.  So thanks to the veteran for the help. He also borrowed me a bigger board to try. I think it is great that there are still some folks out there who are willing to help others and the sport out.

Takeaways:

  • Professional lessons are highly recommended.
  • Videos are a good refresher cause you won’t remember everything – at least I didn’t.
  • A chase boat/jet ski is nice to have in case you lose your board, get tired, get in a bad way or whatever.
  • Helpful old timers are great.
  • Board skills before you try the kite will help.

First success:

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Bad day of kiteskiing

Wanting to get out and do some kiteskiing I loaded up the gear and headed out. The winds were strong (25+). I thought that was to much for my 13.5 so I opted for my trainer since it is the only small kite I own. I was all ready to go – skis on, kite up, just need to adjust my goggles. The weather was cold, even for ND. I was bundled pretty heavy and didn’t realize my leash, while around my mits, wasn’t on very tight. With the Hydra the leash is a velcro strap that goes around your wrist. You can see where this is going.  I didn’t notice it wasn’t tight because of the heavy mittens I was wearing. Also, I just didn’t pay enough attention to the safety strap. The weather was cold and by this time I had flown the trainer many times. I just got careless.

Anyway, while adjusting my goggles the kite got a little crazy so I was going to just let go and let the safety do its thing. But the combination of strong wind and poorly secured safety leash turned out to be a bad one. Instead of crashing like it should, the leash came off my wrist and the kite powered up and took without me. I was in a big open field with a new housing development in the path of the kite. By the time I got back to my vehicle and drove to where the kite was heading the lines had luckily got caught up on a tree stake in the firest row of houses. I say luckily because this meant the kite couldn’t make it to any roads or cause any problems for anyone. This was a bad day of kiting. Actually, it was a bad day of not kiting.

Takeaway:

  • Always double check safety equipment.
  • Don’t be in a hurry!

First winter kiteskiing session with Best Kahoona 13.5

After getting the feel of kiteskiing behind my Hydra I was hooked and had to pick up a bigger kite. I was hesitant to go to big coming from a trainer but I ordered the 2009 Best Kahoona 13.5 from Wind Power Sports. It arrivved and I headed out to Lake Josaphine in ND. The sky was cloudy with some light flurries and wind was light (9-10mph). I checked the ice and found some holes frozen over that were at least a foot deep so I figured it should be safe. Then I got my kite blown up, stretched the lines and connected everything. It took me a couple tries to get it up in the air but it was really pretty easy to launch off the snow. I moved the kite back in forth overhead for a while to get used to the pull and the fying characteristics of this kite. This is the first time I have had the kite out of the bag. 

I don’t have a lot of patience so I quickly got bored flying the kite. So I stepped into my ski bindings to get ready while keeping the kite in a neutral (overhead) position. Then I dipped the kite into the wind window and my skis started gliding across the wind-blown lake snow. The snow wasn’t real hard but blown. It almost always is in ND. Josaphine isn’t a real big lake so I was able to go from edge to edge back and forth pretty easy. I didn’t try to go up or downwind, just across it. This is where I got my first real taste of the depower bar and how to use it that made sense. I had played with it a little while body dragging but it didn’t really make sense to me until using it on the snow. This was a great experience. I didn’t go crazy and found myself using my skis to brake quite a bit so I would need to use the bar more for that but I was happy with my first attempt. The snow started moving in and I needed four wheel drive to get back in to the access of the lake so I had to cut my session a little short. It would have been nice to have someone else there to enjoy it with so if you are in ND and want to kite, let me know.

Buying my first depower kite

While kiteskiing behind my trainer I really got hooked. So I decided to take this sport to the next level and get some real equipment. Unfortunately I didn’t have anyone in my area who kites. So I didn’t have anyone to bounce questions off of about what to buy. I scoured the web and called several dealers looking for answers. This might not be the best way to go about it but I bought my first kite based on advice from dealers and blog posts. From those sources I was able to narrow my choices down to a few options. From there I just looked for the best deal I could find. I ended up going back to the same guy I got my trainer from at Wind Power Sports. I bought a Best Kahoona 13.5. This was not an easy decision.

Picking a kite type:

My original reason for getting into this was to ski in the winter so a foil kite was my original plan. But my research on the web and talking to some dealers pointed me towards an inflatable. Even though I planned to use it mostly in the winter my research showed for a first kite it might be best to get something I could use all year round. This would help with the learning curve by getting used to just one kite. It seemed to make sense at the time. The arguments for greater depower with a LEI over a foil helped too. This means you can use an LEI in a greater wind range than you can of a foil of similar size. Having not used a big foil I can not say if this is true or not but I have to believe the so called experts. I wasn’t excited about blowing up a kite in zero degree or below weather but it isn’t really that bad. Some people blow up their struts at home so they don’t have to do it in the cold. In the end I think you have to decide what is best for you.

Choosing a kite size:

A lot of factors determine the best kite size. Your weight, height, season and the winds you expect to ride in will direct you here. I went with the 13.5 based on the manufacturer’s suggested wind range of 10-20 for the Best Kahoona. This seemed like a pretty reasonable range for my area. This is sold as a beginners kite with good depower and relaunch capabilities. Those were important factors to me. Derrick at Wind Power Sports recommended it with the idea that I would be able to grow into it but not out of it to soon. It was hard for me to imagine going from a three meter to a thirteen but he assured me it would be ok. I was thinking a seven or nine originally but am happy with the thirteen because the winds haven’t been as strong as I thought they would be. Keep in mind I live in one of the most consistently windy spots in the country. In the end it is a personal decision based on where you plan to ride, how you plan to ride and your size. No matter what you decide, just make a decision and get out there.

First attempt at winter kite skiing

For my first try at winter kiteskiing I waited for strong winds and took my trainer out. This was the winter of 09-10. I went out in the same field I was using to learn in the summer prior. The snow was good and covered all the grass which makes things easier. Look for areas free of objects sticking above the snow and it will save you time messing with lines. I am a strong expert skier with backcountry experience. I know this is hard to fathom from a MN native living in ND but I’m telling the truth. I am not the best skier in my group but these guys are pretty solid. Anyway, back to the kiting. The snow was wind blown but a few inches of soft below the crust. Hard pack will take less pull than deep powder.

I ski and snowboard but chose to use my skis for this first try. If you have a choice I would recommend using skis. I found this to be an advantage over boarding for a few reasons. Since I was new to kiting and this was really my first attempt at using a kite to pull me I didn’t really have a good grasp on judging wind direction and determining just where the wind window was. So skis are advantageous over a board in that situation because I had to reposition myself in respect to the wind. Also the kite lines get caught up in snow chunks and other events happen that cause you to have to move around when you are learning. It is simply easier to move any distance and re-position yourself on skis than it is on a board – I don’t care how good of a boarder you are. Also, I am much better on skis than I am on the board and I didn’t want my feet to be an issue on my first attempt. I wanted to concentrate on the kite and not have to think about what my feet were doing.

If you don’t ski or snowboard but want to take up kiting in the winter I would recommend going to your local ski area and getting some experience with skiing or boarding before trying to kite. This is for the same reason I mentioned earlier – you want to concentrate on the kite and what it is doing, not your feet and what they are doing.

So how did my first try go? I was able to move on skis using my Hydra 300. It takes some wind but it was possible. I had a hard time going uphill at all but it was a little against the wind too. I got to feel the pull of the kite I started to figure out how to use the figure eight pattern to propel myself. It was a lot of fun feeling that first movement. Keep in mind this is not the same as using a depower kite but it will give you some valuable knowledge that will be useful when you start to use a bigger kite.

Takeaways:

  • Try find an area that is flat with as little debris sticking out of the snow as possible.
  • Get experience just flying your kite without boards before trying it on skis or a snowboard.
  • Get experience on skis or snowboard before trying them with the kite – don’t try to learn both at the same time.

2009 Mille Lacs gathering of kiteboarders

Kites in flight at Mille Lacs in 2009
Mille Lacs gathering 2009

My first gathering at the Mille Lacs kite folks was a good experience. Although, since I didn’t know much about kiteboarding at the time, it was a little bit intimidating. I had no idea what to look for or who to talk to. If you are expecting an organized group of folks to learn from you will be mislead. The event is come as you are and do as you wish. There is very little organization so you better come extroverted and ask everyone a lot of questions. Don’t get me wrong, the people are nice and helpful but they don’t know you need help unless you ask for it. And if you are reading this dribble you are in the same boat I was in and definitely need the help.

Check out the Media page for pics.

First kiteboarding lesson

In the summer of 2009 I went to the Mille Lacs gathering on Lake Mille Lacs, MN. I was hoping to learn a little more about this kiteboarding thing and everyone said lessons were the best way to get started. I found out about the gathering on the Lakawa web site. I email them and found out there would be instructors there. If you can’t find one, don’t be shy and ask around. Someone will know how to locate one. After talking to an instructor and visiting the ATM we were on our way. I honestly can’t remember the guy’s name.

We started on land with safety and then went over kite set up and gear. The information I got here was very much like the info you get from most of the videos. But it was good to be able to ask questions as he went through the steps. With the kite ready and the safety talk over we headed for the water. Mille Lacs is shallow for a long ways from shore. We probably walked a couple hundred yards out because there were several kiters working closer to shore and it was an on shore wind. The instructor gave another safety talk and demonstrated the safety mechanisms on the kite. Then we went into the figure eight pattern and how to work that with the big kite. This was my first experience with a bigger kite. I think I was using an eleven that day. As a side note I have to recommend getting instruction when starting out. I know you see this everywhere on the web but it is true. You can probably figure this out on your own but it will take you a lot longer. Back to the story. Having someone to hold on to you while you get use to the difference in power from a trainer to the bigger kites was good. Being a professional instructor he was able to predict what my actions were going to do and provide assistance and immediate feedback to what I was doing. This kept me out of trouble and gave me extra confidence to try things. Once I got used to the big kite we moved on to body dragging. This was a fun experience. I was surprised at how much power there was in this kite as compared to the trainer I had been flying and was used to. While dragging I ended up quite a ways away from the instructor but we had radios so he could continue to give me feedback even though I was out of earshot. This was a good tool to have. There wasn’t enough time left to try the board that day. 

At the end of the day I had learned how to safely set up the kite and enter the water. I also learned how to power up the kite and direct it where I wanted to go. So I felt pretty good about the experience. It was more expensive than I had expected but worth it. Expect to pay a few hundred dollars for a private lesson. The lesson should save you time, frustration and gear expense in the end and what is all that worth.

Side note:

My instructor was going to demonstrate how the safety on the chicken loop works. He let go of the bar and popped the quick release on the chicken loop which should allow the bar and lines to move away from you and depower the kite in the case of a problem. This is usually fine because you have the safety leash to keep you attached to the equipment. In this case though the leash detached from his harness (himself). Now there was  nothing to stop the kite from roaming freely. It was an onshore wind so the kite headed back to shore. Remember all those kiters I mentioned between us and the shore. This could have ended up badly but one of the riders closer to shore realized what was going on and was able to wrangle the kite. I am not sure what really happened. He said he attahced it to his harness and I believe he did. Some how though, it came undone and away the kite went.

 I learned two things from this. First, make sure your leash is attached at both ends – to you and to the kite. The second thing I learned is there is no way to keep up with a roving kite while running through the water.

Using the HQ Hydra on water

While the Hydra will work on water it isn’t the same as an inflatable (LEI). Don’t think you are going to deepwater start with this thing. I used it a couple times on the Missourri river. There are a lot of sandbars on the river so it is easy to get into the middle of the river while still standing on dry land. This was helpful. You need to be, or at least the kite needs to be, on land to get the kite in the air. After getting it up I would walk it over to the edge of the sandbar or into the shallows and fly it over the water. If you crash the kite or lose power and hit the water it does hold enough air to relaunch for a short period of time. If you can get it powered up quickly you can relaunch off the water. If you don’t get it up quickly the material gets water logged and then it isn’t going anywhere. I had to walk it back to shore a few times and let it dry off. It dries fast though.

My first experience body dragging was using this kite on Mille Lacs with an onshore wind. I had someone hold the kite on the end of a dock while I walked out the lines. The water was waste deep so it was easy to move around, get set up and ready to launch. Water depths you can touch in makes kiting easier. The wind was strong enough to body drag in to shore and repeat a few times. This was my first real experience using the kite to pull me. When body dragging, keep in mind, you will go with the wind so don’t try it with an offshore wind unless you have a way to get back. Body dragging was a helpful experience. It started to give me a feel for what I should be practicing while on land. It gave me a better understanding of why the figure eight pattern works, why it is important and how it relates to using the kite to pull you. Don’t think you need to begin with the board immediately. Take the time to get a lesson and then try some body dragging to start with.

Takeaways:

  • when the Hydra gets saturated it doesn’t fly any more
  • body dragging is a good experience builder
  • on shore wind – wind is blowing in to shore
  • off shore wind – wind is blowing away from shore or out to sea 
  • side shore wind – wind is blowing more or less parallel to the shore line

First flights with the HQ Hydra 300 trainer kite

After receiving my HQ Hydra 300 trainer kite I ordered a couple beginner videos on Netflix. These helped a lot. They give good info on wind, equipment and what to expect before going out. I felt a lot more prepared after watching these.

First flight with HQ HydraMy first outings were in a wide open mowed area – probably a couple acres. I found out it is much easier to do this in an area that is mowed as opposed to an area that is not. After a few weeks the grass in this area was long and made it much more difficult to get the lines laid out. These fine lines catch on sticks, twigs and tall grass. So any brush becomes a pain when you are trying to get situated after a crash or just move around while the kite is on the ground.

It really helped having a buddy out there with me to help me launch the kite the first few times. It took some playing around to get a feel for when the kite is ready to launch itself so until you get this down you can lower your frustration by having a friend help you out with launches and re-launches when you are starting out.

My first outings went pretty well. Getting used to the trainer was pretty easy. The safety on the Hydra works well and you can bail at any time. Over all it worked well on land. I could feel the power right away and could see how this could pull you around but it didn’t feel over-powering either. I don’t know what the winds were on those days.

Takeaways:

  • Having a buddy to help you launch the kite is very helpful – especially on the first few flights.
  • Have your buddy watch the how-to videos so they know what you are trying to accomplish and what to do.
  • Short grass makes it easier to work with the kite and lines.

Buying a trainer kite

I didn’t really know where to start with this kiteboarding thing so I started Googling. From what I found, it was pretty standard to start with a trainer kite. The quesiton was which one?

After a few phone calls to the guys at Midwest Mountaineering and Wind Power Sports and a lot of time on Google I narrowed my options down to a few different kites. The guy at Wind Power Sports talked me into the 3 meter HQ Hydra 300. It seemed like a good fit because they said it can be used on water and land – unlike most trainers. I’ll come back to that later. I scoured the web and made a few phone calls looking for the best deal. In the end I bought from a guy in SD at Wind Power Sports. He was good to work with and shipped it quickly.

Takeaways:

  • Start with a trainer kite.