WORDS - Mark Shinn
Last month I promised that this piece would be an expansion on last issue's and that I would delve deeper into the dark art of light wind riding. I will, but first I have to get something off my chest (and I think I've probably mentioned it before), so at the risk of repeating myself, DON'T FADE! Don't ever fade. Don't even think about fading, and if you do fade, take yourself off into the corner and whip yourself while chanting the mantra'I must respect other water users!'
Not sure what I'm talking about? It's to do with riding in waves. There's a lot of talk about gaining respect for kite'surfing' and moving the sport forwards in the right direction but, in my opinion, there is nothing holding us back more than this strangely kite related phenomenon. For those that don't know, fading can take two forms: in the first you are lined up for a wave, you have priority on it and the people behind are respecting you and waiting for you to go before taking their wave (the one behind).
Stalling, letting your wave go by and then claiming rights on the wave behind because it looks better isn't acceptable because it's wrong. You don't have rights on that wave because you just let your wave go. All your rights disappeared with that one line of swell. In truth, other sports are guilty of this too so let's gloss over it and move onto the more frustrating fade. You take your wave and, having completed your best bottom turn, decide that the wave you chose isn't that good after all and happily skip over it riding toe-side to make your top turn on the wave behind or, even worse, the wave behind that one. This is the worst kind of fade possible; you not only mess up the people trying to ride those waves but you also scare the crap out of the people happily riding out to sea through the waves who have no idea what you're doing or where you're going. In my experience the act of fading causes most riders to lose their situational awareness anyway and they end up turning just in front of other riders, or even into them. If you think that I'm wording this a little strongly then you might need to hear that I am just out of the water from what could have been a very nice session in great waves but two other kiters were fading so hard that that almost no one else in the break could ride a wave. Frustrating? Yes, a little to say the least!
Anyhow, I'll put the soap box away now, my rant is over and my pulse is falling nicely. Cup of tea on the go and I'm ready to return to the topic in hand; light wind riding. Last issue I mentioned a few ways to brush up on your technique and now I will explain more about each one.
LINE EXTENSIONS: Back in the early days all kites came with 30 metre line sets. Looking around today the average is between 20 and 24 metres. Why? you may ask yourself. Well, it's to do with a mixture of budget and performance. The lines are actually one of the most expensive parts of the kite set-up and, if the manufacturer can cut out eight metres of line (two metres off each one) it represents a significant saving without the consumer noticing any direct loss. Shorter lines make the kite appear to turn faster (there's less slack to take up when pulling one end of the bar) and with modern high depower kites having great low end, the extra power stroke offered by long lines isn't so vital in general use. But have a search through your trunk of junk, find some line extensions and put them on. The reasoning is very simple: the size of your kite is measured in square metres and you can't change that without a sewing machine, but the longer your lines the larger the power window becomes. When you dive the kite into the power on longer lines to get started the kite has further to dive before you need to turn it upwards again, meaning it generates more speed and thus more pull. End result? More power. Once you're planing comfortably and stop moving the kite the power generated will be more or less the same as on shorter lines, however, remember that you can adjust the position of the kite in the window with edge control too and the longer the lines the further the kite is from the edge of the window and the harder it will be for you to edge the kite out of the power zone.
TRIM STRAP AND BODY POSITION: The key to light wind efficiency is to harness all the power available. There are a number of ways to do this but the most effective is to not lose any power by sheeting out. Use the trim strap to position the bar far enough away that you can hold it comfortably in both hands and not so far that you have to stick your ass out when riding. Your weight should be evenly spaced between both legs to spread the drive from the kite over as much rail area as possible. Load up the back leg and the board will try to spin up into the wind and you will be fighting the power of the kite instead of harnessing it. As the board starts to plane concentrate on twisting your upper body from the hips upwards in the direction you want to travel. Keep both hands on the bar and don't sheet out. Try to find the feeling that you are the power transfer from the kite to the board. As the kite builds more power drive it downwards and forwards into the board to go faster. Try not to produce more spray as spray represents wasted energy. Your knees and legs should be working to guide the board over any chop or swell - the goal is to achieve a path in harmony with the water surface. Slamming into a wave will stop your forward energy and at the same time flying off the back of it will mean you lose your edge grip and the flow of energy will take you downwind and not forwards. Remember: if the kite pulls harder you should simply edge harder. This will force the kite further forwards in the window and reduce its power. You don't need to let out the bar which will pull you off the rail and convert all your hard won speed into downwind loss. If you have a stopper on your bar pull it down so that you can't let the bar out as this will ensure you work your legs harder and enhance your technique.
KITE MOVEMENT: Swinging the kite around through the air feels like it generates a lot of pull (and it does), but in truth much of this is pulling you in the wrong direction. Remember that the kite is a wing and it generates pull in the direction it's flying. Your first movements can be radical straight up and down to pull you out of the water and start the board planing, but each and every further movement should become progressively more subtle with the eventual aim of keeping the kite still and facing the direction you want to travel. Flying the kite low will generate a lot of power as the kite is deeper in the wind window, but remember that it's also generating a lot of downwind pull in that position. Also, having it too high then a lot of your forward drive will be lost in vertical pull and you simply won't be able to keep going. Somewhere around 45 degrees is the ideal blend of position in the power window and forward drive. Once moving try to keep the kite still. As the airflow moves over it and stabilises you will generate more power. Move the kite only as a last resort.
With some practise you'll find that you start to feel the kite and board better and can stealthily make your way through the lightest of wind lulls and ride in conditions you previously thought impossible. It also means you could leave the wave you are currently on and catch the one behind, but we're not going to do that because we learnt our lesson already (take a deep breath and calm down Shinn...).
Find more on Mark and his boards at: www.shinnworld.com
This column is in issue #57
Mark My Words - issue #57
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Kitesurfing Test - Kites 2013
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