INTRO - The butterflies will be fluttering rampantly around your stomach from nervous excitement when you turn up to the beach for your first session on your own. The general rules for a safe session are the same wherever you are in the world, though. We talked to the instructors at Bracklesham Boardriders in the UK and Air Padre in Texas, USA to get their best advice for turning up to a new spot to ride for the first time, So don't panic, stay calm, remember this check-list and you'll be shredding those high seas before you know it.
Are you allowed to kite from that particular beach? Look for signs or talk to the local shop. Just because kiters are out doesn't mean they're supposed to be there. We need to work with councils and ensure that kite spots stay open.
CHECK THE WIND/WEATHER:
You should remember from your course that cross-shore and cross-onshore are the best wind directions. Onshore isn't ideal, but can be okay depending on the beach. Anything else is unsafe. Make sure the conditions are stable. Does it look like there's some nasty weather coming your way? If so, best to let it pass.
CHECK OUT THE SPOT:
There's no need to rush. Put your gear down and have a chat to the local kiters on the beach ? they will always be happy to help rather than see someone do something wrong. Scan the area for upwind objects that may cause a wind shadow. Make sure the downwind area is equally clear and free of bystanders, buildings, cars and power lines etc.
Are there huge waves today? Are other kiters struggling to get out through the surf? Is it really busy? What if you have to do an emergency pack down ? where is the easiest and quickest place to swim in to? Experienced kiters will be doing all that and more, usually without even thinking about it, while walking down to the beach. You can learn a lot from the regular kiters at the beach, such as what conditions are best for learning at that beach and which wind directions are usually gusty and to avoid. Local kiters will also provide a good indicator of which kite size you should be using. When they first get to the beach almost every kiter will check out the sizes that others are using to gauge whether they will be under/overpowered on their own gear. Choosing the correct kite size for the conditions is really important, especially when you are learning. Smaller is always safer.
CHOOSE A LAUNCH SPOT:
Don't just launch where everyone else seems to. They can probably launch and land with ease. You should pick a spot just downwind of the masses, giving you ample time to rig up and launch in your own time without feeling stressed. Also, when you get in the water, you won't be in anybody's way as you drift.
CHECK YOUR EQUIPMENT AS YOU RIG IT:
Look for tears or holes in the canopy or inflated struts of your kite. Ensure that no air is leaking from any of the bladders. Check for knots in the lines as you lay them out as they can cause weaknesses in the lines, eventually leading to a snapped line. Neatly lay out your lines. A common cause of injury is tangled bridles. Also check that the pigtails are not worn at the ends. Replace them if necessary. On brand new gear you should always check the knots, too.
CHECK YOUR SAFETY RELEASES:
Once rigged up, make sure you are happy that your safety release is working properly and that operating it is already second nature. If you get into a situation where you need to use it, you'll need to do it quickly. Check for any damage or wear on the system. Tighten your harness down securely and check everything is connected to it in the appropriate place and that all the straps are taught. Fasten the leash from the harness to a one-line attachment point on the bar. Verify that the release is close to your harness ? it must not be out of reach. Make sure it disconnects correctly and activates. Make a final inspection of your bar, checking for abrasion on the chicken-loop, bar, trim-strap and leader lines. Make sure no lines are wrapped or caught.
FINAL WEATHER CHECK:
Ensure that the winds haven't changed direction or speed while you've been setting up. Watch for approaching weather fronts, dark clouds, wind lines on the water or kites dropping out of the sky.
FIND A LAUNCH ASSISTANT:
Make friends with an experienced rider and ask them to help you launch. Let them know it's your first time so that they take extra care when launching your kite. Don't assume that everyone knows you're a beginner and don't assume that everyone knows what you're going to do.
You'll be pretty excited by now, but take a deep breath and stay calm. Depending on wind direction, most kiters should launch the kite towards the sea. This has the obvious benefit that if everything goes wrong, you'll be heading towards the relative cushioning of the sea, rather than hard objects on land. Make certain that you learn your hand signals, this is important because when it's windy, the person launching or landing your kite cannot hear what you are saying. The hand signals used in kiting are standard worldwide, so even if kiting in foreign countries, you don't need to be familiar with the language to let someone know your intentions. Don't be afraid to ask someone else for advice, help or to hold the back of your harness if you think you need it, especially for launching/landing. Once you're happy with everything, put tension in the lines, verify the launch angle, make sure the lines are attached correctly and that there are no tangles. Make sure your surrounding area is still free of obstacles, such as other kiteboarders, cars, bystanders etc. If things don't look right, wave off the launch and have your assistant put the kite down.
KEEP IT LOW AND GO:
Once you're happy everything is correct, launch the kite. Keep your kite low at the edge of the wind window to prevent any possibility of getting lofted skywards. Grab your board, walk calmly and slowly out into deep water. Sit down, put your board on as you did in your lessons and ride off. As you are downwind of others, you don't need to worry about getting in anyone else's way. Don't go out too far on your first runs and never go out further than you're prepared to swim back in.
Bear in mind that if you originally took lessons in an easy learning environment, your local kite spot may prove to be a bit more challenging. So take your time and be patient. You may want to practice a few self-rescues to get your confidence up and be ready in any situation. Bottom line: If the conditions aren't right or you haven't got a kite size for the conditions, then don't go out.
However, don't head home straight away; you can still learn a great deal by watching what the other kiters are doing. Watch how they rig their gear and how they store their kites when not in use. Many kiters choose to wind up their lines when having a break to stop others tripping over them. When you leave your kite alone, you need to weight it down ? watch how they do it.
Kiteboarding is an extreme sport that should be enjoyed, but respected. If you remember to follow this pre-flight check-list, you will improve your chances of having a fun and educational session every time. The most important things are to never go out on your own, always tell someone you know that you're going out kiting and that shorts are not the most important part of your equipment arsenal!
Thanks to James Fitch at Bracklesham Boardriders and Jeff Hoxtell and Paul Sheetz at Air Padre.
Find them at: www.brackleshamboardriders.co.uk / www.airpadre.com
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