Holy grail, key to the door, seeing the light. Whatever you like to call it, learning to ride upwind is the graduation stage from beginner basics, finally giving you legitimate access to the kiteboarder's kingdom. From here it's all spins, thrills and, well, probably lots more spills, too!
WHAT IS GOING UPWIND?
Basically, it's when you're riding at an angle of between 70° and 45° in relation to where the wind is blowing from. Once you've gone along on one tack, turn around and do exactly the same on the other tack. Pretty soon you'll have made good ground into the wind.
FINDING THE BALANCE
Unfortunately it's not just a case of pointing the board in the direction you wish to go. Riding upwind requires finding a delicate balance between direction and speed. Point too far upwind and you'll lose speed and power and come to a stop. Try to go too fast and you'll be dragged off downwind.
The ideal position is to fly the kite at 2 o'clock in the wind window and to use the board to manage the power. If you have the kite too high it will keep pulling you off your edge. You need to maintain a certain amount of speed to have enough power to hold an edge and keep the board planing comfortably. The better you get, the more you'll be able to adjust your stance, course and speed to changes in the wind speed and direction.
A good body position makes it easier to react quickly in gusty or light winds, trim your riding effectively, balance and fly your kite properly. It also allows you to edge hard and efficiently, because you'll be able to hold more power, control your speed and maintain control.
A good body position should be:
- Front leg almost straight, but ready to bend to absorb any shock. Back leg needs to be slightly more bent to maintain good balance. The board's surface in touch with the water is off-centered, so your leg position and weight distribution need to reflect this.
- You should be pushing your hips forward and leaning your torso back. Your shoulders should also be out, in line with your torso, but also facing forwards in the direction you're travelling.
- Sounds a bit technical, but ride with your elbows around 110°. This allows you to extend your arms to depower, or sheet them in equally to power up for kite control. Adjust your trim strap to find a comfortable position.
Once you have a good position, you should be able to manage your balance effectively. Bend your legs and pull on the bar when you lose speed. When you speed up too much, straighten your legs and move the bar away slightly - this will induce the correct edging angle.
If you lean your lower back out too much, you will not be able to edge properly or manage a gust. Remember, wherever your head goes your body will follow. If you're sticking your bum out, a strong gust will easily pull you over. Also, if your legs are too straight, the board will bump harshly, you'll find it hard to balance and you'll be unstable.
The only way to find the balance between your course (the direction in which you are moving) and speed is practice! When riding out to sea, choose a marker point within your upwind range (something that's not going to move too far, like a buoy or a cloud) and try to head for it. As you ride back towards the beach, choose another mark on land (a tree or a house) and try to go upwind towards that, too. Once you are back on the beach, look at your position compared to where you started.
'I GO FAST BUT I DON'T GO UPWIND.'
There are a number of reasons this might happen.
If you're riding with your kite too high in the window, you won't be able to exert enough back foot and heel pressure to edge effectively. Or maybe you're taking too long to engage your rail from your waterstart and building up too much speed to engage your rail at all. If that's happening, concentrate on leaning back and putting more weight on your back foot straight away. Another reason could be that perhaps your kite and board are too big, making it difficult to control the power? Try a smaller kite and/or smaller board.
'I GO UPWIND AND THEN STOP.'
It's likely that you're edging too hard and not trimming your board angle enough. When the wind drops slightly or you start to slow down, make sure you flatten your board out so there's less resistance. You will also need to fly the kite up and down to regain speed. If after having worked on this you still don't manage to regain speed, use a bigger kite and/or a bigger board.
'I CAN GO UPWIND ON ONE SIDE BETTER THAN ON THE OTHER.'
We all have a stronger side, but you have to learn to ride on both sides... after all you'll be doing it for 50% of the time! Force yourself to edge on your weak side more than on the other to get similar results on both sides. If your right leg is the stronger, try and train your left leg to do more and have more feeling. With practice and time, the feelings on both sides will become identical.
By the way, if you're stronger riding with your right leg forward then you're known as a goofy rider, and if you're stronger with your left foot forward, then you're regular.
'I RIDE UPWIND BUT SOMETIMES TEND TO GO DOWNWIND.'
The kite automatically adjusts its position to the wind orientation. It's not uncommon for the wind to veer round into a different direction while you're riding. It will mean you have to deviate your course slightly, making it look like you haven't gone upwind very well on the first tack. However, the opposite will be true when you come to do your other tack. You'll find that you'll make the ground up this time.
This is a technique you have to use when you're racing. When the wind turns to your advantage it's called a lift. When it forces you more downwind, it's called a header. Always look for the lift!
Riding upwind is also influenced by the equipment, especially the ratio between the kite size and the board size.
You will find that the combination of a bigger board with a smaller kite enables you to ride more consistently and make turns with more precision - and usually it's possible to ride more upwind. It is up to you to find the best compromise by trying different board sizes. There is no limit, I often ride a 220 cm board with a 5 m kite in 15 knots, and on the same day a 135 cm board with an 11m kite.
This was a feature in Kiteworld Issue #23, written by Eric Beaudonnat. Issue #23 and more are available as free back issues to view online! Check them all by clicking here!
Erik Beaudonnat is head instructor of the IKO - go to their website by clicking here
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