Kiteboarding for Beginners: The Basics, Costs, and How to Get Started

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Professional kitesurfer making a difficult trick on air
Image credit: Ohrim

Kiteboarding: it’s what you do when you can’t decide if you want to windsurf, snowboard, skateboard, or paraglide. Combining elements of so many sports may be a blast, but it’s not something you want to jump into without knowing what you’re doing.

We’re here to help with that. Here’s everything you need to know to get started with kiteboarding—the ultimate guide to kiteboarding for beginners.

What Is Kiteboarding?

Kiteboarding is the act of using a large kite to propel yourself across the water on a surf board (kiteboard). It’s also called kitesurfing, or sometimes just kiting.

The sport started in the south of France way back in 1970 via the genius combination of a dual line kite with water skiing. Since then, it’s evolved into one of the fastest-growing water sports in the world and birthed a range of disciplines, or styles, of kiteboarding: Speed, Slalom, Course Racing, Big Air, Freestyle, Wave Riding, and Hydrofoiling—among others.

If you’re curious, kiteboarding is governed by World Sailing, with three organizations running professional world tours—Global Kitesports Association, International Kiteboarding Association, and Kite Park League.

Regardless of what you want to call it, we call it awesome. There’s nothing quite as adrenaline-pumping than controlling the wind, seemingly defying gravity in your own aerial ballet.

What’s the Difference Between Kiteboarding and Kitesurfing?

Many people use the terms “kitesurfing” and “kiteboarding” interchangeably, but if you want to get into the nitty-gritty, there are slight differences.

While kiteboarding combines aspects of sailing and surfing, kitesurfing refers to a specific type of kiteboarding closely related to wave riding. The two also use slightly different boards.

That might seem simple enough, but there’s an ongoing dispute among purists about whether to consider kiteboarding a surfing or sailing recreation. A kite could act as both a wing or sail, harnessing the wind’s power to propel you across the water (which would make it both a wind and sailing sport).

All those disciplines we talked about within the sport further complicate matters. Speed, Slalom, and Course Racing tend to lean more towards the kiteboarding foundation, while Freestyle, Big Air, and Wave disciplines associate with kitesurfing.

Where you kite also plays a role in how kiteboarding is likely to be defined. For instance, in the United States and Canada, kiteboarding is the more popular title. Europe, Brazil, Oceania, India, and Russia use the term kitesurfing more.

Amid all this confusion, one thing remains certain: the sport is a versatile, highly exhilarating activity that attracts wind speeders and wave riding enthusiasts alike.

How Dangerous Is Kiteboarding?

In the early years, accidents happened fairly frequently—but that’s not unusual in extreme sports. Today the sport’s governing bodies and leading brands have significantly improved the safety standards.

Kiteboarding Safety Compared to Other Sports

Grisly footage of accidents in the field might make you a bit squeamish of catching some wind. Were the dangers of kiteboarding exaggerated? The easiest way to answer that question is to explore the injury rates and compare them to mainstream sports through official research channels—or at least that’s how we’re going to do it.

Christiaan van Bergen led a two-year study in 2016, analyzing the seriousness and frequency of injuries sustained by kiteboarders and windsurfers on the North Sea. The results showed that injury rates for windsurfing and kiteboarding were 5.2 and 7.0 per 1,000 hours of sporting activity. Soccer had an injury rate of 19 per 1,000 hours, while American football was at 36 injuries per 1,000 hours.

In short, according to the data, kiteboarding is safer than tossing or kicking a ball around.

Not to downplay those who have been seriously injured kiteboarding—it can happen—but most kiteboarding injuries are minor. Leg injuries are most common, followed by the head, neck, arms, and trunk.

Common Kiteboarding Safety Hazards

Some risk of injury is still a risk—being aware of the common kiteboarding safety hazards is the best way to stay safe on the water.

Weather (Wind)

Naturally, you do need wind to kiteboard, but you don’t want to hit the waves in harsh conditions, such as storms or high-speed winds. Poor weather increases the chances you’ll lose control of your kite and crash. Offshore and cross-offshore winds can also be tricky. You could be carried too far out to sea.

Sealife

When you’re at the mercy of the wind to some degree, sharks, sea urchins, and jellyfish present a risk. Remember to dress accordingly, opting for reef booties and stinger suits. You should also check for warning signs and dangerous sea life as you go.

Equipment

A snapped brindle or pulley line snapping can cause uncontrollable kite loops. If you’ve ever been dragged this way, you’ll respect the importance of regularly inspecting your gear for wear and tear. The same considerable power and speed that makes kiteboarding so exhilarating can quickly turn disastrous.

Mistakes and Dangerous Practices

Even for experienced kiters, mistakes or carelessness in the air can be devastating. Follow recommended kiteboarding practices, even after you’ve started to build confidence and stamina. It’s also wise to maintain a minimum distance of about 150 feet (50 meters) from other swimmers, kitesurfers, and crafts while you’re strapped to a giant set of wings.

Can You Teach Yourself Kiteboarding?

Short answer: No.

While the nature of extreme sports carries a certain amount of risk—or they wouldn’t be that extreme—there are safety measures in place to keep fun a priority.

One such measure is to learn how to handle different situations. Before strapping up, ensure that you understand the rules and safety procedures well, even if you have to watch one hundred YouTube tutorials before you hit the beach.

That said, under no circumstances should you rely on YouTube to learn to kiteboard. Videos and guides are an excellent supplement for hands-on training with a professional, but they can’t replace it. The only way to learn to kiteboard is to take lessons. Period.

The hazards are too great to self-teach. Without adequate knowledge and expertise to anticipate problems before launching into the wind, things can go very wrong very fast. Having a line break or kite tear while traveling at 15 to 40 mph over the water and having no idea what to do is not a situation you want to be in.

Kiteboarding lessons are also relatively cheap—usually under $1,000. Is saving a little cash really worth the risk? We vote no.

Why Is Kiteboarding So Expensive?

Kiteboarding is cheaper than windsurfing but still about five times more expensive than surfing. Here’s why:

Niche Market

The sport is growing, but it still has a small market. People don’t buy new gear often, which further limits supply and raises the price.

Lots of Gear

You’ll need several pieces of equipment to kiteboard, each with its own price tag.

Quality and Ingenuity

Kites and kite lines need strong but lightweight materials. They aren’t cheap to make. The board might look easy to manufacture, but it also requires durable, high-quality materials and hydrodynamic design.

Manpower

The skilled craftsmanship it takes to make quality kiteboarding gear also plays a role in kiteboarding’s pricey nature, and that applies to every last piece of kiteboarding equipment in a complete set.

What would it cost for a full kiteboarding kit on average? Most estimates put the price between $1,000 and $3,000, depending on size and brand. Bigger, more recent models are normally more.

The Price Breakdown of a Complete Kiteboarding Kit

Kiteboarding requires a collection of gear, usually a kite, straps, and board. Let’s explore the price range along with some factors to consider before hitting the checkout button.

Kiteboarding Kite

Your kite will be the most expensive item on your list, with good kites ranging between $600 and $2,000.

Ensure that you choose a kite that is the right size for you. It should be reliable, offer quality performance, and reach a good wind range. An experienced instructor will be able to help you choose a kite for your stature, technique, and strength—one more point for taking lessons.

Kiteboard

Size plays a crucial role in what kiteboard you need. You want a board that allows you to go upwind efficiently and will still be fun to ride. Kiteboards generally range between $350 and $1,500, and you may need to test out a few different sizes before settling on a final choice.

Control bar

The control bar is what you use to hold on to your kite. It comes with a system that’s easy to use, enabling you to cut your kite’s power completely when necessary.

Control bars range between $200 and $800.

Harness

The harness hooks into the control bar and absorbs most of the kite’s energy. It allows you to kiteboard for longer by conserving your energy.

There are options for a seat or a waist harness, with both ranging between $100 and $400.

Other Fixtures

Other kiteboarding essentials include kite lines (up to $200), pumps (up to $100), and wetsuits (up to $400).

While a good deal may seem is irresistible, avoid going for cheap products. Try to get a seasoned veteran to tag along for advice on which gear is suitable for your riding style and experience level.

Kiteboarding: How to Get Started

Now for the fun part, how do you learn kiteboarding? Again, a qualified kiteboarding instructor is the first and most important recommendation for any beginner, but here are a few pointers to successfully navigate your kiteboarding adventure, including tips on how to get the most out of your kiteboarding equipment:

Practice on a Trainer Kite First

The initial step to learning kiteboarding is to make use of a trainer kite. It’s less complicated as a small traction kite, usually between six and ten feet long. A trainer kite is the best piece of equipment for beginners when learning kiteboarding as it provides room to strengthen your body and sharpen your skills.

Using only the trainer kite, you can learn all the necessary kiting basics before hitting the water. Once you’re confident in your ability to balance, maneuver, anticipate, and redirect the kite and board, you’ll be ready to move on to the big leagues.

Don’t worry—trainer kites are just as entertaining as the real thing. It is well worth taking the time to master the sport safely once you jump onto a powerful kiteboard with sea spray in your face and the wind in your hair.

Take Lessons from a Qualified Instructor

This point is absolutely worth repeating—a qualified instructor is the only way to learn kiteboarding quickly and safely. You could either enroll in a kiteboarding school or opt for private lessons.

A kiteboarding institute will grant you access to suitable gear and make it possible for you to learn on a kite suited to your skill level.

Picking the right school can be challenging. Look for one with training location conditions that closely resemble where you plan on kiteboarding. Matching the training terrain and weather conditions to your future location is the best way to progress quickly in this sport.

Once you’ve begun practicing with your trainer kite, your lessons will be smoother. Your instructor will take you through all you need to know, teaching you about the wind window and how to control your kite, helping you correct possible mistakes, and preventing bad kiteboarding habits.

Buy Equipment and Continue Practicing on Your Own

After a few sessions with your instructor, you will be able to assess the conditions, set up, launch, control, and land your kite safely.

Once you get to this point, you will be regarded as an independent rider and can strike out on your own a bit. The next step is to buy equipment and hit the water.

Choosing your first gear might be intimidating, but that experienced instructor you hired can advise you on the best combination. You could consider a second-hand kite as your first purchase because crashing cheaper, weathered gear doesn’t incur much loss, but a new kite is so much more satisfying.

In the case of kiteboarding, the cliché stands: practice really does make perfect. Once you have all the gear you need, feel free to kiteboard as much as you want to harness your skills. The more repeats you master, the better you’ll become at holding your own on the water.

As you practice, there are a few tips you should always keep in mind:

  • Before leaving home, ensure that you have all your gear. A detailed checklist can help you keep track of what you have or don’t have with you (and ensure you don’t leave any vital equipment on the beach).
  • Triple check you have all your safety gear. Make sure you can access all the safety gear you need, such as a helmet, line cutter, lifejacket, and impact vest.
  • Pumping your kite should be one of the last things you do. Begin by suiting up and setting your lines.
  • Pay attention to how you pump your kite. The process is often hard on your back, but pumping your kite becomes a stretch and a warm-up if it is done right. Don’t bend your spine. Instead, push your hips backward and bend down from your hips.
  • Double-check your harness before launching. Then, check it again.
  • Don’t edge too early or too late. Edging too early will stop you from picking up speed, but too late will cause you to speed up too fast and lose control or crash.
  • If you crash, let go of your board. Then, relaunch your kite.
  • Deflate your kite first during the packing up process.
  • Fold the kite well. Try not to fold it too tightly because it can exacerbate the wear and tear on the fabric.
  • Let your kite dry in low UV sun and clean it with a small broom. Don’t rub your kite. It will remove its coating.
  • Pack all your gear before leaving the beach. The checklist helps.

If you’ve enjoyed the trainer kite with your instructor and moved on to practicing with your own equipment, you’re probably already in your happy place. Stay safe, be mindful of where you are, and enjoy the view. Speaking of where you are…

Our Biggest Tip? Find a Safe Spot with Decent Conditions

Location, location, location isn’t just a real estate mantra—kiteboarding in a safe place with favorable conditions could make the difference between a memorable, fun day or a trip to the emergency room. When learning to kiteboard, you need:

  • The right wind and weather conditions
  • Plenty of space and little or no crowds
  • No nearby obstructions, like electricity lines, buildings, or trees
  • A lake or beach with a sandy bottom
  • As little current as possible (and small or no waves)

FAQs

How long will my kiteboarding equipment last?

With proper care and maintenance, your kiteboarding equipment should last years. How many years depends on the gear. Boards, harnesses, and control bars last up to ten, eight, and five years, respectively.

Kites are the most fragile piece of equipment, and the lifespan varies greatly. With proper care, kites can last between five and seven years.

Habits such as storing your gear in a cool place or rinsing it with fresh water also prolong its lifespan.

What should I do if I tear the kite?

Apart from the usual wear and tear, most kite damage can be repaired with surprisingly little effect on your kite’s usability or lifespan.

What safety mechanisms does my kiteboarding gear include?

While safety is your responsibility, kiteboarding gear also includes built-in mechanisms like the quick-release system of your control bar’s attachment points. It allows you to detach from the kite instantly.

The primary release system is on the harness loop on your control bar. Activating it will open the harness loop and detach your body from the kite. Your gear also includes a kite leash so that it doesn’t get lost—only a secondary quick-release completely detaches you from your kite by discharging this leash.

Is it difficult to learn kiteboarding as a windsurfer?

A windsurfer already understands the wind, balancing on a board, and using a harness, but kiteboarding is still an entirely different sport and requires proper training to avoid injuries.

How do I choose the right kite?

As a new rider, choosing the right kite is crucial. It will depend on the size you are comfortable to handle, which relies on your experience, weight, and the wind speeds you enjoy.

Which harness is better for kiteboarding?

There are waist and seat harnesses. While the choice depends on you, seat harnesses tend to be more popular. It has leg straps similar to the harnesses used for climbing or zip-lining and fits around your hips.

How do I find the perfect kiteboarding spot?

That depends on your skill level and the type of ride. Some kiteboarders enjoy flat water, while others prefer waves and jumps. Why not test out a location with a trainer kite before committing to it?

How fit do I need to be to kiteboard?

With the right kite, almost anyone can kiteboard, but a reasonable fitness level will make things easier (even if it is avoiding stiffness the next day).

How long will it take me to learn kiteboarding?

Kiteboarding lessons are usually three-day, four-hour-per-day courses—but that’s just to understand how things work and kiteboarding safety.

It can take months to get a firm grip on the basics, and mastering kiteboarding can take even longer. How long will depend on you, how seriously you take getting proper training, and how much practice you can get in.

Kiteboarding Is Awesome!

That’s kiteboarding in a nutshell, and any beginner will be able to get off the ground with our handy tips—and lessons—we had to sneak that in one more time. Hopefully, all this information has fueled your desire to go out, get that trainer kite, sign up for lessons, and join the exciting world of kiteboarding. You won’t regret it. Kiteboarding offers a whole new perspective on nature and human capabilities. We’ll see you out there for a freestyle DP session soon.