The beauty of kitesurfing is that the rider has to interact with the elements of nature: wind, water and land. The idea is to enjoy the interaction more than fighting with the elements and to do it, an assessment of your surroundings is a must for any kitesurfer before starting a session.
I had to learn this important lesson through trial and error, paying the price with kite repairs, messy accidents in the water and a couple of very ridiculous situations.
Living on an island like Barbados has so many amazing things, but my favourite one is living two minutes away from a kitesurfing spot. I spent my first year enjoying the wind in the same location, Silver Rock Beach. Due to this, I didn’t get used to observing in detail the elements that could affect my safety, as most of them were the same every day: same wind direction, same rocks, same beach, same palm trees…
It was during my first trip to Tarifa, Spain last summer that I learned how important it is to assess a kiting spot before starting to kitesurf. During my first launch, my kite bumped into a post sign that was in the middle of the beach. Hold on a second… a post at the beach? I wasn’t accustomed to being aware of that since there are none at Silver Rock! My kite was ripped, and I felt very stupid.
That is why I would like to share with you few basic but essential tips to do an accurate assessment of the kiting spot before you jump in the water, to avoid many silly and unsafe situations:
1. Where does the wind come from?
First check the wind direction and consider if it’s allowing you to kitesurf safely. The wind orientations can be described in five different directions:
– On shore: Wind coming from the water to the land square to the beach. If you drop your kite close to shore, the wind will drag you and your kite directly towards the land, putting others on risk.
– Off shore: Wind coming from the land to the water square to the beach. Is not safe to ride with offshore winds if there is no rescue boat, as if you have any problem in the water the wind will always drag you out.
– Side shore: Wind blowing parallel to the beach from one side or the other of the sea. Have in mind that if you crash your kite the wind will push you parallel to the beach and you might struggle to reach the shore.
– Side on shore or side off shore wind: Wind blowing from the sea towards the land, slightly side on or side off. Side on shore is the safest wind direction for kitesurfing, as if you crash your kite, the wind will always push you to the shore giving you enough time to re-launch your kite or do a self rescue.
2. Are there any obstacles that might affect the quality of the wind?
Look upwind. Are there any obstacles? The wind is fluid so when going through an obstacle it will create turbulence after it. The obstacles can be anything that is interrupting the flow of the wind such as buildings, hills, mountains, trees… If you find some, consider that the wind will be turbulent close to them and it won’t be safe to kitesurf close to those areas.
3. What are the hazards on and off the water?
Observe the beach and look for anything that can damage your kite like bushes, trees, rocks, posts and sticks. Also observe the other people who are using the beach, as you have to avoid endangering them with your kite. Also, have a look at the water: buoys, swimmers, boats, rocks, reef, sea urchins, fishing lines… Equally important is to observe other kitesurfers, or people practicing any other watersport. Spot the learners and those who ride unsafely, you are going to have to avoid them! Tip: consider your own board as a hazard for yourself. Being aware of its position in relation with your body will save you from a collection of bruises.
4. What are the other climate conditions like?
Assess the strength of the wind and think about whether you have the right gear to fit the conditions. Riding underpowered can be dangerous too, as it can make you struggle to go upwind or to re-launch the kite in the water. Have a look at the sky and avoid kitesurfing if you can see any sign of a storm such as cumulonimbus clouds. These can bring unpredictable winds and quickly turn your fun kitesurfing session into an uncontrolled and dangerous experience. You also have to consider other factors like the current or the tide. Depending on its direction and strength, it will vary the conditions of your session.
Be safe for yourself but also for others and enjoy your session!
And and don’t forget the analysys of the environment is just the beginning of the safety steps you need to follow when kiteboarding. Check the fun video from North Kiteboarding to learn some other good tips!