Kitesufing is a complex, but rewarding sport. There really is nothing like it. It involves a combination of several sport skills, including surfing, wakeboarding and kiteflying. In 2001, the Chicago area was completely new to kiteboarding. When we at Chicago Kitesurfing go out to Montrose or Michigan City to kitesurf, we are usually swarmed by jetskiers, windsurfers and others asking questions about what this sport is, how much it costs to get started, etc. Below are some common questions we hear a lot, listed with answers to give you the general basics of what it takes to get into kitesurfing, and why you should consider taking lessons from Chicago Kitesurfing.
If you already read this page, and are ready to start shopping for kites, check out the Buying Your First Kite page. If you already know this stuff and just need more gear, check out the Chicago Kiteboarding Forum for deals on used gear to buy from local riders. If you already have a kite, and you’re looking for a more detailed explanation of flying the kite and the wind window, you should check out our Kite Dynamics page for some beginner information on what to expect when flying and landing your kite.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is kiteboarding?
Kiteboarding is similar to wakeboarding or surfing, but with more freedom. You can use a directional board, much like a surfboard, or a bi-directional kiteboard similar to a wakeboard to surf in the open water, without any power generating devices. You use a “traction” kite to generate the pull needed to pull you over land, snow, or water and hold your edge. Kitesufing allows you to surf in, over, and out of waves, to boost huge air (20-30 feet or more) off the water pulling tricks and go upwind, much like windsurfing, all while using a kite.
How much does it cost to start kitesurfing?
You can get started by investing anywhere from $1000 to $3000, depending on the quality and newness of gear you choose. A kite, board, harness, bar and lines are all thatýs truly needed (and wind), but you may require a life-vest (PFD), wetsuit, booties, gloves, hood, a couple kites for varying conditions, etc. There are entry-level packages available, and now that the sport is getting more popular, kitesurfers are starting to sell their used gear on-line for less than new equipment. Chicago Kitesurfing hosts a popular kiteboarding forum for finding used gear and discussing questions with active kiteboarders.
What do I need to kitesurf?
You will need a kitesurfing traction kite, kitesurf board, kite control device (bar and lines), harness, a safety system, and any other accessories such as wetsuit, booties, lifejacket, helmet.
How much do lessons cost?
Lessons can run anywhere from fifty dollars, to several hundred dollars to get you started in kitesurfing. A lesson is highly recommended due to the power of these kites.
Is kitesurfing easy to learn?
If you have prior experience in surfing, kite-flying, windsurfing or wakeboarding, the learning curve will be shorter, but anyone can learn provided they have the patience and willingness to learn. Being comfortable in the water will certainly help. With good instruction, the learning curve is accelerated. Without good instruction, or no instruction at all, kitesurfing can be quite dangerous and time-consuming. It is recommended that all beginners receive some sort of training.
Can I learn from a website, magazine, or friend?
Leaning from a website and magazine, or other printed source is certainly possible. However, an instructor is a much better source of information than a website. An instructor can watch and recognize immediately what you are doing correctly, and incorrectly, and make the proper appropriations for you in gear setup, if needed. A friend is a more valuable source, of course, but your friend will probably rather be on the water, than instructing you. A friend will not have as much experience as an instructor, either.
Why should I take lessons?
Well, if the last couple answers didnýt answer this for you, maybe this will. First off, you will cut your learning curve down considerably. Iým sure you would rather be doing, than learning, and an instructor will help get your there faster. Secondly, you can learn about equipment and products before buying anything. Thirdly, an instructor, or school, will probably give you a discount on gear, or include free lessons for you if you buy your equipment through them. Since youýre a customer, youýll get good advice since theyýll see you on the beach. Fourth, youýll save money. Youýll save the wear-and-tear on your gear by using the instructorýs gear for learning. Or you can use your gear and have the instructor help optimize the setup for conditions. Lastly, so you have a positive experience, and not get frustrated, or injured, by trying to teach yourself.
What physical condition should I be in?
As manufacturers continually improve their products, its easier and easier to learn the sport of kitesurfing. A moderate level of physical fitness is required, as well. If you cannot swim, you should learn, and a PFD should be a regular piece of your equipment whether you can swim, or not.
Are kite skills that important?
Kite skills are the most important aspect of learning to kitesurf. Learning the kiteýs behavior and being able to fly the kite without even looking at it are regular needs to learn to kitesurf well.
Should I join a kitesurfing club?
If there is a club in your area, it would be a good idea to investigating a membership, most are free. You will meet others that can share ideas, tips and information to help you learn. You will be able to watch others on the water and get a better idea of your level, and where you should be going next in your skills. You will learn where others go, their hangouts, safety information, updates from email messages or club discussion groups. Youýll also get valuable connections to certain manufacturers through others that have met people. There are many advantages to joining a club. Chicago Kitesurfing offers a kitesurfing messageboard to ask questions and meet new friends.
So what's with all the different kites?
When we at Chicago Kitesurfing first started, we were as confused as you at first. There are many types of kites: Leading Edge Inflatables (LEIs), Foils, Ram-air foils, etc. We wondered and experimented, too. There’s so much to choose from, but these technologies all evolved to fill certain needs. Some work best on land, some better on water, some are easier to set up, some require more lines. Its most important to learn what’s best for you by asking questions, and use the equipment you’re most comfortable with. Training prior to purchase will answer many of these questions before you spend your money on the wrong equipment for you.
What's a Leading Edge Inflatable (LEI)?
LEIs are kites that have built-in bladders that must be pumped up prior to use. These bladders form a frame to hold the kite material’s shape, and since they are filled with air, make these types of kites more favorable for water use. If the kite hits the water for any reason, they float. However, the bladders are also prone to damage if crashed hard enough, or if the kite hits any jagged object. Flying LEI on land increases the chances of kite damage. Bladders can be replaced, though, at a minimal charge.
What's a foil, or a ram-air type of kite?
Foils and ram-airs do not have bladders. These kites have two skins of kite material as opposed to one, and form an airfoil shape, much like an airplane’s wing profile. Some foils require bridles, a complex structure of external lines to hold the kite’s shape in the air. Some kites, like ram-air foils, or the ARC, use internal bridles and use vents to force the air in, to “pump up” the kite while flying. These kites are usually lighter than LEIs, and will float for short periods of time. They require less setup since there is no pumping, and are safer to fly over land or over ice and snow.
What's the difference between two-lines and four-lines?
Two lines are easier to setup and best for the beginner since there’s less to worry about. Four line kites add more control of the kite to depower it while flying to increase windrange and make the kite less succeptible to gusts of wind. The four lines also increase the performance of the kite by increasing its responsiveness. They are slightly harder to set up and easier to tangle, however.
Which kite is best to learn with?
A “trainer” kite is best to learn with. These kites are typically very small and generate minimal power, promoting safety to the beginner. However, if you’re learning over land, the foils would be better to prevent any damage that may occur. If learning on water and starting to ride, the inflatables are commonly used due to their floatation abilities and relaunchability. Most trainer packages are available for less than $200 and include a safety system.
Do I need more than one kite?
Probably. Unless you plan to kitesurf in similar conditions, you will probably require two, or even three kites. Each kite will provide a wind-range for your ability and weight and board size.
What types of boards are available?
A considerable amount of research goes into developing different types of kite-specific boards. There are wakeboard-style boards, directionals, bidirectionals, etc. Each offers a different theoretical riding benefit. Directionals look like surfboards. They are designed to be ridden in one direction, and when turning, the rider must “jibe” much like a windsurfer. Bidirectionals can be ridden in both directions, much like a snowboard. These boards can be “jibed”, but foot position doesn’t change. Wakeboard-style kiteboards are much like wakeboards, also having a fixed foot position.
Will I need more than one kiteboard?
Generally speaking, no..but you may want a couple to satisfy different conditions. Typically, if you are flying in higher winds or ride powered-up (where the kite is generating a lot of power and you can jump easily), you want a smaller board. In lighter winds, where you need the board volume to help keep you afloat on the water, you will want a longer board.
Can I build my own kiteboard?
Yes. You can also convert a surf or windsurf board into a kiteboard. The general rule is a directional kiteboard should be as long as or 1′ longer than your height. The front foot straps should be placed just behind the center of the board. The back foot strap should be your-shoulder-width (or slightly larger) behind your front straps..
I'm a windsurfer, what's the difference with kitesurfing?
Kitesurfing, first of all, is very different than windsurfing and offers the rider more challenges. For example, a rider can kitesurf in as little as 7-8 mph of wind with the proper skills and equipment. Once 10 mph is achieved, some kitesurfers can start jumping. In windsurfing, under 15 mph is usually not fun. Secondly, windsurfers need waves to help boost them into the air, kitesurfers can jump off flat water and still get good height off the water. However, in higher winds, kitesurfing will not generate the speeds a windsurfer can reach, and could be more dangerous than windsurfing.
I have wakeboarded, water-skied or snowboarded before, will these skills help shorten my learning curve?
Yes it will. These board sports all offer similar skill sets.
Can I kitesurf where there are other windsurfers or water skiers?
Yes. Kitesurfing can be done on any larger open-water area where the wind is unaffected by geography (buildings, dense trees, etc). However. if you are a beginner, it is best to kitesurf away from crowds and boats to limit injury to yourself and others. The lines on the kite can be anywhere from 20-40m long, and have a strength of 600lb, usually. As a beginner, who is still learning to control all the aspects of the board and kite, it is recommended that the kite be flown away from others.
I am convinced! How do I get started?
Remember, kitesurfing is a dangerous sport. It is wise to take lesson at a local reputable school. Check our list of kitesurfing lesson instructors, or contact Chicago Kitesurfing for Kitesurfing Training information in your area to get information on training classes. Get started the right way, get some training first!
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