Elle Ossello | 07.12.2017

You’ve finally had it; you’re through driving along the coast or peeping at pictures of the Columbia River Gorge and watching the colorful sails and kites ripping around the water from afar. Your curiosity is definitively piqued. It’s time you tried it for yourself. 

If windsurfing is the O.G. of windsports—hitting the scene in the late 1970s and effectively exploding in popularity in the 1990s—then kiteboarding is the new kid on the block. We’re not here to argue that one is better than the other, but the common conviction is that kiteboarding has a lower physical and skillful barrier to entry, and that once basic skills are attained, it’s significantly less physically demanding. As an added bonus, you’ll avoid schlepping a 10-foot mast to and from the launch site. 

In short: Follow your curiosity. There’s no reason to choose one or the other aside from your own personal convictions. But because of kiteboarding’s rising popularity, this blog will cover resources, tips, and trip ideas for the budding kiteboarder.

The gear

This is the beginner’s crux to any new sport. Especially in the world of kiting, there’s a hefty amount of sticker shock. And rightfully so—any sane person will seriously question their commitment to a new sport with a starting cost (of all new gear) sitting at around $2,000. So, our advice to you: Try before you buy. There are excellent companies giving helpful lessons at each kiting hot spot you may visit. Take advantage! 

That said, it may be tempting to take your buddy up on his offer to buy his old kite for a fraction of the cost of a new one. Trust us and resist the urge—you’ll thank yourself in the end. Because kiteboarding is a relatively new sport, technology is improving at an astronomical rate. So cheap gear that is available to you likely won’t have critical features that make it easier for you to relaunch, the kite movement more predictable, and the line system safer. 

There are also a number of companies making trainer kites that come with excellent instructional videos and educational resources. The B2: Two-Meter Trainer Kite from Slingshot is an excellent tool for putting new and budding skills to work. They’ve also created an excellent accompanying instructional video and basic terminology guide so when you’re ready for your first lesson on the water you don’t have to start at square one.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started

  • Kite: Including lines, bar, safety systems, pump, and carrying bag. A knowledgeable gear shop will help you find the right size kite for your weight and the wind in your area. Most kiters slowly build out a quiver of kites of varying sizes so that they can be prepared in a number of wind conditions. 
  • Kiteboard: Beginners will be much more comfortable on a larger board and boots, though straps are common as well. Board sizes and styles vary, but most companies make a solid, moderately-priced, all-conditions board that will serve you well for many seasons. 
  • Harness: If you’re going to go top-shelf for any piece of gear, make it your harness. This sits against your body for the duration of your session, and a harness that doesn’t fit right will effectively cut your day short.
  • Wetsuit/gloves/hood/booties: This all hinges on where you’ll find yourself kiting—if you’re in Baja, you can probably skip all of the above. But if you’re planning on spending your weekends in Hood River, investing in a good wetsuit can mark the difference between a half-hour session and a two-hour session.
  • Safety equipment: While you likely won’t see many experienced kiters wearing impact vests or helmets, it’s highly advised and could be the difference between a fun, carefree day and a big headache. 
  • Sunscreen!!

Beginner resources

Truly, there’s no substitute for a good teacher. Whether that’s an instructor, your significant other, or a good friend, soliciting help from someone that knows the particular water can help you assess your own personal abilities and progression style, and they can suggest the right gear for you will make your experience much better. That said, an excellent resource for getting a preemptive crash course is none other than YouTube. Though it might feel silly combing through instructional kiteboarding videos, they can be extremely helpful in getting a grasp on basic vocabulary, orientation to your kite, and setting expectations. This one by Ocean Rodeo is super thorough. 

Where to kiteboard

As a beginner, it’ll be extremely beneficial to you to choose a location that has three critical factors:

  • Consistent wind
  • Shallow water
  • Warm water temperature

Find yourself in a place with all three, and your progression sessions will be, on the whole, gentler and more enjoyable. Baja, Mexico, the Cayman Islands, Maui, and Jupiter, Florida, are among the world’s best locations. But unless you have extra cash in your back pocket, you’ll be looking for something closer.

There’s no perfect science here, but finding a warm lake near you and then keeping an eagle eye on the wind report will open up some surprisingly accommodating opportunities for learning. The most trusted site here is iKITESURF. Among the most important considerations is ensuring that the wind is consistent and not gusty.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you’ve likely heard legends of the consistent wind in the Columbia River Gorge. The rumors are true, and on a sunny day you’ll find an impressive array of kiters and windsurfers at The Spit + Hood River Event Site. Though the current can add an unpleasant variable for new kiters, there are some incredibly top-notch instructors in town and several calmer eddies that are beginner friendly. Our advice: call Big Winds, one of the oldest and most reputable companies in town and schedule a lesson. 

If you’re looking for inspiration, pack a blanket and a few beers and walk out on the sand bar at The Spit. On any given strong wind day, you’ll likely find a number of professional kiters perfectly executing transitions and getting serious air time. Among those you might find hometown pro Sensi Graves (you might have heard her name attached to her growing popular bikini company). Known for her grace and fearlessness on the board, she’s also highly encouraging and will readily lend inspiration and advice. “Kiteboarding has given me so many things,” she reflects. “It’s the best workout, provides so much opportunity for growth, and is a moving meditation. I remember first learning how to kite and becoming completely infatuated with it. I grew up with a board sports background and that, combined with this ability to create your own power, your own lift, and to propel yourself seemingly anywhere is totally addicting! The explorative side of it makes it so boundary-less, and I love that.”

Good luck, and we'll see you out there!

Headline photo by National Park Service/Neal Herbert. Published without modification under Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


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