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Kitesurfing Safely in Gusty Conditions


Gusts are an inherent companion to wind, defined as a 'brief, strong rush of wind'. They can also turn a session dangerous quickly. Sometimes gusts are more consistent, being brief powerful surges during a sustained wind, while other times the wind will vary significantly, changing from medium to light, then to strong. While many modern kitesurfing kites are designed to absorb gusts effectively, there are still some important considerations to keep in mind to make your kiteboarding session safer.

The first driver for success is to avoid gusty conditions altogether whenever possible. Gusts are principally caused by three different factors, including wind passing over or around obstacles, wind shear (or the wind changing direction or speed over long distances), and finally by rising air currents (on sunny days the heated air rising in a thermal effect with descending air rushing in to replace it). Gusts can vary in duration, but generally last less than 20 seconds. With this in mind, as you sift through the available wind station data for the day, make sure to give special consideration to the current and maximum wind reading. If you have access to a live stream of data, you can monitor the wind over a few minutes to gauge the wind consistency. If the conditions are 15 to 20 with the sporadic gust to 25 knots, that is going to be more manageable than 15 to 20 knots with gusts up to 30. In situations such as this, pick your particular kitesurfing kite based on the gusts, rigging with greater bias to the maximum wind speed as opposed to the minimum.

Also important is to keep off the land as much as possible. The majority of accidents in kiteboarding occur on the land. When the conditions are quite gusty, make sure to launch your kite towards the water (which is in general a sound technique), and get on your kiteboard as soon as possible. You won't have the same leverage standing on the beach as you will on the water, and if you do get lifted into the air it is liable to hurt much more crashing into the ground as opposed to the water. Also, be sure to keep the kite low when launching, and bring it very slowly up. Avoid keeping it directly overhead, as a sudden gust may result in the kite overflying, and then plummeting from the sky. In the event you do get lofted by a gust, it is important to stay calm and in control of the kite, keeping it in the neutral position above your head. Simply letting go of the bar will drop you out of the sky, and likely cause you to lose control of your kite. When you do land, engage the safety releases or strategically put your kitesurfing kite down.

Kiteboarding in gusty conditionsWhile riding on the water, make sure to keep your kite low in gusty conditions. Keeping the kite at a 45 to 60 degree angle will prevent any gusts from lifting you upwards. It will also give you more leverage against the kite, allowing you to edge out most of the power. This is done by aggressively pushing your kiteboard upwind, increasing the pressure on your back foot while leaning against the kite. The kite will push forward towards the edge of the wind window, which has much less power.

Finally, just use your cabeza. If you aren't comfortable with the wind conditions, don't let your eagerness of scoring a session eclipse your good judgment. Also, as always, be confident in your equipment, particularly your safety systems. A quick reaction can defuse an otherwise disastrous situation.

Jake Mitchell
Years Kiteboarding - 3
Least favorite position to be caught in when a gust strikes - A large, sent jump