Looking Beyond the Kite, Board, and Harness
Kiteboarding Gear for the New or Experienced Rider
by Jake Mitchell
You have finally made that sizable investment into kitesurfing, getting yourself a new kite (maybe two so you're prepared for those really windy days), a slick-looking kiteboard, and a comfortable harness. You have everything you need to hit the water... But wait. While you are most of the way there, there are some other things to think about before that long overdue first session on your new gear.
a) A floatation vest. No matter your proficiency level when it comes to kiteboarding or swimming, a floatation vest is always a wise decision. The reality is you will inevitably find yourself at some point in some sort of pickle on the water, whether it involves the wind dropping, losing your board, or even breaking a line. When that does happen, that extra buoyancy helps immensely, providing not only additional floatation to help conserve energy, but also peace of mind as you float there assessing the situation. That added floatation may also help save your life in the event conditions change for the worse and you have to release your kite. Furthermore, it ensures some added padding to cushion those explosive crashes, prevents waist harnesses from riding up, and provides a little added warmth when paired with a wetsuit. Kiteboarding-specific vests are often designed to fit comfortably with a harness. Normally priced around $100, they are a must for any kite surfer, particularly those new to the sport.
b) Wetsuit gear. If you want to make the most of the kiteboarding season in Michigan, a plethora of wetsuit garb is a must. While the air may be warm, the water is often not, especially for a prolonged duration. As noted above, things can go awry quickly, and an appropriate wetsuit will not only keep you warm and calm, but add a slight degree of floatation. Even in the summer I'll don a two or three millimeter wetsuit or wear a shortie. I've found that adding even a thin set of wetsuit gloves and a beanie often does a great job of providing extra warmth as well, as some chilliness can set in after an hour or so between the wind and water.
c) A good sunscreen. While often overlooked, a thick, waterproof sunscreen is essential. Lighter sunscreens can often wash off easily, and after several hours in the sun, a burn is unavoidable if not adequately protected. I enjoy a rub-on sunscreen stick, as it tends to remain intact for longer, and application is effortless.
d) A helmet. Some people like to add a helmet to their equipment. These are often used concomitantly with kiteboard leashes (which I do not recommend), primarily used to protect from board mishaps. For the average rider, they are likely not going to find themselves in need of a helmet to protect for high-speed crashes. Still, they do provide extra safety and peace of mind, as well as added warmth for the head, and ear protection.
e) A rash guard or insulated shirt. A rash guard serves a few different purposes, and for the minimal investment required makes a lot of sense. First and foremost, a rash guard provides an additional layer between the skin and equipment, helping to prevent against skin irritation from friction. The evaporation effect of a wet rash guard keeps you cool in the summer, and helps guard against the sun. An insulated shirt also provides these benefits, except that instead of cooling you off, it provides an extra layer to trap heat and keep you warm.