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The Craigslist Special:

New Versus Used Kiteboarding Gear


For all intents and purposes--and let's start by being honest here--from the perspective of initial costs, kiteboarding can appear to be an expensive sport. Sure, it's not as expensive as a boat, or nice bike (motorized or otherwise), or a new set of stand-up paddleboards, but the upfront cost of kitesurfing equipment can certainly seem staggering. Sure, once you make the initial investment, your next largest costs are often gas and sunscreen. But people tend not to think about the future costs in relation to that initial cost incurred. So naturally, in an effort to reduce the financial burden, people instinctively turn to avenues such as Craigslist, Ebay, or the random forum for a deal on a used kitesurfing kite or kiteboard. In all honesty, that is how I got into the sport of kiteboarding. And while that can be a perfectly viable option, this is what I learned from my dealings with the second-hand kiteboarding market.

A. The condition of a kite is hard to assess, even in person

I'll first focus on buying a kite online. Effectively, you have to take the seller at their word. A picture of an inflated kite means very little, and it is hard to account for the true condition of an item through images, especially wear. Informal transactions make it hard to hold the seller accountable, and you can easily sink $200 to $300 into a kite that needs a new bladder or line set, which depending on the age of the kite can be quite hard to come by. Even vis-à-vis, small holes may not be noticed until you are later flying the kite. Nothing is worse than having to pump your kite up every half an hour to keep it firmly inflated.

If considering a used kite, important questions to ask are:

A rip in the kiteboarding kite's leading edge- What year is the kite? If omitted, it definitely is important to determine what year the kitesurfing kite is. Once you have the brand, specific make, and year, use the deluge of information the internet provides to research the kite and identify others' experiences with it. If that kite is older than 2007, it is likely a C-kite or early hybrid, and not suitable for learning on.

- Is there any damage or repairs? Generally speaking, if professionally repaired a kitesurfing kite shouldn't have any significantly altered flying characteristics. Do-it-yourself fixes can be suspect and sometimes only temporary, especially depending on the severity of the damage. If they fail in a crowded and/or powered setting, the results can be disastrous. Be skeptical if a kite has a lot of repairs as it likely has gotten a lot of use, reducing its life.

- How much use has the kitesurfing kite gotten? If a kite has gotten a significant amount of use, it is far more susceptible to damage and may have parts that are soon in need of replacing (e.g. bridle lines, pulleys, valves, and even the bar and line set). A good measure is the stiffness of the canopy - if it is soft as opposed to crinkly, chances are it has seen heavy use.

- Are the bar and lines included? Make sure to find out if the kite comes with its stock bar and lines. Finding an appropriate bar and line set for an older kite can be next to impossible. Even if the kitesurfing kite does come complete, an older bar and line set has likely seen significant wear and is prone to breaking. Finding those small replacement parts is also exceedingly difficult, and may leave you without a functional bar, and consequently without a useable kite.

B. The relationship is different

When you are purchasing in the second-hand market, the accountability is much less than through a shop. Generally, an individual seller is interested in quickly ridding themselves of their used gear, either on the pretense of no longer being interested in the sport, or hoping to recuperate as much money as possible for new kitesurfing gear. In either case, maximizing their own utility is far more important than matching the gear to the correct buyer. This in turn distorts the buyer/seller relationship that tends to naturally emerge with store transactions as a sort of checks-and-balance system.

Buying from a business gives you much more control as a buyer, as your feedback can be highly influential in the purchasing decisions of other customers, whether good or bad. TARP, a company specializing in behavioral research, reports that a customer who has a satisfactory dealing with a business is likely to share it with a few friends, but largely in generalities. Conversely, a customer with a negative experience on average shares it with 12 other people, who in turn share it with an additional six people. A 2005 study by Informative Inc. further corroborates this discovery, reporting that negative word-of-mouth has an average 2.4 percent greater financial impact than positive feedback. This is only further exacerbated by online review website and forums which are read by many more potential customers. Because of this, it is in businesses' best interests to keep customers happy by keeping them on the best gear!

The longevity of the relationship is also generally considered by a shop. As noted above, a seller looking to unload their used kitesurfing equipment engages in a single transaction, making it advantageous for them to maximize their returns, without concern for reputation or gaining repeat customers. A kiteboarding or kitesurfing dealer on the other hand strives to build a robust client base, in which it is only logical to best match the equipment to the customer.

C. Some things just aren't worth chancing

2005 Cabrinha Element kiteboarding C-kiteAs a fledging kitesurfer myself, I opted for a two kite package out of Florida, the rider far more experienced than myself. Fortunately, I found somebody not only honest, but responsible. He warned me that the kitesurfing kites I was purchasing were C-kites, and were not ideal for learning on. He also encouraged me to get a lesson. Throwing caution to the wind, so to speak, I struggled to self-educate myself. Needless to say, I got severely worked over several times, and in the end liquidated my equipment and invested in current technology. While I came out slightly ahead financially, I ended up wasting the first few months of summer progressing at a sluggish pace. While I was certainly able to learn and beat up on used equipment, it didn't serve me any better than a kiteboarding lesson would have.

When getting into a sport with as much inherent risk as kiteboarding, it just makes sense to get the appropriate equipment. Skimping on a few hundred dollars frankly isn't worth the risk when you weigh it against your own well-being, as well as those around you. In the event something goes wrong, the consequences can affect every facet of your life. Even more so, the time you are going to spend struggling with progression is a waste of resources when you consider the time value of your life. Rather, through taking a kiteboarding lesson and getting the kitesurfing equipment that best facilitates your level of riding and safety needs, the savings are deceptively multifaceted. Despite the higher initial costs, you save time not only in terms of learning, but in having to invest energy into shopping for new gear once you inevitably replace the used equipment you bought, and possibly having to learn a whole new system. That does not mean you shouldn't ever purchase used kiteboarding gear. Instead, think past that initial expense, and consider the full, multi-dimensional cost of your decision.

If you are considering purchasing used kiteboarding or kitesurfing equipment, make sure to help protect yourself against fraud by reading the tips here.

Jake Mitchell
Age: 23
Years Kiteboarding: 3
First Kitesurfing Kites Purchased: 2004 North Vegas and 2005 Cabrinha Element