The fastest way to cut short your cold weather kiteboarding session
by Steve Negen
Welcome to November. Up here in Michigan that means November gales, some 10'-12' wave days, cold water (50 degrees) and even colder air. Riding in cold weather takes a special mindset, but even more importantly, it demands the right gear. At MACkite we ride until Lake Michigan freezes over, with some days pushing a total temperature (water plus air) of only 75 degrees.
Modern wetsuits with extra layers and a floatation vest will keep your core warm in just about any weather. Your head, feet and hands are a totally different story and are almost always the weak link in the chain. Today we will talk about the basic 3 types of hand protection that work best for kiteboarding in cold weather. Gloves, mittens and claws (three-finger gloves.)
Gloves - everyone seems to like gloves because of the complete range of motion gloves offer you. Excellent for setting up your gear and allowing complete use of your bar. The 2 major drawbacks to gloves are warmth and forearm pump. Warmth - kiteboarding with gloves cuts off the circulation in your fingertips after a time. Between the pinch between your finger and your bar and the material of the glove pushing your fingers apart, your circulation will be decreased. This is one cause of cold hands while kiteboarding. The second drawback to kiteboarding with gloves is forearm pump. Although there are some gloves with pre-bent fingers that really help this fatigue, they can't reduce it completely. Thinner gloves help, but at the expense of warmth. We find that gloves work best in total temperatures of over 100-110 degrees.
Mittens - Mittens seem to have a love/hate relationship with riders. Some of us love them, some of us hate them. Normally I like to let people judge for themselves the merits of different brands, but in the case of mittens I am strictly talking Dakine mittens. Most every other mitten on the market is designed with surfing in mind, with a big thick wall of neoprene between your fingers and the bar, and without pre-curved fingers- a sure recipe for forearm pump even Popeye couldn't handle. The Dakine mitten has a thin palm with pre-curved fingers and a grip tape type palm side. The top is a 3mm wind skin. These mittens are very comfortable and quite warm. I would rate them down to around 80-85 total temperature. The major drawback is not being able to split the bar with your fingers. This is why some people just can't use mittens when kite surfing or wake style riding. If you are just cruising, jumping and having fun, mittens are a great option.
Claws or 3-finger gloves - The new Neil Pryde (NP) 3-finger gloves are the current staff favorite for kiteboarding in the cold. They offer the best of all worlds. Warmth, ability to split the bar and semi pre-curved fingers. Be careful about other "claws" in that many are designed with surfing in mind and will generate forearm pump.
Two more little tricks for keeping your hands warm during your winter kite surfing sessions: Wear normal gloves when rigging your gear. Keeping as much heat in your fingers prior to riding can be the most effective thing to extending your session. Another great trick is to bring a thermos of hot water with you. After your fingers and feet start getting cold, just add some warm water to get the circulation going again.
Last note - remember always to dress for the swim in - a 3/2 wetsuit in 50 degree water doesn't leave you a very safe time zone for swimming in.