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Modern Inflatable Kitesurfing Kite

Kitesurfing is the natural evolution of extreme wind-powered watersports. Combining traits of windsurf and wakeboard, the powerful air-foils and lightweight boards give the kiteboarder higher performance capabilities than ever before. In its short but exciting history kitesurfing has brought together the most exciting components of other extreme sports. The simplicity of the kite-board concept allows every rider the ability to create their own ride styles that reflect their creative imagination and personal expression. With every new move the definitions are changed and the sport continues to expand in possibility. Nobody knows what kiteboarding will look like in the future. But already at the present time kiteboarding has expanded into snow-kiteboarding and has taken new directions into foil-boarding and land-boarding.


What makes a kitesurfer work: The kitesurfer flies the kite across the wind to provide traction power through the lines to his kite-control-bar. The rider holds the control bar like a waterskier holds the ski-rope's handle. the kitesurfer steers the kite by pulling the ends of the bar. Pulling left to fly the kite left, and pulling the right side of the bar to steer the kite to the right. The rider wears a harness and hooks into the kite bar's harness line. The harness allows the rider to hold the power with the body instead of the arms. So the arms are more easily able to steer the kite. the harness also allows the rider to fly the kite with one hand. The rider has a board that looks like a wakeboard, (or a small surfboard). the rider steers the board by leaning the board with the feet (just like waterskiing or surfing). By steering the kite to different positions, the rider can sail himself across the wind in both directions, the same way that a sailboat can tack across the wind. A kitesurfer can sail towards the wind by making a series of tacks (zig  zags) like a sailboarder. The kitesurfer has  a big kite and very little weight of equipment, no heavy mast or rigging like a boat may have. So this makes the kiteboard equipment very light and fast.


"The kitesurfer, flies forty feet in the air above huge bone crunching waves in Hawaii's famous surf. He approaches the wave at blistering speed and launches himself from the crest of the oncoming wave. He leaps high into the air where he hangs effortlessly suspended from his wing and dances as gracefully as a bird, soaring and looping, he defies gravity until he softly descends, and challenges the next wave. Returning to shore he rides the wave with the agility of a surfer.
This aerial ballet is the manifestation of the new water sport of Kitesurfing. Kitesurfing is the synergistic offspring of windsurfing, wake boarding and paragliding. Kitesurfers control a wing of lightweight fabric, which pulls them across the water or above it. The sport is fast becoming the center of attention on the world water sports stage as pre-conceived limitations are regularly being shattered."
Rider:David Dorn, Photo:Mike Minichiello

Kitesurfing can trace its roots back to its ancestors, "kite-skiing" and "flysurfing" which first appeared back in the early '1980's. Cory Roeseler from Oregon began to develop his Kiteski system using a rigid framed kite with a reel-bar & water-skis. The kite-skier launched the kite by hand and let out line from the reel to begin riding. When the kite crashed, the pilot reeled in the lines to re-launch. At about the same time in France the Legaignoux brothers were working on their early prototypes for their inflatable kites. These they tested on water-skis and a variety of other watercraft. The Legaignoux brothers called their sport "Flysurfing", and their kites eventually became the basis for the original Wipika system. The modern era of kitesurfing began mid 90's when Laird Hamilton and Manu Bertin gained recognition by kite-surfing on Maui's north shore. Riding surf style boards with footstraps, they captured the imagination of the water sport community.

The Wipika/Flysurfer (Legaignoux) and the Kiteski (Roeseler) were the two original marine traction systems. The Kiteski was the first commercially available product and was awarded patents for its unique design. It was first released around 1986. The Legaignoux inflatable kite, took 15 years of development before becoming commercially available as the Wipika kite, released around 1997. The Wipika, was an instant success and quickly became the most popular system. The Wipika System came with fixed length lines, however reel-bar systems were sometimes used. The Legaignouxs were given several patents for their spherical kite, and bridal system. Now the vast majority of kites produced are manufactured under license, and derive from the Legaignoux concept.

Kitesurfing popularity has exploded in recent years and the equipment is now widely available and more sophisticated than ever. Kitesurfing now has well-organized events such as the Kitesurfing World Titles, and the World Cup of Kitesurfing. Kitesurfing instruction is also widely available through several networks of accredited schools. Kitesurfing associations, Internet newsgroups, and web-sites are growing. There are many good kitesurfing instructional videos and DVD's available and a plethora of kitesurfing magazines too.

Kitesurfing pioneers include: Cory Roeseler from Oregon. Lou Waiman, a wake-boarder from Florida who now lives on Maui. Eliot Leboe a professional windsurfer turned hardcore kitesurfer. Several professional windsurfers and waterman who turned their talents toward kitesurfing. Sail designer Joe Koehl has been largely responsible for getting kitesurfing up and running as a sport. Joe has introduced many of us to the sport and helped organize the events and promotion. Windsurfing legend Robby Naish has been converted. Rush Randle is also an accomplished kitesurfer. David Dorn and John Holzhall were responsible for the creation of the earliest structured training programs that made the sport accessible to many and promoted kite safety training for all new participants. Their timely contribution to the sport helped kiteboarding to become accepted and recognized as a legitimate sport. 

Most beginners will usually travel downwind until they develop the skills for going upwind. For some light-wind riders using larger boards it may be possible to go upwind on their first day, but there is usually a learning period of about three weeks, where you will have to "schlep" your gear up the beach between runs. Eventually you can travel upwind as well as a windsurfer. Downwind riding is still very popular way to sail. Kitesurfers often do downwind coast runs and hitch a ride back upwind to do it again. (There are restricted areas restrictions apply in some locations like airports etc).

New kites with bar range in price from $1295- to $2195-(USD). A complete beginner setup including board will cost between $1500- to $2500-. Some equipment is sold as a "complete package" for a discounted price. A complete setup includes the control bar, lines, harness and a board. You may also want to buy a good buoyancy jacket (life vest), helmet and wetsuit. If you want to save money you can convert an old surfboard into a kiteboard by adding footstraps, this will be a good learning board but will probably be inadequate when you begin to get bigger jumps. Used kites are an option and buying a last years model may save you 30-40% off the new price. Always take care to inspect any piece of equipment before purchasing it. A good SAFETY system is a must.


Most people will learn to fly a small "trainer kite" on land first. The smaller kite has less power and is easier to manage. The student can learn about the "wind window". and how to steer the kite correctly. Kite control skills are necessary before the student attempts a more powerful kite. The proper trainer kite will have a control bar, and a kite leash that will de-power the kite if the user drops the bar. Flying kites on land should always be done with caution. Always find open space away from buildings, power lines, fences and people. Find a place with steady wind, and have an experienced person help you. Even small kites can get unruly, so do not take them for granted. Get a lesson in power-kiting from a local kite store, or school. they will save you a lot of time, and prevent many bumps and bruises.


Direct from ACTION BEACH...notes from Kiteboarding Instructor trainers Dave Dorn & John Holzhall.
Choosing the best Kitesurfing Equipment for your style..
Here are some guidelines for choosing the right equipment based on the most common questions we get at Action Beach. Selecting the right gear is a crucial part of successful kiteboarding.

Two-line or Four Line ?
Two-line kites are were the cornerstone of kitesurfing. They are were much simpler to operate than four-line and they are were more reliable because they will would relaunch from more wipeouts than a four-line. We used to suggest that all kitesurfers start out with the two-line setup. Don't think for a minute that two-line kites are for beginners only. There are used to be about half of the professional kitesurfing community on two-line kites and about half on four-line. Two-line kites could survive crashes in the waves and can be rolled over and over and will usually relaunch. Two-line kites are were available from 1.0m up to 11.0meters. All of the larger kites are generally four-line.
Four-line kites are able to depower and can be used in a wider wind range. The four-line setup requires more time to lay out and untangle. Four-lines would be are no longer a frustration for someone who drops the kite often because they may not relaunch correctly and don't require swimming in. We generally used to advise new kitesurfers to start out on the two-line for about a year than they can have the option to go four-line. This strategy plays played to the strengths of each kite style and gives gave the new kitesurfer the best chance of rapid progress. The exception is was  when a new kitesurfer requires required a larger kite to ride their local area. Then the best option
is was to have a "smaller" two line, say 9.0m2 that they can could train on and use in the higher wind later on , and they will would usually purchase a 13.5m2 or 15.5m2 four-line for their regular kite. When purchasing a four-line kite and bar system it is crucial that you have the retailer thoroughly explain the function of the safety systems. Have the retailer setup the bar completely for you and pre-stretch the lines and check the adjustments. Most of our students at Action Beach bring their equipment to us and get it checked out, and usually take at least one four-line lesson before they take their new four-line kites home. (Some corrections have been made to update this section!)

UPDATE: 2005
90% of all kites sold these days are 4-Line. Improvements in safety systems, kite design, and teaching techniques, have made 4-line kites much safer and easier to use. People are learning faster these days, so Manufacturers are now producing 4-line kites for entry level riders that are much easier to relaunch. These will be low-aspect, or moderate-aspect-ratio kites. Now most beginners are starting out on 4-lines. The four-line kite you learn with, will keep up with your rapid progress. Also in 2005, there are several brands producing a five-line kite. The "Fifth Line" is designed to give the kite more stability and assist with relaunching. Usually the safety line is attached to the center-line (5th) and allows for a symmetrical depower. In some cases it may be possible to relaunch the kite after completely dropping the bar. The addition of an extra line increases the kite's setup time, and may take longer to untangle. However as the standard of the average rider improves each year, we will see more riders adopting the five line. In the near future we could see the five-line becoming the new standard in kite control systems.

2006-2007 Has seen the reemergence of the four-line systems, with the advent of Flat Kites, Bow kites and Hybrid kites. These newest kite designs make the kites more easily relaunchable with the four line set up. The bow Kite design is said to have 100% depower while the rider is hooked into the harness. This is a great step forward for safety. In addition to using the 100% depower, Bow kites should also have a kite leash attached in the event of a line tangle or when performing an emergency self-exit.

2008-2012 This period has seen the influence of safer gear on the market place, more women, children, and older people are coming into the sport. Bow kites, and SLE kites have been refined and improved upon. Many manufacturers are making their third and fourth generation Bow-kites and have produced easy handling kites that cut down learning time, and assist rapid progress. Also many good quality bow kites are available new and used, bringing these kites within the reach of every budget.

Inflatable or Ram-Air?
When kitesurfing was evolving around the world, the pioneers used existing power kites (or traction kites) that were already available. these early traction kites were designed for sport flying and in some cases for para-carting (a buggy). While the designs were efficient, they were not designed for use on watercraft. They would not float and they did not relaunch very well. Newer designs have included water exclusion devices that make the kites float and are able to be relaunched more easily than before. When selecting a ram-air you should only chose ones that have all the modern features. Ram-airs are lighter than inflatables because they don't carry PVC bladders, they have a very efficient shape with a flat profile which makes them very powerful for their size. They are often cheaper than inflatables. They are popular in some areas probably due to availability and marketing rather than performance. However at Action Beach Maui you may only see one or two ram-air kites amongst 30-40 inflatable kites. This is because in stronger winds, efficiency is measured less by power-to-size and more by relaunch-ability and stability. The ram-air shape relies on a steady wind to maintain its shape and is therefore susceptible to micro gusts and will invert and distort with very little provocation. For this reason Maui Kitesurfers overwhelmingly prefer Inflatable style kites. Ram-air design is converging with inflatable performance and may ultimately be the kite we prefer to use in extreme light air like on a mountain lake at high altitude. But for crash and burn in the surf give me my inflatable!.
Directional or Bi-directional?
These days the kite board type you chose is usually determined by your previous boarding experience rather than the wind-range in your local riding area. The advent of larger bi-directional boards has extended their wind range into the lightest breezes and the development and availability of smaller more efficient directional boards gives them a virtually unlimited high-wind potential. Kitesurfers with wake-boarding and snow-boarding backgrounds will tend to gravitate toward the bi-directional style. Beginners can use footstraps and slipper style bindings on bi-directional boards. Bi-directional doesn't mean that you have to have the full wake-board style bindings. Directional boards come in so many production sizes and constructions that there is a board for every body type and size. Directional boards are usually preferred by people with a surfing or windsurfing background. Directional boards require you to change your feet when jibing. Directionals use foot-straps in an inline or "Y" configuration, depending on their width. All boards should be used with a leash while learning, and when you use a leash, you should always use a helmet.
Using Short Lines?
One of the most important choices for a kiteboarder is what length of kite lines to use. Using shorter lines when learning will create a much safer and easer  system when learning. Shorter lines will give the kite less maximum power by reducing the distance it can travel. Also shorter lines allow the kite to steer faster with less lag-time, an give the rider a more responsive kite. This also gives better feedback to the rider. Short lines are easier to untangle, and need less room to maneuver. When using shorter lines, you can use a larger kite size. All the teaching systems recommend using short lines to their students. Generally a new kiteboarder will start on the shortest length, and then gradually increase their line-length as they become more proficient. Short line sets are available in 4m, 7m, 10m, 12m, 15m.

Multiple Line Lengths?
Most kites are supplied with one set of lines of generic length, usually about 25 meters (75 feet). Additional lines sets can be purchased from kite stores. Line sets are also available in; 17m, 20m, 22m, 25m, 27m. Lines can be combined for a variety of lengths to give the rider a greater range. Using shorter lines in strong wind will help reduce the kite's power. This gives the rider a greater wind range with one kite size. The shorter the lines, the less power from the kite. Longer lines give the kite more potential power. When using a newer Bow Kite design it is possible to ride with even shorter line lengths. 10m and 15 meter lengths are used for learning and for riding in waves.

Safe Kitesurfing,


The Maui Kiteboarding Association
The United States Kitesurfing Association

Kiteboarding FAQ, Q&A Page.
Action Sports Maui Kitesurfing School info Page.

IKO International Kiteboarding Organization info Page.


WARNING, Kitesurfing is an extreme sport that requires a high degree of water confidence and a good understanding of kite flying skills. The lightweight foils are extremely powerful and often overwhelm the novice and may place them in dangerous situations that can also endanger onlookers and innocent bystanders. A responsible attitude and Kitesurfing Training is essential for a safe entry into this sport.

I just updated this page. Be aware that safety systems are changing all the time.
You should consult your user manual for proper safety system function for your brand of bar,
for the latest safety systems and protocols.
No promises are made for the accuracy of the information in this page, or for any error or omission.
Things change, Get training from a certified kiteboarding instructor. Read a lot, and
Practice using your safety systems (carefully) in non-critical situations. Ride Safe!

First version posted 1997, Copyright David Dorn, all rights reserved
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