Kitesurfing is often regarded as an extreme sport, placed highly along with American football, rock climbing and bungee jumping which all share a high degree of risk. Kitesurfing has been made famous by those horrific ‘close call’ videos that circulate around the internet and on TV shows, but just how dangerous is it? Any sport that unfolds in the ocean has risk associated with it, but in this article we evaluate just how dangerous kitesurfing is by looking at situations that make it dangerous and how to enjoy the sport safely, or as safely as possible.
Kitesurfing has gained popularity over the last decade and is progressively recognized throughout the media, however, this recognition is often negative, only coming to the surface when a horrific kitesurfing accident occurs. This paints kitesurfing in a negative light and contributes to its branding as an extremely dangerous sport.
This viewpoint was investigated by Dutch kite surfer Christian van Bergen who launched an inquiry to discover just how dangerous this sport really is. Together with his team of four doctors, he analyzed all kitesurfing related injuries that entered hospital over a two-year period and found that:
- There is an average number of 7 kitesurfing injuries per 1000 hours of its activity
- This number per 1000 hours was found to be significantly lower than that of other sports
- For example, American football was found to account for 36 injuries per 1000 hours.
- Soccer had 19 injuries per 1000 hours on average
- Accidents are more likely to happen on water (58%) than on land (48%).
So, what does this tell us? It is surprising to learn that soccer has a higher risk of injury than kitesurfing, but how much of this is down to controlled activity and safety. We have compiled the main scenarios that make kitesurfing dangerous and later we will outline how to enjoy the sport by avoiding these dangerous scenarios.
What can make kitesurfing dangerous?
You should never attempt to teach yourself how to kitesurf. It is easy to browse the internet and find all the methods on how to kitesurf, but this cannot physically prepare you to face the unpredictable winds. Nothing compares to taking lessons and learning from an experienced kite surfer who will teach you how to adapt to unexpected situations and enjoy the sport safely. This will allow you to learn in a controlled environment and limit the risk associated with the sport.
Practising in strong winds
As a beginner kite surfer, the last thing you should be doing is practising a new sport in winds that are far too strong for your ability. These conditions are the most unsafe for this sport, especially when you don’t know what you are doing. Mistakes in lighter winds are not nearly as costly as those in heavy winds so be sure not to surf in anything above 25 knots when starting out.
Taking a kite that is too big
Bigger kites possess greater power. Therefore, if you launch a kite that is far too big for the conditions it will result in complete loss of control and you could end up being dragged out to sea or worse, in the cliffs.
Incorrectly connecting your lines
If the lines are not connected properly, the kite can become uncontrollable and take off unexpectedly. Prior to connecting the lines, be sure to put the bar and lines down wind and untangle the lines to prevent this tragedy.
Practising on the beach
Accidents that happen on the beach are much more likely to cause injury compared to those out at sea. Therefore, you should never practise your skills on the beach due to its hard foundations.
Sudden changes in weather conditions
We have all seen those videos where a pleasurable day out surfing can turn into a horror in a matter of seconds. The weather can turn at the flick of a switch so be sure to have access to a regular weather forecast that is accurate and monitor the sky. Ensure that you get out of the water immediately once you notice the conditions worsening.
Launching the kite incorrectly
It is essential that the kite is always launched from the soft zone in the wind window. This means that you can launch the kite without any power, if you launch the kite in the power zone you could be lifted far into the air or dragged across the beach (ouch).
Crashing in shallow water can cause injuries also so be sure to practice in deeper water and in the event of falling off, the water is more likely to prevent any injury.
How to avoid injury and kitesurf safely
Take lessons with an IKO certified organisation
International Kiteboarding Organisation (IKO) set out standards that should be adhered to when kitesurfing. If a kitesurfing school is certified by the IKO then they will offer safer teaching which will prepare you to face the wind and control the kite much more safely.
Gain IKO certification to level 3 or 4 to kitesurf independently
If you can obtain certification to this level you will be able to kitesurf independently meaning you will be able to surf upwind, control your speed and successfully manoeuvre around other surfers.
Make a spot assessment
Do this every time you travel to a kitesurfing spot to highlight any obstacles, shore breaks or areas to avoid and take the necessary precautions.
Read the forecast
Study the latest weather forecast and approach the water with the necessary precautions.
Be sure to purchase the latest, safe equipment
You should always check that your safety systems are functioning correctly before you begin each session on the water. Test the quick release and leash to ensure that the work accordingly.
Do not kitesurf alone
It is possible to launch and land a kite without assistance, however, these are advanced manoeuvres that require skill and even then, still carry much risk. Furthermore, kitesurfing alone without anyone around to assist you in an emergency is when things can go very wrong.
Do not go kitesurfing in an offshore wind
This is rule #1 in the kitesurfer’s handbook. At an advanced level you can ride upwind but often this is not possible; the kite or lines can snap, or the wind may drop preventing you from being able to reach the shore.
Always have a plan
If something does go wrong, always have a plan to get you out of it. This should be a part of your spot assessment for when conditions take a turn for the worst and you should know how to react to them.
Is kitesurfing dangerous?
Kitesurfing can be a safe, enjoyable sport so long as you know what you are doing and follow the safety precautions. You should never attempt this sport without receiving sufficient lessons from an IKO-certified school. The most dangerous thing about kitesurfing is the addictive adrenaline rush that it triggers, it delivers a unique angle of the world that would not be able to see doing anything else. It can provide the ultimate release, as you glide over those waves, the stresses of daily life can be relieved in an instant.
So, don’t let the media talk you out of trying this unique sport and realize that this sport can be safe ad enjoyable if you follow the safety guidelines we have given you. Don’t be a spectator watching from the beach, get out there and enjoy everything this sport has to offer!