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Essential Kiteboarding Equipment

Updated on July 5, 2011

Kiteboarding is a crossover sport that has gained tremendous popularity in the last few years. Kiteboarding uses a power kite with one of a variety of boards to skim riders across the surface of water, snow or land.

There are three basic essential pieces of equipment for kiteboarding – a kite, a board, and a harness. These three are available in a large variety to suit a number of skill levels and wind conditions. It is always best to consult a kiteboarding expert when choosing equipment, to ensure purchasing the right equipment for the locale’s wind conditions and for the rider’s skill level.

Example of a LEI Kite.
Example of a LEI Kite.

The Kite

There are two kinds of power kites – leading edge inflatables and foil kites.  Leading edge inflatable kites are also known as inflatables, LEI kites or C-kites.  They are made out of nylon and have an inflatable plastic bladder across the front edge of the kite.  Smaller bladders also run perpendicular to the main bladder.  Inflatable kites are very popular with kiteboarders because float when dropped in the water making relaunching easy, and because they respond more quickly and directly to the rider than other kinds of kinds.  Traditionally, LEI kites do not depower very easily and a two-kite set-up has been used – one kite for power and one for deceleration.  However, in 2005 a modified LEI kite was developed.  Called a Bow kite, or flat LEI kite, it is shallower than a standard LEI but offers a greater range of power and is easier to relaunch from the water.  

Example of a foil kite.
Example of a foil kite.

Foil kites, despite their name, are made of fabric. They have air pockets called air cells which help give the kite life. A fixed bridle gives the kite its shape. Foil kites are made to depower more easily than LEI kites, allowing kiteboarders to use one smaller kite rather than the traditional two-kite set up needed when using traditional LEI kites and giving the foil kite a wider range of wind conditions in which it can be used. The newer Bow kites have a comparable range. Foil kites do not need to be manually inflated. They are designed as open cell or closed cell varieties. Open cell kites use a constant airflow to stay inflated but cannot be relaunched from the water. Closed cells use inlet valves to hold the air in the cells and stay inflated even while in the water.

Some essential equipment - control bar, kiteboard, helmet, and harness.
Some essential equipment - control bar, kiteboard, helmet, and harness.

Kiteboarding Harness

A kite harness attaches the rider to the control bar.  The harness takes much of the strain exerted by the kite on a kiteboarder’s arms and allows the rider to perform tricks.  Though windsurfing harnesses look similar to kiteboarding harnesses, they are different and a windsurfing harness may break very easily. 

Kiteboarding harnesses are available in three types – seat, waist and vest.  Waist harnesses are the most popular harnesses for advanced riders.  Seat harnesses make kiteboarding easier for beginner riders and so are popular with them.  Vest harnesses provide flotation and impact protection.

The Kiteboard

A Kiteboard is a small board manufactured from wood, foam or a composite material. They are available in several types: directional surf-style boards, wakeboard-style boards, hybrids which can go in either direction, and skim-type boards.  Most beginners use a twin tip board which are the easiest to learn on and therefore the most popular.

All kiteboards have footstraps, a necessity for doing tricks and jumps. Some kiteboards also have bindings, though these are used mainly by wake-style riders who want to replicate certain wakeboarding tricks.

Besides the board, kite and harness, other essential items include the kiteboard bar, kiteboarding line, and leash. The bar is basically a control bar which allows the rider to control the kite, as well as the rider’s direction and speed. The line connects the harness to the control bar and connects the control bar to the kite. The leash functions like a surfboard leash, keeping the rider close to the board in the event of a crash.

For protection and safety, the rest of this gear should also be used. A helmet protects the head from lacerations, blunt trauma, compression injuries to the neck and spine, and can make head injuries less severe. A safety hook knife is used to cut tangled kite lines or release a kite if the safety release does not work properly. An impact vest provides protection against impact and can provide some flotation assistance. A personal flotation device also provide flotation assistance and is used in deep water for kiteboarders who are injured or disabled and have to wait for rescue. Likewise, signaling devices are used when the kiteboarder needs rescue. A signaling device can be as simple as a whistle or as intricate as EPIRB.

In addition, many kiteboarders use a wetsuit to prevent the loss of body heat when there are strong winds, cold water or both.   A friend or fellow kiteboarder is also necessary for help in launching the kite and in case of an emergency.  Finally, mamy kiteboarders use a GPS to measure distance, track and speed during a kiteboarding session.

Kiteboarding has grown from a sport of 30 to 50 participants worldwide in 1998 to over 200,000 10 years later.  The thrill of harnessing the wind’s power and flying across the surface of water brings many riders and their equipment to small, secluded beaches for a shot at riding the wind.

Some of the Best Kiteboarding Moves


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