Kitesurfing with Short Arms. Your Guide for Solving T-Rex Arms Issues in Kitesurfing
Kitesurfing with Short Arms. Your Guide for Solving T-Rex Arms Issues in Kitesurfing
“I can’t reach the bar”
Now that kitesurfing is becoming increasingly popular with women and kids, this is one recurrent problem that I often have to deal with in my kite school. I’d like to say that it is more frequent with women, but it also happens to men and children. We jokingly call it “T-Rex arms issues”, but don’t worry, your arms are perfectly normal and there is nothing wrong with you. Most kitesurfing bars have been designed for tall men, hence will not be a good fit for everyone. You simply need a few small adjustments. There’s a myriad of things that you can do to improve your reach.
Why is it so important?
The bar slides up and down on the throw. At its lowest point, the bar is “sheeted in”, which increases the angle of attack of the kite, and therefore develops more lift/power.
To learn more about how a kite flies and how sheeting in and out affects the power of your kite, watch our video tutorial here
At its highest point, the bar is “sheeted out”, and the kite generates less lift due to having a lower angle of attack. Firstly, a kitesurfer whose arms would be too short to reach the highest point could never completely sheet out and reach the minimal power possible, which – you guessed it – can be dangerous.
The second thing, is that a kitesurfer who can barely reach the bar will not have good control over it. And no control, also means danger. It is important to have a relaxed but solid grip on the bar, being able to easily wrap the full the length of your fingers around it if or when necessary. If you let go of the bar, you need to be able to grab it back easily. If you have to climb the throw to grab the bar back, you are not only wasting a lot of time every time you crash during your lesson but you may also be wasting the split second that you had to save you from a dangerous situation, like crashing your kite in someone else’s lines. Reaching the bar should be easy.
Finally, there is also another piece of the bar that is important to reach, and it is the trim strap. Used to shorten your front lines, it depowers the kite and lower your sweet spot. In case of wind increase or sudden gust, you need to be able to use it effortlessly.
Now that you understand why an easy reach is important, how do you fix it?
Solution 1: Changing your grip
Some of my students seem to struggle with reach in the first lesson, and as they improve, the problem disappears magically. It was also my case when I started, and for years, I tried to understand how this could be possible. I had a hard time believing that our arms could lengthen overnight. The secret? The grip.
If you are holding the bar with all your hand (aka hammer grip), you’re using up all of your arm length. Only the fingers should wrap around the bar, with the top of the palm barely touching. Your knuckles should be facing you, rather than the sky. This way, you add the length of your wrist and palm to the length of your arms, to maximise comfort and control.
Solution 2: Choosing a harness
If you’re harness rides up, then you will need extra arm length to reach the bar. If you are wearing a waist harness, choose a harness that doesn’t ride up, or even better, pick a seat harness. The seat harness is my solution #1 for fixing the T-Rex arms. Not only the harness doesn’t slide under your breasts or arm pits but it lowers the point of attachment of the bar, bringing everything lower. At best, the attachment point is at navel height if it doesn’t ride up. At worse, it will be at plexus height. For a seat harness, the attachment point is at hip height at best, and at navel height at worse, if it’s a bit loose.
Prolimit makes affordable seat harnesses for kids in sizes as small as XXXS!
I’ve often heard that seat harnesses slow your progression and are a beginner thing. I cannot disagree more with this. Harness is about comfort. You’re not less of a kitesurfer if you wear a seat harness, and you’ll be able to do jumps just as big as anyone else. It is restrictive when riding toe side, which may get in the way if your goal is to ride a directional board (surfing, foiling, skimboarding, etc.), but in this case, you can invest in a rope slider, which will allow you the range of movement needed. Don’t be afraid of the seat harness, especially if you need it to improve your reach.
Solution 3: Choose a chicken loop
Now that kite manufacturers are aware of the existence of T-rex arms, they have come up with a bunch of specific bar options for this. They are sometimes rare to find, but they exist, and you can request it to your local dealer if you need it.
The chicken loop is the loop that attaches the bar to the spreader bar hook of the harness. It now comes in various sizes:
1- The biggest is the freestyle chicken loop, made to unhook and re-hook easily while riding, and usually found without a locking tube.
2- The medium size is the standard size found on most bars.
3- The small/micro size (circled in green) is meant for the short-armed, and is what you should be seeking if you want to improve your reach. The Know however that the improvement is limited, and you will gain a few centimeters at best.
4- The rope slider chicken loop. Ideal for wave rider using a harness equipped with a rope slider spreader bar.
Solution 4: Trim trap style
A recurrent solution that I often see recommended on forums is the click bar. Only available for Duotone and Ocean Rodeo bars (so you must want those specific brands), the click system is a system integrated in the bar that allows you to trim the back lines to reduce the power. Instead of reaching over the throw to adjust the power, you can do it from the bar tip. Other brands will also have “below the bar depower”, such as Slingshot. This is a great solution if you only have a problem with reaching the trim strap, but if you can barely touch the bar when it is fully sheeted out, it will not do anything for you.
My experience teaching with Slingshot below the bar trim strap (in 2016) is that it was hard to use while riding, but they may have improved their system since then. As for the click style bars, there is a whole mechanism hidden into the bar that needs regular cleaning. Seawater will enter your bar, with sand and small particles. If you omit the maintenance, the lines in the bar will wear out faster (out of sight), and may break, so if you opt for the click bar, make sure you do the regular mandatory maintenance (see the manufacturers bar maintenance video tutorials).
Solution 5: The bar stopper / stopper ball & Bars with adjustable throw
Sliding stopper found on Airush Bars. SOURCE: Youtube FORCE Kiteboarding & Wakeboarding Lessons & Gear
As said above, a lower trim strap (below the bar or click bar) helps you reach the depower system, but the bar may still be out of reach, so on its own, it is not the best solution. The brands that offer these options will usually pair them with a stopper ball that stops the bar from going too far up on the throw. Nowadays, almost all kite bars have a stopper ball and some of the newest bars have toolless throw adjustments. Stopper balls can even use them to lock the bar in if you are doing a trick that requires you to completely let go of the bar while up in the air (like a full deadman, for example). If you go with this option, for fixing your T-Rex arms, make sure that the stopper ball actually stays in place even with lots of power in the kite. Some of them are more decorative than anything else, and will slowly slide back up.
I had a student who took lessons elsewhere and bought the Duotone clickbar. She came to me absolutely terrified of the power of the kite. She felt unsafe flying the kite on the beach. To give her more confidence and assess the problem, I gave her a small kite on short lines. My first observation was that she had no reach on the bar and was flying the kite with her fingertips, so I gave her a short throw bar (we will talk about it in the solution 6) and a seat harness. Through her lessons, she improved her confidence because she had a good grip and she was in control. When finally came the time to have a lesson on her own gear (waist harness and clickbar), I noticed that her adjustable throw was set so low that she could not depower the kite. When letting go of the bar, it would stop in the sweet spot, so the kite was always powered up. She could easily reach the trim system, but she had no range on the throw for depowering the kite. It is not a surprise that she was so scared of the kite, it was always full power! My point is that the stopper ball or bars with adjustable throws are not always the perfect solution or the only solution. You should try other things before reducing your range of depower (which can be dangerous, especially in strong winds or overpowered situations). At the end, she opted for changing to a seat harness, and it was the perfect combination for her.
Solution 6: The Short throw bars
Some brands also have bars specifically made for short-armed people. For Airush, it is the Access Bar, for example. They usually come with a small/micro chicken loop and a shorter throw. The short throw will act the same way as a stopper ball, by shortening the range of depower, however keeping it to a reasonable range (and there’s still a stopper ball on top of that). With the short throw, the trim strap is also closer. You should also know that these bars are often narrower, because they expect the users (kids or petite women) to use smaller kites. A big kite (10 or 12m +) may lack responsivity on these bars. They usually come with bar extensions, so consider adding them to your bar. If you want to do it, you should do it when the bar is new, as the screw may seize and it may be impossible to do later on.
Solution 7: Arms stretch
I saw once someone recommending arm stretches to lengthen your arms. This is by far my least favorite solution. Not only the results are limited and uncertain, but the effort is not worth it, in my opinion. If you’re dedicated enough to do it every day for a year, you may manage to gain a few millimeters. It will not be enough to fix the problem, really. Although arm stretches are free, there are far more efficient solutions in terms of reach gained and time.
So, if you’re one of those who struggle with reach, please know that it should not be a deterrent for you. There are plenty of solutions and you can choose the one that fits you best. My favorite is the seat harness, because it is the most efficient. It is usually enough to fix the problem, but some will also need a short throw bar (with small chicken loop) to really have a comfortable reach on both the bar and the trim strap. No matter what brand you buy, tell your local shop about your problem so they can help you find the best option for you.