The Fear Of Kitesurfing
The fear of Kitesurfing
Recently, I had a chat with a friend who started taking kitesurfing lessons a year ago and suddenly stopped. She never got to experience the thrill to ride the board, and I wondered why she didn’t pursue her lessons. After a long discussion, she admitted that she was too scared to continue her tuition. Christian and myself thought she progressed nicely and no drama happened during her lessons. Yet, the power of the kite was so terrifying to her, that she decided not to continue.
This story is not an exception at all. To be honest, it took me a whole year before I stopped being afraid of the kite. Every time I would drive to the beach, I would find excuses such as “the wind is too strong/ too gusty / too light”, or even “I’m not feeling it today”. The truth is: I was scared. Whether you ended up in a kitemare (a nightmare with a kite) or you simply are afraid of the power of the kite, please know that this feeling is legit and valid. But it doesn’t have to stop you from learning to kite. The reward from overcoming your fear will be even greater and more empowering. In this article, I aim to give you a few tricks to help you step over your fear and become the kitesurfer that you dream to be.
What is fear?
First of all, what is fear? Fear is a natural emotion. It is your mind and body warning you of a danger. In some cases, the danger is not real, it is your mind playing tricks on you. In other cases, there is a real tangible physical danger, and this is the case of kitesurfing. You are hooked to a powerful tool and things can quickly get very dangerous. This fear is legit. Don’t talk yourself down because of it. If you are afraid, you have awareness of the danger, and this is not a bad thing at all. I would rather teach someone scared than over-confident, the former acting more cautiously.
The gender of fear
Does fear have a gender? At first sight, I would say that women tend to be more scared of kitesurfing than men. But with more experience as an instructor, the truth is simply that women are more prone to admit it than men. Most men will fake it until they make it. In a masculine world valuing courage, very few men will admit that they are scared until they have reached a certain level of self-confidence. In any case, the feeling is valid for anyone, and there is no shame in being scared. This leads to my first trick for overcoming fear:
Speak it The Fear of Kitesurfing
In all instructor courses that I took, a major emphasis was made on reading the student feelings and knowing where they are mentally. We are suggested to frequently ask the student for feedback. The truth is, not every instructor will be good at reading your emotions, and some students are hard to read. If you are scared, and you tell your instructor that you are fine, you are not helping yourself. The instructor will keep pushing you until you no longer enjoy the learning process. If you speak it, then the instructor can adapt his or her lesson, and if he or she doesn’t, then you should consider changing instructor. Learning to kitesurf can be hard, but it should be fun, with a hint of a challenging thrill, no more than that.
You are in control The Fear of Kitesurfing
The most frightening part of kitesurfing is definitely the kite. It is powerful, you are hooked to it, and it can take off and hurt you badly. One thing that helped me through my learning process is to realize that I was in control. It is never the kite that decides where you go, it is you. You’re in command and you control the whole thing. You decide of the power that it gives you, the direction, the speed, the movement, everything. No one else steers the kite for you. If you want to go back to shore, you steer the kite towards the shore. If you need less power, you move the kite slower and you sheet the bar out. So even if it is powerful, you are the one who decides not to hit an object, or another kiter, etc. However, this is true ONLY if you have good kite control. In many cases, students are progressed too quickly and they feel they do not have the control because they haven’t developed enough skills for it.
Being hooked to a powerful kite and not controlling it is very scary. It becomes a vicious circle: when you are scared, you cramp your hands on the bar, which usually ends up in nervous accidental steering. The more mistakes you make, the more scared you are. Hands on the bar must be relaxed and the grip, light. For this reason, kite control needs to become relaxed and natural, almost like if the kite was extension of your body. If the kite is all over the place and not obeying, you need to spend more time practicing kite control. This means, with a small kite and short lines, so you have the minimum power. When you can keep the kite steady where you want it to be, then you are ready. The clock exercise is a very good exercise for that: try to keep the kite steady for a minute at every clock position, from 9:30 to 2:30. From there, remember: you are the boss. Don’t let the kite decide for you.
Bad habits such as a wide grip, hammer grip and pulling the bar all the way in are very common, but also very dangerous.
Less experienced instructors often completely miss on correcting these basic kite control mistakes.
Master the safety procedures The Fear of Kitesurfing
On my first kitemare, I picked up a kite way too big for the conditions. I couldn’t put the board on, and I started drifting away from shore in deep water. I panicked right away, and forgot everything that I knew. I didn’t know what to do: how to body drag back to shore, how to relaunch the kite in deep water, how to self-rescue…. It was my first time in deep water, and a very humbling experience. Someone had to get a boat out to pick me up in the middle of the lake. Deep water is a lot harder than shallow, because you cannot simply stand up and relaunch the kite, or walk back to the beach. For this reason, you need to have not only a good understanding of the safety procedures, but you need to have practiced it in deep-water. Many kitesurfing schools do not insist enough on the safety procedures, because it is not the most fun part of the learning process, hence they skip it.
Making sure that you are fully competent at deep-water self-rescue will give you the confidence to go out, knowing that you can get out of trouble no matter what.
A demonstration on the beach is not enough. You need to do it yourself, in deep water, without help. And do it again until you feel comfortable and it feels easy. You may need to do it next week, but it may take a year or two before you do it again, so the safety procedures need to be well mastered. You should practice emergency self-landing, emergency self-rescue, kite relaunching in all three positions (edge of the wind window, leading edge down, trailing edge down) and board recovery. Ultimately, you should also practice a full deep-water pack down self-rescue.
Activating the chicken loop quick release must become a natural reflex
When you master those, then you know that whatever happens, you will be able to come back to shore on your own, and this is very reassuring! Moreover, when an emergency happens, not only you will know what to do, but it will simply feel like rehearsing what you’ve done before, which removes a huge load of stress off your shoulder in a moment where you need to keep your cool.
Take your time The Fear of Kitesurfing
Learning to kite is not a race. If you feel scared, don’t rush it. Take the time to be in control. Take the time to understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. Take the time to master every exercise before moving on to the next step. Practice makes perfect, and practice needs time. There is no point trying to ride if you can’t control the kite. There is no point trying to water start if you can’t recover your own board every time you crash. When you master every skill set needed to kite, then you can rely on yourself to do it. Confidence is the best way to conquest your fear, but that takes time and practice, so don’t rush it.
Learn with adapted gear and proper instruction The Fear of Kitesurfing
Two years ago, an Italian couple set up a kite close to our kite school. It was blowing 25 knots and they pumped up an 11m kite. The girl was roughly 60 kilos and wore her boyfriend’s XL harness. He was holding the handle of the harness while she was trying to control the kite. She was so overpowered that if it wasn’t for him, she would have been flying on the beach and crashing. He clearly had no clue of what he was doing, teaching-wise, and she was not in control whatsoever. After half an hour of this horrible tuition, he sent her in the water, trying to put the board on, without any notion of kite relaunching, self-rescue or board recovery. She didn’t control the kite very well and was way overpowered. She never succeeded putting the board on, and ended up drifting off shore in the ocean. She ended up ditching the kite by removing the harness, and swimming back to shore while the kite was sailing away on its own. I don’t speak any Italian, but it was clear that they got into a fight. My guess is that he was mad because she lost the kite, and she was mad (and crying) because she was scared for her life. I can confidently guess that she will never touch a kite again in her life, because she had this traumatic experience. All she needed was gear adapted to her needs and a proper instructor. Unfortunately, this story is more common than we think, and usually ends up with “this is not for me”. I should also add that it also happens to men being taught by their mate, so it is not solely a female experience, although a lot more frequent with women and their romantic partner.
This painful sight of the boyfriend improvising himself as an instructor is unfortunately very common
There are many reasons why you shouldn’t be taught by your partner. First of all, very few couples can teach each other. This is true not only for kitesurfing, but for anything. There is a saying in kitesurfing that states “don’t teach your partner”. It usually ends up in fights, frustrations and sometimes break ups. The second problem is that your kitesurfing (male) partner has gear adapted for him, not for you. That 12m kite may be good for his 100 kilos in 25 knots, but with your light 60 kilos, you should be on a 7m. Only kite schools can invest in kites, boards and harnesses adapted for every body weight and wind conditions. Moreover, no matter how good of a kitesurfer your partner is, he is probably not an instructor. Riding and teaching are two very different skill sets. Really, I wouldn’t say I was a good instructor until I had a thousand hours of teaching under my belt. So, if you are this Italian lady, or if you happened to have a similar experience, don’t give up on the sport. I understand that you are scared, and you have all the rights to be. You need a better start to your learning process, and a proper kite school will give you that.
Take a step back The Fear of Kitesurfing
Some of us had traumatic experiences through our learning process (or even after). We all messed up one day, and it is not a matter of “if”, it is really a matter of “when”, for we all end up in trouble at some point. Don’t let the bad experiences take away the pleasure of kitesurfing. If this happened to you, take a moment to think about what happened, and what was the mistake. If you did something wrong, take a step back and reassess your skills. You may need to redo some exercises, to improve your skills. Simply put, you sometimes need to ‘’regress to progress’’. After a kitemare, I would recommend to take a refresher lesson. Your instructor will help you understand what you could have done better. If the fear paralyzes you so bad that you think giving up on the sport, then really, the instructor will walk you through gaining control and confidence again, by working on your weaknesses. That’s what instructors are for.
Remember: You can do it The Fear of Kitesurfing
This is my ultimate advice. Be confident that you can do it. No matter how scared you are, you can succeed. It will take time, because you need to take it slow and take the time to master everything, but at the end, you will overcome this challenge, and the pride you will get out of it will be worth it. The harder it is for you, the more empowering it will be at the end. Once you win this challenge, you will realize that you can do anything if you put your heart into it. Your tenacity is your limit.
The Fear of Kitesurfing