Riding Upwind

I was contacted by a local beginner recently who had taken introductory lessons elsewhere but is looking for some spot specific tips. He has managed to start gaining ground upwind but is still struggling with consistency, below is segment of an email in our exchange:

Great to hear, unlocking upwind riding is such a great feeling! The two most common mistakes I see with beginners trying to go upwind are:

being unwilling to sacrifice ground downwind to pick up board-speed;

rigging too large a kite and subsequently having to edge very hard to maintain control.

I often have students ride a size smaller than typically to practice working the kite and building speed while bearing down wind. Once they can maintain a plane I teach them to successively point further and further upwind until they stall and slowly fall backwards. Getting used to finding this stall point allows you to head upwind at a the steepest angle possible

Twisting your body and pointing the board more upwind is also key, edging too hard kills the power in the kite. Riders often feel they are going upwind while riding very fast and edging hard against a big kite - but moving slower actually results in the apparent wind changing to enable steeper angles upwind.

Getting really good at bearing upwind provides more time to work on the fun stuff which typically all means travelling back downwind!

Most of my students have little issue with riding upwind after just a few successful rides on the board, but it is common to meet kitersurfers who have spent years struggling with staying upwind and the “walk of shame” (carrying all their wet gear back upwind).

You can see the symptoms of these training scars at your local beach. “Experienced” riders who put up a larger kite than other riders and are stuck “mowing the lawn” and typically have difficulty gaining any distance upwind. They are stuck edging hard against the power of their kite, which makes for less comfortable riding as they are stuck fighting the kite power. Even skilled kiteboarders who choose to ride an overpowered kite to get the highest jumps possible almost always learned proper jump mechanics and timing on a smaller kite.

Cnce you are confident flying the kite, master these steps and you will be heading at steep angles upwind:

  1. work the kite aggressively to board start and build speed downwind

  2. use the board to redirect this speed upwind

  3. use subtle edging technique while twisting the head, chest, hips, and board upwind

  4. keep weight predominately on the back leg

The previous post on teaching theory goes into detail on how significantly the first experiences with a kite effect your progression and some advice on reversing “training scars” if you are stuck at a plateau. The advice/lessons I provide for those struggling with upwind riding is actually to do a lot more downwind riding!

Arranging a downwinder or taking a boat supported lesson allows you to focus on building and controlling speed downwind without worrying about losing ground and getting back to the beach! Take a size smaller kite with you on these downwinders. This will make you a more aggressively kite pilot and significantly increase your kite flying skills and board start technique which will pay dividends once you are on a regular sized kite launch and landing from the same beach.

I hope this helps anyone stuck at the verge of unlocking upwind freedom. Post any questions/comments you have below or book a lesson this summer!

Teaching/Learning Kitesurfing

I have been fortunate enough to receive training (as a complete novice) from some world class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructors, tactical shooting coaches, and physical trainers while in the Canadian Special Forces. One thing I consistently noticed from the best coaches is their focus on perfecting every detail of the absolute basics before moving on to more advanced skills. Amateur Instructors will often attempt to impress you with their breadth of knowledge, however the deepest knowledge of fundamentals leads to the most effective coaching.

The tenet “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” is the core of training soldiers for stress of combat where perfect practice has been proven to be the key to performing any physical skill reliably under pressure. At the opposite end of the spectrum are “training scars” which are developed when a novice repeats an incorrect movement. The training scar is an intuitive pathway which must then be overwritten. It is easier to coach a complete novice than someone who has picked up poor habits, or worse yet, has learned a panic response from unsafe or stressful learning conditions.

The generally accepted approach when learning kitesurfing is to practive with a small trainer kite, before progressing to larger kites in the water without a board. After getting comfortable with the kite in the water students practice “power strokes” and “board starts” which are the gateways to getting up and riding. Rushing through these fundamentals is common in the industry and usually results in frustrated or frightened students.

My approach utilizes a formal “gateway test” before moving students onto larger and more powerful kites. This ensures the lesson progresses in accordance with the students’ abilities and confidence rather than allowing them to compensate for lack of technique with an oversized kite (the next post on riding upwind how this halts the progession of kitesurfers). I focus on breaking down skills into as many discreet movements as can be practised independently. Doing things right the first time makes for the skills’ transition from conscious thought to muscle memory much faster and the whole process more enjoyable.

The key to building a solid foundation in kitesurfing is to avoid the temptation to rush through the intermediary steps. Some students will be “naturals” and learn faster, but without deliberate coaching inferior techniques will always lead to significant plateaus which will be difficult to correct. Ensuring confidence rather than just competence at each stage of learning keeps progression steadier and just as importantly - more fun!

Kitesurfing beginners fall into two groups: those too aggressive with the kite and those two timid with it. The aggressive students will over-correct kite steering resulting in hard crashes, while those too timid have trouble generating power with the kite and moving it quickly to the location needed – both can be quite frustrating if not managed! Whether flying a trainer kite, attempting board starts, riding upwind, or working on transitions, these two groups encompass the majority of beginners’ issues. Board skills play a relatively small role in learning to kitesurf and come quickly for most once the kite is under control. Becoming a better and more intuitive kite pilot is the key to progression.

Both of these groups can progress faster in the short term if they are moved to a larger kite which requires less skill/pilot input. This unfortunately leads to harder crashes and fear of the kite which sets up a negative feedback loop and creates many long term issues, plus it is just not fun! It is also easier to get up and ride with an overpowered kite as a beginner, however you will consistently be on the edge of losing control which will make going upwind and practising any manuevers difficult. A rider who has learned to properly generate power from a smaller kite will be very comfortable once up and riding and be in the “sweet spot” of the kite. A properly sized kite provides the rider the ability to throttle the kite power up and down.

There are a lot of different skills needed to get up and ride the kiteboard. Practicing each of these skills in a precise fashion makes the progression from thinking to “auto-pilot” faster. This means less thinking about the kite and more enjoying your time on the water! The first time your board starts and riding switch into auto-pilot is like learning to fly and will be the defining experience in your kitesurfing journey.

Us kiters are all addicted to this flow state, I hope to get you hooked as well!


Your Own Dedicated Instructor

From December to April our lead instructor Greg Falck provides freelance instruction abroad. Whether you are travelling to a remote kite spot in South America or sailing your yacht around the Caribbean in search of wind and waves, a personal instructor is the most reliable way to improve.

During beginner lessons Greg's focus on safe but consistent progress will get you riding upwind quickly. If you are already a kiter but looking to elevate your strapless surfboard skills and kitefoiling, his advanced skills in these disciplines plus one-on-one instruction will bring you to the next level.

Greg provides high end equipment for your use throughout the booking or will instruct you on your personal equipment provided it is suitable. Inquire through email at elnorteadventures@gmail.com or via our Contact Page.

Propeller Guard

I love the versatility of an aluminum hull inflatable boats but the risk of an exposed prop makes seadoos more common for kitesurfing lessons. The "Prop guard" is a great add on to increase the safety of an outboard motor. Although the motor should still always been shut off when picking up a kiter I use the prop guard as an additional layer of protection for my students.


New Camping Gear

New camping gear for the 2017 Season has arrived. Kodiak Canvas 10x10' Deluxe and ultra thick Dreamtime mattresses.

Definitely not backpacking gear (Tent weighs 68lbs!) but excited to be able to provide students a the most comfortable camping experience possible.

I'll be posting some reviews and set up videos once I get some experience with the new gear, check back in if you are interested in upgrading your camping experience to cabin comfort!