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!