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!