Is kitesurfing dangerous?

Kitesurfing or kiteboarding is often considered to be an extreme sport. If you’ve looked into kiteboarding, chances are you’ve come across videos of people being lifted up in the air or dragged down the beach. In this in depth article we discuss how dangerous kitesurfing really is, what can make for dangerous situations and tips and tricks to safely enjoy this amazing sport.

How dangerous is kitesurfing really?

Kitesurfing has really taken of the last 10 years and it’s slowly gaining attention in the media. When the media published about kitesurfing it is mostly when a bad accident happens. This gives kitesurfing a negative image and a reputation as being dangerous and extreme. The negative image displayed by the media sparked Dutch kitesurfer and surgeon Christiaan van Bergen’s interest and led him to find an answer to the question asked by many people: how dangerous is kitesurfing?

Together with a team 4 Dutch doctors, all patients with a kitesurfing injury brought into the hospital where analysed over a 2 year period. Here are some facts they found:

  • The average number of injuries per 1000 hours is 7 for kitesurfing
  • The average number of injuries per 1000 hours is much higher in other sports
  • American football for instance has an average of 36 injuries per 1000 hours
  • Soccer has an average of 19 injuries per 1000 hours
  • 58 % of accidents happen on the water versus 48 % on land

So how dangerous is kitesurfing really? You might be surprised that your average game of soccer has a much higher risk of injury than kitesurfing. Of course there are still risks involved in this sport. We’ve listed some reasons why kitesurfing can be dangerous. Later in this article we will give you tips and tricks on how to make kitesurfing a safe and fun sport.

What can make kitesurfing dangerous?

  1. Trying to teach yourself

Never ever teach yourself how to kitesurf. As experienced kitesurfing instructors we know of some people who attempted to teach themselves. Sure you can find all the theory online and can study video tutorials on how to start kitesurfing. But nothing can prepare you for unexpected situations where you don’t know how to react. Always take lessons with a certified instructor to learn is a safe and controlled way.

  1. Practising in too much wind

Especially as a beginner you don’t want to practise in strong winds. These kinds of conditions can make for very unsafe situations if you don’t know what you’re doing. Making a mistakes with a big kite in light wind aren’t nearly as dangerous as making a mistake with strong wind. Be sure to not kite in anything over 25 knots if you are a total beginner.

  1. Take a too big kite

Remember that the bigger the kite is, the more power it has. Launching a kite that is too big for the wind conditions can result in loss of control and being dragged of lifted.

  1. Practicing on the beach

Accidents on the beach are much more likely to cause injury than accidents on the water. Make sure to never practise on the beach as the ground is hard and can cause unnecessary injury.

  1. Attaching your lines the wrong way

If you don’t connect your lines properly this can result in the kite becoming uncontrollable and it can become powered unexpectedly. Before connecting, make sure to put you bar and lines down wind of the kite, red side on the right and untangle the lines.

  1. Not launching the kite the correct way

Kites should always be launched from the soft zone in the wind window. This way you can launch the kite without and power. Launching the kite trough the power zone can result in you being dragged over the beach of even getting lifted up in the air.

  1. Sudden changes in weather conditions

The weather can turn from and sunny 20 knot day to stormy conditions in no time. Be sure to have an up to date weather forecast and keep an eye out on the sky. Be prepared to get of the water when you see conditions are going to get dangerous.

  1. Shallow water

Especially when you are just starting out or you want to practise tricks make sure to do so in at least waist deep water and preferable deeper. Crashing in the shallows can obviously cause unnecessary injuries.

How to kitesurf safely?

1. Always take lessons with an IKO certified school

IKO stands for International Kiteboarding Organisation. teaches according to their standards. In this step by step approach you will learns some basics about wind and weather, how to control and kite, safety techniques and of course how to ride a board.

2. Get level 3 or 4 IKO-certified to become an independent kitesurfer

A question we get asked frequently is how many lessons it takes to become independent. We think you are at an independent level is you can safely control the kite and can ride upwind. Being able to ride upwind means you can control your riding speed and can make a controlled stop and also navigate between other kitesurfers confidently.

3. Spot assessment

Always make a spot assessment when you go to a kitesurfing spot. Make sure you are aware of dangerous obstacles, shore break and other hazards before you start.

4. Read the forecast

We can not stress this enough but make sure you know what the forecasted weather conditions are and take necessary safety precautions.

5. Know the rules

International rules and signals apply when kitesurfing. Make sure you know these rules and signals.

6. Buy up to date and safe equipment

Make sure you don’t buy a kite older than 2011. Since then the safety systems have seen massive improvements. Having function safety systems are a crucial part of your own and other safety

7. Make sure your safety systems function properly

As a part of you pre-flight check you should check if your safety systems work before each session. Activate the quick release and the safety leash to make sure they work.

8. Connect your lines properly

As part of your pre-flight check it is crucial to double check if your lines are connected properly. If you’re not 100% sure, put the kite down and double check again. Tangles lines can cause dangerous situation as the kite becomes uncontrollable.

9. Know how to do a self rescue

In case a line breaks, the wind drops or any other reason why you can’t kite back to the beach, you need to do a self rescue. Regularly practice this technique when the wind drops at the end of your session. Practising in on the beach once is much different than when doing it while swimming in the waves. When you ever need to use it, you want to be prepared.

10. Don’t go kitesurfing alone

Launching and landing a kite by yourself without the help of a buddy is possible. These are however advanced techniques that are not even without risk for experienced kitesurfers. Another risk of kiteboarding on your own I not having anyone around to help when something happens.

11. Don’t go kiting with off shore wind

One of the first things we explain to our students is to never go kitesurfing with off shore winds. As an advanced rider you can ride upwind, but there are many situations where riding upwind is not possible. The kite or the lines can break, the wind can drop and many other reasons can prevent you from coming back to the beach.

12. Have a plan to get back to shore in case things go wrong

As part of your spot assessment, you should always have an escape plan for when conditions change or you get in trouble. Make sure you know what to do when things don’t go as planned.

What are dangerous situations and how to react to them?

  • Death loop

When your lines get tangled your kite can start to loop 360 degrees. This will generate a lot of power and at rare occasions the quick release system doesn’t fully work due to tangles lines. Always carry a kite knife in your harness to cut the lines in case of emergency.

  • Back stalling and front stalling

Back stalling means that the kite drops down vertically in front of you. Often caused by a sudden drop in wind or over sheeting the bar. When this happened the lines can go slacks. When the kite catches wind again it can pull you forward hard. Be prepared to use your quick release. With front stalling the same happens but then with the kite falling over you. To prevent back stalling and front stalling, try to keep your kite lower than 12 o’clock, especially when the wind is gusty.

  • Launching on the beach

If an accident happens on land and you get pulled you can land hard. Make sure to do a proper pre flight check before launching and always ask someone to assist.

  • Line tangles with other kitesurfers

Crashes between kitesurfers can happen and lines can get tangled. Be prepared to active your quick release if kites go out of control.

  • Sudden increase in wind

IF the wind increases you can quickly become over powered and out of control. If you feel the wind increases rapidly, consider going back to the beach and land your kite. If you cant hold the kite any longer, activate your quick release.

  • Jumping in onshore wind

If you are jumping, preferable don’t do this in onshore wind. If you do want to jump in onshore wind, make sure you keep a safe distance between you and the beach.

  • Crashing

If you for instance do a trick and you crash the safe thing to do it to simply let go of the bar. Holding on to the bar can cause the kite to fly through the power zone, launching you out of the water.

Conclusion: is kitesurfing dangerous?

Kitesurfing is a very safe sport as long as you know what you are doing. Never attempt to teach yourself how to kitesurf and always take lessons with an IKO-certified school. If you take the right safety precautions, know the rules and have control over the kite, kitesurfing can be a life changing sport. Sure kitesurfing can be an extreme sport like you might have seen on the Red Bull Megaloop Challenge. But how extreme you make it is completely up to you. We see people well in their sixties enjoying this epic sport every day. Now we don’t see them going big. Rather they cruise up and down and enjoy being out in nature.

The only thing dangerous about kitesurfing is how addictive it is. The feeling of complete freedom is what in our opinion makes this sport unique. Kitesurfing is the best adventure sport to explore parts of the world you would otherwise never see. It calms you down when you are stressed. Kitesurfing is the ultimate cure for your problems. As soon as you launch your kite en you skim across the water, you simply disconnect and problems fade away.

So what are you waiting for? After reading this article we hope to have given you an insight into how safe kitesurfing actually is. Don’t stand around on the beach looking at other kitesurfers. We can teach you everything you need to know to become a fully independent and safe kitesurfer in no time.