Kitefoil certainly doesn’t go unremarked the first time you see it, and I’m sure you’ve had the idea to start by seeing some riders flying around on their “magic board”. Dangers, difficulties, and other questions will have arisen to stem your desire to get started.
It’s perfectly normal, we all felt the same way at first.
In fact, when you start hydrofoil you’ll be frustrated to nearly learn how to kitesurf again. Most people on their first goes can’t even do a simple waterstart.
The balance is different, the kite control must be almost flawless, and still the fear of getting hurt provokes you to make mistakes that you would not have made in normal conditions. Unbelievable, try to believe!
But don’t worry, because hydrofoil is within everyone’s reach. In fact, while freestyle is a discipline that mainly attracts young riders, kitefoil is very popular among retirees and older people, who are fascinated by the sense of freedom and harmony you feel once you learn the technique.
But let’s get to the point.
It happens often to me to see people struggling with their equipment in order to be able to keep a few meters on the board. And I feel like I’m reliving my first beginnings: the result of my first session was a sprained ankle, damaged foil and a lot of frustration. If that tells you something, then don’t miss the rest of the article.
That’s why I wrote this article with the 7 tips to keep in mind on how to start kitefoil, so that I wouldn’t make my own mistakes.
Choose the right equipement
By equipment I mean both the board and the kite.
Generally speaking, it is good to consider starting with a short mast, about 60 cm, a high lift kite and a board that is large enough to guarantee excellent flotation.
THE KITE: I strongly advise you not to choose a c-shape. If you have the possibility you can start with foil kites, you need to be able to fly them, otherwise you can start with lighter kites (with only one main strut) or other models designed specifically for freeriding. I ride with Duotone and I can tell you with certainty that starting with a Vegas is not the best solution. A Mono for light wind is definitely better, otherwise a NEO/ EVO if the wind is a bit stronger is a good option because they guarantee more rigidity and better performance.
HYDROFOIL: First of all, you should avoid to be attracted by the first ad you find on the internet just because it’s cheap. It is essential to check if the equipment is designed for a “freeride” or “race” practice. Therefore, you should prefer a set up that guarantees more lift and less speed, rather than the opposite.
Secondly, a shorter mast will be useful when starting from shallower depths (practical especially with an onshore wind) and reduces the risk of hitting your head when you fall.
LA BOARD: There are many aspects to consider, but one of the most important at the beginning is the flotation. In fact, the more it floats, the easier you will be to waterstart as well as to control it at lower speed and hence succed the first transitions.
In conclusion, the material is important to speed up learning and limit the risks of injury.
What are th dangers and what is best to wear
Unlike a surfboard or TT, kitefoil is made up of sharp components that may cause cuts or serious contusions. A shorter mast and a less sharp component are recommended at the beginning.
The biggest concerns are sprained ankles (the foot gets stuck in the strap), cuts (at the feet when you hit the wings underwater or on the body/head when you fall clumsily) or a stroke due to the return of the board (hydrofoil has a greater inertia than a TT or surfboard).
So the answer is yes, you have to be careful because you can get hurt.
An impact vest and helmet are strongly recommended.
With or without straps
As a matter of safety, it is better to go without strap in order to avoid a sprained ankle. For a matter of ease it is better to keep them, or the waterstart will become a real agony.
My advice is to take the back strap off, and leave only the two front straps very wide. The goal is to use them only to waterstart and adjust them so that the foot can be removed easily in case of need.
What to do to avoid injuries
As already said it is necessary to adjust the straps so that they are very loose, so you do not risk to get stuck with your feet in case of fall.
Pay attention on how you move your feet when you are close to your hydrofoil (while you are swimming next to your board, you often forget that the mast can be more than 1m long. Any abrupt movement can hurt if you strike a sharp edge).
Don’t try to recover balance during the fall, but try instead to jump as far as possible by helping yourself with your kite. Unlike TT or surfing, trying to re-establish your balance can lead you to a more violent and clumsy fall, risking to fall right on the mast or wings.
Start behind a boat. Wake foil is a great way to improve your stability and different points of sail without worrying about kite control. The goal is to have the first feeling: waterstart, navigate in contact with the water and understand that to soar it is necessary to either put pressure on the rear leg, or increase speed (pilot increase boat speed, or rider moves the kite). Both exercises are interesting.
Why it is difficult at firts: one practicle advice
Kitefoil adds a higher degree of difficulty due to the greater instability of the board as it is no longer in contact with the water. All three rotary movements, roll, pitch, and yaw are more accentuated and finding the right balance is not easy.
So the basic answer is yes, hydrofoil is more difficult and technical, especially at the beginning, than a TT or a surfboard.
To overcome this, in addition to practice the above mentioned techniques to acquire the basics, I advise you to improve your balance and proprioception. And I’m talking about any exercise that leads you to better control the weight you generate with both feet: lindoboard, swiss ball, skate carver, etc.. These exercises do not guarantee an immediate success but they will provide you valuable skills to control the movement of the board.
The basics to have
When it comes to hydrofoil, the most important thing is the kite control. You have to be able to manage power and stability in all wind conditions (every abrupt manoeuvre has a negative effect on balance). It would be ideal for you to be able to fly it in light winds, around 7-8 knots, because it is the harder things to do, and on the other hand because as you get better you will be able to ride in these conditions.
Saper navigare senza volare come se avessi un surfino. All’inizio non cercare di sollevare la tavola, ma semplicemente scivola sull’acqua come se l’hydrofoil non esistesse. Una volta che hai preso familiarità vedrai che aumentando la velocità e dando pressione sulla gamba posteriore la tavola decollerà progressivamente.
Body drag per allontanarsi dalla riva (in caso di vento on – side-on shore) e per ritornare in caso il vento sia troppo leggero per il waterstart. Nel primo caso il piantone rischierà di toccare il fondale, quindi sarai obbligato a spingerti più lontano per iniziare la navigazione. Nel secondo caso ti sarà utile per ritornare alla spiaggia qualora non riuscissi a salire più sul supporto per mancanza di vento.
Waterstart in kite o in wake. Se sei già ad uno stadio di pilotaggio avanzato, pratica ricorrente di snowkite o landkite, è raccomandabile fare una prova dietro una barca per capire l’equilibrio e la ripartizione dei pesi su una tavola di hydrofoil. Se invece sei un novizio, affinare il tuo pilotaggio e sapere eseguire una partenza con un TT o surfino (dietro una barca o con il kite) è fortemente consigliato per senitre le prime sensazioni. Anche se la posizione da assumere su un TT e un hydrofoil non è la stessa, ti sarà d’aiuto.
Infine, saper navigare con una tavola direzionale ti faciliterà la progressione e l’apprendimento di nuove manovre. Il cambio di piedi e di direzione si basano sulle stesse tecniche, cambia solo la stabilità e l’equilibrio.
Which conditions are the best to start with?
WIND: a stable and light wind is a sign of extra safety. Starting with a 10-30 knot north wind could cause you bad memories.
A side-on shore or side shore wind is ideal. An off or on shore wind is not recommended. Why not? The first one, if you can’t ride, pushes you out to the open sea. The second one forces you to go far away from the shore in body drag (difficult in very light winds) to avoid breaking your gear by touching the bottom and hurting yourself due to a clumsy and unexpected fall.
WATER CONDITIONS: the flat water will significantly help the stability of the board. Starting with rough water will make the task harder for you as you’ll need more control to pass the waves and make the first turns.
KITE SIZE: Although you usually prefer a smaller wing size than the one you use with a normal TT, I recommend you to don’t go underpowered at first, otherwise you risk not being able to get up and make the session a hell. You need to have enough power as if you want to make a waterstart in TT, this will help you get up and make the first steps without necessarily taking off from the water.