The watestart and the first tacks are the most awaited moment, right?

Everyone who starts kitesurfing aims to get the adrenaline rush of gliding through the water. Not surprisingly, this is the first question I am regularly asked when people book a kiteboarding lesson.
The desire is so great that students target the waterstart from the first session.

As we have seen in previous articles (link to the new blog page), however, there are many elements that must be mastered before taking this step.

And once again, calm and patience will be two qualities that will help you in your progress.
At this point, we have to make one last distinction, but not least: indeed, it is good to differentiate the waterstart from the first edge:

WATERSTART: it is when the student manages to stand up, in a correct and controlled way, on the board, without continuing to ride.
FIRST EDGE: this is the moment of navigation, the student rides on the water.

Unfortunately, these two elements are often lumped together, with poor results and an increasing number of errors.
However, it is one thing to stand up on the board in control, and another to know how to keep your balance on the board while riding.
It is necessary, at first, to give proper attention to the waterstart alone, and to repeat it several times and not trying to ride away.
This can be frustrating, but it is crucial.

What I notice on the spots is terrible: most of the riders who start to make their first edges, perform indecent and uncontrolled waterstarts.
This is not acceptable. Indeed, they are convinced that they master this technique, simply because they are able to ride for several meters, and therefore they often allow themselves to execute a waterstart even with leeward obstacles, with often devastating consequences.

But why does this happen?
The problem is psychological. Once we are on the board, we don’t want to stop having fun.
But it is good to clarify if your goal is to have fun or to learn.
When you start practicing waterstart, you should not ride more than 4-5 meters, or less if possible.
To do a waterstart correctly, you need to be able to avoid drifting, not ricocheting, and have a smooth, controlled lift.

Here are the 4 keys to a successful waterstart:

1. Correct positioning and balance

Before sending the kite, you need to make sure that you are well balanced.
Take a few seconds with the board at your feet, the kite at the zenith and your back in line with the wind.

At this point, you need to turn your shoulders slightly in the chosen direction.
For this, you can help yourself using the kite (gently and small controlled movements), and stay strong with your abdomen and legs in order to ALWAYS keep the board perpendicular to the kite’s traction.

If the position is not correct, when you move the kite, you will feel a lateral pull, as if someone was tugging on your arm, which will cause a loss of balance.
On the contrary, we are looking for a more horizontal traction, which will eventually be converted into a vertical one, in order to get on the board and brake.

TIPS FOR THE EXERCISE: Start from the initial position described above (kite at the zenith, board at your feet and the wind perpendicular to your back) and try to move the kite gently in the chosen direction, then slowly return to the starting point, the zenith.
The kite should move smoothly. We are not trying to get up, but only to understand and feel the right position to adopt.
Move the kite between noon and 12:30 maximum to go to the right, then come back to the center. Do the same thing to the left.

WARNING: Never let go of your toes, always point your feet upward, and never fully extend your legs.  If you do, you will lose the board or spin on yourself.

Waterstart in kitesurfing - balance

2. The kite, understanding its movement and the necessary power to generate

As always, the kite is the key element in kitesurfing.

The kite must generate power but not too much.
The kite should pull horizontally and not sideways (this often happens because of a bar error).

First tip: don’t let go of the bar too much. Make sure you keep the “sweet spot” or you will have no control. This is a typical mistake.
If the lines are not tense, the kite will move along the edge of the wind window and cause a lateral pull, and you won’t be able to get the right traction.
Furthermore, if you don’t have tension, you won’t be able to turn the kite upwards, which results in the kite accelerating towards the ground and you falling forward.

Once this is understood, it is a matter of figuring out how much power to generate.
Remember that at this point, all the previous exercises come into play, i.e. simulating a waterstart without a board, body drag, etc. The instructor can hardly ever tell you the exact position where you should place the sail, unless the wind is super constant. The wind changes, as does the “sweet spot” and the power you need to be able to generate in each water start.

The goal is to develop the right feeling by practicing these exercises.

To achieve this, there are 3 points to consider in order to generate the right traction (some of them have already been mentioned in the previuos articles):

  • The movements must be sharp and the bar must be well-angled. If you tilt the bar aggressively to the right and directly (almost instantly) to the left, the kite will not accelerate or develop any power. The power, or pull, will be determined by the delay between the two movements, which will allow the kite to accelerate, and thus pull. But, in any case, the bar movement must allow the kite to rotate well on itself, which is why the bar should be angled strongly
  • From which position should you start the kite?
    That depends.

    • If the wind is light, you can start slightly in the opposite quadrant of the wind window in order to pivot the kite and dive more radically towards the power zone. Be sure to stay focused so that you give the kite the reverse command to go up, otherwise you will crash forward.
      In this case, it will also be necessary to use your body as a counterweight.
    • If the wind is stronger, you can start from the zenith, otherwise, you risk generating too much traction.

Understanding this difference is essential as it can be useful when riding in light winds (article tacking, light wind).

In any case, the kite should not start too low, otherwise, the traction will not be sufficient, unless you are overpowered.

  • When to bring the kite up:

Theoretically, you should bring the kite up when you feel a specific pressure in the harness.

Easier said than done.
CAUTION. At first, your reaction time will be skewed and delayed because of the multitude of factors to consider.
The consequence is not always pleasant.
I, therefore, advise you to proceed gradually and to adjust your power according to the previous gesture. This will allow you to gain confidence and to do larger and larger movements without getting discouraged.
It is better to be early than late.

Each exercise is a stepwise one, so if you do a small “8” and you can’t get up (for example, move the kite from 12:00 to 12:30), don’t do the second one abruptly or you will be propelled forward (for example, from 12:00 to 2:00).

REMEMBER also that a kite that goes down must always come up. So when the kite starts to pull, don’t panic by releasing the bar, otherwise, it will accelerate further and create more traction.
Stay tonic, tense the lines, and give the command for it to come back up, before gradually releasing the tension by stretching the arms a bit.

Be careful, when the kite goes up, not to make it go in the opposite quadrant of the wind window, or you risk losing your balance, or even worse, making an unwanted jump.

Normally, one kite movement (an “8”) is required for the waterstart. If you haven’t stood up, don’t persist in making continuous and unnecessary strokes, which will only cause the kite to drop lower and lower, or cause big misfires and unpleasant falls.

Therefore, if you can’t get up, go back to the zenith and try again. One single move should get you up on the board.

Waterstart in kitesurfing - kite mouvement

📷  Aurelien Toulan

3. The role of your body

You need to be tonic. Though, I’ll point out a few things you can focus on:

  • Toes up, or you will lose the board.
  • Both knees bent, or you’ll spin, and lose the board. Too often I see people who have been told to extend their front leg, and they do it before they even send the kite.
  • Back bent with shoulders bent forward. The head should not be far from the bar. This will prevent you from releasing your weight backwards by keeping your legs from spreading and your toes from getting loose.
  • Stay strong in this position.
  • When you send your kite, it is your buttocks that slide towards your heels. So always keep your legs bent.
  • When you bring your kite up, press on your heels, and especially on the back leg, to edge and direct the board correctly.
  • The front leg is half bent or stretched when the kite is redirected to the zenith. At first, I’m not a fan of having the leg straight (the stiffer you are, the less balance you have) but for some people, this tip is useful.

One of the most common mistakes is to start with a ricochet. This happens if, in addition to generating too much power, you send your shoulders backwards, do not put any pressure on the back heel and push equally with both heels. This way, the board will not be oriented correctly.