Safety is one of the first elements to be covered during a beginner kitesurfing course, and the reasons are obvious.

This article is the first of a list of steps to be taken during kiteboarding classes.

When we are dealing with safety, especially if we are talking to a novice kiteboarder, we must be careful how we approach the subject. While it is necessary to introduce the dangers, we should not traumatize them more than necessary.
Many real-life situations and examples, according to the school of thought, must be introduced with caution and cannot be discussed excessively in order not to overload the information, which would not be remembered anyway and would only cause anxiety.
On the other hand, one thing is certain: some essential elements must be made express.

Personally, I like to split the safety information into two distinct areas, which I will analyze separately: the environmental analysis and the evaluation of a dangerous situation.
Below, I will list the most important elements of these two spheres and give you some practical tips for specific situations.

It is obvious that the article cannot be exhaustive regarding all the risks inherent to the discipline and the different spots.
I leave it to you to complete the article in the comments with your own experiences, to make it even more useful to the community.

1. Environmental analysis

Kitesurfing is an outdoor sport and therefore subject to changing and potentially dangerous conditions. Using the power of the wind as an engine and energy of movement, it is essential to know how to analyze the spot to practice safely.

This initial analysis must be all the more thorough as the place is unfamiliar and the rider’s level is low.

It is therefore necessary to review the potential dangers:

  • Launching/landing area

Many spots have special areas that are full of obstacles, are small or are not positioned correctly in relation to the wind direction. In this case, a mistake could be fatal.

The goal is to find out if you have the skills to take off at a specific spot, and to find the best solution to take off safely.
For example, if the spot is in shallow water, entering the water with the kite at the edge of the window and moving away from the beach may be a solution.

Of course, advice varies from spot to spot and from situation to situation. Common sense is therefore essential.

Another important point during launch is to check the line connections, the position adopted for the take-off, and finally the skills of your assistant.
Pay attention to these three details!

sécurité en kitesurf - kite launch and land
  • Rocks, boats, buoys or any other element to avoid

Every element in the navigation area is a potential danger. Lines can become so tangled that the kite becomes uncontrollable.

To avoid this, the only remedy is not to perform any maneuvers that you are not familiar with when the element is downwind.
If the mistake has already been made, it is essential to activate the safety device before it is too late.

  • Tidal effect

Depending on the region or location, tides can be a real source of danger. Both for the increase or decrease of the water level and for the strong currents they can generate.

Don’t forget that the current also affects your ability to get upwind, especially if the wind is light, depending on its orientation in relation to the wind direction. Avoid being caught off guard.

It is very important to talk to the locals so they can explain the specific effects of the spot.

Kitesurf El Gouna Osmosis kiteboarding
  • The wind direction and its variability

The first factor to consider is the direction of the wind relative to the beach.
Just answer these two simple questions: Which way is the wind blowing in relation to the beach? Is the practice safe?
There are two situations to pay special attention to:

    • when the wind is blowing off or sideways off shore, as in case of a problem, you will be heading for the open sea.
    • when the wind is blowing on shore, because if you can’t be sufficiently far away, the slightest mistake will lead to a dangerous fall on the beach.

The second element to consider is the tendency of the wind, depending on the location, to change direction from one day to the next, or even every few hours/minutes.
When the wind changes direction, there is always a lag period during which the kite will be continuously disturbed and even difficult to keep in the air. These major changes are often predicted in advance by the weather forecast.

Thus, it is necessary to consult the forecast in order to anticipate the problem. If you find yourself in this situation, put your wing down and stay in place to watch it.
Also, a change in direction can be associated with an increase or decrease in wind strength. All the more reason to land the kite so that you can adjust your kite size.

Moreover, if the orientation changes, you may find yourself in one of those configurations that are not recommended for safe practice, i.e. side-off or off shore.

In this case, the solutions are not unlimited:

    • either you have a rescue boat and/or you have the level to train in such conditions and you choose to take the risk (knowing that the situation is dangerous even for an advanced rider),
    • or you will have to pack up and go home.

In any case, it is essential not to be taken by surprise while sailing, possibly far from the shore, because it could be too late.

kitesurfing safety - boat

In addition to the natural elements, the presence of others is an element to be taken into account.
The presence of beginners, rough seas or other variables make it essential to respect the rules.

Knowing the priorities, respecting them and acting with common sense is the rule to follow to avoid collisions and unpleasant situations.
Do not make imprudent maneuvers and keep a safe distance is the most appropriate behavior to adopt.

2. Analysis of a dangerous situation

In this sphere, we approach the core of the problem: how to act to heal if we have not managed to prevent.
Let’s start from a fundamental assumption: knowing your equipment and safety systems and knowing how to activate and reset them is essential if you want to practice this sport.

So let’s see what possible actions can be taken in case of a problem:

  • Let the bar go

How many times have you heard the phrase “let the bar go!” during your kiteboarding lesson? I think a lot, maybe too many.
Well, letting the bar go is the first option to neutralize the power of the kite and make it fall. The fall will not be immediate (depending on the position of the kite in the air at the time the action is taken), but without any control, the kite will not fly forever.

However, it is necessary to remember that to be in control of your kite, you must have the right tension in the lines. Therefore, releasing the bar is a safety measure that should be executed when appropriate, not in all circumstances.
When you become an autonomous rider and go to a spot, you cannot let go of the bar as soon as the kite is under pressure, you panic or you are in the presence of other people, otherwise you will present a danger to yourself and to others.
If you are at this stage, you should go back to school.

In addition, to avoid complications, it is important to control the acceleration of the kite, and in particular to prevent the kite from flipping from one side of the window to the other too quickly, crossing the full power zone.
If this happens, before releasing the bar, it is essential to give the correct command so that when the bar is released, the kite is heading towards the zenith and not at full speed towards the opposite zone or the land/water.
This will help you avoid a violent fall, save your equipment from a brutal impact and potentially prevent a problem with other riders.

Releasing the bar is therefore a reflex that any beginner must learn and carry out during the first minutes/hours of piloting, under the watchful eye of his instructor, to make it automatic.
After that, you must work on progressively releasing the bar to always keep control of the kite, and only release it completely in case of total loss of control.

kitesurfing safety - let the bar go
  • The chicken loop Quick Release (QR)

There are different types of quick release, the most modern ones, such as the Eleveight brand, are easily triggered and re-armed, and others require more practice and dexterity.  In any case, you must become familiar with it and its use must become an easy gesture to accomplish in all circumstances.

The quick release is easily triggered and should cause the kite to lose tension. For it to work properly, the safety line must be on a front line, otherwise the kite will remain under tension.
We are in 2022, and the systems are getting better and better. So I advise you not to go for a too old equipment, to save a few euros, which has defects or not optimal safety.

There are several situations where this mechanism should be used, and they do not have to be critical.
The most common situations, not ranked in order of importance, are the following:

    • The wind suddenly picks up and you can no longer control your sail. Even on the edge of the window, the traction is high. The quick release will neutralize the power and you will be able to recover your kite by doing a self rescue, or by asking another rider to help you.
    • You are riding in an offshore area and you realize that you can’t get back to the beach (often because of the lack of wind). In this case, don’t hesitate, activate the quick release as soon as possible in order to swim backwards and reach the first place where you touch the bottom. If the wind picks up again, there is nothing to stop you from resetting the quick release and moving on.
      Timing is essential in this case, the longer you wait, the more impossible it will be to swim back with the kite as ballast (assessing the distance and anticipating your drift is essential).
    • You cross the lines with another rider.
      In this case, the situation is more delicate, because you have to evaluate the context, even if it must often be done in a very short time.
      In some cases, it is useful not to activate anything and let the more experienced pilot untangle the lines. Triggering the safety could, on the other hand, create more knots and make the maneuver more complicated. However, having a handle on the safety is an important reflex to acquire. If you are a beginner, trust the other person, but if the other rider seems inexperienced, activate the quick release and ask another rider for help.
    • Your kite that starts to loop.
      If the kite starts to loop without any action on the bar, releasing the release is the first and simplest action to neutralize the danger, and must be done immediately.
      If this is done correctly and in time, the kite will stop, if not, you will have to activate the QR of the kite leash.
    • Landing if you are alone.
      If you find yourself in an isolated area (due to a problem, or by choice) and you are not familiar with landing solo, and you have no anchor point, then using the chicken loop quick release and recovering your wing following the same procedure as the self rescue is the safest and most appropriate choice.
kitesurfing safety - quick release

Pierre Dupont

However, the action on the chicken loop quick release is not final.

Once this device is activated, you can either reset it and go back, perform the self-rescue (a safety maneuver that allows you to catch your kite), or activate the quick release of the kite leash and disconnect yourself entirely and permanently from your kite.

  • Kite leash Quick Release (QR)

This is the last of the safety systems and should never be used before the others.
Activating the quick release of the kite leash will completely disconnect you from the kite.

As this is an irreparable action, it should only be performed in certain circumstances because, in addition to causing material damage (loss of the kite), an unmanned kite can become a danger to other riders, people in the vicinity, and become a source of environmental damage.

This action must be taken in the following cases:

    • The lines are stuck to a buoy and you risk diving underwater.
    • The kite loops and continues to pull even after activating the chicken loop quick release.
    • You are riding off shore (due to a change in wind direction or by choice) and you cannot return to the beach. Releasing the quick release of the chicken loop may endanger your swim back to shore. Releasing the kite and swimming back without weights, if you are not too far away, may be the only solution.
      Once again, timing is everything.
      If you delay too long, you will soon find yourself far away. In this case, if you are not sure you can swim to the beach, it is best to stay close to your kite, and perform self rescue, so you have something to float on to rest.
    • The kite falls into a series of waves or a medium to large wave.
      In waves, you don’t mess around, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to swim into the wind to recreate the tension needed to avoid creating dangerous entanglements. The risk of ending up with lines around your limbs is high.
      In this case, unhooking everything is the best solution, and should be done as soon as possible.
sécurité en kitesurf - line tangle

Dimitry Evseev

  • Crossed front and back lines

This is often a problem that can be easily solved by acting on the bar and does not require activation of the systems described above. However, the maneuver is not without risk.

In any case, the first thing to evaluate is whether or not the kite is responding to your commands.
If the answer is yes, go back to the beach, land the kite, untangle the lines and go back.
If the answer is no, because there are too many knots and it makes the kite uncontrollable, use the quick release of the chicken loop and perform the self rescue to get back to shore.

Playing with the bar to untangle knots is reserved for advanced riders, and even for them, in some situations, it is not recommended.