Gusty winds and a slate-gray sky don’t make a good beach day for most people. For kiteboarders, however, it may be the perfect time to get out on the water.
Kiteboarders use a harness and lines to connect to canopies, which are filled with air and have sturdy structures to better catch the breeze. This canopy serves as a method of propulsion for the kiteboarder, who uses the board to control their direction.
Kevin Girard, who has been kiteboarding since 2014, moderates the Facebook group Southeastern CT Kiteboarders for local enthusiasts of the sport. The group allows these kiteboarders to share information on favorable wind conditions and meet up at the shore.
“It’s a very challenging sport,” says Girard. “It takes a fairly decent amount of effort to become proficient, and once you become proficient there’s always something more to learn.”
There are several different kinds of kiteboarding to explore. These include long-distance treks, wave riding, jumps, and racing.
“There’s an extreme feeling of freedom that’s unlike anything else. You can pretty much go anywhere on the water with more grace and control than about any other of vessel,” says George Paré, of True Progression Kiteboarding in Little Compton, R.I.
Kiteboarders can picture a “wind window,” or an imaginary half dome in front of them, to get a sense of how the kite will act based on its location. The kite will provide the strongest pull when it is closer to the horizon, and will fly but not provide any propulsion when it is higher up; if it is in the intermediate zone between these areas, it will tow the kiteboarder at a gentler pace.
In general, a kiteboarder can increase their speed by pulling a bar connected to the kite closer to them, bringing the canopy into the stronger winds. Pushing the bar away helps lift the kite up and slow down the board.
Kiteboarding lessons often start by familiarizing a student with their means of propulsion. An initial lesson may take place entirely on land, with the instructor explaining how to control the kite.
Lessons then move on to topics such as using the board and controlling the kite while on the water. Trainer kites—which are smaller, simpler, and less powerful than a typical canopy—are often used with new students.
Lessons also discuss topics such as reducing the power of your kite to make it more manageable, handling emergency situations, choosing the right kite for wind conditions, and kiteboarding etiquette.
Girard says lessons are usually about two or three hours long, at a typical rate of $100 to $170 per hour. Oliver Berlic of Black Rock Kiteboarding in Bridgeport says he offers a three-hour introductory lesson for $375, with additional lessons at $160 an hour. Jeff Rich of Kite Sports CT says beginners can generally expect to pay about $300 to $500 to get started.
Berlic says kiteboarders usually need five to 10 hours of lessons, with about seven to 12 hours to gain self-sufficiency. He says it is absolutely critical that people interested in kiteboarding get professional instruction.
“Anyone who has learned this sport the self-taught way knows—or is—a person that was hurt in the process,” says Berlic. “Conditions vary and can change suddenly; it is important to have the foundation of knowledge provided in instruction to ensure the safety of the practitioner.”
Lessons are also crucial because they explain how to safely ride alongside others, such as using traditional sailing rules for right of way. In addition, they help a kiteboarder understand the risks they might encounter and how they can make good decisions on the water.
“Some examples of good decision making would be choosing the proper location based on wind directions, proper size kite for the strength of the wind, never kiting alone, staying close enough to shore, having an exit plan, and riding within the limits you are capable of,” says Rich.
Paré says those with prior experience in similar sports, such as surfing or skateboarding, may learn the sport more easily. He says some pupils grasp the concepts of kiteboarding right away, and supplemental lessons simply provide more support to help them develop their skills.
“I’ve had quite a few students who were able to ride upwind in the first lesson,” says Paré.
Experienced kiteboarders often have a large collection of equipment allowing them to go out in varying conditions. For example, smaller kites are better for stronger winds and a kiteboarder may carry a “quiver” of different kites, choosing the one that best suits the winds they encounter when they arrive at the beach.
Girard says he personally has four kites and several different boards and wetsuits. He says someone just getting started in the sport will likely be satisfied with two kites, one board, and a harness and wetsuit, estimating the total price for this equipment at about $3,000. Berlic says safety systems are constantly improving, so he advises kiteboarders to buy equipment that is less than three years old.
The sport can be done year-round with the proper equipment, and is also appropriate for a wide age range. Berlic says he’s seen kiteboarders as young as eight years old and as old as 89.
“I would say the appropriate age is when they can fully understand the gravity of their safety and that of others,” he says.
In general, kiteboarding can take place on any body of water with suitable wind conditions and space to launch. Rich says Connecticut forbids kiteboarding within 50 feet of any marked swimming area. Berlic says kiteboarding is permitted along most beaches in Connecticut, although it is best to talk with lifeguards to know where they should ride at any given location.
“The best times of the year to ride the Long Island Sound are spring and fall where consistent, stronger winds are more common,” he says. “Since our wind is frontal it is all dependent on weather patterns. Our typical season starts in May and runs through November.”
One challenge to kiteboarding in the region is the popularity of the beaches during warmer temperatures. The 60-foot lines connecting the harness to the canopy can easily cause injury to bystanders, so kiteboarders usually try to ride in the early morning or during months when the beaches are less crowded.
“We try to be good stewards of the ocean and the beach and everyone’s right to have a good time,” says Girard.
Kiteboarding has proved to be a good impetus for travel, as enthusiasts seek out the best places for the sport. Girard says several members from the Southeastern CT Kiteboarders group make an annual pilgrimage to the Outer Banks to take advantage of the excellent conditions there. Other popular places for kiteboarding include the Great Lakes, Hood River in the Pacific Northwest, Corpus Christi, and tropical islands with favorable trade winds.
Girard says there is also a close camaraderie among kiteboarders, as those who do the sport frequently see each other on the coast when the winds are favorable.
“It’s kind of a neat tribe of people who are doing it,” he says.