Almost everyone has flown a kite. I remember flying one as a kid, and the joyous feeling of harnessing the wind’s power, steering the kite and wishing it could pick me up and take me somewhere far away.
Kiteboarding can turn this dream into reality. And in the Puget Sound area, where wind and water are plentiful, the sport is popular — so you can dive right in (for the right price).
In theory, the process is simple: By strapping a board to your feet and a harness around your waist, then attaching a high-tech kite to the harness, you can glide across water using wind alone. The key to unlocking this superpower: learning how to do it safely, which means proper training, good equipment and practice reading the wind.
Here’s what you need to know about learning to kiteboard in Seattle.
Start with a lesson
Matt Dawson is the manager of Urban Surf in Seattle, which sells kiteboarding equipment and offers lessons, which he says are essential for beginners.
“So many people think they can jump into the sport without taking lessons,” Dawson said, but the sport is difficult to learn solo. Beginners must learn how to operate their equipment, launch from the shore and read wind forecasts. He suggests at least eight hours of classes when starting out to get the basics.
Urban Surf is certified through the International Kiteboarding Organization. Although this summer has a packed waitlist, lessons typically take place May through September in the waters around Jetty Island off the Everett waterfront, where there are consistent winds and shallow water, making it an ideal place for novices to learn. Hourlong lessons, including the requisite equipment, vary in price, but run as much as $255 per hour. It’s steep, but allows beginners to test the waters before buying a kite.
When learning to kiteboard, Bellingham Kite Paddle Surf shop manager Dave Johnson says, “It’s most important to at least establish basic safety: how the kite functions and how you could affect other kiteboarders.”
A kiteboarding setup consists of the kite — made from a combination of nylon, fabric (usually polyester) and rigid air chambers — which is connected via strong lines to the control bar, which steers the kite. The control bar is attached to a harness through a circular device called the chicken loop. Finally, riders strap a board similar to a wake board to their feet to help skim across water. A helmet is highly recommended, as well as a flotation device and wetsuit for the cold Pacific Northwest waters.
It isn’t cheap to get the right gear, another reason to take a lesson before going all-out. Once prepared to practice on your own, a full beginner kiteboarding setup can cost around $3,000. A silver lining: After the initial purchase, there is little upkeep required. As for used gear, Dawson warns against buying equipment that may look new but is out of date with today’s safety standards. He pointed to 2006 as the year kiteboarding equipment started to become safer.
“A lot of people [pre-2006] got into [kiteboarding] and never used it beyond three to four uses,” he said.
If you see a deal on the internet for kiteboarding gear that seems too good to be true, be wary. Buy from a trusted retailer.
Know the elements
A kiteboarder needs enough wind to provide sufficient lift to get the board to glide. Too much wind can be dangerous. It’s essential to factor in the direction of wind, how quickly it’s moving and how land and obstacles in the water, like islands, affect the wind.
Roger Strong is a prominent member of the Puget Sound kiteboarding community. His recommendation: “Spending time on weather websites, kiteboarding websites and understanding weather patterns.”
“Tides are very much an issue in Puget Sound. Understanding tidal currents is important,” Strong said, adding another layer of complication for a nascent kiteboarder. The necessity of launching from land adds additional dangers, too.
“Once you’re in the water, it’s for the most part fine,” Dawson said. “Most of the injuries occur on land.”
Worth the price of entry
Many people are too intimidated by kiteboarding to give it a go. The fear of injury or the expensive price for lessons and gear holds folks back from learning. But the risks are worth the reward, fans of the sport assure.
“Anything in life that’s worthy is hard, it takes effort and practice,” Strong said. Those who have caught the kiteboarding bug say the benefits far outweigh the costs of entry.
Dawson, who has been kiteboarding for more than 15 years, is a big believer in the awesome power of the sport.
“At the end of the day, when you are out there completely harnessing the power of the wind, it’s worth all of it,” he said. “It’s worth the time and energy being completely independent on the water.”