A Kiteboarder’s Look at the ISAF Technical Report

By Ian Collenette
Founder, DVNT Kiteboarding, Orewa Beach, New Zealand
(source: Kiteforum)

Experience has taught me and my kiteboarding friends not to underplay the safety side of kiteboarding when representing it to kiteboarders, non-kiting public and potential new kiteboarders. We have found that honesty and transparency in learning from our experiences (close calls/accidents etc.) has kept us safer. These are quotes from the reports given to non-kiting voters, and for those thinking of getting into kiteboarding to read and learn from.

Kiteboarding Evaluation report – IKA/ISAF

“Safety issues are slightly different for kiteboarding” They are not slightly different, they are vastly different because you are dealing with a kitesport. Kites are unique in that they can generate relative huge apparent wind power compared to sailing (this means kite movement through air/wind window that translates to FAR higher apparent wind speed) to jump 100kg 60ft in the air! An accidental 15cm movement of a kitebar due to rider or equipment error (deathloop, bridle tangle, wing tip tangle/pulley jam/line half hitch on bar) can result in rider being thrown 40ft+. Kite lines have nearly drowned me and my friends (for sure less likely in racing than waves) and have caught up a kiter under a rescue boat that drowned recently (not wave riding). There are many more examples of why kitesport safety is so vastly different from sailing safety but I realize that long posts put people off reading whatsoever…

Kiteboarding Technical report – IKA/ISAF

“There have been safety issues in the past which have been overcome since approx eight years.” This statement generalizes about all safety issues and therefore simply is not true. eg Deathloops (uncontrolled spinning kites pulling you due to bridle tangle, wing tip tangle, 1/2 inside out kite, line half hitch on bar, depower system tangle) which may result in collisions with buildings / other riders/spectators / objects at sea or at the launch area. Nothing can overcome the danger of 2 tangled kites in some situations – this area is not known well (I am aware of the kite racing clubs that do have some experience) – kiting will bring kiteboard racers closer together than they ever have been in history (traditionally that have learned to stay as far apart from each other as possible). Fortunately in racing in higher winds the riders tend to get spread out more – but to say there is no safety factor in limiting entrants of kiterace compared to a sailing race is ridiculous!
“There is no difference to standard sailing regattas in respect of numbers of boats, marks etc, no additional resources or facilities are needed.” Yes there is – Launching and landing safety buffer zone from all things that are not flat beach – people, buildings, objects – anything you could have a collision with if pulled forward for example 60ft in 1 second due to possible user, equipment malfunction, or change in weather conditions. Most kiteracers around the world do not have access to boats and quite frankly couldn’t be bothered to go to the trouble of boat launching. Sure Olympic rsx sailors have their support boats but how is that making kiteboarding accessible. Sailing boats can launch in unsteady (gusty wind launch areas are dangerous for kiteboard launching), offshore (usually too much wind shadow) and very light winds (kite falls out of sky – approx 10 knots required for water relaunch) – Kiteboarders cannot safely or reliably do this. Can you imagine sailing clubs needing one boat per kiter! Traditional sailing clubs and kiteboarding usually do not mix well from a safety point of view simply due to safe launching and landing buffer zone, due to having inexperienced kiters (sailors) around kites (eg trying to help a kiteboarder and instead getting them hurt grabbing wrong side of kite / kite lines / wrong safety line / trying to grab kite detached from rider).
“kiteboards are always planing.” No they are not – I have been in lulls on raceboard not planing! Instead of pumping – we sine wave the kite to generate apparent wind and get planing again – for sure they plane more than windsurfers though – difference is that most kites cannot relaunch from the water in under approx 10 knots if wind lulls and kite falls from sky. This point was not mentioned in report, an ambiguous statement that said kites can be lauched in 4 knots I think it was, little did anyone know this referred to launching from a boat or land with human assistance, and not an unassisted water relaunch. Report makes no mention of rider having face split in 2 during freestyle competition (Vincent Tiger) as it was not considered serious (3 months recovery) – The report does not refer specifically to kiteboard racing safety records, of which incidentally there has been very little relative activity in racing worldwide to be able to analyze it properly – simply because kiteboard racing has been very niche with very few participants worldwide.
Report says kites flag out when releasing safety system (“kite will have no more power whatsoever”) That is simply not the case for many riders riding various kite brands in current IKA/ISAF kiteboard racing. They are not safely flagged out onto one line, some use a suicide leash and rely on the high depower of the kite design! This makes the statement “kite will have no more power whatsoever” untrue.
“Although kiteboarding accidents still happen, they are rare.” No they are not, they are far more common than sailing accidents and far more likely to result in severe injuries or death. Sure people get hit hard by gybing masts in sailing but nothing of the scale of kite accidents. Analogies to other sports are ridiculous (cars motorcross skiing..?!?!), kiteboarding is unique in that it deals with both the erratic nature of the weather AND the fact that a kite can throw a 100kg human 60ft through the air from an accidental or deliberate mechanical movement of just 15cm on the bar/due to tip wrap/bridle tangle/bar line half hitch/ kites tangled together. Saw someone launch kite recently and due to bridle tip wrap tangle flew 30ft onto their head as kite deathlooped at launch – a bit late for a safety system. They were out cold for 10 mins and injured.
“It is no more dangerous than any other sport.” That is just the most utterly stupid statement and totally untrue. Kiteboarding while safer than is used to be due to advancement in equipment design will always have the inherent additional risks of the huge relative power kites can generate both at ground level and more importantly upwards! Particularly at launch and landing. These dangers are increased by the erratic nature of the weather.

I love kiteboarding including racing and high winds (25 knots+ even lol), but when I read reports representing my sport to others, that may bring it into disrepute, clearly written by inexperienced kiteboarders, I have to put my time into getting the facts straight. (I don’t consider myself anything special but have been kiting 12 years, was in my country’s Olympic youth sailing squad, NZ national kiteboarding title holder and various other achievements in kiteboarding). Reports like these do not benefit kiteboarders (exception maybe kiteboarders in the business of course – Olympics = sell more kit), potential kiteboarders or voters by painting a fairytale picture of kiteboarding that is designed to spin, not tell the real truth. The truth educates and therefore benefits kiteboarders, voters and potential new kiteboarders. It also enables people to make informed decisions.

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One comment

  1. Timothy Carter

    Well said . . . Like many other windsurfers, I’d love to see kites have a spot in the Olympics, but 4 years may be a short runway to get a proper program in place.

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