US Kitesurfer and Windsurfer Norman Platt Johnson shares his views on the dangers posed by proximity in kiteboard racing, the difficulties of quick releasing in a tight situation, and the safety hazards of having a large fleet of racers launch on a small beach area, as would be the case at a number of internationally-sanctioned events.
Racing involves very close maneuvers. Often it is boats that get damaged in racing. In kiting it is the body. One of the most dangerous situations occurs when one kite ends up to windward and wrapping downwind of another kite. The wrapping kite will then be unable to drop power, even with available technology. That kiter will be dragged over the others lines. These boards also run at least two very sharp fins. The boards can become loose so that the fins end up in the upright position posing extreme danger to kiters that are being dragged by their kites in an uncontrolled manner. Recreational kiters just never get that close to each other on purpose. Further most recreational kiters “mow the lawn” ie simply go back and forth. The number that actually jump and try tricks is low. At our location (Delray Beach, an advanced area) it is about 50/50 tricksters to mowers on the average day.
The quickness with which kites can go out of control is well documented. A kiter at speed (30 mph) will travel 44 feet in one second. Even a quick response to a dangerous situation will not be able to avoid another kiter within 8 or so board lengths assuming a 5′ average length. Adding another issue is that there is a very common panic response that prevents the kiter from activating the quick release in the first place. Additionally the release is often not facilitated in a common sense way. For example my North kites, known as some of the safest, have to be activated by a) taking your hand off the bar b) grabbing the center release (Iron Heart IV tm) and then pushing the release away from you. To make matters worse a racing kiter will not wish to release his kite until the very last moment as it will mean a bad defeat in that race.
Race Preparation Area
40 kiters preparing to race will a) stay on shore as long as possible b) choose their kite size as late as possible c) choose the maximum size kite that they can possibly use. This all spells serious complications at an event as they all try to launch at the same time. Perhaps the SI’s can prevent this from happening but not at every venue and for every event. In my experience three kites going up at the same time is way to many and this does not consider a kiter who previously launched returning to shore to change to another kite.