Kite surfing, also known as kite boarding, is a relatively new thrill-seeker’s sport and is classified as an extreme sport. Like many water recreation hobbyists, kite surfers are trying to carve out their own spot on the water, to help minimise risks.
Kite surfing requires good technique and balance, but additionally requires maturity and foresight to be able to anticipate changes in wind and sea conditions, to judge distances accurately, and to be able to handle the equipment and fully understand the use of emergency release systems. It is essential that anyone who wishes to kite surf first take lessons with a qualified instructor from a recognised organisation such as the International Kiteboarding Organistion.
While kite surfing is not recommended for children or youth under 18 years of age, age requirements at this time vary from country to country, and youth can begin supervised, structured training that will help them develop into independent kitesurfers later.
It is important that you provide a large, safe launch and landing area and provide first-hand assistance. Collisions with rocks, boats, and structures along the shore account for a majority of injuries. Further risks also include injuries to bystanders, boaters and swimmers who cross into the path of a kite or the tow lines. Therefore it is extremely important that kite surfers have space enough to surf without obstacles.
Studies show that a majority of rescue situations are caused when the surfer loses control of the kite, yet can not release the kite from the harness. This emphasizes the importance of comfortable and easy to use release buttons, as well as practice using them.
Ligament injuries and fractures to the feet and ankles are the most common injuries, followed by head injuries, and chest and knee injuries.
Why kite surfing can be risky for children and youth
Younger riders may not have enough experience to predict changing wind conditions. Tourists and non-local residents will especially have more difficulty “reading” the signs from the sky and the water. They may also not possess the judgment to handle an emergency situation properly. It is important that rental providers take whatever precautions they can beforehand to create a safe environment.
Recommendations for kite surf rental and operation
● If you can not walk backwards on the shore when the kite is flying, the wind is too strong.
● A minimum age of 18 is recommended.
● Surfers should have previous adequate training which they can demonstrate by answering questions regarding techniques and rules and also by a practical supervised demonstration.
● Record the names, home address and local contact information for each surfer.
● First time surfers should be given training from an approved program such as those available from International Kiteboarding Organisation. Rentals should only be made available to those with the experience equivalent to an IKO level 2.
● Use of a personal flotation device (PFD) should be required.
● No person who has consumed alcohol should be permitted to kite surf.
● All kite surfers should wear a helmet. It is also recommended riders carry a line cutting knife in order to free themselves if they become entangled in the lines. Kitesurfers should be instructed in the following:
● Never launch or ride within 60 metres upwind of bystanders or objects.
● Avoid offshore and onshore winds.
● Never wait for a squall to develop to land the kite, land at first sight of wind trouble or bad weather.
Be aware that most kite surfing
injuries occur during launching and
landing, and are more likely
to occur on land than in the water.
● Practice emergency scenarios to improve critical reaction time in an emergency. Surfers should become very familiar with the quick release harness and other emergency safety features.
● If a kite lands in water, be cautious to avoid entanglement in the ropes.
● Be cautious with a landed or tangled kite, they can relaunch unexpectedly.
What safety factors to look for in choosing equipment for your operation
Because this sport is still so new, modifications to the technology are being made regularly. Quick release mechanisms are standard on new kites and when deployed correctly will reduce the power in the kite significantly, thereby reducing risks to kitesurfers and those nearby. Choose kite sizes to suit a range of wind conditions and a range of body and weight types.
Equipment and launch site:
● Kites should be available in various sizes in order to accommodate differing wind conditions and skills. Injuries often occur because a kite is too big and becomes too difficult to control as the wind patterns change.
● Tow lines should be equal in length and not frayed or knotted.
● If you do not have adequate space for shore launches, consider whether water launches are possible, maintaining the minimum distance of 60 metres from swimmers and objects such as docks.
● All release mechanisms should be tested for reliability.
● Kites should be carefully inspected for tears and weak spots, and stored carefully and away from sunlight between uses.
Always have at least 2 staff members present – one to speak with clients and handle training, and the other to assist in launch and landing activity.
● Be sure that your staff members are trained in CPR and first aid.
● Staff should take care to inspect the equipment before and after each use.
● Be sure that bystanders keep clear of the boundaries of the kite surfing area.
● Have a rescue boat or PWC available so that surfers in danger on the water can be reached quickly if no water rescue service is in the immediate vicinity.
● Have bincolars for staff to monitor clients, as well as a loud horn and a warning light to signal changes in wind and water conditions.
● Staff should very regularly check reliable sources regarding wind and surf conditions in order to signal changes to surfers.
● All staff members should be able to clearly communicate the risks and safety rules to clients. A language barrier could pose a problem should an accident occur; both in terms of immediate medical care, and in terms of liability for having failed to properly communicate the rules.
*Source : European Child Safety Alliance, Eurosafe; 2008.- With the support of the European Commission