12 October 2015
Big Wave Kitesurfing
What I've learned about big waves
I love to kite big waves because of the rush, the adrenaline, the thrill and sense of risk. I think the kite is the ultimate vehicle for whipping into big waves and I truly believe this is the way of the future. Rather than towing in on a jetski, the kite allows you to drop in under your own power. I also love how three-dimensional it is; you’re harnessing the power of the wind and water at the same time to create speed and control. It’s seriously exciting!
Choosing the right conditions is essential. First of all, onshore wind and big waves does not work. There’s a point where the wave is more powerful than the wind and you’ll be pushed back towards your kite. In general, big waves and light wind doesn’t work either as you’ve got two different forces travelling at different speeds. Ideally you are looking for side-offshore conditions because you can really park and ride, actually enjoying the wave. The waves will also tend to be cleaner and smoother to ride.
In terms of wave size, at some point the height of the wave will give the kite some disturbance. I find in really big waves (25ft+) you will need to increase the length of your lines to distance it from the updraft and turbulence caused by the wave. I usually ride 23mt lines but when the waves are higher than this I will go up to 30mt lines. Thick lines are also better because they’re less likely to slice you if you need to grab them or wipe out and become tangled.
You need a kite and bar that is simple but has a few key features. Good depower, stability, consistent turning and most of all down the line drift are essential.
The bigger the waves the more weight you need in a board, to ensure the board is engaged and not bouncing on top of the water. This is especially important for kiting as there’s always some texture on the water. You’ll also need a board that’s the perfect size for you so you. I’d recommend getting a custom board from a surfboard shaper in the same style they’d use for tow-ins. Fins must be set straight as more angle means more and will slow you down and make the tail feel out of control. I typically use a quad fin setup for my tow-in boards because they funnel water out the back more effectively; a centre fin will create more drag.
Basically when you’re in big waves you don’t want to be attached to your kite so I avoid safety leashes. The last thing you need is something else to worry about in heavy situations.
Impact vests or inflatable vests are also a good idea.
Everybody’s different but if you do the preparation you’re going to feel more confident and really back yourself. If I’ve trained and done the preparation then I’m more likely to go out there and do it with confidence. Lacking confidence means you’re more likely to get hurt.
The best training is time in the ocean, no matter whether you’re surfing or kiting. You’re connecting with the ocean. The next thing I recommend is swimming. It’s really good for cardio, core strength and you’re going to need it if you get into trouble. Some land-based strength and flexibility training is also important as it will help you stay relaxed and calm in critical conditions. You can really get rinsed out there so having the flexibility to roll with the punches will reduce the likelihood of injury.
Breath-hold training is an obvious one. This actually deals with your state of mind and will be absolutely critical if you wipe out.
Before you head out you need to assess the conditions, know your limitations and know what’s going to happen if you go down.