Tips for Newbies: Waterstarting: the unabridged version

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Tips for Newbies: Waterstarting: the unabridged version

Postby stacey » Wed Apr 12, 2006 5:10 pm

Learning to waterstart can be one of the trickiest things to learn in kiting, especially if you’ve had no prior board-sport experience. You're driving the boat, and you're also skiing behind the boat … all at the same time. In addition to being able to fly the kite blind (without looking at it) and with one hand, you now have to add the whole board part to it. There's enough going on when you’re just flying the kite, but when you add the board into the mix, there’s so much to remember and so many pieces to put together. It can be hard enough learning to kite in flat shallow water, where you can stand (which makes it easier to relaunch your kite and recover your board ) … it can be even trickier if you’re learning in the ocean, in overhead water, with the chop and the waves and the current throwing constant curves at you.

This is where all those the hours flying a trainer kite will pay off, even though it may FEEL like even all those hours flying the trainer still weren't enough to prepare you for THIS (afterall, a 2-line trainer IS quite different than a 4-line inflatable ... but the basic kiteflying principles are the same). A handful of people get it right away, but for most of us, it takes practice ... sometimes a whole lot of practice. I’m probably outside the norm, but I swear it took me at least 500 dives into the powerzone before I finally got it, and then another 2 months before I was staying upwind. So if you’re having problems with this, don’t beat yourself up too badly. This is common. Just keep practicing, over and over and over, and with time, you will eventually get it. It might not feel like it, but you will.

Prerequisites to attempting a waterstart
1) Being able to water relaunch your kite
2) Being able to self-rescue (wind up your lines, get you and all your equipment safetly to the beach)
3) Being able to fly the kite blind (without looking at it), and with one hand
4) Being able to bodydrag back to your board


Orientation to the Wind
Winds should be side shore, or side-on. You’re not going to be able to do this if the winds are directly onshore … you’re going to end up on the beach. And if it's offshore, forget about it ... you'll end up out in the middle of the ocean without a way to get back.

For these purposes, assume that you’re standing on the beach, the wind is blowing at your back, and the water is to your right.

Beach ---- Water
YOU on the beach, facing downwind
^ wind direction

1) Getting into the water
You’ll be holding the bar, and flying the kite, with your left hand, and carrying the board with your right hand. Bodydrag out with your board past any beach break … and out a couple of line lengths. If something goes wrong, you don’t want to be too far out, but you want to be far enough away from the beach in case something goes wrong and you end up getting dragged to shore. As you’re bodydragging out, try to keep your kite at about a 45- 50 degree angle … but don’t go any lower than this … if it’s too low, it’s too easy to accidentally drop the kite into the water.

When you get to a good starting point, bring the kite back up to 12 o’clock. If the wind is light, you may need to keep the kite moving to keep it in the air.

You are now sitting in the water, with the kite at 12.

Note: especially if you’re learning in deep water, it’s easier and safer in the beginning if you wear some sort of flotation device … although not coast guard approved, even an impact vest gives you a little flotation, which you’ll be happy about. In the beginning, you’ll most likely be doing a lot of swimming and floating.

2) Getting the board on your feet.
For these purposes, assume that you’ll be waterstarting with your right foot forward … going away from the beach, as per the above Wind Orientation assumption. Holding the bar with your left hand, pull your board around in front of you with your right hand. To help keep the kite stable, it may help to hold the bar close to the center (unless the wind is light and you’re having to aggressively fly the kite to keep it in the air). Having a grab handle on your board in the early stages helps too. Since your right hand is holding the board, it’s easiest if you put your left foot into the footstrap first … this makes you more balanced. Then, put your right foot in.

If there’s waves or chop, it’s going to make this part trickier. The water’s going to hit the board and try to make it swing around behind you, which will generally result in you turned around facing away from the kite, resulting in disorientation and a crashed kite, or at least getting dragged a bit and getting pulled away from your board, then having to start all over again, which is a big waste of time. Try really hard to keep your board 1) between you and the kite, and 2) parallel to the kite (which is at 12 o’clock). This is a skill in itself, so take the time to practice just sitting there with the board on your feet, holding it steady, keeping the kite at 12. You will end up drifting downwind, but learning this level of control is worth the walk back upwind. You should be able to hold this position easily, before trying to get up onto the board.

3) Lay back and relax for a few seconds.
Once you’ve got the board on your feet, relax. Take a few deep breaths. Lay back in the water, and calm yourself down. Also, it’s important that you have the correct orientation to the wind at this point. Make sure you know exactly where the wind is coming from, so you know where your wind window is. It’s easy to get confused and think that the wind is running parallel to the beach, but it might not be, so look at a flag, look at some trees, and get yourself correctly oriented. You want to make sure you’ll be diving your kite into the right place of the power zone.

4) Downstroking the kite through the power zone
One very important thing to remember is this: the DOWNSTROKE into the power zone gets you UP on the board.

I’m not sure if anyone teaches unhooked waterstarts anymore, but people used to, so I need to mention it. Do you do your first waterstarts unhooked, or hooked into the chicken loop? If you doing them unhooked (which some people say makes it easier to control the kite, and doesn’t let you make the mistake of using the bar to help pull you up, and accidentally choking the kite), you'll first need to pull in on the depower strap first, so that your kite won't oversheet or be too powered up when you unhook. I think I started out unhooked the first 10 times, then after that when my arms were killing me, I started doing them hooked in. (This goes without saying, but make sure you have a leash attached to your kite ... if you unhook and accidentally let go of the kite, you'll watch as your kite goes flying off into the distance.) I’m willing to bet that teaching first waterstarts unhooked has gone the way of the dinosaur.

This is for a waterstart to the right (for a waterstart to the left, just reverse everything): you’re going to fly the kite from 12 over to 11 o'clock (to generate some power), then you’re going to dive it diagonally down into the opposite side of the wind window, aiming for about 2 or 3 o’clock… depending on the strength of the wind.

But before you go diving your kite right into the power zone, try to get a feel for how much wind there is, how much power you have in your kite. Fly your kite around a little, from 12 to 11, then just down a little into the power zone ... not enough to get you going, just enough to see how much wind you have. The windier it is, the more powered up you are, the less aggressive you’ll need to be with the kite … meaning you may not even have to fly the kite all the way over to 11, and you won’t have to dive your kite so far down into the power zone on the downstroke. The farther you dive it down, the more power you’re going to get ... and if it’s too windy for the stroke you’ve given it, you will most likely be yanked over your board and onto your face.

It’s better to err on the side of caution and not enough power the first few times, than on the side of too much power. It’s easier to recover if you’re on your butt with your board in front of you, than if you’re yanked over your board, with the board behind you, going for a ride behind the kite. So figure out how aggressive you need to be, given the conditions at that moment. If there’s not enough power to get you up on the board by the time the kite is halfway into its dive across the window, start all over again, this time being a little more aggressive. And I mean start all over again. If you don’t have enough power to get on the board, don’t keep sine-ing the kite from there and trying to generate enough power to get on the board. It’s not going to happen. Take the kite all the way back up to 12 o'clock and try it again, moving the kite from 12 to 11, then back down into the power zone. Be patient. Take your time. This is about control and finesse and planning, not about wild swings of the kite into the power zone.

5) Getting up on the board
As you are diving the kite into the power zone, tuck your left foot in towards your butt, straighten out your right leg, and point your board downwind. This is very important … pointing your board downwind. If you keep your board parallel, there will be too much resistance and you’re not going to go anywhere. Pointing your board downwind will help you get you on a plane/get planing much easier. (Get on a plane, get planing .... it just means, "getting up on the board to the point that you're riding it, even if you're going directly downwind.)

As the kite crosses on a diagonal down through the power zone, let the pull of the kite pull you forward and up onto the board. Again, your back leg should be bent, your board pointing downwind, and let yourself roll forward with the pull of the kite, up onto the board. Think: rolling forward and up, like you're getting up off a couch. Do not pull on the bar for leverage, or you will choke the kite.

Reminder: As you dive the kite DOWN, that's where you get the most power. So THAT is when you roll forward and try to stand up on the board ... on the initial downstroke. Do not try to pull yourself up with the bar. The bar is for steering the kite, not something to hang onto to pull you out of the water. Dive the kite DOWN, stand UP! AND POINT YOUR BOARD DOWNWIND ... your front leg should be out in front, back leg bent a little, with the nose of the board pointing towards your kite.

<b>B) Pointing your board downwind</b>
When I'm teaching people how to get up on the board, I tell them that pointing the board downwind means aiming the nose of the board pretty much straight down towards the horizon in front of you. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s hard to get the point across. No one ever gets their board directly towards the horizon, but if they aim for the horizon, they get closer to having the board at the correct angle, where they're actually following the kite downwind (at a slight angle to the right.)

If your board is pointing parallel to the kite (towards the edge of the wind window), you’re not going to be able to get up on a plane. You’ll skitter along on your butt, and won’t be able to roll forward and stand up on the board. You’ll have no power and will sink back into the water. Think about heading towards the kite ... your board at least needs to be pointed at the kite in order to get up on a plane. (You might have watched advanced kiters waterstart: they make it look so easy, and it doesn’t appear that they are pointing their board downwind at first to get up, but they are, even if it happens so quick that you can barely even notice it. They go down, then bear off quickly, and lose very little downwind ground. DON’T TRY TO DO WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE THEY ARE DOING; it will come, but not right away. On your first attempts, and first rides, you will be covering a lot of ground straight downwind, and doing a lot of walking back upwind, to learn a skill which will eventually turn into a 2-3 second job (which is getting up on a plane, before bearing off upwind.)

In the beginning, you're only going to be going downwind. This is fine. Don't even worry about trying to stay upwind. Right now, all you're trying to accomplish is the feeling of riding the board, then staying on the board until it's time to turn around and come back in the opposite direction. You WILL go downwind. You WILL have to walk back upwind, to get to the place where you started. Everyone goes through this. Just get on the board, figure out how to ride it, then walk back upwind, get back into the water, and do it all again.

Also, there's also a lot of talk about being goofy or regular, and while you will probably find it easier to do tricks on your strongest tack, you have to forget about this for waterstarting. You will NEED to learn to do this equally well in both directions, so just go into it with the mentality that there is no "better side." It's all mental. Just go with it. You'll be better off having a "no better side" mindset in the long run.

6) Keep flying the kite.
At this point, if you actually get on the board, you’ll be so excited ... or so focused on the board ... that you'll forget about everything else, but it is really important at this point to KEEP FLYING THE KITE. The “flying the kite” part has to be automatic, something you don’t have to think about, because right now, there’s a lot going on with the board that needs most of your attention. As the kite is making its dive through the power zone, you should already be anticipating the upstroke and should already start pulling back with your left hand to fly the kite back up to 12, to continuously generate power. Keep flying (or sine-ing) the kite, in figures of eight (12 to 2, 12 to 2) so that you have enough power to keep going. (If you've waterstarted unhooked, once you get going, you can now think about starting to hook back in.)

It’s misleading when you’re watching all the other kiters … it looks like they can just park their kites and keep going. They CAN, although there are always slight adjustments going on that you’ll be able to see, if you look close enough. You never really get away from sine-ing the kite in kiting, and especially in the beginning, you will be doing this a lot, especially since in the beginning, you’re usually going out on a slightly smaller kite, and will need to work the kite to generate enough power to keep you going. So, forget about parking the kite in the beginning … that will come in time … just keep concentrating on flying the kite and keeping it moving at this point, up and down, up and down. (Again, don’t try to do what it looks like the advanced kiters are doing. You can’t just downstroke once, park the kite, and think that’ll be enough.)

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to dive the kite through the power zone, and then just leave it there, at the edge of the window, doing nothing. You’ll get a little way onto the board, then because you’re generating no additional power, you’ll sink. Or worse, you'll dive the kite down through the power zone, and then just keep diving it down into the water, resulting in a crashed kite, which will need to be relaunched, and then a bodydrag or two back to the board at best. If you can’t get the kite back up, you’ll need to self-rescue yourself to shore, then start all over again.

If you DO crash your kite, and get away from your board, forget about the board. Concentrate on getting the kite back up first. Then worry about the board. It’s hard to swim to your kite to get it tipped onto its back if you’re weighted down by your board. Kite first, board last.

NOTE: If you're learning on any of our SLE kites, be careful not to pull in on the bar all the way, as you're trying to get up riding. It's an easy mistake to make when you're learning ... death-gripping the bar ... but when you pull in on it all the way, you tend to choke the kite, and it'll fall back in the window and you'll lose power. Also, when you're relaunching these kites: as it makes its way to the edge of the window and is about to pop off the water, SHEET OUT (push out on the bar). This feels a bit counter-intuitive, and you'll think that by pulling in, you're powering up the kite and helping it, but you're not .... you're choking it, and it'll most likely fall back in the window and not relaunch.

7) Keep practicing and try not to get discouraged.
It’s important to keep your kite in the air. I know this is obvious, but what isn’t obvious at first is all the time you’re going to spend learning to kite that isn’t actually KITING, simply because you’re going to be dropping your kite, working hard to relaunch it, getting back to your board, or self-rescuing and swimming to shore, untangling and rerunning your lines, hiking all the way back upwind to where you started. In the early days, a 6 hour kite session can mean, 20 minutes setting up, 10 minutes getting launched and ready to water start, one minute to drop your kite, and then the next 5 hours and 29 minutes getting yourself back to a point where you’re ready to try it all again, once more.

Don’t feel bad if most of your sessions in the beginning go like this. You’re actually learning a lot every time you go out, and it’s a necessary part of the learning curve. Everyone goes through this, and you’re not alone. These are just the dues that need to be paid. There may be points in the learning curve where you’ll mentally calculate how much you think you’ll be able to get for your barely-used gear. But don’t give up. It’ll come.

Again, it’s all about kite skills, kite handling and control … so make sure you have all that dialed before you even think about adding a board to the mix. Everyone wants to rush the board, but the more time you spend with the kite, the better off you’ll be.
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Postby akwisner » Sat Jul 22, 2006 11:24 pm

VERY informative. Thank you...
Great reading materials for a newbie like me out here in the freezing ocean waters of AK. I get dunked too many times and I get a brain freeze (ice cream headache), then forget everything I have ever learned!
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Don't forget when your up on your board

Postby xtremekyter » Tue Sep 26, 2006 2:01 pm

As soon as you find yourself up on the board send your kite right back up and start your figure 8's. Alot of people forget to send the kite back up immediately when the find themselves up on their board. I was one of those people and this tip really helped me. Good Luck
Awesome description Stacey.
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Postby Gir » Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:13 am

Amazingly informative!
I found this post searching for "Crandon Park" and it hit on "Park the kite"
Shouldn't there be a sticky for newbie's tips?
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Postby stacey » Thu Aug 16, 2007 10:59 am

The top 3 things I yell at the backs of people I'm trying to teach as they go riding away from where we've been standing:

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Postby Ralo » Thu Aug 23, 2007 9:28 am

wow, thanks for this great guide, im thinking of how i can record the most important parts and play them back while im in the water. only thing is i dont think my recorder can swim.
Best of the Best of the Best sir!
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Postby robertjeacocke » Sat Sep 01, 2007 3:12 pm

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Postby algor » Tue Oct 23, 2007 7:26 pm

OUr tip: you can easily & exactly understand the wind direction looking the T2 struts.
When the kite is @ 12 o'clock, you can imagine an arrow pointing the from le LeadingEdge to the TrailingEdge: this is the wind direction ;) :idea:

So you dont need trees, flags, or other... :wink:
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Very helpful!!!!

Postby sailorgirl » Thu Apr 24, 2008 5:18 pm

That was SO GOOD, could you write one on water relaunch, pls!!!! :grin:
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Postby redol » Thu May 15, 2008 1:19 pm

thanks for this info, brilliant advise for someone like me starting out. point 7) is so true!

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Postby TRN » Sun Jun 29, 2008 4:42 pm

I'm about as new as you can be to this and found your post extremely informative.

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Postby burritobandit » Tue Jul 01, 2008 11:35 am

Great job! Very well organized, informative, and encouraging. Will you be writing about how to keep upwind?
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Postby GUKM » Sun Aug 17, 2008 2:05 pm


please...someone translate to portuguese!
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Waterstarting Article

Postby sirgreggor » Sat Jan 03, 2009 8:31 pm

Aloha Stacey, I would like to thank you for taking the time to spell this out very nicely. I am right at the point of doing my first waterstart and I think your article has clarified the need to really concentrate on pointing the board downwind by pulling in on my back foot (starboard tack) and pointing my front foot. I have been skidding sideways about 10 feet before crashing and I think using this technique will be much easier than mastering the side ways skidding technique.

I am a 64 year old geezer who looks forward to joining in on the kiting fun. I must say, this is taking longer than I expected...but I expect I will get it when I get it.

Again, thanks for the excellent article. All the best, greg
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Postby noFriends15 » Sat Jan 03, 2009 9:05 pm

To keep from slidding/skipping out make sure to have weight on your back foot-this will allow the fins to grip the water better.
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