How Does Kiteboarding Work?

This photo demonstrates the angle and speed of the “apparent wind” based on the direction and speed of travel in relationship to that of the “actual” wind. PHOTO CREDIT: New Wave Kiteboarding.
This photo demonstrates the angle and speed of the “apparent wind” based on the direction and speed of travel in relationship to that of the “actual” wind. PHOTO CREDIT: New Wave Kiteboarding.

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hether you are an avid kiteboarder or simply watching it from the beach for the first time, it is easy to be mesmerized by the sport. It is colorful, wild and yet strangely peaceful. As you sit there watching you may wonder, what makes it work? The truth is that even some avid kiteboarders don’t truly understand why it works the way it does. In this article I am going to try and explain the mystery.

One of the most important aspects of the sport is apparent wind. This term is often used in all forms of sailing and flying. Apparent wind It is what makes kiteboarding possible. Simply put, it is wind that you create with your own forward speed. For example; let’s say that you are on a kiteboard moving at a 90-degree angle to the wind, at a speed of 10 knots and mother nature is providing 15 knots of wind (known as true wind). You would actually feel around 18 knots coming across you and your kite at an angle of 56 degrees. This calculated wind speed and angle is known as apparent wind. It is combination of your forward speed, actual wind speed and angle of attack (direction in relationship to the wind). If you turn more into the wind the apparent wind speed increases. If you turn more downwind the apparent wind speed decreases.

So now that you understand a little bit about apparent wind, lets discuss its effect on the kite. Like most sails the kite is a type of wing. Just like an airplane wing the more air you move across it the more lift it creates. Essentially the wind does not push the kite, it pulls it. In fact, if you were to try to ride straight downwind (chasing the kite) you would actually loose power. This is because you would decrease the apparent wind significantly and the kite would no longer create lift.

Here is how it all comes together. Let’s say Joe Kiter is at a standstill position getting ready to ride. His kite is just sitting at a 12:00 position and he has no forward speed. Since he is not moving, he has no apparent wind and the kite is not pulling hard enough to ride. In order to create the power to ride he must create it by steering the kite up and down. This is known as a power stroke and this is how kiteboarder’s create enough apparent wind/power to start riding. As he moves the kite up and down the kite picks up speed and the apparent wind speed increases. As this happens he starts to get pulled faster and faster. Once his forward speed is fast enough he will no longer have to work the kite up and down because he will be creating enough apparent wind with just his forward movement across the water. At this stage he will “park” the kite at about 45 degrees off the horizon and continue to be pulled.

Although there is obviously a lot more to it. This is the basic concept of how Kiteboarding/Kitesurfing and all forms of sailing work. Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of how kiteboarding is possible and leaves you curios to learn more about this great sport. If you are more of a visual person, check out my mobile app KiteboardCoach™. There are some great videos there discussing this exact subject matter and many more. As always, never attempt to teach yourself to kiteboard. Make sure to get the proper training from a certified instructor.