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Speed Kiting


Blurring everything else!
Photo by Jennifer Madore of www.justcallmephotography.ca

Contrary to the popular belief, one of the most attractive sensation in kitesurfing is speed.  While kitesurfing is somewhat slow on a beam reach or a close reach, it is extremely fast on a broad reach.  As a beginner, everyone will have to go through a period of down-wind-runs and most probably still remember the speed sensation; however, as soon as one gets better, is able to control the downwind drift to start to "come back to where one started" and learn to jump, the speed sensation gradually disappears due to the new distractions.

If you want to get back the speed sensation of those earlier days in a more control fashion, here are some of the tips and theories we have collected based on our experiences and a number of private emails in the past regarding how to go fast:

The Theories, the Places and Equipment Selection:

  • So far, the general impression is that flat inflatables with their high performance and full depowered capability seems to be the kite to break speed record.  A couple kiters have used flat inflatables passed the 40 knots mark and approaching the 50 knots mark.
  • A flat planning surface goes faster than a edging/banking surface (this is the reason why you go extremely fast in downwind kitesurfing - almost no edging).
  • A planning surface with less wet surface (surface that touches the water) goes faster than a planning surface with more wet surface.
  • A faster kite makes you go faster.  However, it is the board that puts much of the speed limitation in kitesurfing. You will know you need a faster kite when you consistently "go faster than the kite"
  • The faster you go, the more power the kite generates due to the apparent wind which is more noticeable in light wind.  So use a kite smaller than you would for jumping.
  • Select a board made for speed instead of jumping.  The ideal board would be a flat planning board; however, we are not there yet.  For the current edging/banking type of board, use a slightly longer, narrower board with the planning surface distributed more evenly.
  • Use no fin, 1 fin or maximum 4 fins.  4+ fins are overkill and will slow the board down.
  • Select the correct board and kite with the specific intent of going fast for the conditions. This may mean going with a slightly longer board than might be best suited for jumping along with the largest kite that one can manage for the conditions (Rick Iossi).
  • Kitesurf on sheltered water with the lowest seas possible (Rick Iossi).
  • Use a type of kite that seems to go upwind well. The factors that determine maximum upwind angle also determine maximum speed. A fast TURNING kite will not help you go fast - it is fast forward speed that counts... (Mark Frasier).
  • Use a kite that is small enough that you can stay on a 80-90 degree course *at full speed*. This means you might have to pick a smaller kite than you would to go out jumping. If you have to go upwind or much downwind to control the power of the kite you'll slow down. A depower system will allow you to get up to speed sooner, but it must not work by slowing the kite down. In other words, if your kite slows down when you depower it, so will you. Make sure you can handle the pull at full speed with your kite at the fastest setting (Mark Frasier).
  • Light wind and a big kite give the highest speeds relative to the wind. In a 12 knot wind with a fast 9m foil or 15 m sled you may be able to go 25 knots (over twice the wind speed). Smaller kites in high wind make for the fastest speeds, but your speed will be less compared to the wind speed. For example, you might be able to go 35 knots with a 4m foil or 7.5m sled in 22 knots of wind (1.5 times the wind speed), if you could find flat water in that much wind (Mark Frasier).
  • Flat water is much, much faster than choppy or wavy water. You may be able to go faster in 10 knots with smooth water than you can in 15 knots with medium chop (Mark Frasier).


The wind is good here but one cannot go very fast in this water

Try this spot used by David Trewern to go faster than 40 knots
 

Or this spot used by Tilmann Heinig
 

 

The Techniques:

  • You go faster hooking in and with the kite stable ("locked in") in the forward position.
  • Try to keep the board and kite as stable and quiet as possible with minimal control inputs (Rick Iossi).
  • Try to keep the board as flat as possible on the water by shifting weight a bit more forward on the board and edging less while running on a broad reach (Rick Iossi).
  • Place and hold the kite just off the water and hang on (Rick Iossi)!
  • Try not to edge too hard - instead let the fins do as much of the work as possible. You will have to edge, but try not to edge too much, and try to edge only with the tail of the board, not the whole edge (Mark Frasier).
  • Get in a "tuck" position, like a skier or bicyclist, with your spine oriented in the direction of travel. Keep your elbows tucked in and your center of mass low. Try to make your body slip through the wind rather than letting it be a big drag chute. The kite will be pulling from your side rather than from your front when you are in this position (Mark Frasier).
  • Fly the kite 10-20 degrees over the water. If the wind is light or if the wind is blowing much faster higher up it may help to fly the kite higher, but generally the lower the kite is the more force is used for forward propulsion. Reducing your weight on the board is not as important once you're planning fast (Mark Frasier).
  • Stay in the harness and try to keep a light grip on the handles/bar. This keeps a more even pressure on the kite lines (Mark Frasier).
  • Don't "sine wave" the kite once you are up to speed. If "working" the kite makes you go faster try a bigger kite (Mark Frasier).
  • The fastest course is slightly downwind, maybe 10 degrees (Mark Frasier)
  • Try to check your speed with a GPS or board speedometer, or get someone to time you over a course. Sometimes the runs that feel the fastest actually aren't. Going fairly fast with too much kite can feel faster than going really fast with the right size kite. Going across or slightly upwind makes
    the kite pull harder and therefore feel faster but you'll actually be going slower. Try to learn to judge your speed independent of the kite's pull and the water conditions (Mark Frasier).
  • To go fast upwind or downwind while still using the kite that gives you top speed on the optimal course, get going fast as possible on the optimal course before changing heading, and try to keep as much speed as possible. Change your heading [direction] with fine movements, rather than edging suddenly (Mark Frasier).
  • Use your legs as shock absorbers. Try to keep your body stable and let the board move up and down with the bumps (Mark Frasier).

So How Fast Is Kitesurfing Compared to Other Sports?

Due to the smaller board size, kitesurfing is much faster than any other sailing craft on water on a broad reach in light and medium wind; however in very strong wind, the dynamic feature of the kite makes kitesurfing still slower than windsurfing (should be faster in theory but not yet proven).  Also, due to the inefficient use of force on a beam reach (edging of the board and not flat planning), kitesurfing is slower than windsurfing.  On the other hand, due to the intrinsic ability to creating more power by sinning the kite, kitesurfing planes sooner and therefore is much faster than windsurfing in light wind for both beam reach and close reach.   The following table shows the kitesurfing/windsurfing speed comparison in various direction and wind speed:

Board Direction/Wind Light wind (5 - 15 knots) Medium (15 - 30 knots)  Strong Wind
Broad Reach Kitesurfing Kitesurfing Windsurfing
Beam Reach Kitesurfing Windsurfing Windsurfing
Close Reach Kitesurfing Windsurfing Windsurfing

So the "orange zone" in the table above is the area where kitesurfing needs to improve and the white zone is where kitesurfing need to prove.

Higher Speed

So you want to go faster? 

  • Try kiteskiing (on snow or ice). Michel Montminy of ConceptAir, the former world kiteskiing champion, has claimed on the Canadian Kitesurf group that he has reached 134 km/hr kiteskiing (measured by a police car radar). 
  • Try buggying, Luke Stanek has passed the 70 mph mark (more than 100 km/hr) on a buggy.

 


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