Wave Riding OEC 2012 draft2

By David Dorn


Riding Waves requires a combination of specific skills. Understanding the different skills and requirements is key to successful wave riding. In this OEC you will learn about the following:


  1. Understanding the wave zone.
  2. The movement of water around a wave
  3. The life cycle of a wave
  4. How to cross a wave to get out.
  5. Know which angle to cross the waves.
  6. Crossing different size waves,
  7. Crossing different types of waves
  8. Turning onto the wave
  9. The different ways to ride a wave
  10. Knowing which way to ride in different winds
  11. How to position yourself on the wave
  12. Turning on a wave


In addition to these skills,

  1. What skills you need before riding waves (prerequisites).
  2. You should know when it is safe to ride a wave,
  3. Equipment for riding waves.
  4. *The waveriding skills
  5. Know your limits when riding waves.
  6. Common mistakes when riding waves.
  7. Risk management for waveriding.
  8. ROW Right of Way rules for wave riding.
  9. Surfing terminology


What skills you need before riding waves (prerequisites):

Level 3n = Upwind riding , reliable turns, toeside rising, land small jumps, Self launching, self rescue, upwind body drag to the board.

Please note that you should be a strong swimmer to ride in waves.

There is a high risk of losing your board, and dropping the kite in the waves.

You could become separated for the kite, and need to swim in through the surf.

Also you must know the ROW rules for wavekiting.


You should know when it is safe to ride a wave:

Choosing a good location, with favorable conditions is essential.,

Choose and easily accessible location. Close to shore, but not shore-break, Choose a time when there are not too many people using the area, but a few other kiters will help guide you when riding a new location. Ask the locals if there are any special dangers or problems to know. See how other kiters enter and exit the area, and how they are riding the wave. Is there a circulation? Is there a priority?

Check the wind and weather report before you session. Waves can be forecast up to a week in advance so you can plan your session with a reasonable certainty of waves.

Check to see if there are any High Surf Warnings, and do not go out in extreme surf or extreme winds.

Surf usually occurs in shallow areas. The water depth can change dramatically, and you should know the water depth where you are riding. You will need a minimum depth to avoid hitting the bottom. Avoid very shallow water. Large surf breaking into shallow water is very dangerous. Also it is good to know what the seafloor is made of. Is it a sandy bottom, or coral or rocks?

Avoid sharp reef because they can cut your feet and/or tangle your lines.

Remember that smaller waves are less powerful that large ones. Smaller waves are slower and easier to manage. Try to find places to ride with mellow surf and predictable waves.


Equipment for riding waves.

Equipment for riding waves can be any equipment that you regularly ride, but race boards, are not suited. You want a board that turns easily, and a board with foot straps is essential when learning to cross the whitewater.

You can ride waves on twin-tip boards or directional boards.

Be sure that you are very comfortable riding the gear that you will be using. Pre-test your gear in flat water before trying to use it in the waves.

When learning to go out through the surf it is good to have plenty of power. Later when you are focusing on wave riding a slightly smaller kite can be used.

When adjusting your settings you should make sure that you have plenty of range in your power and have the ability depower your kite once you are farther offshore.


Wind in the wave Zone:

People often underestimate the wind in the wave zone, because the waves break up the telltale whitecaps, and shadow the water’s surface between waves.

When riding the waves you will be accelerated by the waves forward motion, and this will give you more speed. The speed increase will increase your apparent wind, and increase the kites power dramatically. This is when you may want to pull your depower strap and trim in the kite.


Kite types for wavekiting:

Bow kites are well suited to this task, but any high-depower kite is good.’

A kite that can relaunch quickly and easily is always helpful. And a kite that can handle a wide wind range.  A kite that can handle a wide range of angles of attack. AOA,

Generally wave kiters prefer a rounder, deeper profile and a medium aspect kite. These kites turn quick, and they can handle being over-sheeted, and ridden downwind.

Flatter shapes will not give you the ability to ride over-sheeted and may back stall at the wrong time.


Setting up boards:

Setting footstraps up to fit snugly, but you must be able to get your foot into the strap fully to allow you to apply enough toe side pressure to the board when turning.


Never use a board leash in the surf, because the board can recoil and hit you or may get tangled in your lines or foul your safety system.


I addition to the usual gear we recommend that you always carry safety cutter in case of line entanglements, and a helmet, and wear an impact vest.

Always wear an appropriate wetsuit in cold water.


*The waveriding skills


*Know your limits when riding waves.

If you have never surfed or been in waves before you should be extra cautious and start in unbroken swell. Learn in steps to ride waves, a little larger each time. Remember that you will be falling, an then you will have to deal with your gear in the waves. This is part of the learning experience. Learning in small waves will make your mistakes less critical, and wil help you manage the risk factor. Also you are better in lighter winds, strong enough to ride and easily relaunch the kite, but not excessively strong. Strong winds increases the forces on the kite (exponentially) and increase the severity of accidents.

If in doubt, don’t go out:

If you are not sure if you can handle the conditions then do not go out. Wait for a better time, or change your location until you can find safer conditions. Make this decision before you launch, It is too late to change your mind once you have launched and then find yourself in trouble.

If you are sure that you can handle the conditions and go out, there is still a chance that you wil have an unforeseen problem, or that you have underestimated the conditions. But you will have a reasonable chance of dealing wit the problems, and you can get yourself out of trouble.


*Common mistakes when riding waves.

Waves contain a lot of hidden power. The force of a wave is often underestimated, a one foot high wave can travel for miles and it does not stop when it runs into you. You cannot fight waves, so you must learn how to move with them and through them. Learning how the wave moves is key to understanding how you and your kite will react when in the waves.

One common mistake a new wave-kiter will experience, is when they catch their first wave. The wave pushes the rider forward towards the kite and the lines become slack and the kite stalls. An experienced kiter will anticipate the push from the wave and keep more tension on the lines. Never let your lines go slack.


*Risk management for waveriding.

The danger increases in the waves because of the movement of the water against the kite and rider. To reduce this risk start out in small unbroken waves. Practice riding swell before starting to ride the breaking waves.

Always use a kite leash when kiting I waves. If you let go of your kite it could be devastating if it hit another kiter. Remember that controlling the kite is the responsibility of the rider, and that the kite leash is for everyone’s safety.

Always ride with a buddy:

When you ride with a buddy you decrease risk because your buddy can assist you with many problems. Even simply returning your lost board to you when you lose it will save your session. Make sure that your buddy also caries a safety cutter knife, and that both of you know how to help each other in an emergency. Always take time to get to know your buddies safety system, because you may be the one who needs to release him from his kite and vice versa. When riding with a buddy stay close enough to keep an eye on each other, but not close enough to hit each other in a wipeout.


Do not drop your kite in the waves:

This seems easy to say, but for this reason only proficient kiters should attempt to ride in the waves. Kites are more difficult to relaunch in the weaves, because there are wind shadows between wave, the kite gets pushed out of launch position by the waves, the kite gets rolled by the waves, the lines get de-tensions when the wave pushes the kite or rider closer to each other, or if the kite rolls and tangles the lines, or flips the kite and tangles the fifth line or bridles.


When you lose your board:

When you lose your board you can become separated from it as it may surf along with the whitewater. You board is harder to see as it may become hidden between waves. You should try to keep track of your board, and keep in mind that it will tend to get pushed shoreward. If you have a brightly colored board it can help you to see it. Take care when recovering the board, let it stop moving before grabbing it. Do not get your face shoreward of the board if a wave is about to hit it, Otherwise, the wave could smash it into you. if your board is surfing the wave towards you, you may have to duck under the wave to avoid being hit, or protect your head with both arms.


If the bar/lines get stuck on the seafloor:

If you do let go of your kite in the waves there is a chance that the bar and lines can get caught on the seafloor, and the kite and lines can become a hazard for other kiters and would-be rescuers. There is a chance that your lines can get caught on the seafloor and wrap onto you, attaching you to the seafloor. Then you will have to use your line cutter.

I recommend carrying a spare line cutter in case you drop one.


If you kite won’t relaunch:

If your kite goes down in the waves and does not relaunch, it is usually better to stay attached to the bar and lines and let the wave action push you out into a calmer area.

Do not attempt to do a self rescue, and wind the lines in the breaking waves. When the waves hit the kite they will wrench it hard from your grasp, and tangle you in the lines.

Stay away from the kite if it is tumbling in the waves. It is dangerous to try to hold onto it.


Avoid downed kites:

If you see another kite down in the waves, stay clear of it and remember that you do not want to get in between the kite and the rider, because the lines could be loaded and travel through or under the water. Keep in mind that when the kite falls in the surf it will get pushed shoreward by the waves.


Dropping the Kite:

If you drop your kite in the waves, try to relaunch it quickly. If the waves are small or full it should be easy. If the waves catch the kite, they can sweep the kite quickly towards shore. The kite can drag the rider along behind it, sometimes underwater. The kiter should release the; chicken loop, and let go of the bar, and let the kite flag out fully. This will reduce the drag on the kite.


Beware of the lines:

You do not want to get wrapped up in the lines especially in the surf.

If you are getting dragged along by the wave do not let the lines go slack, and do not get caught in loose lines, because when the next wave comes a hits the kite the lines will get tensioned and could trap you. Avoid getting loose lines by staying across-wave from the kite. Do not allow yourself to bodysurf directly towards the kite because you might get caught in loose lines.



*ROW Right of Way rules for wave riding.


In crowded conditions the possibility to collide with other kiters exists.
It is important to know how to react and behave in order to avoid accidents.
The following are the most common right of way rules for kiteboarders.
Avoid collisions at all costs. Follow the rules but not to the point of having a collision, even if you have right of way, you must act prudently to avoid an accident. Some sailors don’t know the rules. This is part of the “prudential rule”.
The Prudential Rule There is no rule that excuses you, for not knowing the weather, having the correct gear, keeping a proper lookout, and avoiding accidents (Acting Prudently).
The incoming Kiter gives way to the outgoing kiter who is launching. Situation: one kite is launching and ready to leave the beach, and another kiter wants to come in and land at the same time.

Definition: The launching kiter is standing with their lines tensioned obviously ready to launch.

What to do: The incoming kiter should turn around and go back out for another tack, while the launching kiter gets off the beach.

The upwind kiteboarder gives way to the downwind kiteboarder. Situation: when two kiters are on the same tack but their paths will cross. Usually the upwind kiter is not pointing as high as the downwind kiter.

Definitions: the upwind kiter is sailing closer to the wind than the downwind kiter.

What to do: The downwind kiter has right of way, so they should continue to ride in the same direction and speed, the upwind kiter must give way, by altering direction or speed, usually slowing and going behind the other kiter.

The kiteboarder on port tack gives way to the kiteboarder on starboard tack. Situation: When you meet another Kiter head on, and you are both on opposite tacks, the port tack rider gives way to the Starboard tack rider.

Definitions: When you have your kite on the right hand side of the wind window, between 12 and 3oclock. you are riding on “Starboard tack” and have right of way. When you are riding with the kite between 9 o’clock and 12 o’clock. you are said to be on “Port Tack” you must give way.

How to give way: To give way to the Starboard tack rider, you should slow down or alter course (usually downwind keeping your kite low). The kiter of Starboard tack should maintain his direction and speed.

When crossing close to another kiter, the upwind kiter keeps his kite high,
and the downwind kiter keeps his kite low.
Situation: You are riding on the opposite tack from another rider, you are close but you will miss each other.

Definition: If it is obvious that you do not have to alter course or speed to miss the other rider, you should position your kite to keep it away from the other kite.

What to do: The kiter passing upwind raises their kite, and the downwind kite lowers their kite. Do not move your kite to the point where you will change speed or alter course significantly.

Do not jump when you are upwind of another kiter. Situation: When you are preparing to jump, close to other kiters.

Definition: If any part of your jump will take you over near to, or into the path of another kiter or their gear.

What to do: Keep a clear area ahead behind, and downwind of you before you jump. Keep in mind your jump may not go as planned, you go wipeout, or go higher and further than you planned. Also the other kiter could change course or act unexpectedly.

Look in all directions (including up) before you jump. Keep a proper lookout at all times. Do not ride close to other riders, they could turn unexpectedly. Look in all directions ahead, behind, upwind, downwind, and straight up! There could be another kiter or someone’s kite above you!



Kiteboarding in waves

In addition to the rules above, there is a special set of Waveriding Rules that help clarify what to do in the waves. these rules are applied in order, example, “First to catch the wave” rule, has priority over “rider closest to the peak” rule, or, “upwind rider rule”. So the kiter who catches the wave first has priority over a kiter who catches the wave after, but is upwind or closer to the peak.
The outgoing Kiteboarder gives way to the incoming kiteboarder. Situation: When riding out through the surf you are going to cross paths with the incoming kiter on the wave.

Definition: In a wave area, the rules apply. The kiter coming in is riding the wave. and collision is imminent. The outgoing Kiter must give way,and not ruin the incoming kiters ride (or put him in jeopardy).

What to do:  The outgoing kiter should avoid riding out through the peak (waveriding zone). If you cannot go around the zone, then you must either stop, steerr around, or go the other way to avoid the kiter riding the wave. It depends which way the kiter is riding the wave.

The first kiteboarder to catch a wave, has the wave. Situation: two kites are trying to catch the same wave.

Definition: The kiter who is up and riding in on the face of wave. The first kiter to ride the wave has the wave. Usually the one who went  farther out to catch the wave.

What to do: The kiter on the wave first continues to ride the wave, the other kiter can go back out, or kick out ahead of the wave to let the other kiter ride through. keep an eye o the other kiter so you can anticipate his intentions. the kilter on the wave may ride upwind or downwind, it is their choice.

Where two kiteboarders catch the wave at the same time, the kiteboarder closest to the peak has the wave. Situation: When two kiters catch the same wave at the same time.

Definition: The peak of the wave is the part of the crest the breaks first. Then as the wave progresses it is the tallest and steepest part of the wave between the open face of the wave and the whitewater.

What to do: The kiter riding closest to the peak should ride the rave. The other kiter that is farther out on the shoulder should keep clear, or get off the wave.

When there is no distinct peak, the upwind kiteboarder has the wave. Situation: Two kiters turn onto a wave at the same time.

Definition, when two kiters catch the wave at exactly the same time, the upwind rider has the wave.

What to do: When you have caught the wave with another rider the downwind kiter yields the wave to the upwind kiter. By either turning off the wave, or kicking out ahead of the wave. Keep eye contact with the other guy so you know their intention.


Kitesurfers have to cooperate with other water users, and there is a system of priority the helps establish hierarchy for right of way.
Bystanders: Situation: Launching and landing on crowded beaches.

Definition: Anyone not involved in kiteboarding, including, onlookers, sunbathers, picnickers, walkers, and joggers. Even fishermen, cyclists. etc.

What to do: Give way to bystanders, and never fly your kite over a non-participant. Do not ask an inexperienced person to launch or land your kite. Keep a safe distance from all bystanders.

Give way to Swimmers: Situation: Never get close enough to come in contact with swimmers of put them at risk.

Definition: Anyone in the water under their own propulsion. Including swimmers, and skin divers, and scuba divers. There are also special rules for Scuba divers displaying a “Dive Flag”.

What to do: When close to swimmers, go slow or go the other way.

Surfers, Standup Paddlers, and Rowers. Situation: Any time you get close to one of these.

Definition: Surfers, Bodyboarders, Standup paddlers, and Rowers, kayakers, wave-ski riders, and outrigger canoes. This group are more mobile and better able to avoid a kitesurfer. But a kitesurfer muster give way to all these too. This group must give way to bystanders & swimmers.

Windsurfers, and Other Sailing Craft. Situation: When you encounter another sailing craft, you should give way.

Definition: A kite is technically a sailing vessel, BUT the lines, large window, and unpredictability, generally make them incompatible with operating close to other sailboats.

What to do: give way to other sailing craft, keep large buffers between you and other sailing craft. Moderate you speed when close to other sailing vessels, and ride in a predictable pattern. Never fly your kite over a windsurfer or sailing boat. you could clip their mast or worse. Otherwise you should observe normal sailing rules.

Powerboats, Jetskis. Situation: when operating close to powered vessels.

Definition: Power boats give way to sailboats. Power is more maneuverable, and can change direction to avoid collisions. However you should exercise caution around powerboats.

What to do: when navigating with powerboats maintain course and speed so that their drivers can anticipate your movements, and avoid you. moderate your speed, and do your best to keep well clear of them. Boats creates wakes that can cause you to wipeout, and boats are hard objects that you could impact with, not  to mention their propellers etc. Never jump boat wakes with your kiteboard.

Commercial vessels Situation: When you get close to any commercial vessel.

Definition: Ant vessel engaged in a commercial activity, ferries, sea planes, fishing boats. Recreation boats give way to commercial vessels.

What to do: Stay clear of all commercial vessels, ferries, barges, tankers, tour boats, fishing boats.

Moored boats and Capsized Boats. Situation: maneuvering, navigating amongst moored or capsized vessels.

Definition: Any boat attached to a mooring or at anchor, or otherwise similarly restricted in is ability to maneuver.

What to Do: Stay Clear of all moored vessels, and capsized vessels, including windsurfers waterstarting, unmanned boats, Stay clear of other kiters whose kites are down in the water or who are body-dragging.