Learning how to go upwind when kitesurfing

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Kitesurfing is a sport enjoyed by those who like thrills and exciting sensations. But participating in this surfing derived sport requires mastery of certain techniques, such as that of going upwind. Though it’s not the first thing you learn when taking lessons, you need to already have an understanding of the principle involved in order to make progress and take your kitesurfing to the next level.

Going upwind: a definition

Decided to learn how to kitesurf ? Once the kitesurfing equipment has been purchased, you’ll start by first familiarising yourself with the kit and learning to evaluate the weather conditions, particularly the wind direction. This is because when you first begin you kitesurf with the wind at your back, propelling you forward. Once you’ve gained enough confidence, you’ll be able to start altering the position of your huge windsurfing kite, which helps you surf along and control your movements on the water. You’ll learn how to pull on one side then the other, carefully practising your stance as you do so.

It all seems quite simple up to this point, as the technique involved in moving across the water and changing direction is quite intuitive. But when your lessons reach a more advanced stage, you’ll be required to learn to go upwind. You won’t be able to go in the completely opposite direction to the wind, but you will be able to counter its effects by choosing your direction yourself. This it’s what’s known as going upwind.

The technique involved is quite complicated, but with the right foundation and regular practice, you’ll be able to do it with complete confidence.

The main points to bear in mind when it comes to successfully going upwind

Going upwind requires proper control of speed and correct identification of the “wind window”. A common term in the kitesurfing world, the wind window is the space in which your kite flies. The position of your kite within the wind window plays a determining role: the force produced is weaker when it’s in a static position than when it’s moving. If the wind is fairly weak, try to gain a little speed, though not too much.

In fact, the faster your speed, the more difficult it is to go upwind, as the wind window will be pushed behind you.

The aim is to properly position the kite in the wind window so you can get it to go in the direction you want. If the wind is strong, you’ll probably need to slow down a little. Otherwise, you risk creating what is known as apparent wind, which will hamper your ability to make forward progress.

Avoid working too hard against the wind for the first few metres therefore. Allow yourself to be pulled along, as this momentum is required to help you get up and going properly. If you start going upwind too early, you’ll end up in the water rather than surfing on it. The ideal approach is to learn to body drag before moving on to going upwind.

The surfboard should ideally be at a 45° angle to the surface of the water. You’ll need to practise at properly orienting the surfboard, as it needs to be pointing in the direction you want to go. Keeping your board under proper control prevents you being taken in the direction of the wind.

For similar reasons, you also need to monitor the position of your kite. The more vertical it is, the more it will pull you upwards. End result: you’ll have to fight to keep control. The important thing is not to panic if such a situation occurs. Gently reduce the height of the kite whilst at the same time keeping it in the wind window. Ideally, maintain it at an angle of 45°, or indeed less even, depending on the strength of the wind.

The position of your body is equally important. Pull your shoulders back and keep your arms almost fully extended, even though it might be tempting to bend them. Slightly bend your knees, but be careful not to allow the buttocks to move backwards, otherwise your weight will be brought close to the board, which will make it heavier and pull you downwards.

Instead, try to keep the buttocks tucked in, and balance yourself by stretching out your forward leg and adjusting the bend in the knees via the rear leg. Experienced kite surfers all agree that you have to keep your head straight and fix your gaze on something in the distance.

In other words, you should look in the direction you’re steering towards and not in the direction the kite is naturally taking you. Focusing on a point of reference enables you maintain your course and thus better control your trajectory.

Though this might all seem complicated, with perseverance and regular practice you’ll discover that it’s actually quite an easy technique to acquire. The golden rule is to always pay attention to the wind speed so that you can adjust your own speed accordingly. You’ll sometimes need to accelerate or slow down to really savour and enjoy the sensations of gliding across the water the activity offers.

The mistakes to avoid

You’ve selected your spot, your harness is properly attached, and you’re ready to get out there surfing. Before launching, however, give some thought to the common and frequent errors that can hinder the ability to go upwind properly.

Avoid having the kite too high in the sky. By pulling your body upwards, the kite reduces the pressure you exert on the board and, therefore, the control you have over it. Try to keep the position of the kite properly adjusted to ensure there is always pressure exerted on the board through your heels.

Not applying pressure early enough is another frequent error. Be aware of what’s around you so you can spot the right moment to back off.

Avoid moving your kite too quickly and/or too aggressively. Do it gently, and you’ll find it will be easier to go upwind.

By applying these basic rules, you’ll be able to learn to go upwind and subsequently take your windsurfing to higher and higher levels.

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