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The ability to kiteboard upwind can allow the rider to ride away from the beach and distance themselves from shallow water and onshore hazards. Upwind riding prevents the rider from losing distance downwind and ultimately removes the long upwind trek, comically known as ‘the walk of shame’ from their routine.
If you can relate with the above, you’re in the right place. Here’s 10 steps to kiteboarding upwind. Get these right and you’ll be riding upwind in no time.
#1 Correct kite size
Choosing the correct size of kite is essential to upwind riding. A kite that is underpowered will require you to be constantly moving it to generate power. This will result in a downwind pull from the kite and make it impossible to fly the kite wide for less downwind pull.
A kite that is overpowered will be difficult to edge against and will result in you being pulled downwind as you struggle to control speed and direction.
Choosing the correct kite size will allow you to set your kite position once you are moving across the water and will allow you to settle into the correct stance and posture to drive the board upwind.
#2 Kite tunning options
Even if you have chosen the correct kite size for the wind speed you’re riding in; if the kite is not tuned well, you may still struggle to kiteboard upwind.
A poorly tuned kite can make a big difference to the kite’s performance. When the kite is being used at higher wind speeds within the kites range, if the kite is tuned for too much power you will find yourself over reaching with the bar to reduce the kites angle of attack and reduce power. You will feel this as you find yourself rolling your shoulders forward to reach further. As you roll your shoulders forward to reduce power, your body weight will shift forwards. This will prevent you from applying pressure on the heel-side edge. Once you release heel-side pressure, you can no longer ride upwind as you cannot resist the downwind pull of the kite. Trimming to reduce angle of attack will allow you to ride with the bar closer, keep shoulders back and heel-side edge engaged so you can comfortably kiteboard upwind.
When the kite is being used at lower wind speeds within the kites range, if the kite is tuned for too much power you will find that the kite struggles to fly forwards in the wind window as a result of drag. Instinctively, you may pull the bar in hoping to get more power but this will only make things worse. The kite may even backstall in extreme cases. Trimming the kite to reduce angle of attack will reduce drag on the kite, allowing the kite to fly forwards faster. Once a kite is too small, it is time to increase your kite size.
Check out this infographic to tune your kite for better upwind riding performance.
#3 Board size & shape
Using a kiteboard that is inefficient for upwind riding can be limiting for the beginner rider learning to ride upwind. To determine whether a board is efficient at upwind riding, we can look at the size and shape of the board.
For you to more easily kiteboard upwind, a board that can get planing across the water sooner is better as it requires less power to achieve movement and so you will be able to fly your kite wide and adopt an upwind riding stance sooner. Larger boards are recommended to beginners for this exact reason. A smaller board will require less power to achieve planing speed and so they are less efficient for upwind riding.
Take care, however, as a large board in stronger winds can become overpowered sooner than a smaller board. If your kite and board are oversized for the conditions, you may not be able to edge and may be pulled downwind. If you have only one board, you will be able to downsize your kite as the wind increases.
If your board has a high amount of ‘Rocker’ (curve between the tips), the board will be more difficult to kiteboard upwind with. A board which has less ‘Rocker’ (is more flat between the tips) will be more efficient for upwind riding. This is because the board will plane across the water sooner than a rockered board. This means it requires less power from the kite to achieve movement across the water. As less energy is lost through the board, the rider is able to achieve upwind riding sooner.
Boards designed for beginner to intermediate and light wind use will feature a lower rocker to help the rider kiteboard upwind. Check out our article on ‘Twin Tip Design Features’ to learn more about how boards are designed for different styles and levels of riding.
The good news is that if you have bought a board without a low rocker, that technique is the most important factor to riding upwind. If you can master your upwind riding technique you can save yourself some money and avoid buying a new board. (Though, if you’re a beginner and you’ve bought a wake style board; we’d recommend swapping it for a beginner/intermediate board.)
#4 Riding posture
An incorrect riding stance will kill all chances of kiteboarding upwind. This is the keystone to upwind riding technique. Luckily, with the help of an English children’s song about body anatomy, we can fix your riding stance in no time. Repeat after me; “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes; Knees and Toes…”
Turn your head to look where you want to go. Very often, beginner riders are so focused on the kite that they aren’t aware of how much they are going downwind. By looking where you want to go, you will recognise sooner if you are not going upwind.
Turning you head will also initiate the rotation required by your body to direct the kiteboard more upwind.
Lean your shoulders back to put more weight in the heel-side edge of the board. This will increase your edging against the kite and will allow you to resist downwind pull from the kite.
Allow your shoulders to rotate with your head to face the direction of travel. This continued rotation through the body will help you put more pressure through the heel of your back foot and will drive the kiteboard upwind.
Somehow missed out from the song, but very much important in your upwind riding stance. If correct, your hips position in your riding stance will allow you to direct the pull from the kite into your heel side edge. For efficient upwind riding and to prevent lower back pain, move your hips towards the bar so that you are not in a seated position (sometimes comically known as ‘poo stance’). Imagine you are drawing a straight line between your shoulders, hips and heels. Only your knees will be bending. Allow your hips to follow the rotation of your head and shoulders. Your hips will be open towards your direction of travel.
Your knees will act as your suspension as you ride over choppy water and so it is important, first of all, to note that your knees should never be fully straight whilst riding to avoid knee injury.
The rotation you have initiated with your head, continuing through your shoulders and hips is now being directed through your knees and into the board. It is important that your knees are strong and do not continue this rotation any further. Allowing rotation at the knee will cause your rear knee to collapse inwards resulting in loss of pressure into the back heel, making you unable to drive the board upwind. Furthermore, the rear knee collapsing inward can strain your inner knee and can be the cause of pain and injury when riding.
To keep your rear knee position strong, your knee must align with your rear hip and foot. To achieve this, squeeze your outer leg muscles and ensure that your knee is not collapsing inwards of your toes.
Your rear leg will be bent and will be supporting more of your weight than your front leg. This will prevent the board from nose diving any chop and will turn the kiteboard upwind. Too much weight in the back leg will prevent the board from planing across the water and this should be avoided.
Your front leg supports less weight than the rear leg and is more straight than the rear leg. Only a small bend in the knee is required to ease the ride over choppy water and to prevent injury to the knee.
Last but not least, your toes. Ensure you toes are raised so that the toe-side edge of the board is lifted away from the water. This will direct more pressure into your heels, allow you to resist downwind pull from the kite and prevent the board skidding or even catching your toe-side edge and flying over the front of your board.
As you aim to kiteboard upwind, observe and adjust your body position from head to toes imagining yourself rotating like a corkscrew. As each adjustment is made you’ll improve your directional control of the board and edging to resist going downwind.
#5 Drop your front hand to edge easier
There are times we need to have two hands on the bar to control the kite, but, if you’re happy that you can keep the kite still with one hand whilst riding in a straight line then dropping your front hand can help your upwind riding stance. Think of it as one more twist in the corkscrew.
#6 Use a reference point
If you’re not sure whether you are kiteboarding upwind, you can use visual references to help you judge your direction of travel. This can be land marks such as points on the beach.
#7 Keep the kite low
A common mistake for beginners is riding with the kite too high. If no one is riding in front of you, fly your kite lower. A high positioned kite will lift your weight making it harder to sink your weight into your heels to edge.
Just remember to always follow the ‘Rights of Way.’
#8 Don't ride too far into the wind
Over edging your kiteboard will reduce your speed and cause you to sink. If you find this is happening, point your board downwind again and move the kite to regain some speed before trying again with a smaller upwind angle. Aim for between 15º and 30º upwind angle depending on your speed.
#9 Manage your speed
How much power you have will determine how much speed you will need to go upwind. Assuming you are flying with the correct power, you will need to hold a moderate speed to kiteboard upwind. Ride too fast and you will increase your apparent wind so much that the kite will pull you downwind. Reduce your speed and reduce your apparent wind and the kite will be able to fly wider. This will allow you to resist the downwind pull much easier.
#10 Bend your knees & ollie over waves
Finally, if you’re kiting in chop and small waves, using your knees to ride over uneven water is a necessary skill to continue kiteboarding upwind. When approaching a small wave, bend your front leg and raise it up as if you were trying to ollie over the wave. At the same time you will push on your back foot. This will allow you to clear the wave without the wave hitting the nose of your kiteboard. Once past the wave you can continue in your upwind riding stance.
If you’re finding riding through choppy water difficult, read these top tips for kiteboarding through choppy water.
Kiteboarding upwind can take a little while to get right. To make the process easier, focus on one element of the technique at a time to gradually build the technique. Once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be able to ride for hours without leaving the water. To progress further, check out this article on Sliding Transitions.