Kitesurfing with kids – Vol. 1
Article and picture by www.kitejoy.at
Article in German, click here for VOL 1 and here for Vol. 2
My child wants to learn kitesurfing. Which is the best way to proceed?
As a parent one should’nt be afraid to let the kids try it. The main factor is that they want it themselves! Children learn things intuitively and faster than grown-ups. One thing is important though: Even if one is an experienced kiter it’s recommended to book kite lessons with a certified kite teacher – not only for safety reasons but also cause the kids will react differently to a teacher than to a parent. Additionally at a kite school they will get material that suits their weight and height as well as safety equipment (helmet etc.).
From which age on can children learn kitesurfing?
Concerning the minimum age for kitesurf lessons kiteschools have different regulations. Mostly the required age limit lies between 8–12 years, sometimes it requires a minimum weight (35–40 kg) or a certain miminum height too. But many schools offer the possibility to do a trial course for kids that are younger/lighter. What’s absolutely essential when a kid wants to start with kitesurfing is a certain level of physical fitness, the willingness to learn and understanding for the challenges of this sport. In addition the child must be able to swim and shouldn’t be afraid of water.
First kitesurf trials: Water, land, snow?
Practicing with the kite on land or on the snow is perfect for kids to gain initial experience. There’s no need to be able to swim when you have solid ground under your feet, and you can even practice with lower wind. Even if you don’t manage to ride you just stand on the ground instead of sinking into the water. So the kids can concentrate on the kite handling without any distractions.
Which kite is good in the beginning?
For the start a trainer kite is the best for kids – cause if necessarty they can just let it go. When a depower kite is used for the first time it should be a small one which is easy to handle (a special one for training/a school kite). One strut or strutless kites around 6 sqm are ideally suited for this – there are also special ones for land- and snowkiting which work with only three to four knots (such kites are used for the kids lessions at snowkitekurse.at).
The problem with “normal” kite with more struts is that they usually need more wind for staying stable in the zenith and that with this wind they generate too much power for kids when the kite is moved quickly, e. g. when it’s dived down. Some schools use short lines for kids lessons, especially in stronger winds (cause the shorter the lines, the less power the kite develops).
Which harness is good for kids?
For the beginning a seat harness is a good choice. It should have a handle in the back so that the teacher or parent can hold on or mount a leash on it. When the kid finally has a better kite control it’s also ok to try a waist harness.
Which bar is suited for children?
As children have shorter arms it’s important that the depower way of a bar isn’t to long. Some brands produce special bars for women which have a shorter depower way. Also a stopper-ball is useful to fix the bar shorter, so that the kid can grab the bar after letting go. Furthermore the bar should provide a modern and easy-handling safety system.
After Vol. 1 of “Kitesurfing with Kids – tips & tricks” now it’s about Vol 2.: You’ll get some reports of parents whose children collected their first kitesurf experiences already as little tots.
Three fathers of kitesurf youngsters reveal their most imortant tips regarding this topic – which factors must parents observe and how can they give the best possible support to their kiddies for their kitesurf beginnings?
Report No. 1: Not overtax – but motivate
Martin Reiters daughter Stella (11) was six years old when she had her first contact with kitesurfing. He talks about beginnings, stumbling blocks and lessons learned:
As we live at the Neusiedlersee but nobody in the family did any watersports I wanted to change this. I was thinking about kitesurfing for Stella, but decided to learn it first to be able to assess the risks. So I did a beginner course and got immediately addicted! When Stella was six years old we started to practice with the trainer kite (1,5 m) and tried snowkiting. But at this age her attention span was still very short – so after 15 minutes she lost any interest and got bored. At this time for her it was all about having fun, there was no big ambition behind.
The next step was bodydragging with a small trainer kite in the water. But still she wasn’t really ready for that – not enough body tension, she couldn’t reach the board and was super scared of crashes.
This year’s season things have completely changed. Stella did a lot of gymnastics during the winter and I also noticed that she was willing to take more risks in skiing. So when she tried kitesurfing again her body tension was much stronger, she hadn’t any problems reaching the board and when she crashed she laughed about it. Especially after she rode 50 meters in a row everything was different! The years before, when I asked her if she wanted to go kitesurfing she said: “I don’t know”. Since her riding is stable, her motivation is way bigger. And when the wind conditions don’t allow her to go on the water, she’s disappointed.
In the meantime she also goes out in temperatures between 10 and 15 degrees – which is no problem with a thick wetsuit, an undersuit, a neoprene top and a beanie. Especially the off-seasons are perfect for training sessions as you have much more space on the water. At the moment Stella is highly motivated to learn jumping, and she’s practising already.
Kitesurfing with kids: My conclusions & most important tips
Self-motivation: It’s often claimed that children have to say “I want to learn this” on their own initiative. I don’t think so – cause not all children are keen on sports and if you’d offer them a choice they often would go for the easier option (like video games, TV …). And how should you know if you’d love a sport like kitesurfing before you even tried it?
I also believe that the earlier one starts with sports the better it is for the development of physical coordination. And for sure if a child did different kinds of sport this makes learning to kitesurf easier.
Lessons: A kitesurf beginner course with boat support and communication via walkie-talkie works well for kids (might not be essential at a spot with shallow water where the kids can stand). Continuous contact with the instructor provides confidence and the child can give a constant feedback.
Motivate: You should show your child that you’re proud of it’s progression, even if it’s just baby steps. And in my experience it was good not just to let my doughter do her thing and practice completely on her own – so even during the lessons on the water I rode towards her and cheered her. This made her very proud and gave her some extra movitation.
Equipment: Particularly at the beginning – as long as you practice on shore – you should have a small kite that the child can let go immediately in case of need. For training on the water the kite should have an easy-handling (and not outdated!) safety system with a Quick Release that can be easy released and put together again. The less a kite tends to backstall, the better. Concerning the kite sizes: The smallest kite that my daughter is using at the moment is a five – a smaller one makes riding in low winds quite difficult.
Report No. 2: When chaos becomes a routine
Fritz Kalman started kitesurfing three years ago – and it wasn’t long before his wife Ulli was infected with the kite virus. He tells us about how also their kids slowly got hooked to the kitesurf lifestyle:
As me and my wife went for regular kitesurf sessions to Podersdorf we also took our three children with us. Our system was that one of us could go on the water whilst the other one went swimming with the kids.
By and by it happened more often that the kids stayed with us at the kitespot. Granted, it’s not always easy being a family with three kids in the “cool” atmosphere of a kitebeach. But luckily this changed the more often we appeared as a family. My wife and me both improved our skills on the water and our children got more and more interested in the sport.
So on days with less people the two older kids started to practice with trainer kites on the beach. Sometimes we also went to a field to practice. 1,5 m were enough – when you weigh only 30 kilos even such a small kite can pull strongly! For us it was super important that the kids learned to properly control the kite, as this is essential especially at a crowded spot like ours. And yes, the chaos at the beach (which you often find on Sundays at the Nord-Nordstrand in Podersdorf) slowly became a routine.
Then I started to take my kids out with me – standing on the board in a tandem style – when Rebecca was nine, Tobias was eight and Natalie with six years. Of course they all had the basic physical and mental conditions: good swimming abilities, coordination, no fear of submerging or swallowing some sips of water. And they wore a protective vest for more buoyancy and less impact on crashes.
Rebecca did her first “real” kite course when she was ten. But, if parents expect that after paying one beginner course everything is done and the kids can be sent to the water unattended – they could hardly be more wrong! After one beginner course it’s not possible to let your kids go kiting and leave them all on their own. So the next step was to book private lessons for Rebecca.
From the moment when Tobias also started to kitesurf seriously things got really expensive! Booking private lessons all the time for two kids would have turned out in a financial desaster for us – so finally us parents decided to go on the water and practice with them. Which was possible cause the local kiteschool (thanks to kite2fly!) were on site with their boat, we could rely one hundred percent on them and – and even now they still have an eye on our daughter when she’s kiting out there alone.
So in the meantime Rebecca rides independently, and Tobias will follow her next season I think. I really appreciate it that in the meantime our kids are so much more accepted on the kitebeach and that on the water they even get cheered and praised by the instructors from the kiteschools.
Kitesurfing with kids: My conclusions & most important tips
Support: Sending kids to a beginner course is not the whole job. It takes some time until they learned to ride independently. As a parent you can expect to spend many hours on the water with your kid practising – provided that you are a decent kiter on your own! Otherwise it will need more courses or private lessons.
Space: If you don’t have a deserted area to practice it make sense to book an upwind service with the boat. So the kids can train undisturbed and in case of emergency the boat is on site.
Safety: Good swimming abilities are absolutely essential for anyone who wants to go with a kite into the water. For practising bodydrag and waterstart in the beginning we used safety lines (10 and 20 m) with safety leashes on both sides.
Equipment/clothes: In my experience it’s important that in matters of wetsuit, harness etc. nothing presses or pinches or may slip somewhere – otherwise children might get easily moody and loose concentration.
Report No. 3: Kite boys in a double pack
In the last years both sons of Martin Sarny became passionated kitesurfers. And they startet at very young age: Johannes (10) was six when he was on the water with a kite for the first time, and Jakob (12) was only three when he first flew a trainer kite. Martin tells us the whole story:
Our older son Jakob was standing on a board with six years – but he was quite tall for his age. Johannes, the younger one, is just the opposite: he has always been rather small and lightweight. He spent hours for hours on shore practising with the trainer kite, sometimes also with a tube kite. When he was six years old he was weighing only 21 kilos – but he wanted to go on the water by hook or by crook!
This experiment went like this: Jakob in the deep water with his kite and us behind on the motorboat – pure stress for us parents! To be honest: The moment when you let go your kid on the water for the first time alone makes your heart stand still!
But the kids are not afraid at all – they just want to learn and get getter. Johannes has an iron will and he managed to go upwind in no time. Meanwhile he knows heaps of tricks on the twintip and also with the surfboard his jumps are already higher than mine. Currently he has 30 kilos and most of the time he rides his five meter kite. Six knots are enough for him to go with the twelve. Jakob, the older one, has 55 kilos and he likes to go quite powered with his wakestyle board. Sometimes he even chooses a bigger kite size than me with 80 kilos.
So whenever it’s possible we are trippin’ around as a family, visiting different kite spots along the Adria, at the lakes in Northern Italy, in Greece, Sardinia, Capo Verde or Brasil. Both boys love to ride strapless and learn new tricks by watching the pro riders. It’s amazing how fast they learn – without fear they just try new things and have an unbending will to progress. And, what of course provides some extra motivation is the support they get from the kite brand Naish.
Kitesurfing with kids: My conclusions & most important tips
Mental condition and age: When kids want to start kitesurfing it’s essential that as a parent you can trust them and make it clear to them that kiting is fun but also bears a lot of risks. In my opinion this might work from age 6-7. The best way is to book some private lessons.
Time: Parents should be aware of the fact that it needs a lot of time until children learn to kitesurf properly. Two weeks of holidays might not be enough – so you have to adjust to spending many hours on the water practising with the kids.
Kite size: Finding the right gear for children isn’t easy. At the beginning the boys used very small kids but after a certain time we found out that sizes like three or four meters are not the best choice cause they need strong winds to work decently. I think that especially for practising on the water a size like seven in 10-15 knots is a better choice.
Boards: Both of our sons started to kitesurf with short children’s twintips (125 cm) and this worked out well, without any problems in planing.