Kiteboard Theory - Thread 14: Very Light Wind Technique

Postby James on Fri May 16, 2008 11:44 am

This expands on one of my earlier theory threads about upwind technique and focuses on very light wind. Effective upwind technique is in some ways the opposite of current conventional wisdom (as of Spring 2008). In the early days, kiteboarding was mainly considered a downwind activity. Later, equipment and technique made it customary to ride upwind, but only in reasonably strong wind. In the future, it will be a given that you can ride upwind in really light wind, and rival performance sailboats in upwind angles in moderate to strong wind. With my current equipment, I can ride about 40 degrees upwind in a good breeze, resulting in tacking angles of near 90 degrees. And I can make marginal upwind progress in about 5-6 knots of wind with my 19m Flysurfer Silver Arrow 2 and large, custom, carbon laminate skimboard.

Here are the keys to riding upwind in really light wind:

1. Kite: You need a reasonably efficient kite (good L/D ratio) that will stay aloft in the given conditions, obviously. Most inflatable kites probably need about 6-8 knots of wind to fly. The best light wind kite I've seen is the ultra lightweight Silver Arrow, which can be launched in about 3-5 knots of wind.

2. Board: You need a board that will allow you to efficiently ride at sufficiently slow speed so your apparent wind angle doesn't move too far forward to ride upwind (see previous theory threads). The faster you ride, the faster your apparent wind becomes, which is good, but also, the farther forward your apparent wind angle becomes, which is prohibitive to riding upwind. So you gotta have a board that allows you to stay up on the water at low speed (and a kite that's powerful enough to keep you going without the benefit of strong apparent wind). Consider this: if your kite will fly, you CAN ride upwind with the right board and the right technique. If you can't, then you have to change your perception about boards and technique.

3. Technique: Fly your kite fairly high and ride as slowly as you can without bogging your board down in the water. Ride very upright because the more you lean, the more lift your board has to provide, which results in more required speed. If you and your board weigh 200 lbs, your board has to provide about 200 lbs of lift when you are riding upright. But if you lean back at a 60 degree angle, then your board will have to provide about 400 lbs of lift, which requires a lot more speed (which screws your aparent wind angle). Without relying on aggressive "edging" to keep your board pointed well upwind and it's speed moderated, you'll find that you have to rely on more of a "twisting" stance.

Riding slowly is a matter of experimentation and practise. Bend your forward leg to get your weight well forward over the board, allowing it to skim as flat as possible on the water. Concentrating your weight on the back of the board is great for carving and braking, but it also creates way more drag. When a gust hits, you may have to edge momentarily to point your board well upwind and modulate your speed, but resume a slow, upright riding attitude as quickly as you can. Every breath of wind counts, and you really have to work it - stay upright, weight forward, slow speed, and eek every bit of upwind angle you can. With a big flat board, you'll create almost no spray when you're doing it right.

In advance, to those that prefer other activities in lighter wind, you don't have to post to let us know. We all know you're out there, hopefully enjoying all of your pursuits.

Have a great long weekend,