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What Is Kite Surfing?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 19 April 2014
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Kite surfing is a sport that takes place on the surface of the water, on top of boards that are similar in design to wakeboards, with the surfer propelled by a kite that harnesses the power of the wind. The popularity of kite surfing has grown, although it is rather difficult to master, and can be dangerous if proper care is not taken. Kite surfing uses the same equipment as kite boarding, but is generally given more to riding on top of waves, rather than on smaller lakes or other placid bodies of water.

Early experiments in kite transportation took place through the 19th century, and at the dawn of the 20th century Samuel Cody crossed the English Channel using kites and a small boat. Kite surfing itself, however, wasn’t really born until the late 1970s. Beginning in that decade, more people became involved in using kites for personal transport and sport. Kite technology itself advanced enormously during the 1970s, with kites becoming much more controllable, and lines made of material like Spectra® and Kevlar® being more lightweight and sturdy than heavy kite string.

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Through the 1980s and early 1990s, a number of different kite systems for water were developed. People began to use kites in tandem with water-skis, surfboards, and skurfboards. This early kite surfing was rather haphazard, but innovators continued to develop the technology to make it easier to control and safer. In 1994 the KiteSki became commercially available, combining a kite with water-skis. By the late 1990s kite surfing was becoming popular off the coast of Maui, off the coast of France, and throughout the world.

In 1997, Dominique and Bruno Legainoux, two Frenchmen who had been instrumental in the early days of kite surfing and had a patent on an inflatable design, released the Wipika design. This inflatable kite system was built specifically for kite surfing, and was formulated to make relaunching from the water much easier. This helped propel kite surfing into the mainstream, and a year later it was a widely adopted sport, with a number of other commercial kite surfing kits available.

Because of the high speeds, and the dangers inherent in kite strings that can become tangled or get swept up in high winds, it is generally recommended that would-be kite surfers take at least a few basic classes to learn the fundamentals. It is important to have systems where the kite lines can be detached, and an emergency knife to cut lines if need be. After a fall the kite can potentially get swept away and haul the surfer underwater at high speeds, possibly slamming him into physical objects.

One of the main draws of kite surfing is the potential for awe-inspiring tricks. The kite allows the surfer to experience enormous jumps, flying through the air for large distances before hitting the water in a controlled fashion. Like skateboarding, kite surfing makes use of a number of board grabs, with complex tricks possible due to the long period of time the surfer can remain airborne.

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