The sport of Kitesurfing has evolved quickly since its humble beginnings just a few short years ago.

In a way, it makes sense to trace its roots back to the evolution of Surfing. However, the sport of Kitesurfing has had the luxury to evolve in a more modern age, with a wealth of technology and innovators to help it on its way.

Today we see design of the highest level performance and specialized kitesurfing equipment, with modern kites and boards resembling Ferraris of the Sky compared to their earlier Model T Ford and VW Beetle counterparts.

Surfing, Man and Predestination

Angel Paintings
There’s no getting away from it

I think it is safe to say that Surfing was almost predestined to evolve into this unforeseeable yet somehow inevitable future, creating the water sports we have come to know today, like Windsurfing and ultimately Kitesurfing. It’s all a process of adding dimensions.

The roots of surfing are surely ancient. The sport was born in a time and place long ago, and probably far away. Time must have felt endless yet short for primordial man, living by the command of his primal instincts and the grace of Mother Nature’s forces.

Sun Worship
Image credit http://donglutsdinosaurs.com/

Once he had mastered his local environment, survival and reproduction were no longer the only things he had time to consider. As he sat staring at the sea, surely his intrigue at the forces of nature would have stimulated his imagination, ultimately leading to his determination to harness the raw power of the wave. And this must have given him an itch more intolerable than his fleas, an itch to override his mundane hunter/gatherer instincts and ride the real and figurative wave.

Man, watching the ebb and flow of the endless sea of waves, captured the answer to his longing.

Endless Longing

‘I am Man. I will ride wood on wave!

And Man made a hopeless attempt to ride the first bit of driftwood that floated by, without much success. So he adapted his primitive tools to carve that first performance shape, the change that would let him balance and carve on the wave.

Finding a new and exhilarating experience, his longing became his addiction.

The figurative wave became his literal release, as he found his eternal Zen, harnessing the untamed forces of Mother Nature. In time, his addiction gave birth to a culture which gave birth to a revolution. How could Man have known that his primal quest to ride wood on wave would eventually create The Californian Dream?

As wave riding was mastered, man’s insistent evolutionary drive to Surf bigger waves was conquered. It was only natural that he would seek the next logical step, to harness and master the next dimension, the power of the wind.

The second dimension

Second Dimension
No, not like that

From this came the adaptation of ‘sail attached to board’ and, lo, windsurfing was born. Man was now able to zip cross the water, at speeds faster than any other non motorized craft. This new two dimensional sport was a true waterman’s delight.

Windsurfing Tarifa
Like this

Windsurfing offered both the freedom to move long distances at speed on the water and a tool to ride the waves while harnessing the wind. But what would come next?

The third dimension. Natch

3D
3D!

Could primordial man, while first carving his wooden plank, have envisioned an age where human size high performance kites would zip the surfer along the water at death defying speeds? A way to conquer a third dimension and launch the rider to incredible heights while performing visually spectacular gymnastics in the sky, requiring only tiny control inputs to a bar and kite?

Whether he envisioned it or not, it happened. Today the sport of Kitesurfing is a true wonder to behold, and a life changing sport for all who learn its secrets. From this new sport another new culture has emerged. Beaches the world over have been transformed by the colours and silhouettes of kites up to 24 meters in size dancing across the skyline.

The beginnings of Kitesurfing

The humble beginnings of Kitesurfing in the late 1980s saw ‘kite like’ equipment such as basic paraglider canopies attached to the would-be kitesurfer, as he struggled on a basic surfboard or windsurfing board. This primitive attempt worked. To a point. However the rider only had one place to go: downwind.

Beginning of Kitesurfing

Next stop Africa!

Think about it. Tarifa was one the the birthing grounds of the sport. Before modern(ish) equipment arrived, the kitesurfer could not move up wind and ultimately back to the beach, so unless you were both careful and lucky the next stop after leaving the beach in Tarifa could be Africa.

Although this method of traversing the Straits of Gibraltar from Spain to Africa offered the rider a very reasonable €70 saving versus taking the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier, it was not optimal for the progression of the sport.

As a sailboat tacks against the wind, so does the modern day kitesurfer, enabling him/her to arrive back on the beach at the same spot he/she left the beach from. This is called travelling upwind, and creating the equipment to master this was key to the development of the sport.

Early Upwind Kite
An early upwind-capable kite. Cameras weren’t great back then either.

With the early foil kites, water starts were very difficult – they’d fill up with water. So if you made a mistake and dropped your kite you were pretty much stuck, just floating around in the ocean. Then, towards the late 90’s, the first LEI (Leading Edge Inflatable) Kites arrived on the market.

Leading Edge Inflatable kites

LEIs offered the vital ability to steer upwind and relaunch from the water but, for the first few years, these new kites on the market only had 2 lines, giving the kitesurfer decent steering control but no safe braking (depower) system.

In the year 2002, almost as a symbolic millennial transformation in the progression from wood riding to modern kitesurfing, the much higher performance 4 line kite was introduced to the market. 4 line kites offered two huge improvements over what had come before.

Modern safety systems

Firstly, 4 line kites provided a simple and functional safety release system and controlled braking.

Safety release systems in the late 90´s were like a shoe lace loop on your shoe, and the only way to release the kite from the rider was to place your finger in the loop and pull. The problem was that when the kitesurfer needed to release the kite, he or she would have already been out of control and it was highly problematic to complete this safety release procedure.

With the introduction of the 4 line bars came the toggle, push and release safety system. With this system, when the kitesurfer finds him/herself in an emergency situation, a worst case scenario being pulled out of control at high velocity, the toggle and push made it very easy to release the kite from the rider – you just push the toggle, and the kite depowers while remaining attached to you. This has ultimately prevented many serious accidents.

Tricks and Freestyle and stuff

The other great advantage of the 4 line kite is that it has far superior flying characteristics that offer the rider the ability to perform spectacular new tricks. Today’s performance kites allow very high levels of advanced freestyle and wave riding with amazing levels of controllability and stability that were unimaginable not so long ago.

Gray Freestyle
Freestyle

More tricks, more fun and fewer broken people? That’s what we call a millennial leap in technology!

Professionalism

Today Kitesurfing has its own world professional tour (PKRA), Governing Body (IKA), and official educational body (IKO). The sport of Kitesurfing will truly hit the world stage for billions of people to see with its Olympic debut in the 2018 Toyko Games.

Olympic Kitesurfing
www.kitesurfing.lydiasnider.com
From wood riding to here – where next?

For now we will only see one discipline, speed racing, at the 2018 Olympics. Yet who knows – although we have arrived here at the current zenith of kitesurfing (and surfing) evolution, beginning with that age-old quest to ride the waves, perhaps in time the Olympic committee will adopt the 18 other disciplines of Kitesurfing, including freestyle and wave riding, and allow the world to be inspired and captivated by them.

Kite powered boats – a different way to play

Kite powered boats are something that haven’t really received the attention I think they should. A kite is a brilliantly simple and efficient way of powering a boat and kite powered boats can provide a whole load of fun without the complexity of equipment and maintenance that a traditional sail boat requires.

My better half sails racing dinghies, and we both sail yachts, but the cost and hassle of buying, maintaining and storing a sailing boat has always put us off buying one. We both started kitesurfing last year, and it crossed my mind that you could easily power a boat with a kite. A quick search of the web showed me I wasn’t the first person to have that idea!

In the 1800s, George Pocock used kites of increased size to propel carts on land and ships on the water, using a four-line control system—the same system in common use today. Both carts and boats were able to turn and sail upwind. The kites could be flown for sustained periods. ifkitesports.org

The potential for fun a kite powered boat has is amazing – it’s not just the speed, also the fact that all the moving bits are miles up in the air means there’s much more opportunity to mess about on the boat! Disclaimer – I’d never recommend messing about on the water – ever!

One off kite boats

Kite powered boats - the Kite Scooter

Up til now it looks like most of the kite boats out there are one offs – some of them are fast, specialist boats like this mega catamaran…

while others have been cool little hobby projects like the kite scooter

or just people taking the mast off a boat and having a play around

Kite Tender

A Dutch company is now building a commercially available kite powered boat, the Kite Tender. It’s a brilliantly simple little thing, a monohull boat specifically designed to be powered by a kite. It’s easy to store and transport, and so long as you have some idea how to sail a dinghy and fly a kite it’s supposed to be really easy to learn. I’m hoping to get down to Tom Court’s place on the Isle of Wight later this year to find out for myself!

I’m sure there are plenty more kite boats out there – let us know if you’ve seen any good ones.

Tarifa Wind and Weather Phenomena

The Tarifa wind is famous across the world. Tarifa’s situation on the Strait of Gibraltar at the meeting of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean blesses our town with some of the world’s most powerful and consistent wind effects. This happy accident of geography is the reason Tarifa boasts some of the most unique weather phenomena in the world and has become a global destination for kite surfing and windsurfing. That and its friendly people, beautiful beaches and wonderful restaurants and buzzing nightlife.

Levante and Poniente

The Levante and Poniente are the dominant winds in Tarifa. The Levante can be extremely strong in Tarifa, usually around 30 knots, but sometimes it blows for days at a time at 50 knots or more. It is an easterly wind that originates in North Africa and blows across the Mediterranean and out into the Atlantic ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar.

The Poniente is the Westerly wind blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean. It tends to be less strong than the Levante, generally about 20 knots or so, but is usually much smoother and less gusty. The Levante and Poniente both blow more strongly in Tarifa than elsewhere because of the Venturi effect created by the Strait of Gibraltar.

The Venturi Effect/h2>
The Strait of Gibraltar tapers between Spain and Morocco. Its narrowest point is only 11 kilometres across and is framed by mountains on either side, forcing a constant volume of air through an ever smaller space. The wind speed must therefore increase to keep the same volume of air moving through the smaller space. Tarifa sits directly in the venturi´s path, creating a localised wind magnifier. This creates a strong inflow venturi effect when the Poniente is blowing and an even stronger outflow effect when the Levante is the prevailing wind.

Thermal wind

There are localized thermal wind effects in Tarifa, most notably at Valdevaqueros on a sunny day. Thermal wind is caused by the sun heating up the land so the hot air over the land rises and the cooler ocean air races in to fill the gap. This means thermal winds are usually onshore winds which are ideal if you want to learn to kitesurf in Tarifa.

Less common winds

In winter the prevailing wind is the Sea Breeze, which generally provides good kitesurfing conditions.

The North wind is not optimal for kitesurfing in Tarifa because of the wind shadow caused by the surrounding mountains. To avoid the wind shadow effect you need to be 7 times the height of the mountain away. If you’re closer than that you’ll experience circular, gusty winds which make kitesurfing difficult and potentially dangerous. Luckily the north wind only blows for a few days a year.

Check our Twitter feed for regular news on the wind conditions in Tarifa

See the infographic below for a visual explanation of the wind conditions in Tarifa

Tarifa Wind Infographs

Check out the wind in Tarifa today on Windguru.