kiting in offshore winds
I will be the first to tell you it is a blast, in places like Pleasure Bay, Nahant, Katama, but it is fraught with peril. I refused to do it until I had about 5 seasons under my belt, but I am a cautious kiter. Maybe that is because I come to kiting from sailing and windsurfing, where the first concern is whether you will be able to get back to shore. Some kiteboarders come to our sport from snowboarding or wakeboarding, and while there are many parallels, here is the big difference. When skiing, you are in a very controlled environment, patrolled and roped off. Wakeboarding, you have an outboard engine which will get you where ever you want to go whenever you want to get there.
When we step off of the sandy beach and into the North Atlantic attached to a kite, we thrust ourselves into a very unforgiving environment in an exceedingly un-seaworthy craft. We are one component failing away from swimming back to shore, and that may well be without any floatation help. And there are dozen of components which can fail. From now through April, the water temperature is at a point where any length of time spent swimming means hypothermia is a race against time. Plus, sometimes, the wind just dies.
There are a number of precautions to take, reflector tape on your suit, carrying flares, etc. Some kiters on this forum have offered excellent concrete suggestions. But if you're someone who has less than a hundred sessions under their belt, you need to have a serious look around before you launch and ask yourself: "if I have to swim back, where will the wind and current take me?" There is not much boat traffic in the waters these days, and we did see the Coast Guard launch into action on Friday. The thrust of the article I read is how annoyed they get when they have to help us, that will be a subject for debate on a site other than this kiting one.
But seriously folks, let's not be lemmings. If Johnny Hujol is ripping the surf at Long Beach Nahant, he'll make it look easy, but that may be because he is arguably the best kitesurfer in the area. I refused to ride in offshore breezes there until he persuaded me that I was ready. Now I see the light, it is an amazing ride and I know the more I do it, the greater the chances that some day, I will have to make the call and release the kite and let it drift to Europe. And when you lose a kite or a board, call the police as soon as you get ashore so they don't go searching for you while you are at home basking in your hot bath.
So check out the beach pages and read up on the right spots for your skill level. Lets keep this sport a positive force in your life.
As a last resort, bring a personal epirb with you or carry your smart phone in a dry bag. You can make a phone call from the water once you are beyond the breaking waves. I don't think it is acceptable to waste taxpayer money getting saved, but it is less acceptable than getting dead.
People ask me if kiting is an extreme sport, and I liken it to skiing. It can be like blue cruisers, or it can be like ski-basing. I think offshore is kind of like skiing out of bounds, and offshore in the cold is like skiing out of bounds around sunset.
Of the three types of craft I have experience with, there is only one that you have any business being in an offshore breeze with and that is "in/on" a sailboat. This being said, I was surrounded by other boats (racing in my case) and would be spotted and assisted if I was in need of rescue.
The only other time is on a windsurfer. On occasion I would go out on an offshore breeze, but on a longboard with a daggerboard - designed to go upwind efficiently / has the volume to easily float your bodyweight in the event of wind/gear failure. Even then I was careful to use the buddy system and never go alone, or again it was a race situation and was surrounded by others. And I never did this in the wintertime.
Kiting offshore with at least one-hundred sessions under your belt? That's a just a judgement call even with all of your safety gear and precautions. Unless you're certain to stay in shallow enough water or there's someone on hand to rescue you at the drop of a hat, I wouldn't do it.
You're level of expertise in kiting is good until you have no longer use of your kite, then unless you can potentially sustain the worst case scenario of hours exposure (a risk anytime of the year) or are professional long distance swimmer, you're kiting skills won't mean a thing.
I am going to nerd out here:
Let's say your kite costs you $1200. Let's be generous and say you can get 200 sessions out of your kite if you take care of it, but ride hard. $6 per session.
Let's assume you kite offshore 1 out of every 10 sessions and are experienced, your chances of needing to eject to save yourself and losing your kite is 20%. You could go about 50 sessions before you lose your kite.
At the failure rates above, you are completely risking your kite 4 times during the kite's life.
However, when in the kite's life that you kite offshore will make a difference to you:
If you are 20 rides into your new kite, then you have 180 rides left, and your kite is still worth $1080 to you. You go kiting offshore with a 20% chance of losing it. The offshore session is worth $216 (1080 x 20%). The chance of losing your new expensive kite outweighs the "fun" of kiting offshore. Plus, you would feel extra bad if you lost a new kite. Not worth it.
If you are 90% through the life of your kite and it is only worth $120, then it makes it easier to swallow if you had to eject the kite. The cost of the session is $24 ($120 x 20%). Would you pay $24 to have a good session while being completely okay if you had to eject your kite? Perhaps.
Good discussion which have informed my policy on offshore kiting:
1. Only go if it is less than 30 degrees offshore. (90 degrees being completely offshore) If it is 90 offshore, the wind is just too gusty and lumpy.
2. Stay within 400 m of shore. Short tacks, jump close to the beach. For me with a board and swamped kite, that is a 40 minute swim. I know I can do that. (I don't have a drysuit and don't kite in water temps below what I can take in my wetsuit.
3. Realize that I may have to ditch my beloved kite to get back to shore, but I can keep the board the use as flotation in addition to wetsuit.
4. Most importantly: be out there with 2 other kiters who are very experienced, and who we have an agreement to help each other if we dumped our kites offshore. This means any one of them could kite to me in the water, body drag me + kite + board to shore, while the other guy watches us.
5. In the past, I've kited with 2 dozen people, a handful who were doing really good unhooked tricks. None of them would go in offshore breezes. Part of this is because the Charleston wind was good enough that you could just wait a couple days, or find the small points on a peninsula to be sideshore enough. Once in a while, someone would go in offshore breeze, but the rest of the skilled community would stand on the beach talking about how stupid he was. If it was a relative newbie who had no idea, someone would let them know it wasn't a great idea. When you saw all the really good guys not going out in offshore, it said something about the risks.
So the real question for you experienced mavens:
What is the longest swim you've had during an offshore session, and how much gear did you lose?
For me, about 1 hour, no gear lost.
Way to break it down! Finally some honest talk.
I'd say you might drift a quarter mile before you're ready to ditch...at least for me, kite gets tangled kinda easily. Should be prepared to survive a few hours in water, if its winter it means drysuit and a high loft fleece.
In gnarly winter conditions, I don't ride without a personal locator beacon. Gets dark quick.
Beached boat on a sandbar in shallow water with offshore wind and a beach 1 mile away on the other side, but a 1/2 mile cut going out to sea. Wind died, kite fell from air and I started to drift away from and parallel to shore with the outgoing tide and wind. Very scary moment which ended just fine but scared enough to never, ever try offshore under any circumstances. Just not worth it for me.
Two words for me......NOT HAPPENING.
I do not even like windsurfing offshore unless I can hug the beach and rip back and forth like Nahant on a west. Nahant gets deep pretty quick. I find you do not have enough leverage to hold back kite unless the water is not any higher than your waist, if its gets chest high your going out. And unless you have some boat support you are screwed.
100 sessions experience minimum. Put your name and phone# on your gear in case you ditch it and have the coast guard # saved in your phone, call them and police as soon as you're back on land if you ditch gear. And if you do go out, it's with buddies, close to shore, watching each others' backs, and from the start you are planning what you'll do WHEN your gear fails you not IF. I haven't done many offshore or even side-off sessions, but I've had plenty of gear breakage in onshore wind. Yes you can and should maintain your kite, inspect lines, replace fraying bridle lines but there's lots of other stuff that can fail.
I agree with Jermy.
Just don't go out in off wind. Unless there's a buddy with a boat on standby that can pick you up.
I am afraid this thread might do more harm than good actually. All the people saying something along the lines: "check your equipment, make sure and then go" yes, that is not exactly what they say, they add that still anything can go wrong. But it reads more like "if you know what you are doing it's ok" and that sends a very wrong message.
We are literally at the mercy of the elements and asian quality control here. Don't fool yourself and stay safe.
I am fairly experienced, and I have kited in side-off winds on open water a few times, but after watching a buddy get blown around the tip of Nahant, I haven't done it again. Even for an experienced kiter, it's a ticking time bomb of an equipment malfunction.
The photo at the start made me think: if you are in a drysuit, you should not be kiting offshore winds. The drysuit is not designed to keep you warm for extended periods of time in hypothermia-producing water. I* wouldn't gamble my life on the S&R boat finding me in a stormy sea in under two hours from the time I hit the water.
Good point Shane. Swimming in a drysuit is nearly impossible
Well said Jean, I second that idea of a minimum of 100 sessions is required for offshore kiting, especially in winter conditions. By then we should all have experienced gear failure and multiple self-rescues, plus gained solid upwind riding ability and most importantly judgement about how far out to tack, when to turn back, and when to call it. It's OK to call it, you will always get another session.
Sam is on the money about being proactive on gear: check the wear on all bridle lines, depower lines, etc, patch pinholes in your canopy, understand that your gear will eventually wear down and if you're kiting in winter, replace or repair before that happens. Believe me I've had a canopy tear in summer (side off) and bridle lines snap in winter (onshore) - when something goes wrong in cold weather it's unforgiving.
I would like to see us get through the winter with zero more Coast Guard boats involved. We're lucky to live near so many great kite spots but remember they can be taken away from us.
Nice post. Things can go wrong, you can loose your kite, loose your board, a dry-suit seal can fail, etc. This can end your session, cost you some money, but no more. Obviously, you check your gear, check the environment and you always have an exit strategy. Even the best, with gear that is in tip top shape can experience a failure.
One thing that does happen in many "extreme" sports is that bad outcomes generally accrue to participants at the two ends of the skill spectrum. Beginners run into trouble because they don't have the skills or judgement to avoid it. Experts run into trouble because they become less and less sensitive to the risks as they have more and more positive experiences. They become casual and frankly less cautious than they should be. So as Phil Esterhaus used to say, "Hey,.. lets be careful out there!"
Excellent post. It doesn't take much going wrong to put you in a dicey situation.
Great post. I learned early on offshore was bad especially in deep, cold waters. I had never even contemplated it again but then I became a follower. Just because others do it, doesn't make it wise.
I learned the dangers of side-off wind the hard way this week in Nahant. I ended up in the next beach in the rocks. Things can happen quickly. This was right before one kite was blown in the ocean and Cost Guards came searching.
Great post. Nahant offshore seems to have become too much of a "casual" spot to be at.
It really annoys me seeing as many posts as I have in the last year or so for people announcing that they are going to kite in offshore winds at Nahant. If you are going to do it, text your buddies and stop announcing it on the site for all the inexperienced kiters to read and get the wrong ideas. You guys are making it seem like a cool club that people want to aspire to be in. All we hear on here is about those "great offshore conditions" at Nahant and it's sending the wrong message. Kiting in offshore conditions is unsafe and selfish. Your life could be at stake, especially in winter. Or at least think of the thousands of taxpayer dollars you are wasting when you would have to be rescued. And what if kiting got shut down at that beach because you just had to get that sesh in?
Stop glorifying it on here. Keep it to yourselves. It could help save a life ;P
Great info Jean and sound advice regarding the skill level required to even attempt riding offshore winds. I hit Nahant a few weeks ago with several other MK members and at the time I was riding pretty good in one direction but struggling to get going left foot forward (I ride my snowboard goofy foot). When I got there the wind was non existent and then it began to build. We raced to pump our kites and set up our lines and finally had a window of wind.
First couple of runs I was feeling more comfortable in both directions and on the next run went a bit further out with the side, slightly offshore winds pointing to Lynn. A couple hundred yards out I began my noob transition in and the wind died - completely. Several failed attempts to relaunch and the light-bulb went off with Rod's voice instructing me on self rescue.
I started to wind my lines and make my way to the kite and then a slight cramp set in which slowed me down a bit. Eventually I made my way to the kite and started to swim with kite and gear back to shore but even with a side-off it was not easy. I can't imagine how it would be with an offshore wind.
I was lucky to not have gone too far outside of my comfort zone, lucky I had a wetsuit on, lucky I went into self rescue mode immediately and fortunate enough to have guys on the beach (with kites grounded) watching my every move.
That day made me a better and smarter kiter and a lot more appreciative of harsh conditions we face every time we hit the water. Check back with me in 5 years and I'll let you know if I have garnered the experience and confidence to try a straight offshore attempt.
Proactively replace your old lines and bridles! Setup a new bar for the winter and or those days you just cannot afford a gear failure.. I currently have 3 bars and generally know which of them has the most sessions on them. So when its really windy and and going to be Megalooping I know I have that bar I can trust! Even then mistakes and failure can happen. Lines are cheap compared to broken body, lost kites, and coastguard rescues.
Even side shore can be scetchy if you are out a ways and your drift path does not hit land.