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.
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.