If you get used to keep the kite at 12, chances are that, one day, your kite is going to stall and will you be prepared to react in the proper way?! Do you know how to avoid a gigantic faceplant on the sand?
Now you might think: “what are you talking about, Gio? I can put the kite at 12 and remove my hands from the bar and drink a beer, do a pirouette, high five my best friend, read a newspaper and my kite will be still sat comfortably there at 12 waiting for me to tell it what to do.”
And I’ll tell you: “come to El Médano, or any other gusty spot, with 10 knots of gusts, try that here and you let me know how it goes.”
Getting used to keep the kite at 12 is dangerous. Not always of course, but you shouldn’t get used to it.
Granted: if you are coming from a spot that has nice stable wind you’ll have almost no issues there. But, if you want to become a more conscious kiter who knows what’s the safest approach, keep on reading.
Too often we forget that kitesurfing is an extreme sport and we start to take stuff for granted. We think “oh no, that will not happen to me” and then sbadabaaam – karma comes and slaps you in the face! So, let’s talk about safety and which things we can improve to become an even more badass kiter!
If the wind is gusty and we keep the kite at 12 the chances are higher for the kite to frontstall and drop in the power zone. If the kiter is lucky, he/she is going to fall on the ground and dragged only for a few meters.
If the kiter is not lucky, the wind will pick up again while the kite is dropping in the power zone and you will be catapulted downwind. This is dangerous for the kiter but also for all the other people that are at the beach. And they are innocent and don’t deserve this 😛
I see on average 2 people per windy day experiencing this in El Médano. No joke.
Even the IKO has taken a strong position on the kite at 12 o’clock issue:
Let’s start from the basics: What is a kite frontstall?
A frontstall happens when the Angle of Attack of the kite becomes negative (for example the front lines lose tension or when the front lines are shorter than the back lines) and the kite drops forward towards the kiter. Granted, this mostly happens in light or gusty winds, but if you get used to keeping the kite at 12, when the time comes to test yourself in challenging conditions, you might forget about this and your could end up frontstalling. So, why not just avoid it altogether?
For me, the only reason to use the kite at 12 is when you move your kite from one side to another of the wind window. In general, in our kite life, we barely have to use the kite at 12 while at the beach…
Let’s review a few kitemare scenarios!
For the sake of this article, we will imagine our friend Joe, he’s a kite enthusiast and very eager to kite. He kites all the time he can. Joe is that one kiter friend that always has accidents and we never understand why.
This is Joe:
1. Trim the kite at 12
Joe remembers to trim his kite every now and then, and, when he does, he always trims it at 12 o’clock. While trimming the kite two bad things might happen to Joe:
1) his can kite frontstalls because he pulls on the trim with strength because it might be stuck and whoopsie he creates a negative Angle of Attack, the front lines become shorter and so Joe scores an own goal – the kite frontstalls.
2) Joe’s kite has a too positive angle of attack and it backstalls. The kite backstalls when there is too much Angle of Attack (AoA). The back lines are too short compared to the front lines and vice versa. The kite will start to move backward trailing edge first, lose all its power, and crash.
What Joe has maybe forgotten is that, while keeping the kite at 12 he’s making his life more complicated. When the kite is high up at 12 and it either front or backstalls it’s a long way down. While frontstalling, a gust could come in and pull him away as the kite is in the middle of the power zone. When it backstalls the kite could catch the wind and run towards the edge of the wind window, pulling Joe under the kite and frontstall as well! What a mess, Joe!!! And then everybody at the beach will say “oh, of course that was Joe…”
What can Joe improve? He could try to trim the kite with a 45 degrees angle, so if it frontstalls he could quickly move to find the tension in the frontlines. And, if it backstalls, the kite will be already on one side of the wind window and will be close to the ground. The damages in both cases will be less.
Bonus track: when a kite backstalls or frontstalls never pull the bar. If it catches power again, by having the bar pulled, we would be creating immediately full power to the kite! And how many time did we watch Joe flying away on the beach?!?
2. Walk upwind with the kite at 12
Our dear friend Joe, has just starting to ride and he still needs to do a lot of “walk of shame” to go back upwind. Joe walks upwing giving his back to the wind, walking backwards, with the kite at 12, one hand on the bar, one hand on the board. Joe, my dearest, walking backward limits your chances to see where you are going, there could be obstacles behind you like boards on the sand and you could fall.
What can Joe improve? Try to keep the kite at 45 degrees. Joe would then be able to turn his body towards the direction he want to go. It’s even easier to control the kite like this! And bonus, he can see where he is going 😛
3. Being lifted with the kite at 12
It’s Joe’s first gusty and strong wind experience. He has never ridden with a 7-meter and today is the day! Joe launches the kite, brings it to 12, and all of a sudden, due to 10 knots gusts, he is being lifted vertically up in the air. He feels completely overpowered and out of control. The kite is pulling him up, and he does involuntary jumps. You run to grab his handle otherwise he would fly away…
First of all, he should ask himself, if he’s at a level that he can ride overpowered and maybe go for a smaller kite (or a beer).
What can he improve?
What Joe doesn’t know is that by keeping the kite at 12 in strong gusty winds he has less ability to counterbalance the pull of the kite with his weight.
Joe could have tried to keep the kite on the sides, at 45 degrees, in this way, he can use his weight more efficiently. And most importantly, if he lets go of the bar, the kite will drop on the sand and the fall will be smaller and less powerful than if it has to drop from 12.
4. Adjusting anything with the kite at 12
Or with the kite flying in general…
As Joe lowers down to adjust his footstraps flying the kite at 12, he’s doing something dangerous. You think: “come on Joe it’s quite difficult to keep one eye on the kite while you have to look at your feet no?!” Also Joe could be pushing the bar down, shortening the frontlines and the kite could frontstall!
As Joe lowers down to connect the leash of his surfboard with the kite at 12, he could recreate a similar scenario as above.
What can Joe improve? Adjusting harnesses, footstraps, helmets, drinking water (or anything else) it’s safer to do while the kite is parked. Sometimes just for laziness we think “it’s going to take only a minute” and sbadabammmm karma…. Imagine an F1 driver tying his laces while driving… it makes no sense.
5. Talking with the kite at 12
Joe just had the session of his life, but he is still not done yet. He comes out of the water, wants to share the stoke with his friends, and drink a sip of water. He doesn’t want to park the kite because “it’s only going to take a minute”…. So, Joe is standing with the kite at 12 for 10 min in the middle of a small crowded beach.
Next time you see Joe doing this, please remind him to park the kite. It’s the safer option as the kite could stall but also when he stands up with the kite at 12 in the middle of the beach Joe is a bit in the way of other kiters coming in and out of the water. Let’s be aware and respectful of the shared space on the spot.
Bonus track this amazing video from Jeremie Tronet about 10 Common Mistakes All Kiteboarders Should Avoid