Every day, when helping people find the right kiteboarding gear, we get asked the same question. “Why is the kite harness so expensive?” The next question as you would expect therefore is, “What am I going to get out of spending over $200-$300 on a piece of material which goes round my waist to attach a kite too?” Well, the answers are many and varied but the simple answer is that without a good kite harness you are looking at sessions accented with discomfort, tired arms and probably a bad back.
As always if there are phrases in this article that leave you scratching your head, then please see the REAL Jargon Buster to get your tech on!
How it all began:
The humble kite harness has its origins from sailing & windsurfing. When the pioneers of the sport realized holding down more power whilst planing required more than just feeble arms, they designed crude fabric seat harnesses. This did two things; it allowed the whole body to lever against the sail and, allowed the rider to use their arms for more technical skills. Essentially the theory has stayed constant into kiting but the design and construction has become even more important. There is not a kitesurfer out there today that can truly say, “I can take a session without a harness”. For kiting, the harness is as important as the ski boot is to skiing and therefore demands the same research as your kite or board, perhaps more!
Price Vs. Comfort:
Still you ask the question, why so much? The original sailing and windsurfing harnesses were fairly crude and simple. Thanks to their simple (and non-supportive) design, they were also inexpensive. When comparing them to today’s running shoes, the original harnesses were more akin to dutch wood clogs. The latest breed of kiteboarding harnesses have all the support, flex and lightweight features as the latest design in running shoes, ski boots, and other teched out sporting devices have.
What are the benefits? Ergonomic design and support that is adjustable to exactly fit the curve of your body. This keeps the power of the kite evenly distributed across your entire body and allows excellent mobility. It will also keep a healthy back healthy, and a problem back from flaring up.
The first time you saw expensive running shoes, you thought they were expensive until you tried running in them. The same goes for kiteboarding harnesses. You truly get what you pay for and it is a piece of equipment that you use for ALL of your kiteboarding, so a worthwhile expense.
Going Deeper – The Seat and the Waist Harness:
Breaking the harness down further, there are two main choices. The Seat and the Waist Harness. Both have their place in modern kiting and offer up various pros and cons to your riding.
The waist harness is the weapon of choice for roughly 80-90% of kiters. Shaped like a weight lifters belt, it Velcro’s around your mid section and offers support to the lower back. Waist harnesses tend to be either stiff or soft. The stiffer models such as the Dakine Pyro or Mystic Majestic give amazing support to the lower back. Intelligently located EVA and memory foam offer up great stability to the kiter with a history of lower back pain or for those wanting monster sessions. Softer harnesses such as the Dakine Renegade give the technical and progression orientated rider extra flexibility in the abdomen however typically less lower back support. I am sure you know which you are!
On the subject of support, one has to remember that while a harness normally outlasts a kite, after a few good seasons, a waist harness will have become so soft that it does not offer the same support it once did. Be mindful of this when looking at gear to cycle out at the beginning of the season and respond to what your body is telling you. If you never used to get sore from your harness but now come off the water complaining, it’s probably time to upgrade.
Seat harnesses have their lineage from windsurf race harnesses (and sailing trapeze harnesses). The leverage point relative to the kite is lower on your body and therefore allows you to sit down against the kite. This has two advantages. One, you can hold down more power and two, it stops the spreader bar hook riding up into your ribs. Many beginners start their kiting days stepping into a seat harness as it does prevent the spreader bar from riding up when the kite sits at the zenith (12 O’clock) for long periods. Seat harnesses have had a recent surge in popularity with the advent of a harness in the disguise of a pair of board shorts (Dakine Nitrous Shorts) however these do not typically offer the same support as a robust seat harness such as the Dakine Fusion. We would recommend a seat to anyone suffering from chronic and consistent back pain (and cannot wear a waist harness) as well as racers and speed freaks who want maximum leverage against the kite. They are also great for a boosting session!
Sizing and Super Tech:
Now you have decided which bracket you are in (seat or waist) we can take a closer look at what you will be getting when you decide to buy. The number one thing during this period, and we cannot stress it enough is to size the harness properly for your height/weight and body type. The best way to figure out which size is right for you is to work with someone who is familiar with all the brands, models and specific sizing characteristics of the best harnesses. When sizing your harness it is also important to let this person know if you will be wearing a thick wetsuit or if you will also be snowkiting in the same harness, as this may determine a size jump if you are right on the border. Finding the proper harness design and size is FAR more important than finding the least expensive harness, as you can reap the benefits during all of your kiting sessions, with all of your kites and kiteboards.
As we move forward, technology has continued to evolve. Kiteboarding harnesses now have memory foam, customizable lumbar support, advanced webbing straps and more... My advice is, as a pair of walking boots is to a hiker or snowboard boots to the mountain man, the kite harness will become your friend or foe depending on the effort and lengths you go to when choosing what you need next. A comfortable kiter is a happy kiter!
If there’s two things to leave you with, it’s that a properly chosen, fitted and sized harness fits like a glove, properly supports your back and allows you freedom of movement on the water. Your harness doesn’t last forever, so even though it hasn’t ripped in half, if it’s as faded as your original pair of Sundek boardshorts, it’s probably a good piece of equipment to be shopping for as we head into the Spring riding season.
Post a comment below or talk to a REAL Pro today to get you sized up for 2013.