By Trip Forman
“Riding the Ocean” seems to be on every beginner and intermediate rider’s wish list this season. Thanks to the power and maneuverability that kiteboarding allows, it’s easier than you think! Here are the basics to making the most of your first days in the ocean.
Gear and Set up
The gear that will make ocean riding the easiest and also the highest performance is gear that lets you concentrate on the waves and conditions rather than on your equipment.
Medium aspect kites are great in the waves. They relaunch fast which means less swimming and more riding. This often translates into the kite relaunching before it is destroyed by the next breaking wave. These kites also have a very consistent pull through the turn, with a very pivoty turning style. Both of these characteristics translate into excellent waveriding capabilities.
Short lines seem to be the buzz these days, but you can go too short and when you do, your jumping and windrange will suffer. Line lengths in the 27-23m range seem to have the best all around performance for jumping, waveriding and tricks. When you drop to 20m, you’ll find more responsive waveriding, but noticeably less lift in the jumps and your lightwind range will suffer when the breeze drops out.
While most any board will ride through the surf, boards specifically designed for the surf allow a more confident feel and also better turning and positioning on the wave. Wave specific boards normally have more rocker (bottom curve) and outline curve in order to fit well into the curves of the wave. Flat/square boards tend to feel really flat when put into a round wave. Larger fins help drive the board down the line like a surfboard rather than sliding around like a wakeboard. The larger fins also help with the choppy conditions often found outside the break. For example, I ride 2 or 2.5” fins on my wave board, where I normally ride 1.5” fins on my flat water board.
Launching and Landing
This is where 90% of the daily carnage can occur. The key to success is being 100% focused on getting through the shorebreak quickly and safely. On your way out, watch the shorebreak for a gap in the waves where you can ride out. When your chance comes, drop the hammer and get through the shorebreak quickly whether it be body dragging through the break or doing a beach start and planning through it on your board.
When you return to the beach, ride on the back of a wave and follow it up the beach. Get off your board and on dry sand, remembering to keep your bar movements quiet to prevent “loftings”. Stay focused leaving and returning to the beach!
Through the Break : Speed is your friend.
It’s a tuff one to admit, but I learned this one from windsurfing. Pointing your board off the wind and generating extra speed through the break keeps you in control of the situation. More speed equals more mobility in the break and faster direction changes when you need them. If you leave the beach edging too far upwind, you’ll bog down and get crunched by a wave. In light breeze and/or with beaches that have a lot of downwind current, pointing your board deeper off the wind for added speed is also the call. If you cut straight across the water with a lot of current, the current detracts from the windspeed and you’ll bog down again. Speed is your friend, so light it up!
Sucking it up and Sending it Big
On the way through the break, you’ve got the power to send it big off the waves. What you don’t always have is the option of where you’ll land. A good plan is to suck up the first several waves and plan your larger jumps off of the last wave in the set. You can “suck up” over a wave by edging slightly and then unweighting. You will jump low and long over the whitewater and can stomp down on the other side of the wave. Keep pointing off the wind to maintain your speed. Once you spot your outside nugget, choose your takeoff spot and keep your speed towards the ramp. Time the upward pull of the “flicked” kite with your takeoff point and at the last second throw in a sharp hook away from the kite. The combination of these will send you into the stratosphere off the wave. Make sure not to over correct the kite in the air. Keep the kite above your head for the majority of the flight then pull the kite front of you on your final approach to the water.
Outside the Break : No “Rainbow Reaches”
Rainbow Reaches, Whale Watches, Dream Reaches, whatever you call them, kiting to the horizon will get you nothing but trouble, especially in the ocean. Once outside the break, make your ground back upwind quickly and then spin around back towards the beach. The kiting on the horizon sucks. There are no breaking waves and no hot chicks, just long ass swims back to the beach when something breaks or you can’t relaunch your ribbon blimp. Keep it close to shore so your worst situation will be a bearable one.
Without a doubt, the fastest and safest way to learn how to ride the ocean is by doing downwinders. You can ride faster and stay in the break the entire time. “Ping-Pong” back and forth between the break and the beach, never more than a few hundred yards offshore. This eliminates long swims from the outside. If your local riding spot is downwinder friendly, take advantage of it because you’ll learn how to rip the ocean 5 times faster!
Use your Kite : The “Duck Dive”
One of the reasons kiting in the surf is so much easier than surfing or windsurfing is due to the power the kite generates. Use this to your advantage whether you are on your board or not. One trick can can help out in a jam is the duck dive. You can dive underneath the wave and let the kite pull you through and out the other side. You’ll need to keep the kite low to get under the wave and then pull it slightly higher to get out the other side. You can do this with or without your board. Windsurfers with broken masts and surfers with aching lungs will be tripping when they see you do this!
Here is where the fat kites rule. If your kite goes down, you need to get it back up quickly before it gets washed by a wave. You should be sprinting to relaunch from the second the kite hits the water. In the event your kite is down and about to get cleaned out by the set wave of the day, seriously consider letting it go (only if you have the downwind space or if you have a 100% depower safety leash). If you hold on and the wave loads the kite, you can seriously damage or completely destroy the kite. In this situation I normally hold on lightly until the pull gets extreme, then release. This way if there is a chance to relaunch, I’ll get it. Otherwise, I’ll save my kite for the next day’s session.
Whether you are relaunching your kite or body dragging for a lost board, always keep an eye on your board. Breaking waves can carry it towards your head or body very quickly. A good rule of thumb is not letting your board get in between you and a breaking wave. If it does, body drag away until the whitewater subsides. Board leashes are dangerous in flat water and suicidal in the surf. If you lose your board, the waves will wash it in to the beach, unless of course you are out on the horizon looking for a pot of gold. Leave the leash to your pooch and the horizon to the whales.
Once you’ve wired the above topics and are picking up waves on the way in, here are some tips to make the most of the swell. Try to pick up the last wave of the set, this will normally be the largest and also will have no waves behind it in case you fall. Once on the wave, edge upwind as the wave forms and steepens. This gains you upwind ground and also a nice “backside” ride.
Once the wave has peaked up, initiate your bottom turn by turning the kite back towards the wave and then turn your board off the wind to follow the pull. You need to think ahead, as there will always be a lag between the kite turning and the pull it will create. Keeping this in mind, once you are heading up the face after your downwind bottom turn, re-direct the kite towards the beach and prepare for your top turn or cutback off the top of the wave. Another way of generating downwind pull with the kite is by pin wheeling or looping this kite. This generates a ton of straight downwind pull and allows you to get around closed out sections of the wave and back onto clean face again. Surfers in the crowd will be glad to know, that with the larger fins and rockers of the wave specific kiteboards (twins or directional) you can pump the board up and down the wave like a skateboard ramp or an actual surfing wave.