WHERE SHOULD I LEARN TO KITESURF?
TOP TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE CHOOSING WHERE TO TAKE YOUR KITESURFING COURSE
This blog post was written by Lew - one of the most experienced and well-travelled instructors at Kite Control Portugal. He teaches in both English and Italian and has been kitesurfing for over 15 years, competing and teaching various disciplines of the sport all over the world. Here's what he says to say...
THE WIND FOR KITESURFING
It kind of goes without saying that wind is pretty essential in order to learn how to kitesurf. You are, after all, flying a kite! Without a stiff breeze, it's going to be pretty difficult to master the art of flight. So, once you have a rough idea of where you might like to begin your kitesurfing adventure, the first thing to do is check various wind forecast websites to make sure you are headed to your desired location at the right time of year. Almost every kitesurfing destination, no matter where it is, will be better at certain times of the year compared to during other periods. This is to say that there will be an ‘ON SEASON’ and an ‘OFF SEASON’. The number of total beginners I have taught over the years who told me they were super excited about learning how to kitesurf and booked a two-week long trip completely dedicated to a kitesurfing course… only to find that they went to the spot during the off season and found no wind and little else to do. This is always so disappointing to hear, especially when it is so easily avoidable nowadays due to a wide array of intelligent, user-friendly and easy-to-read wind forecast websites. However, that does not so say it is not an easy mistake to make. If you are not an experienced kitesurfer who is super familiar with having to check the weather conditions all the time, it is all too easy to forget that you 100% rely on the wind to complete your kitesurf course so, REMEMBER TO CHECK at which time of year your desired kitesurfing destination will provide the best conditions for you to learn. Check this reliable wind forecast websites before you go.
P.S. Remember you are looking at the wind forecast for the specific spot you wish to visit!
Typically speaking, the best kitesurfing spots in Europe & more generally in the northern hemisphere are better to ride during the summer months (due to higher temperatures and more favourable winds), whereas kitesurfing spots in the Southern Hemisphere are better during their summer months (so our winter season). Almost all kitesurfing spots in Europe are more favourable during the summer months, quite simply due to the better weather. Learning how to kitesurf in cold water is not much fun and typically puts people off the sport altogether. Particularly if that is their first experience of a water sport. In any case, nowadays there are so many cheap flights to amazing kitesurfing destinations all over the world that you should not really have to learn in super cold water. Trust us on this one. Choose to take a kitesurfing course where you know you won’t be freezing to death every second you are in the water. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you enjoy your time in the water. Do you really want to look back at the pictures/video that your awesome instructor took of you and think… “oh boy, I was absolutely freezing during that session!”
NOTE: This is not to say that you should only choose to learn to kitesurf in crystal clear, turquoise water that is warm enough to take a bath in. Sure, that might be rather tempting, but can also be quite costly and may require you to travel outside of Europe. Wearing a wetsuit is not a problem and literally takes 2 minutes to put on and take off again. And wearing a wetsuit can make a huge difference. It not only makes you feel warm but also safe, and can actually make wearing the harness more comfortable. The point is here is simple, just try your best not to take your first kitesurfing course in super cold water as the chances are that you probably won’t enjoy it.
Lastly, with regards to learning how to kitesurf, there is such a thing as too much wind. We know, it sounds a little paradoxical. However, we are speaking from years of experience of both teaching total beginners and riding for our own pleasure. The best wind strength to learn how to kitesurf, in our humble opinion, is between 14 - 22 knots. This admittedly is a relatively small range wind range, but you will find that several locations in and around Europe do offer such prime conditions as these. A steady wind between 14 - 22 knots will give you plenty of power with which to really get to grips with handling your kite whilst always staying in control and not feeling too ‘over-powered’. This is perhaps particularly important if you are quite light or also a little apprehensive about the course. An average wind speed of around 14 - 22 knots will be perfect for using sizes of kites that are user-friendly and easy to handle.
Very small kites have to be used when the wind is extremely strong (above 25 knots) and very large kites have to be used when the wind is super light (13 knots or below). The problem with very small kites as that they are very quick to turn and thus more difficult to handle if you are a beginner, whereas very large kites can be quite heavy, slow to steer & more cumbersome in general. Of course, at times you will simply have to adapt your kite size to the (light/strong) wind conditions on offer, and your instructor will be there to explain and justify his choice of kite size with your best interests in mind. This may mean having to use both small kites and large kites during your kitesurfing course. We simply mention such things, particularly the importance of the wind speed, so that you have an idea of exactly what wind conditions we advise are best for taking a kitesurfing course. The size of kite that you will use during your kitesurf course should always be left to your instructor to decide and will depend primarily on two things: 1) Your weight 2) The wind strength
If you are ever unsure about the wind conditions at any particular kitesurfing spot or school during a certain time of the year then just contact them and find out. This can also be a good test to see if the school is organised or not, as they should typically reply in a day or less. If they don’t, chances are they are either badly organised, too busy, or it is their offseason and they are all on vacation kiting someplace else! Either way, these are all good reasons for you to choose another destination to begin your kitesurfing journey.
SHALLOW WATER MAKES KITESURF LESSONS EASIER
Shallow water is beneficial for several reasons when you are looking to learn how to kitesurf. You want flat water that is predominantly no more than chest deep. The best would be to find a large area with plenty of space that is pretty much waist deep wherever you go. Shallow water makes life easier for both you and your instructor and here’s why.
YOU WILL FEEL SAFER as you can stand up whenever and wherever you like, also making it easier for your instructor to reach you after every attempt at standing up on the board or body dragging. If you crash the kite then you don’t need to tread water until you are able to get it back in the air again. You will be able to simply stand up, take a good look at the bar and a deep breathe as you relaunch your kite in your own time. You will also use far less energy than you would by taking the lesson in deep water, and this helps a lot. By taking a kitesurfing course in shallow water you can save your energy for when you really need to use it, relaxing in-between various attempts and exercises so that you can enjoy the whole experience and not feel totally destroyed by the end of your sessions. If you fall off the board (we said ‘if’) then you can also find and collect it much easier. Where there is shallow water it is far more likely that the surface of the water will be relatively calm and flat. We cannot stress enough just how important this is when you are looking to take a kitesurfing course for the first time.
I personally believe that flat water is as important to think about as the wind is when choosing where you should learn to kitesurf. Flatwater makes you feel like you are in a calm environment and makes it much easier to control and relaunch your kite, to bodydrag, to put your board on your feet, to stand up and balance on the board, to ride upwind, etc, etc. The list is essentially endless but the most important thing to take from this is that flat water will make your life easier when learning how to kitesurf, so do your best to discover the conditions at the kitesurfing spot where you wish to take your course.
I have taught in many places over the years, travelling for pleasure to different countries with widely varying conditions for kitesurfing. I like the challenge, and it helps me to visit places I would never previously have thought about checking out. A few years back I was in Capetown, a well-known Mecca for kiteboarders the world over. I was so stoked to finally be in kitesurfing heaven. The wind was pumping every day, and, on this 30km stretch of beach, there wasn’t one sunbather in sight. Everyone came to the beach for one reason and one reason only; to kitesurf. One of the first things to hit me after venturing out into the water was that I felt I had been taken back to the first few days of my own kitesurfing course, over 15 years ago, when I was barely just learning how to find my feet and stand on the board for more than 5 seconds. The water in Capetown was so choppy that I really struggled during that session to find my feet. It was almost like survival kiting. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was awesome. Everything was in flux and in constant motion. I had adrenaline dripping out of my ears the entire time. However, there is no way in a billion years I would recommend those conditions, or anything even remotely similar, to anyone looking to learn how to kitesurf for the first time. The water was ice-cold, choppy and super wavy. The wind was upwards of 30 knots and considerably gusty. Every time I crashed I lost my board and felt like I was in a washing machine until I found it again. Why am I telling you all this? Because if you don’t choose the right conditions to take your kitesurfing course, you could find yourself in the same situation. Even worse, you could put yourself off this amazing sport simply because you got dealt a bad hand with regards to the conditions. For me, this would be totally unfair to you. I had an amazing time in Capetown and it is genuinely one of my favourite places to ride, but that doesn’t mean I would recommend it for total beginners. I have been kitesurfing for over 15 years and even for me, those first few sessions in Capetown were pretty challenging. So do yourself a favour and find conditions that are favourable for someone looking to take their first ever kitesurfing course, rather than someone looking to break a world record.
IS THERE PLENTY OF SPACE FOR YOUR KITE LESSONS?
This is probably one of the most common problems that both kitesurfing schools and the students in those schools face nowadays. There are hundreds of world-class kitesurfing spots over the world that have conditions worth bragging about. No doubt about it. But no matter how consistent the wind is or how flat the water is, how soft and sandy the beaches are or how amazingly dedicated the instructors might be… if the spot is too busy then it can be a stressful environment in which to learn. By busy, just to be clear, we mean that the water is full of kites. There should never be anything else in the water if there are people learning how to kitesurf, so definitely don’t choose a beach which is full of people sunbathing, or water where there are hungover teenagers riding around on jet skis! Not a good idea. A reputable kitesurfing school should be teaching at a beach that is restricted for people looking to learn how to kitesurf, with a few other activities going on in the same area as possible.
It's always best to first do your research and start by perhaps finding out how many kite schools there are in the surrounding area. Chances are if the area is relatively small and there are 10 kitesurfing schools all located right next to one another then the water is going to be busy. A lot of traffic in the water normally makes individuals looking to learn how to kitesurf for the first time pretty stressed and anxious. Whilst those intermediate riders and more advanced kiters can know how to navigate busy waters, beginners often don’t. Even if the water is full of fantastic kiters, that doesn’t necessarily mean that those riders follow the rules of the ‘right of way’ or are going to give you appropriate space in which to learn. The point is that you want to choose a kitesurfing destination and a kitesurfing school where there is a dedicated teaching area for the beginners to learn in, and a separate area for the independent kiteboarders. This way you can make sure that you can learn how to kite in a calm, controlled environment, with your instructor by your side and plenty of space in which to learn from your own mistakes. A good kitesurfing school should always ensure that the area which has been saved for the students of that school to learn in is respected from all the other, more independent riders.
It can be difficult for you to know if a kitesurfing spot is busy or not if you have never been there, but it is an important thing to take into consideration. If the water is full of kites then this can turn your first experience from an enjoyable one into a stressful one. Our top tip is to check the PICTURE GALLERY and VIDEOS of the local kitesurfing spot so that you can check out the conditions for yourself.
DOES THE KITE SCHOOL HAVE ONLINE REVIEWS?
Testimonials are the most reliable source of determining whether or not the previous students of a kitesurfing school have been happy with their experience of learning how to kitesurf with that school. The best places to check are TRIP ADVISOR, GOOGLE, & FACEBOOK. By using different online sources you can see if the reviews of a kitesurfing school are largely positive, reliable, and up to date. This can also give you a clue as to the busiest time of the season for any particular kite school as, more often than not, the frequency of posted reviews will coincide with the busy teaching period.
In the reviews, you should look for what the students say about the conditions they had for completing their kitesurfing course and how well they got along with the instructors. Was there both private courses and group kitesurfing courses to choose from? Were the instructors friendly, experienced and patient? Was the equipment used for the lessons up-to-date and in good condition? Were there several languages on offer in which you can choose to do the kite course? Does the school reply to messages promptly and are they generally well organised… and was the vibe of the school the kind of vibe you, yourself, are looking for?
These are all things that can help you make the right choice when opting for where to do your first ever kitesurfing course. You should have a great time both in and out of the water so try to uncover as much as you possibly can about what else you can do in the local area as well as the quality of the kiting conditions and tuition on offer. Is the local nightlife good and are there great places to eat nearby? Can you go surfing at other beaches close to the kiting spot? Does the school also offer Stand up paddle boarding or other similar activities that you’d like to try? Again, try to find out as much as you can so there are as few unwelcome surprises as possible when you arrive.
Online testimonials are really one of the best ways for you to make an informed, reliable decision about where to go to either begin or continue your kitesurfing journey. A quick Google search of any kitesurfing school, followed by the words ’Trip Advisor’. should tell you all you need to know.
WHAT LANGUAGES DO THE KITE INSTRUCTORS SPEAK?
Most kite schools will offer kitesurfing courses in English and the native language of the country in which the school is situated. It is important to choose a kite school that has qualified instructors that can teach in a language that you can speak well. Of course, the best option is to learn in your own mother tongue. From my own experience teaching people from more countries than I care to remember, I can honestly testify that the use of slang, cultural references and relatable metaphors makes teaching kitesurfing in my own native tongue really, really, useful. I can transmit exactly what message I am trying to get across to the student and to also build a relationship with students more quickly if I do the lesson in English. Building a relationship of trust is important for me personally because it makes my students feel calm and safe, which, in turn, helps them focus on the tasks I set for them. It is when both you and your instructor enjoy the course that you will really get the most out of it, so try your best to do the course in a language that you can speak well. This way you will both be able to relax and enjoy your time together as you communicate the concepts of kitesurfing. It also means that after the lesson you can enjoy each other’s company over a cold beer!
Side note: I have taught several kitesurfing lessons over the years to people that did not speak English very well, and I was still able to teach them how to kitesurf. So, don’t worry too much about this. It is not that doing the lesson in a language you do not speak absolutely fluently is impossible. Not at all. More that I feel, perhaps personally, that being able to communicate effectively allows both the student and the instructor to be more relaxed, and therefore likely to enjoy each others company. At the risk of stating the obvious, you are less likely to get frustrated if you can understand what you are saying to each other!
A good craftsman never blames his tools! Well, a good kitesurf school should never have to either!
This is a pretty basic point but is important to be aware of nonetheless. Make sure the kite school is using reliable, well looked-after equipment. This can be difficult, but there are a few ways you can get a vague idea. Try and find out which brand the school you wish to take your kitesurfing course with is using to teach their lessons with. As a total beginner, this will be difficult for you as you have nothing to go on… no previous experience or preference. But you can still easily find out which brand any kite school uses and then check out that brand’s website or following on social media and various other places. This can also be a cool way to get some inspiration from professional kitesurfing athletes around the world who choose to use the same brand that the school is choosing to teach with. Previous students of the school may have also mentioned the quality of the teaching equipment used during their kitesurfing course, so pay attention to the online testimonials to see what people are saying. You can check the website of the school or ask if they sell new equipment or second-hand gear from that specific brand as, if you really liked the gear that you used during the course, you may be able to get a great deal. I would certainly advise using the same brand of equipment to continue your kitesurfing journey as you learned on, so as there are no unwelcome surprises and less of a learning curve after the lessons.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO IN THE AREA?
Sorry to put a dampener on everything but yes… it might happen. I’m not trying to tempt fate here but there is always the possibility of the dreaded day on a kitesurfing vacation when the wind simply doesn’t show up. Unfortunately, no amount of seemingly accurate wind forecasting or years of experience can overcome or circumvent this inevitable possibility. I might hasten to add, no amount of ‘lunch beers’ or the famed ‘wind dance’ help either… although that hasn’t stopped me trying over the years.
NOOOOOOO!!!! I hear you scream into the windless void as you pump up your kite in a slight breeze only to realise that the beads of sweat dripping down your forehead aren’t being blown away by the passing flow of air. Nope. Not a sausage. It's gone. But where? How?! It simply isn’t fair! Believe me, having been a professional competitive kitesurfer who has flown and drove thousands of miles to compete in single events, only to arrive at the beach and realise there’s a stiffer breeze coming out of the A/C units in the hotel reception… an unwelcome and badly-timed no wind day truly sucks. Why is it always that when I choose to take my dog for a walk or take my granny down to the beach for a gentle stroll that we are greeted by a force 5 gale of near-hurricane proportions? Well… I guess that's just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. And, let's be honest, the dark reality of no wind days might well greet you on your next kitesurfing holiday. So, you had better have a backup plan to keep yourself sane if, and when, it does.
Our TOP TIP is to make sure you keep at least one week totally free to complete your kitesurfing course. A TYPICAL KITESURFING COURSE will last 8 - 12 hours depending on where you are in the world and this should take no longer than 5 days to finish in a leisurely fashion. By planning in advance for 2/3 potential no wind days you not only give yourself time to rest, should you need it, but also the opportunity to visit other worthy nearby places and points of interest. Perhaps there are other awesome activities and experiences in the surrounding areas which you can check out. Give yourself the opportunity to eat at nearby local restaurants or to do a little sight seeing at the nearest town or city. Check out the local sunbathing spot and take a day off to let your muscles and your mind rest. The point is that by devoting at least one full week to the kitesurfing course you can be pretty sure, particularly during the on season, that you will have ample time and favourable wind conditions with which to finish your course.
Visit the website of the school and try to find out if they are helpful in providing alternative activities themselves, or if they have any local partners that can provide activities and excursions for you to do on days without wind.
Be flexible with regards to where you choose to stay and try to stay close to the kite school with which you decide to take your kitesurfing course. Predicting the upcoming wind conditions, even for the next few days, can be difficult at the best of times, and is by no means an exact science, so try to make yourself as readily available as possible by booking your accommodation in a place nearby. The wind forecast can often simply get things wrong. If the conditions improve all of a sudden and there is an opportunity to do your lesson, it's obviously best to be close-by so that you can take advantage of it. If you stay far from the spot you just make everything a little bit harder for yourself.
Be mindful that the best kitesurfing destinations in the world are not necessarily always accompanied by the most, how shall I put it, luxurious accommodations on the planet. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t expect a cold fridge, a warm shower and an A/C unit that actually works, but be realistic and remind yourself of why you are going to this place and what the main goal is… to LEARN HOW TO KITESURF! Embrace this adventure for what it is and enjoy the journey. It is important that you get a solid sleep and a decent meal, a cold beer and a warm shower… but that isn’t to say you need to sleep in the Carlton-Ritz! Kitesurfers are typically a humble bunch of souls that enjoy the simple pleasures in life, so perhaps save the 5-star resort for the next vacation and go a little more modest this time around… and in any case, the more money you save on accommodation the more cash you’ve got to splash on your own gear once you’ve completed your course!
With this in mind, any kite school worth their salt knows all too well that their students will be different and thus have different expectations and tastes. This means that they will normally endeavour to provide a wide array of accommodation from which you can choose. There will normally be a base level which is focused on value for money, an intermediate level of luxury, and then something a little fancier. Shop around on AIR BNB, BOOKING.COM, and any other sites, but always start by asking the school if they themselves have any accommodation on offer on offer. Chances are it is cheaper, better suited to your needs, and is situated close to where you will be doing your lessons.
THE KITESURF SCHOOL TEAM
Try to find a kite school that has an awesome team of instructors. Again, how can you know if the team is awesome or not? Images, videos, and word of mouth go a long way, but you can also check out the online reviews that students have left behind of their instructors and check the website to see if there is an ABOUT US section that offers the story of the school and its guiding philosophy. Perhaps each instructor will have a short profile or bio listing what languages they teach in, as well as their own kitesurfing story and experiences from teaching around the world. This is a great way to see if different instructors come and go every season or if they stay on year after year at the same school. If the team is made up of a solid crew of a few people that work together year after year, then the chances are that everything will work like a well-oiled machine. You want your instructor to be passionate about kitesurfing, as this passion is not only infectious but the only real way to be an effective educator. If, for example, there are several reviews from various students mentioning how great an instructor ‘Jack’ has been and how he was so passionate during the course but also super patient, then you know from pretty reliable sources that Jack is likely to be a good instructor to learn from.
You can also use reviews and the official website of the school to find out if there are any female instructors. Perhaps you would rather take your first kitesurfing course with a girl, or with someone who is older and more experienced than you, or someone that speaks your own language. Again, the main point here is that a kite school will always only be as good as its instructors, so do your research and try to find this out before choosing where to go.
ATMOSPHERE & VIBE
From the general vibe you get from a kite school’s social media channels to the layout of their website and the promptness with which they reply to your email enquiries, the vibe of the kite school you end up choosing to take your course with is super important. Not only is it important in helping you to make a decision about which school to take your kitesurfing course with, but it is vital in helping you to choose a kite school that can cater to what you are looking to get out of this experience. Your expectations play a big part in this, so be sure to ask yourself what kind of experience are you looking for. Do you want to party hard every night or would you rather chill out by the campfire and jam with the other guests? Do you want to cook your own locally-caught fresh fish on the bbq at the end of the day or indulge your inner cravings and eat out at fancy restaurants every night? These are things that only you know, so be sure that the kite school or area you choose can actually cater to your expectations.
The general vibe and atmosphere often includes more overlooked, perhaps superficial features of a kite school’s ‘brand’ such as the layout of their website to the design of their logo, but it means much more than those things. These things can give you a good (or bad) first impression of the school, but what else helps? Does the school reply to your emails within a day or less? Does the school go the extra mile in helping you find accommodation and creating a working schedule for your kitesurfing course that is flexible to your available dates? Does the school provide a range of other activities for you to do in the eventuality of a no wind day, and do they post informative and inspiring content on their social media channels? Do they have a useful and educational YOUTUBE CHANNEL for you to use in-between your lessons, and do they reply to reviews from previous students on Trip Advisor, etc. Do they help provide photo/video feedback of your sessions, or make a cool video edit for you to take away with you to show your friends and family? These are all trademarks of a good school that goes above and beyond the call of a regular, run of the mill kitesurfing school.
As far as I’m concerned, a good kitesurfing school should, above all else, make you feel welcome from the very first point of contact. You should feel like you are in safe hands, that you are being looked after by a dedicated team of instructors that are passionate about what they do. You should feel as though this team truly enjoy what they do and that they do it for the right reasons, and that you are an important addition to the family. You should be left feeling as though you don’t want to leave and that you can’t wait to come back! Enough said.
NOTE: They didn’t quite make the top ten but it was pretty close! We know all to well how much a WARM SHOWER AND A COLD BEER make a huge difference at the end of a long day in the water, whether you are teaching or riding for yourself. Sometimes these two are best enjoyed at the same time! This should NOT be used as a medicinal remedy for sunstroke but it certainly can feel like it helps!