What I Wish I Knew as a Female Before I Started Kiting
As a female who has grown up in the sailing community and experienced what it's like to be in the minority in the sport, joining the kiting community was much less daunting. Since starting my kiting journey in September of 2020, I have been ecstatic to see the number of female kiters growing. That said, throughout my learning progress, the number of female kiters was few and far between, and the male kiters have been just as helpful.
With a dense kiting community in Charleston, South Carolina, pretty much each time I went to Sullivan's Island around station 28.5, somebody (most often male) was willing to help launch me. At 28.5, the sandbar for the past couple of years has made an impermanent lagoon of flat water at low tide, perfect for beginners to learn. The more experienced kiters around here understand that Sullivans is the prime place for a beginner and that they could go to another spot like North Folly or 3rd. Avenue of Isle of Palms to avoid the marshmallows in the area. While knowing this, many experienced kiters still chose to kite at Sullivan's with beginners, which was very helpful. The kiting community wants to see more females in the sport, and I think that is why when I was struggling to get to my board, someone would scoop it up and drop it off near me. It was beneficial because it gets the beginner back on their board and hopefully out of the current, out of the water, and riding. Little acts of kindness go a long way when you're learning, and it is essential to pay it forward when you have enough skill to help.
It wasn't easy to accept help from random men I didn't know, especially when I didn't ask for it. I didn't want to feel like a burden. But, the support was an excellent physical reminder that the Charleston kiting community is trying to help propel female kiters to get better. I will not lie to you and sugarcoat it; the progression of kiting is rough. When you're a beginner, it is common to go out for a session and feel scared, angry, and frustrated throughout the session and after it is over. But, it's a part of the process; you can not expect progress unless you put in consistent effort. I came from a sailing background, which helps, but I still found it frustrating to learn. When I first started, I went out very inconsistently because my studies at college and my sailing team took priority. But, I noticed that I had a better time kiting as soon as I could dedicate time to it, and I had beginner-friendly correctly sized gear.
It would have been better for me to get into the sport without expectations. I believed I would pick it up quickly since I have an in-depth understanding of the wind and expected it to be easier than it was because I understood it conceptually. Yet, the kite was not where I wanted it to be. It takes some time to get the muscle memory to know where the kite is when you're not looking at it, making it more manageable. Being consistent and frequent with your sessions is key to good progression. It is so important to keep trying over and over again. That meant after I progressed past someone on the shore watching me and ready to help when I needed it, I had to go out as much as possible and keep trying. I was there if the wind started to look light but not too soft; the borderline conditions made me struggle, and they pushed me to get better. It also helps to have a support system of kiters to talk to after the session to talk through your experience to help you learn from it. I'll admit it is challenging not to get discouraged when you feel like you should be having more fun than you are. However, reminding yourself that it is a progression sport helped me remember that even a lousy session is helping me because I got out on the water and did the dang thing.
Both in your daily life and when training to get better, it is essential to remember that it is okay not to be perfect. Learning something new is challenging, and it's hard not to beat yourself up over the mistakes you make along the way. I struggle with being kind to myself, in general, and especially during the learning process. It was nice to make friends with other kiters and discuss their mutual dislike for the learning curve. It helps you feel less alone and reminds you that riding the struggle bus is a part of the process, and staying consistent with your sessions will speed up your learning curve.
Another aspect that would speed up progression is getting gear catered to you at your level. Finding a correctly sized board, foot straps, a comfortable harness, an appropriately sized kite that is easy to relaunch, and a control bar that works for your arms will make the process more enjoyable. I learned how to kiteboard by flirting with a 6'9" kiteboarding instructor and asking him to take me on a date and teach me. I am a 5' 3", 110 lbs human who learned on friend's gear. I started my learning process with a size medium softshell harness, and it was practically swimming around me. The first time I tried a size xs hardshell harness, I realized that a correctly sized harness is crucial because it allows you to feel secure with the kite. In addition, it helps to disperse the pull evenly. The board I used fit a 220 lbs man, and its footstraps fit a size 16-foot. I had to flex my size 7 feet to stay attached to the board, making it harder to use. It was too big, and I slid around in the straps. After switching the Cabrinha XO board in size 133 that fit me with tiny Duotone straps, I felt secure on the board for the first time. Immediately after trying the correct-sized board and harness, I progressed faster because I wasn't struggling to stay on the board or fight with too big of a harness. When the gear fits you, it makes feeling one with the kite more accessible, making the learning process easier.
Furthermore, having an easy-to-relaunch kite that is the right size for the current wind conditions and your weight is super important. On that note, I have tried quite a few kites, and specific kite designs are more applicable to beginners. The first kite I learned about was the Liquid Force NV 12m, and that one wanted to relaunch like a sack of potatoes. But, my instructor, who had quite a few more years of experience, owned and kept the NV for years. After that, I tried the old favorite, the Cabrinha Switchblade 10m, and did not understand its hype because it wasn't responding well to my inexperienced hands. One thing is for sure as you progress, the kite options open up more than when first starting.
For me, the best beginner kite is the North Reach. By far. It wants to stay in the air and makes the relaunching process as easy as possible. That isn't to say that the Liquid Force NV or the Cabrinha Switchblade is a bad kite; all I mean is that as a beginner, they didn't make it as easy for me to stay calm, relaxed, and collected while going out for a session. Moreover, no kite made the unenjoyable struggle of learning as fun as the North Reach. Likewise, the North Navigator bar had the best ergonomic feel for me, but it is still tricky for my short arms to ease the bar out fully.
If you take anything away from this post, I hope that regardless of your gender, the kiting community is here to support you. Here at Force Kite and Wake, we can help ensure you do not make the same silly mistakes as me.