Never be board!
Dynamic, exhilarating, accessible to all – kitesurfing is one of the hottest and coolest sports on the planet. Pro kitesurfer Jeremie Tronet reckons that YOU should give it a go
Kitesurfing is the fastest-growing watersport in the world. This dramatic, balletic escapade – which combines elements of snowboarding, windsurfing, wakeboarding, surfing, paragliding, skateboarding and gymnastics – is now practised by some 1.5 million people across the globe. Even Barack Obama gave it a go right here in the Caribbean. There is nothing else quite like using a big kite, modified surfboard and the power of the wind to whizz across the water and perform spectacular jumps.
The origins of kitesurfing date back to the 1980s, when pioneers in France and the USA were playing around with kites on the water. However, it was the invention of inflatable tube kites by the Legaignoux brothers in France in the 1990s that took the sport to another dimension, and made it accessible to everyone. Since then, kitesurfing has exploded. The current world rankings feature riders from Australia, Brazil, China and even land-locked Slovakia.
I started when I was around 12 years old, playing with small kites on the beach and looking for new sensations with my surfboards. Back then I didn’t even know kitesurfing officially existed – indeed, only a few hundred people worldwide were getting into it.
When I turned 14 my goal was to buy a real inflatable kite – but they were very expensive at the time; I couldn’t afford one. So I spent my whole summer holiday with my grandmother’s sewing machine making myself a copy, at almost no cost. It was my first real kite, and I used it to learn how to kitesurf properly. After I began training more seriously I won my first Caribbean championship in Martinique, where I grew up – it was one of my proudest moments.
After a period exploring the world with my kitesurfing and videography equipment, I settled on Union Island in St Vincent & the Grenadines to start my own kitesurfing school. The JT Pro Center is a way for me to share my passion for this amazing sport – and I haven’t yet met anyone who didn’t enjoy it. I also wanted to share this amazing location.
The Caribbean is a fantastic place to kitesurf – for both experienced riders and absolute beginners. We have regular, steady trade winds, which make learning safe and easy; we have warm, clear waters; and, as a plus, we have beautiful landscapes that make practising here a dream. Every year we see a big increase in people coming here to learn, and I believe that the Caribbean will soon become one of the world’s major kitesurfing destinations – a place on everyone’s bucket list.
In May 2012, the International Sailing Federation announced that kitesurfing would be included in the Rio 2016 Olympics, replacing windsurfing. Somewhat controversially, six months later the decision was reversed. However, the kiteboarding community is optimistic that the sport will soon make it onto the world’s biggest stage. Kiteboarding will appear at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympics; it’s hoped that it will feature as an exhibition sport at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, then as a medal-event sport at Paris 2024. So kids – better start training now!
Can anyone learn how to kitesurf?
Yes! Some people take longer than others, but with the will to succeed anyone can do it. I’ve taught people as young as eight and over 70.
Being super-fit is not a requirement – the harnesses take most of the pressure off your arms, so you can handle the kite in the air for hours at a time. Familiarity with other board sports will help, but is not a necessity. However, you must know how to swim.
Children should weigh at least 35kg. Kites generate some power, and weighing less can make it challenging to counterbalance the weight of the kite. On a very windy day a light child wouldn’t be able to kite.
What’s the best way to get started?
Sign up for a discovery lesson to see if you really love it before booking more lessons. It’s a great way to get a taste of the sport without committing. Around 80% of our students at the JT Pro Center have never been on a board before, but we still get them to stand up on the board with the kite on their first lesson.
Isn’t kitesurfing dangerous?
No, not if you follow all the basic rules, which a certified instructor will go through in detail.The main thing is not to try to learn on your own or with a friend. Far too many accidents happen when people decide to teach themselves. You wouldn’t try skydiving without an instructor – it’s the same for kitesurfing! Find a good, certified school and take a course that will help you progress in a fast and safe way.
Where can I learn to kitesurf?
The Caribbean is perfect: the water and weather are nice and warm! No wetsuit required – all you’ll need are sunglasses, strong sunscreen and maybe a long-sleeved rash guard. The Caribbean also has plenty of places where you’ll find nice open space with shallow water so you can learn safely.
Union Island is particularly great, because the wind is reliable and not too gusty. The wind blows day and night from November to July. The windiest months are December to February, with an average of 20 to 25 knots. The rest of the trade-wind season offers an average of 18 to 20 knots – enough to kite every day.
Why not make kitesurfing the focus of a holiday?
Find a place with great kitesurfing that also offers other activities, and bring your partner or family along. In the Caribbean they’ll have plenty to do if they decide not to try kitesurfing. Union Island in the Grenadines, for example, offers the perfect combination: great conditions for kitesurfing, plus plenty of other leisure and lounging possibilities.
How do I choose a kitesurfing school?
Seek out a kitesurfing centre that will focus on you. The best option is to choose private or semi-private lessons with a ratio of two students to one instructor. You might spend a bit more money but you will progress twice as fast as in a group lesson. This will save money in the end. Also look for a centre that’s in a good spot – with reliable winds, shallow waters and so on – that has great, qualified instructors, and that offers boat assistance.
What does learning involve?
A typical introductory kitesurfing course might involve a series of lessons over a few days. For instance, at the JT Pro Center Kitesurfing School we recommend a package of three half-days.
Day 1 will include theory, such as safety rules and how to set up the kite. You’ll also learn the basics of flying a kite, from launching to landing, wind windows and different body-drag techniques. Just before the lesson ends, we will give you a water-start try with the board so you get an idea of what to expect in the next lesson.
On Day 2 you’ll learn more about kite flying and body drag, as well as practising the water start and actually riding on the board.
On Day 3 you’ll refine your water-start technique, do more riding on the board, and learn how to control your speed and ride upwind.
After a three-day course you will know how to kite and ride on the board. You might not be 100% ready to practise on your own – sometimes it’s better to take a couple of extra lessons – but you will have a solid grounding.
How much does it cost to learn?
A three-day course will cost US$500-700. If you don’t have that kind of money, start by buying a small trainer kite (around 2 sq m) and learn to fly it on an open field or beach with no one downwind from you – there are videos online to teach you. Playing around in this way, you’ll learn the basics of kite-flying so will save some time when you have the cash to take lessons.
There are a lot of options for learning at lower costs. Check out seasonal discounts – kite centres sometimes offer special low-season rates. You could also offer to work at a kitesurfing school for free as a summer job in exchange for lessons.
Should I think about buying my own equipment?
In the first instance it’s better to rent equipment from a kite centre. Centres can also offer catch-up lessons and supervision services, and you’ll meet people and instructors who can advise you on what’s best.
Once you’re comfortable riding upwind, you may want to get your own gear. Depending on where you live and your budget, you might need one or two kite sizes, one bar, one board and one harness. To buy the latest new kite and bar will cost around US$1,900, a board around US$900, a harness around US$150-200. However, you can find older-model kites and boards for half that price.
Be wary of buying second-hand gear. It’s often damaged, which could mean that you end up spending more time fixing it rather than using it.
Top spots to kitesurf in the Caribbean
1 Union Island, St Vincent & the Grenadines
Head to the JT Pro Center Kite Beach, near Clifton, the number-one kitesurfing destination in the whole Caribbean. Enjoy exclusive kite lessons in amazing turquoise waters.
2 St Lucia
Vieux Fort (south) and Cas en Bas (north) are the two main kitesurfing spots.
Head to Jabberwock Beach, on the north-east corner of the island, which gets warm trade winds from December to August.
Pointe Faula in the south-east is the main kite beach, where you can speed across the long, calm lagoon.
This is a great kitesurfing destination for experienced riders; beginners should head for Bois-Jolan on Grand-Terre.
Apparent wind – kite’s speed relative to the surrounding air.
Body dragging – being pulled through the water without a kiteboard – an early step in the learning process.
Depower – ability to decrease the kite’s pull, achieved by adjusting the angle of attack of the kite, usually via a control bar, which makes kitesurfing much safer.
Kitemare – a kiteboarding mishap!
Leading edge – the main large inflatable tube leading the kite in the air.
Re-launch – term for getting the kite back into the air after crashing it, usually by pulling one of the steering lines to bring the kite to the edge of the wind window and up on its wingtip.
Wind window – arc of the sky downwind of the rider in which the kite can be flown.