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Getting Upwind

Jun 9, 2006

Author: Eric Beaudonnat

What is going upwind?
Going upwind is moving with an angle of 70° to a maximum 45° toward the direction from which the wind is blowing. To go upwind, you must find a balance between direction and speed. If you go too much upwind, you will lose speed and probably stall.

The best position for going upwind is to fl y the kite at half the wind window height and use the board to manage the power. To go upwind, you need to maintain speed and have enough power to keep an edge. Because you speed up and slow down according to changes in wind speed, it’s important to react accordingly to continue going upwind. Remember, if you go too fast, apparent wind prevents you from going upwind.

The importance of body position
A good body position increases the possibility of reacting to manage your balance and kite flying. It also allows you to regain balance, edge efficiently and regain speed.

The right body position
Your front leg should be almost stretched out but ready to bend to absorb
shock. Your back leg should be slightly bent to have good balance on the
board, as its surface touching the water is a bit off-centred. The shoulders
should be in line with the torso, with the torso leaned back. With the
elbow angle around 110°, the hands can move equally up or down for kite
fl ying and power control.

If you lean too far backward, you won’t be able to edge correctly or
manage a gust. If your legs are completely stretched, the board will bump
and your balance will be unstable.

Practice brings about balance between the course (the direction in
which you are moving) and speed. When riding out to sea, choose a mark
(ship or cloud) that is farther upwind and try to head for it. As you ride
back toward the beach, choose a mark on land (a tree or a house) and
try to go upwind toward it. Once back on the beach, look at your position
according to your starting point and study the following cases:

There can be many reasons: the kite is too
high up; you don’t exert enough back foot and
heel pressure to edge; or you wait too long to
edge heelside after the waterstart. Also, your
kite might be too big and your board too large.
To avoid getting too much speed and to keep an
edge, start edging right after the waterstart.

You might be edging too much with your
heelside and not releasing the edge when the
wind or your speed decreases. You need to put
your board fl atter on the water as soon as you
feel your speed decrease, and fl y the kite up and
down to regain speed. If, after working on this,
you still don’t manage to regain speed, use a
bigger kite and/or a bigger board.

We all have a stronger side, so we must
force ourselves to edge on the weak side more
than on the other to obtain similar results on
both. When riding switch, concentrate on putting
more weight on your front foot to travel in
the upwind direction. With practice and time,
the feeling on both sides will become identical.


The kite automatically adjusts its position
to the wind orientation. Therefore, when the
wind turns, the kite follows, so your course is
deviated. When you feel you’re going downwind
because the wind changes, jibe and you will
have the opposite effect by riding on the other
side (you’ll go better upwind). This is a wellknown
racing technique. When the wind turns
to your advantage (going more upwind) it is
called a lift. The opposite (when the wind turns
and makes you go more downwind) is called
a header. To go as best as possible, you may
always use the wind lift.

Advanced upwind
Staying upwind can be a matter of weather,
equipment or tide. Here are a few explanations
of strange situations you might encounter if you
practise in different spots.

Tidal influence
If you must deal with tide, the best times to ride
and stay upwind are one hour before and one
hour after low or high tide. The current slows
down and won’t infl uence your trajectory much.
Yet in light wind you can easily ride with a current
going in the opposite direction of the wind.
For example, if you usually use a 12-metre in
15 knots, you’ll be able to ride upwind with the
same kite in eight knots if the current generated
by the tide goes in the opposite direction
at four knots. Instead of swimming toward your
kite if it falls in the water, swim upwind in order
to get tension in the line. If you want to stop kiting,
simply start rolling your lines; the current
will bring the kite back to you. Be careful not to
practise in a current that is stronger than your
swimming abilities. If you do, choose a shallow
spot where you can easily stand up and walk
back to the shore.

On a wavy spot there are always crossshore
currents created by the waves. They
go along the shore and back into the ocean
(rips, which you can spot thanks to the choppy
water it creates).
The currents along the shore can be used
when they’re going opposite the wind direction.
They will increase your speed as they push
you windward. This is why you will feel more
pressure on your board close to the shore than
farther from it. Be careful: Even though the currents
can be helpful, they can also be dangerous
if not anticipated and well handled. Check
with the local coast guards.

Gusty wind
Gusts require permanent attention and work on
edging. Gusty winds should be avoided, especially
on land—they are kiteboarder killers. Yet
in some spots having gust is common.
Always fl y the kite lower than usual to avoid
the kite collapsing or lifting without control.
Having sharp edges on your board makes the
riding more technical. Always keep an eye on
kite position. Try to keep your knees bent to
absorb shocks and be more reactive. Be ready
to edge any time you see the kite going slightly
backward; bend your knees and fl y the kite up
and down before you lose speed. Try sheeting
out and edge when you have enough power. A
sheeted-out kite pulls better; its force is closer
to the wind, so you can edge more.

Oscillating wind
Oscillating winds change direction and always
go back to the original direction. Well used, they
can make you reach an upwind point faster.
When you ride, your course has approximately
the same angle to the wind at all times (the
wind is the reference). If the wind is stable, you
go upwind with an angle between 20° and 35°.
Going upwind may take several tacks with a
normal wind.

With an oscillating wind, when you start
to lose course according to a fi xed point,
you should always tack and ride upwind in
the opposite direction. This will be the most
advantageous because you can now travel at a
sharper angle upwind than originally. This way,
you can go upwind in two tacks where more
tacks would be needed with non-oscillating
wind. Continue riding in this direction until the
wind shifts back. If you tack at this point, you
will not go upwind but rather come back to your
original point. By using the oscillating wind to
your advantage, you’ll get upwind faster than if
you randomly tack.

Eric Beaudonnat is the founder of the IKO. 


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