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Zen and the Art of Self-Rescue

Sept 9, 2007

Author: Renee Hanks

Self-rescue, one of the most important strategies learned in kiteboarding, is safely getting oneself in off the water without assistance. Not only will you do this many times throughout the learning process, but the opportunity will rise again in years to follow. Over the past seven years, I’ve found myself in numerous predicaments where a self-rescue was the only way to dry land. Learning to do a proper and efficient self-rescue will give you more confidence when going to new areas or venturing farther from shore.

Reasons one might need a self-rescue:

-Equipment malfunction: breaking a line, ripping a kite, bursting a leading-edge bladder.
-The wind picks up to an unmanageable speed while you’re on the water.
-Ending up in an awkward situation or downwind of familiar landing zones.
-The wind dies and your kite falls out of the sky.
-Inability to relaunch the kite off the water.

Step-by-Step Self-Rescue: A Path to Enlightenment

1. Practise non-attachment. Depower your kite 100 per cent. To do this you must let go of the bar, allowing the kite to travel out on one line only. Use a leash, five-line, or an “oh shit” loop so that you don’t lose your kite. Having one point of attachment turns the kite into a “flag,” enabling it from capturing any wind and loading up. (Editor’s note: Bow kites with pulley bars require a different self-rescue technique not covered by this article.)

2. Follow the line. Pull yourself toward the kite up the one line that still has tension. Keep in mind that a kite needs tension on at least two lines to fly, so it’s very important to only travel up one line toward the kite. Pull yourself out and away from the bar and other lines that are floating in the water so that you don’t get them tangled or wrapped around you. Having lines wrapped around you is bad feng shui. (For other options, see “Reincarnation.”)

3. Become one with your kite. Once you’ve pulled yourself all the way to your kite, grab it by the leading edge and flip it over on to its back, exposing its ribs or struts to the sky. This next statement is very important: Do not let go! Letting go of your kite after creating a spaghetti mess of lines in the water can be disastrous. If any of the lines should be tangled around your leg or knotted together, creating tension on more than one line, your kite could reincarnate (see section below) with you attached by some random body part and out of control. Hanging on to your kite is essential at this point. Become one.

4. The endless knot. Fear knot, it’s knot as bad as you think. This is a time to relax. Take a deep breath or two while you pull your bar back to you. Hang onto the kite while it floats you (assuming the leading edge has not blown, if it has, skip to the “Four Noble Truths,” Truth 2). It’s important, more for sanity sake than safety, to roll the lines up on the bar before moving to Step 5. Taking the time to do this will save you potential hours of meditation through macrame later. Tuck the kite under your arm so you can use both hands. Wind up the lines, getting them out of the water and off of yourself. This will eliminate the potential of getting the bar or lines caught up on underwater objects such as logs or rocks, or wrapping around buoys during the swim in.

5. Fold, reach and stretch. If you’re fortunate and still have wind, even a little, then you’re in luck. (If the wind has completely died, skip to “Four Noble Truths,” Truth 1.) Now that your bar is rolled up, it’s time to make a sail and return to shore. To do this, continue holding the kite by the leading edge at the centre strut. Fold the kite in half, wingtip to wingtip. Reach for the top wingtip with one hand while working the other hand along the leading edge out toward the lower wingtip. Hold onto the wingtips at the leading edge and stretch your arms wide apart to maximize the sail’s volume. Be sure to keep the leading edge into the wind, facing the direction you want to head. Remember: you are at the mercy of the wind. Don’t fight it. Take a deep breath and relax. Maximize the wind you have to work with and let it take you to shore, where it does usually at a 60-degree downwind angle.
6. The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one footstep. Once you safely arrive on shore, deflate your kite, roll it up and begin the journey.

Just when you think the kite is dead and down, suddenly it comes back to life and relaunches. If you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing, this can happen. Some people prefer to wrap a line rather than “follow the line” (Step 2). Wrap the one line with tension several times around the bar, then roll up both lines, working toward the kite. I don’t recommend doing this as I’ve seen and heard of it going wrong too often. Tension is created, reincarnation happens, and the kiter is dragged, bar dangling up in the air, out of reach and out of control. The only option, at that point, is to release the last piece safely, lose the kite and swim in. In most cases, it is better to stay with the kite unless it’s a threat to your well-being (see “Ocean Tips”). A loose kite is a danger to others. And a brightly coloured kite is more visible to others than a tiny head bobbing in wind chop.

Four Noble Truths
1. Wind dies: When this happens, follow steps 1 to 4. Instead of sailing home as in Step 5, you’ll have to raft. With your kite inflated, arms on the leading edge, extend your legs out behind you and kick. Don’t forget to stop, rest and check out the scenery; there’s not much else to do, and it could take a while.
2. Bladders burst: Having air in your leading-edge bladder retains the kite’s structure as a sail. If it pops on the water, you can still kind of sail in, but it’s much harder. You’ll have to improvise and play around with it. If not, you can use it as a heavy, soggy, silly-looking kickboard.
3. Each situation is different: This article suggests general rules of thumb for a safe self-rescue. But since every place and situation is different, you’ll likely learn through trial and error and a lot of improvisation. Think first, act second.
4. Everyone is responsible for themselves: Assuming there will always be someone around to rescue you is irresponsible. What if your boyfriend’s Jet Ski runs out of gas? Know how to pick up your own pieces and deal with the situations, especially ones as common as these.

Ocean Tips
If the need to self-rescue happens in the breaking ocean waves, use Step 1, then, depending on the size of the wave heading for your kite, you may want to skip steps 2 to 5 and abort all together. Pull your safety release and let the kite wash in on its own. Bodysurf in, away from all the lines, and pick up your soggy rag out of the shorebreak. At this point, the kite, filled with sand and water, stands little to no chance of reincarnation.
If you’re on the outside of the break in a place known for large sharks, consider running (not literally) through steps 1 to 3 quickly, skipping Step 4 (or using the un-recommended version described in “Reincarnation”) and jumping to Step 5. Lines can be scary in tumbling breaking waves. Be careful not to get mummy wrapped; it has been known to happen. Never go out in offshore winds or side-offshore winds as an entry-level or intermediate rider.

Renee Hanks is sponsored by Best Kiteboarding, Teva, Da Kine, Guayaki Yerba Mate, Freelance Imaging, John Amundson Boards, and UltraNectar.

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