When I fronted up to my first kiteboarding lesson about ten years ago, there were two things on my mind. The first thing was: this could hurt, and the other was: where are all the girls?
The first, turned out to be completely unfounded, while the second is still true ten years on.
Although the number of female kiters is slowly growing, the International Kiteboarding Association estimates that still, only 10% of kiteboarders are female. This is a shame, because kiteboarding is just as suited to us women as it is men, and that’s not only for the super fit 20-something girls either. These days many women in their forties and even into their late sixties are making the most of the wind and water through kiteboarding.
Do I need to be strong?
One of my earliest misconceptions about kiteboarding was that it took a lot of upper body strength. To me, a typical kiteboarder looked like Laird Hamilton – big, muscular and fearless. All things which I totally wasn’t. Whilst my arms are a lot more toned than before, having Laird’s bulging biceps is not a prerequisite for kiteboarding.
Surprisingly, this wind driven sport is about grace and finesse not how many kilos you can lift at the gym. Kiteboarding depends on mastering kite control and this is where women can excel because controlling the kite takes fine adjustments, not brute force. Even in strong winds, I can manoeuvre my kite with two fingers. Using too much power is more of a hindrance than a help as it can cause the kite to overpower and get out of control. With the right technique and equipment, the harness will absorb most of the power and not your arms or back.
One of the great things to have happened to the sport in the past few years which have made it a lot more inclusive for female riders has been the evolution in kiteboarding technology. More and more products are being made to suit smaller and lighter kiteboarders. This doesn’t simply mean that everything comes with a choice of pink either.
Most of my early gear was clearly made for a bigger and heavier person. My supposedly extra-small harness was too loose and sat badly around my waist, I struggled to reach the depower cleat, yet alone pull the thing when I needed it the most and the bar pressure needed the extra muscle power.
These days, new kiteboarding technology has overcome many of these obstacles making the sport a lot more accessible for female riders as well as younger and older users. Having the right equipment not only makes things a lot more comfortable but it has a big impact on progression and can really shorten the learning curve.
So, if we don’t need physical prowess, what about the never die attitude?
In the beginning phase, kiteboarding seems more challenging than many other sporting pursuits. As women, most of us don’t have the same fearless attitude as our male counterparts who will quite happily venture into something new and face the consequences later. We tend to think about something first, weigh up the options and then venture out and give it a try.
The difference with kiteboarding compared to many other sports is that you can’t just grab some kit and give it a go. With surfing, for example, it’s possible to go for a casual paddle, start in small waves and progress at your own speed. Kiteboarding has a steep learning curve, but the rewards can be reaped relatively quickly, while a sport like surfing can take a lot longer to master.
Much of the fear about trying kiteboarding comes from the notion that it’s an extreme sport. Many girls simply don’t think that they can do it or are extreme enough to give it a try.
The most crucial thing to taking the ‘extreme’ out of kiteboarding is to start with the right lessons. Avoid getting your boyfriend, husband or the cool guy (or girl for that matter) at your local beach to teach you. They may be landing the uber cool tricks or doing the highest boosts but chances are they won’t teach you in a step-by-step approach like a certified instructor will.
Getting the right lessons means that you learn the sport in a structured way rather than by trial and error which is how most of the scary but totally avoidable incidents happen. Most importantly you’ll learn about how the wind works, what the safety systems are and how to self-rescue. This is all before you even enter the water and is crucial for feeling confident when you do first start getting out there on your own.
One of the main areas where I see aspiring kiteboarders falter has nothing to do with fear or gender. It comes down to making the commitment and getting out when the conditions are right. Kiteboarding is about the wind and the only way to progress is to get out there when it’s windy not when there’s nothing else on the social calendar.
Ultimately kiteboarding is an individual sport. It’s about you and the elements, not about being male or female. Learning to kiteboard will initially put anyone out of their comfort zone but like other outdoor pursuits, the power of the sport comes from teaching us self-reliance and resilience. I come back from every session on the water feeling stronger about myself and knowing that I’ve challenged myself into doing something that not everyone has the tenacity to do.
Nina Burakowski is a freelance writer with a penchant for outdoor activities. She loves the world but these days is happiest exploring her native Western Australia.