Kiteboarding Safety: Boats and Kites

This weekend in La Boca, we had an incident with a boat that I felt was worth sharing.  Kiteboarding is a dangerous sport and it is important to be vigilant about safety.  So, when something happens, it is even more important to review what happened and why.

I was in a lesson with an advanced student.  This particular student came to me already able to ride upwind, although not consistently and had been riding for a few years.  He wanted to work on his technique with upwind riding and transitions.

He was doing great-riding upwind, completing about 75% of his transitions and had even started trying out riding toe-side a little!  Overall, it was the second day of lessons and he was doing great.  In fact, I could feel the envy from the other instructors on the beach (most of the time, a lesson is with a beginner and is much more work than standing on the beach and making corrections!).

He attempted a toe side turn and fell, subsequently crashing his kite as well.  The kite inverted on him and he ended up pulling the safety.  At this point, he was on the other side of the river.  While it isn’t a huge distance for someone who can ride, it isn’t the kind of distance I could really swim.  I watched from the shore for a short time, it was clear he had some issues and had pulled the safety.  When the boat arrived that ferried students from the shore to our little sandbar where we set up, I asked if he could take me over to my student.

When we approached my student, I had been prepared to jump into the water to help him (either reset the lines in the water or help him with the self rescue).  When I looked at him, he was between the bar and the kite.  I asked him if he was wrapped in the lines and he said yes.  He had done a basic self rescue, walking up the safety line to the kite. When he had arrived at the kite, he flipped it so it was no longer inverted.  Now his next step is where the first mistake was made: He released the kite to let it drift away from him with the intention of attempting to reset the lines.

Resetting your security/safety system after activation is fine (and quite normal).  However, once you have gone to the kite, the risk of lines getting tangled around themselves or you is too great to let the kite drift away again.

So, when he released the kite to try to reset, the lines tangled around his waist and legs, essentially trapping him with a kite that still had power.

I instructed the boat to approach the kite from upwind so we could take the kite.  When we approached, I grabbed the kite.  Unfortunately, I assumed that the boat had turned off the engine since we were so close to the lines and the rider (the assumption came because the driver is around kites every day and frequently helps in picking up kites and boards).  Since the engine was not off, the lines become wrapped around the propeller. In a very short time, I heard the rider yell out that he was getting pulled towards the engine.  The driver immediately cut the engine off.

I was able to secure the kite into the boat and we pulled the rider into the boat.  Fortunately, everyone was fine.  We did need to cut the lines in order to remove them from the propeller.

A lot of things went wrong here.

1) The self rescue was improperly conducted.  Kites should never be released once you have already done the self rescue.  Bottom line, if you have already swum to your kite…swim into shore with it.

2) The boat should have turned off the engine.  Boats approaching kites should do so from upwind as if you were going to catch the kite for a landing.  This minimizes the risk that you run into the lines and you can make a repeated approach safely if needed.

3) I incorrectly assumed that the driver didn’t need further direction than to approach from upwind given the experience with rescues from the driver.  As an instructor, I pride myself in maintaining control of a situation and keeping it safe,

Although this was a bad situation, the good thing is that we can learn from this.  In kiteboarding, with  variable wind, other kiteboarders, water conditions, boats, etc. it is impossible to control every variable.  What we can control is how we react to these situations and how we learn from them.

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