Sometimes, you go to a kiting spot because the wind always blows…
Sometimes because that wind is super steady or there is flat water or waves or simply because that is the only kiteboarding spot you have…
However, sometimes you go because it’s new and adventurous and beautiful and humbling and…for lack of a better description…epic. Embalse el Yeso.
All that I knew of this place was that, 1) it’s really cold there and 2) I had seen a picture of it on a friend’s facebook and it just looked like a paradise.
So on a Sunday morning, three of us met early (ish) and headed out from Santiago. If you looked at the distance on the map, it looks very close. In a world with perfect roads, maybe it would take us 45 minutes? Well, take that 45 minutes and add an hour (maybe more). To get there, you drive through and area called Maipo. It’s a charming place, full of spots to stop for trekking, horseback riding, white water rafting…whatever you want really. If I could say nothing else about this spot, the drive there is incredibly beautiful (fortunately, that isn’t all I have to say). The last 22 kilometers to the spot is on a dirt road. It makes the time slower and by the time you are reaching the end, you will find yourself wondering if there really is a lake up there.
Once we did arrive, we drove to the far end of the lake where there is a mud flat. This creates a longer fetch for the wind to stabilize and it is much better than setting up on rockers farther up the lake.
I’m from Florida…it’s flat…Completely flat….and the water has this clear turquoise/blue color….and it’s warm and coconut palms are a familiar sight. I am constantly impressed by Chile’s rocky coast with towering cliffs and powerful waves. It’s just so
raw and wild and novel (albeit, I wish it were warmer!). This spot, however, was the most beautiful place I have ever ridden (and probably one of the most breathtaking places I have been).
The lake is nestled high in the Andes, well above the tree line. Not much higher than the surface of the lake are the snow capped mountain tops. The water was a shocking blue color. It wasn´t like the tropical blues you see in Florida… but the kind of blue that only comes from the cold.
When I finally got int the water, it took my breath in a way that only cold water really can. I have a thick wetsuit, but it didn´t seem to do much to keep out those icy tendrils. My suggestions? Be prepared if you ride this spot. I had a 5/6 mm wetsuit, booties, gloves and hood and was still cold.
I wish I could say that this is a spot anyone could go to because it is so beautiful, but it’s not. The wind blows onshore at the launch spot. The wind is being funneled in
through the mountains, so not only is it strong and gusty, but it can shift pretty quickly. Several times I was on the water when the wind died for a minute or two and then came back after the shift (even stronger than before).
Riding upwind is a necessary skill for this spot as you need to be comfortable in a sketchy situation. The farther out you go into the lake, the stronger the wind.
I went out about 400 meters, but didn´t go farther than that from the launch spot. The wind was so unstable because of the direction shifts that I was not comfortable with the idea of doing a self rescue if needed in water that was so cold. Hypothermia is a real risk in that situation.
Despite the cold and gusty wind, it was awe-inspiring to ride there. You truly feel small riding in between towering mountain tops. The vibrantly blue water beneath is breathtaking. I would highly recommend a trip.
If you have gone into the website this week, especially the blogs, you will see that it is a disaster. Many things are missing, links aren´t working…it is horrible!
I am so sorry this is happening. There is an issue with the site because of WordPress and I am working very diligently to try to solve this problem as quickly as possible.
In the meantime, please be patient!
We just finished going over Wind Direction in our Wind Theory series. Now, it is time for us to talk about Wind Speed!
Wind speed can be discussed using several units of measurement, but generally we use knots or the Beaufort Scale.
Knots are formally used for measuring speed over water. Since wind blows over both surfaces, knots is used to measure wind. This may be converted and expressed as miles per hour or kilometers per hour simply for ease of understanding for general population.
The Beaufort Scale was originally developed in 1805 by British Naval Commander Francis Beaufort to measure wind at sea. The scale has been modified over the years (since we aren´t measuring wind effects on a big ship!). In the absence of any tool to measure the wind, being familiar with this scale can be very helpful!
There are a few ways to check the actual wind speed besides the Beaufort Scale (which…to be honest..takes a bit of time to really understand and apply).
If you are already on the beach, an anemometer can be a great tool! Currently, there are two types to choose from:
While ultrasound anemometers are more accurate, they are also less affordable. Some handheld anemometers, like the Vaavud wind meter, plugs into your smart phone (eliminating the need for batteries and a heavier device).
Some beaches have wind meters installed at the location. This is AMAZING, especially if you live relatively close. You just need to check the app or website and, when the wind comes up, hop in your car and head to the beach! If you are on the beach and want to double check the wind speed before setting up your kite, just check the website!
A popular one is ikitesurf. I really like this one because it provides an easy to read graph showing actual wind speed in relation to the forecasted wind speed. This website is worth the subscription if they have a wind meter at your local riding spot. If there is no meter, you are probably better checking the free forecast on windguru or windfinder. We will get more into that later in the next part of the Wind Theory series.
Here in Chile, we have Windonline. It is a relatively new site, but covers the big kite spots in a way that didn´t really exist before. It will be even more exciting when they have enough data to really provide statistics on wind tendencies over the course of a year. In our experience, windguru provides decent forecasts (meaning that if it says it will be windy, it is.. but the wind speed is generally forecasted lower than the actual wind speed).
Up next to bring together wind direction and wind speed, we are going to look at wind and weather forecasts!
Launching and Landing kites is a great opportunity to hurt yourself! In nearly four years of teaching, I have seen my fair share of mishaps with people trying to launch or land their kites.
First, let’s talk about the proper way to launch your kite.
There are two people involved in this process (unless you are doing a self launch/land), the kiter and the assistant. Both have responsibilities and both need to understand what they are doing.
Step 1: The kiter should start downwind of his/her kite. The assistant is next to the kite and can be holding it or leave it on the beach for the moment. The kiter should first test their safety system to ensure that it is functioning properly. The last thing you want is to be out in the water and find that your safety is stuck (you can avoid this by always testing it and keeping it free of sand by cleaning it after each session). Once the safety is tested, hook into the kite with the leash, chicken loop and donkey dick.
Step 2: The assistant should pick up the kite and hold it in a C-Shape. One of the wing tips should be resting on the ground with the inside of the kite facing the kiter. Secure the kite at the leading edge with your bottom hand and use the top hand to help brace/stabilize the kite. The kiter should now be perpendicular to the wind with tension in the lines. During this step, the kiter double checks the lines to ensure there is no line inversion (where lines are crossed from an improper setup). If the lines are crossed, either walk out your lines once more or fix it from this position. Note: communicate well with your assistant if you fix it from this position as you will need to unhook from the kite and untangle it at the bar. If your assistant lets go of the kite, it puts you and the people on the beach in a dangerous situation.
Step 3: As long as the lines are OK, the kiter can now start walking upwind of the kite slowly. This puts the kite into the wind window. It is key that this is done slowly to avoid putting the kite too far into the wind window. This not only presents a risk to you as it will launch the kite with power, but also puts your assistant in a bad situation as the kite is likely to knock him/her over and they may lose the kite. Always walk slowly. When the canopy becomes tight and stops flapping in the wind, it is ready to launch. Give your assistant a thumbs up, the signal that you are ready to launch. The assistant should simply let go of the kite (a common mistake is pushing or tossing the kite up, this is not necessary). If the kite is not ready to launch (e.g. not far enough into the wind window), the assistant should not release the kite, but instead communicate with the kiter about the problem.
Step 4: The kiter should slowly steer the kite along the edge of the wind window and stop before getting to 12. Avoid pulling in on the bar during your launch. By doing this, you cause the kite to drift into the power zone (which on the beach, is not a good place to be).
-Be aware of your surroundings. Make sure that you have enough space to launch and extra space in case something goes wrong. There should be nothing in front of you that can hurt you (e.g. solid objects). On that note, always launch towards the water. If something happens, you will get pulled into the water instead of along the beach.
-If you make a mistake during the launch, let go of the bar, put your weight in your heels and sit down. It is easier to control your body by sitting down and dragging this way (as opposed to being dragged on your face!). A common mistake is to try to run with the kite, but this can cause injuries to knees and ankles and you are more likely to get pulled forward.
-If you are uncomfortable with launching, it’s ok to sit down once your kite is ready and then give the thumbs up. Steer the kite up gently and stabilize it and then go into the water. By sitting down, you reduce the risk of injury. This is not common-but don’t worry, it is better to do what you are comfortable with!
-By launching the kite towards the water, you can even set the kite in the water once you have launched. This allows you to walk into the water quite easily. This is a good way to baby step into launching your kite properly. Once you are more comfortable controlling the kite, you won’t need to do this.
When we are done, we also need to know how to land the kite safely.
The concept for landing the kite is very similar to launching the kite. When you are ready to land the kite, first indicate this by tapping the top of your head. Your assistant should respond with the same signal to indicate, “I see you, I understand, I will help you land your kite”. Do not assume that someone knows you want to land your kite without this signal exchange.
Kiter: Slowly steer your kite along the edge of the wind window towards your assistant. Ideally, they can simply walk to your kite and grab it. However, if you are learning and having a hard time stabilizing the kite for your assistant, once it is almost on the ground, let go of the bar. By letting go of the bar, you allow the kite to fall to the ground. Once you have done this, do not grab the bar. When your assistant has taken hold of the kite, walk forward. This releases the tension from the lines and allows your assistant to handle the kite easier.
Assistant: First, be careful when landing a kite as you can easily get hit by a kite by approaching it incorrectly (and I can say from experience that a hard hit can knock you out!). Once you have seen and returned the signal to land the kite, wait until the kiter begins to steer the kite down along the edge of the wind window. Approach the kite from upwind. Stay away from the kite until you can walk forward and grab it or the kite is on the ground. If you approach too quickly, you can put yourself in a position where you are hit by the kite. Once you have control of the kite, put it on the beach and secure it with sand.
-Never put yourself downwind of a kite, especially near the lines. It is common to see assistants approach a kite from the downwind position. If the kiter loses control or the kite drifts farther into the wind window. Kite lines are very strong and can easily cause serious injury.
When I was first learning how to kiteboard, putting my kite at zenith, or 12, seemed really safe. In fact, that is what everyone did. So, when I started teaching as well, I passed along the same information to students. I had never been told any different and the wind in our area was almost always so mild that it didn’t pose a danger.
The first time I was told any different was during my first hurricane. We were catching the edge of the storm and the winds were strong-gusting up to 55 mph. Before putting up my kite, a more experienced rider cautioned me to not bring my kite to 12 as it can cause me to be lofted off the beach (not really something I wanted in wind like that!).
The longer I taught and the more things I saw, the more this made sense. However, it has never been more clear than when I am teaching in La Boca, Chile. The spot is at the mouth of a river. The wind comes over large hills that causes it to be gusty and strong (I haven’t used a kite larger than a 10…and that is rare).
Here, I see a lot of kites at 12… Consequently, I see a lot of different situations…
1) Kites falling out of the sky: This is pretty common there. La Boca is a teaching spot. As a result, almost everyone there is either a student in a lesson, student practicing on their own or (even worse) people trying to learn on their own without lessons. In a spot with gusty, strong wind, it is difficult to manage the kite at 12. Students mismanage the bar and cause the kite to fall. When it falls, instead of letting go of the bar (or better yet, activating their security system), they pull in on the bar and end up getting pulled down the beach.
2) Lofting situations: This can and does happen. In fact, the other day, I saw a rider lofted 3 meters in a dune only to get dropped. In the dunes, you can find all kinds of debris that can present a danger to the rider. Instead of pulling the safety, the rider was holding the depower line. I made it over to the rider and pulled the safety (we will talk more about this specific situation later). Lofting is dangerous and can cause significant injury.
3) Lost control of the kite: It’s difficult to manage the kite at 12 in a gusty place. Beginners often lose control of their kites by overcorrecting and end up creating a dangerous situation on the beach.
So, how do you avoid all of this? It is pretty simple-keep your kite on the edge of the wind window unless you are in the water preparing for a board start! Even if you are in a place with steady wind, add this to your daily practice. It’s safer and when you get into a place where the wind is stronger and/or less steady, you won’t inadvertently put yourself and others in a dangerous situation!
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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