Kiteboarding is a sport growing in popularity, especially among people looking for an extreme thrill. It hasn’t been around for that long when compared to other watersports, such as surfing. The early days of the sport were much like the wild west. Riders often found themselves in trouble, but as the community has grown, so has the safety aspect.
The question on everyone’s mind when it comes to this seemingly hazardous activity is: “Is Kitesurfing Dangerous?” The simple answer is yes. Kitesurfing is technically classified as an extreme sport, and there are inherent dangers outside of your control (wind gusts etc.).
However, the rate of serious injury due to equipment failure has decreased dramatically as the technology gets better. And the data also shows that there is no significant difference in injury rates when compared to other extreme watersports.
In this blog post, we take a statistical view. And hopefully, answer your questions about kiting to provide you with all the information you need before deciding whether or not it’s safe enough for you!
This article considers 7 different studies on both injuries relating to the sport and the biomechanical demands of kitesurfing on the body. Links to each of them can be found at the bottom of this article for reference.
On average, it was found that injuries occur 5-7 times per 1000 hours of non-competitive activity. With the exception being a study carried out by Wegner & Wegener in 2012, which found out that roughly 12 injuries occurred per 1000 hours.
It is worth noting that the most recent study that we pulled data from was 2016. The majority of studies used for this article are pre-2010. So that could be interpreted as less systematic studies are performed now due to the advances in safety. But in the same light, it is entirely plausible that the numbers of injuries are higher due to more participants as the sport grows.
The largest study performed (206 participants) by Lundgren et al. found that the most common areas injured were as follows; knee (24%), ankle (17%), trunk (16%), and shoulders (10%). 5 severe and 1 catastrophic incident recorded in this particular study.
But interestingly, there was a significant difference in injuries between those able to perform advanced tricks and those that could not. This was also directly correlated to years of experience in kitesurfing. Those with 1-3 years of experience sustained relatively more injuries.
In all the studies, the most common cause of injury was related to doing jumps or tricks.
What are the most common types of injuries involved?
Most Commonly Injured Areas (Lundgren et al.)
The most common types of injuries, according to hard data, are sprains and joint injuries. With most kitesurfers reporting injuries from attempting tricks and jumps, a hard landing puts extra stress on the joints.
According to scientific study, the most commonly injured area is the lower part of the body, such as the knees, ankles, and feet.
As for the types of injuries, there was everything from lacerations to bone fractures and dislocations.
It is also worth noting that there was never any mention of fatalities or death in these particular studies as a result of kitesurfing accidents.
What types of stress does Kitesurfing put on your body?
Kitesurfing is shown to be a predominantly aerobic form of exercise, with anaerobic also being used to some extent. The stress on the body is directly correlated to weather conditions. Rougher weather equals more of a workout.
Lengthier sessions also provide good isometric stresses on your legs, in particular the quads.
For a full breakdown of what kitesurfing does to your body fitness, check out the article below:
Due to being an aerobic exercise, having more muscle mass does not necessarily mean you will be a better kitesurfer, or mean that you can ride for longer.
It is recommended that for kitesurfing if you want to strengthen your legs, it is best to do so through specific exercises, not just weightlifting or running.
How Dangerous is it Relative to Other Water Sports?
Kitesurfing vs Windsurfing
From 2014-2016 a study by Christiaan van Bergen, Joris Commandeur, Rik Weber, Daniel Haverkamp and Roelf Breederveld recorded and analysed injuries from both sports. It is the only study to directly compare the two so far.
Most cases sustained only minor injuries, but severe injuries also occurred. The lower body was the most commonly injured area at 40% for windsurfers and 41% for kitesurfers.
Injury rates for windsurfing were 5.2 per 1000 hours and 7.0 per 1000 hours for kitesurfing. Concluding that the latter results in a significantly higher rate of injury in the same environmental conditions. However, the severity of the injury does not differ.
This is a fascinating study to read in further detail should you wish to know more and understand kiteboarding risks.
Kitesurfing vs Wakeboarding
Wakeboarding shares plenty of similarities with kitesurfing. Both use a similar twin tip style board (although kiteboards can be directional too). And both use a bar and line system attached to a power source. For wakeboarding, it can be either a cable pulley system or boat tow.
Where they differ is in the types of injuries that occur in riders. An American study from 2000-2007 recorded 18967 wakeboarding injuries. With injuries to the head & neck being the most common (47.9%), hip & lower body (26.5%) and shoulders/upper body (14.8%).
A German study by Patzer et al. in 2009 found that the injury rate in cable wakeboarding activity to be at 12.0 per 1000 hours (122 riders in the study). Making it significantly more common to be injured cable wakeboarding than kitesurfing. They also found that knee & shoulder injuries were the most common at 20%.
Kitesurfing vs Surfing
Surfing is performed with a directional board, a leash and a wetsuit in colder waters. And likewise, kitesurfing can be done on a directional board when wave riding.
A study by Christian Swinney at the University of Hawai’i in 2015 reported that of its 50 respondents that reported injuries, 70% were to the head. Lacerations were most common (77%), followed by concussion (37%), skull fractures (6%), unconscious (9%), broken noses (9%) and severe brain injury (3%).
Two of the cases, neither of whom helmet protection, required neurosurgical intervention. The study does not indicate how any of the above injuries mentioned were sustained. And because of the small sample size should not be extrapolated.
However, it would be wise to view surfing as potentially presenting more danger to your head area than kitesurfing does. But at the same time, the statistics do not support saying that surfing is more dangerous than kitesurfing.
Using statistics to better educate ourselves about the inherent risks all extreme watersports carry is a good idea. But given that the statistics are incomplete, they should not be used to argue one way or another, which is more dangerous than others.
One of the most common risks for kiteboarding is lower-body injury. And this should be part of your risk tolerance when you undertake the sport. The risk of injury from kiteboarding is indeed relatively low. But it does exist, and you should be aware before participating in this sport.
What are the Dangers To Be Aware Of?
When kitesurfing, there are several factors you should be well aware of. These include weather conditions, equipment failure and other crafts. There are also physical factors that may be a danger for people who choose to kitesurf.
Be sure to check the forecast before participating in any kind of water or wind sports activity. This is especially important if you plan on having a session in stronger winds or choppier water. Strong winds or waves can make it more difficult for inexperienced riders to control their kite and board.
Kitesurfing is a relatively new sport, so the equipment may not be as reliable yet. You must inspect your gear before use, especially if it has been purchased second hand.
Be aware of the proximity of other crafts to your location while kitesurfing. You should take care when near boats, swimmers or jet skis as they may pose a risk to their safety and yours if things go wrong. This also includes your fellow kiters.
In this particular case, we are referring to factors such as sun exposure and cold exposure. Ensure that you have adequate protection from the sun in the form of clothing and sunscreen. For cold water sessions having a correctly rated wetsuit is essential, as is having booties, hoodies and gloves.
Most frequent causes of kite accidents?
While it is true that accidents have the potential to happen just about anywhere during kitesurfing, there are some times in particular when you need to be on high alert.
The first is while launching the kite. This is the most common cause of kiting accidents. The second is when the rider loses control of the kite. And third involves a collision between riders or obstacles.
Where can kiting accidents happen?
The most commonplace to expect an accident or injury to happen is out on the water. The leading incident factor is due to failed jumps and tricks.
Every report that I studied for this article reported that the most common reason for injury was unsuccessful jumps/tricks.
However, this is not the only area where accidents can occur, as many kiters have been known to run into trouble on the beach.
Launching and landing kites pose a risk to beachgoers as well as to the kiters. Launching in strong winds is dangerous and can lead to accidents due to a lack of control over the kite. Similarly, landing in these conditions could cause it to crash into somebody.
Can your kitesurfing equipment fail and cause you injury?
From 2003-2004 there were a total of 30 ocean rescues of kitesurfers in South Africa. Every one of them reported they were unable to detach from their kite.
Enter the quick release system. This safety device allows you to detach the control bar from your harness quickly and affect the kite’s power.
The quick-release system has successfully prevented many potential kite-related accidents. It comes as standard on all modern control bars.
Interestingly the Lundgren et al. found that no injury had occurred from a rider not being able to detach using the quick release.
What is a Death Loop?
If you have ever been on YouTube you’ll see loads of thumbnails saying things like ‘I SURVIVED the DEATH LOOP’! and ‘Caught in the LOOP OF DEATH’ !
A Death Loop is an equipment malfunction. That leaves the rider with an uncontrollable kite that cannot be recovered/corrected by the standard safety equipment at the riders disposal (the quick release system).
Technically it is when the power lines become wrapped around the control bar. As they regain tension, the kite regains its power. If the rider is unable to free them from the bar. Thus the kite begins to perform continuous loops under power.
If this happens, you will need to remain calm and figure out your exit from the situation.
How To Escape From A Death Loop
Whenever your kite enters a death loop, and the safety system is blocked, pull hard on the furthest steering line. Doing so will force your kite to stall once again.
This situation can happen if, for example, one of the steering lines wraps around your harness hook. This would mean the Quick release system would not work, and you would follow the step above.
Whenever the safety system isn’t blocked, your quickest/safest option is to activate the quick release system.
I personally experienced this scenario for the first time in Phuket back in 2019. I was lucky enough to be in shallow water with a clear safety system. The quick-release system did its job perfectly. Although I was left with a lengthy knee depth walk with a soaked kite across the lagoon.
Kitesurfing is a sport that has more variables in play than most other water sports. But this doesn’t necessarily make it more dangerous, and should you not be scared away from trying the sport.
On the contrary, the vast majority of kitesurfers learnt how to ride by taking lessons from a kite school. While the vast majority of other watersports don’t require nearly as much learning and certainly don’t oversee beginners through accredited training centres.
This means that the kitesurfing population are far more aware of the dangers involved not only to themselves but to other people too.
Think of it as driving a car or a motorbike. While anyone can drive a car, you need to have lessons and pass tests before driving a car/motorcycle on the open road.
And suppose everybody passes similar tests and is aware of the dangers before they ride a kiteboard. In that case, it’s no more dangerous than any other watersport.