Kitesurfing as the fastest emerging extreme sport

a woman kiteboarding midair
Photo by Harold Granados on

By Julia Luise Tiemens 

Over the last  two years I have been happily spending my summer holidays teaching kitesurfing in Spain. Talking about my summer, something that I increasingly notice is that many people have no idea what this new sport includes, despite it becoming more and more common. Kite surfing is today the fastest emerging extreme sport, making it very internationally widespread. This includes the audience becoming more and more diverse, the technologies evolving, and making the sport safer and more accessible. The art of kitesurfing is a beloved passion of many and an inclusive place where the new generation finds its adrenaline, embedded in a supportive community. 

Further than being one of the fastest emerging extreme sports, Kitesurfing has been the highest-growing water sport. It is based on three parts; including a board, a control system (consisting of lines that are attached to a harness), and a Kite, which pulls the surfer. The challenge here is to coordinate the control of all three and put this together with the environment it is placed in. As for every sport, there are very different levels; ranking from a beginner level of basic riding to a pro-level including high jumps and tricks. These are rated in the “International Kite Organisation” (IKO), where riders are given licenses according to their levels. However, however good the level at the base of any good surfer lies the understanding of the wind, weather, and water. 

It is crucial to gain knowledge concerning how to read the clouds and comprehend their meaning. An example is “Cumulus Nimbus” clouds bringing hail storms or “Cirrus” clouds promising us good weather.  On top of that the waves play a big role and the features of the oceans bring a lot of information. From the colors and the whitecaps for instance, the wind can be forecasted. Not only to surf, but also in safety contexts, it is essential to be on top of the different wind directions and strengths. During Kite, the goal is to cross up against the wind, to be able to get out into the ocean and have space to do tricks. This means that from the beginning it is a given requirement to work with nature itself. Every beginner for instance has to be aware that to go out, onshore or side shore directions are required. When first starting Kite surfing a wind strength between 11-25 knots is ideal, while the more progression one makes, the more wind is asked for. Professionals have dreams of surfing storms, as they push tricks to higher levels. Everything in the sport is based on the wind, even down to the kite size. Usually, we can say that the bigger and heavier a person is, the bigger we want the kite to be, and vice-versa, however, this is not all. Another important factor is the strength of the wind; the stronger, the smaller the kite has to be. As the wind is different every day and has to be observed, even the equipment differs from day to day and from spot to spot. Also, the spot is very relevant throughout learning. There are different spots, with different target groups (in terms of rider level), made by the different conditions which include choppy water or rocks. For beginner level a spot with flat water, no shore break, and no reef or current is ideal.

We can say that Kitesurfing is a relatively new sport, which makes it possible for the technologies to evolve rapidly and with grand progress. It is a highly unsure and debated question, who invented the first Kite, still we know for a fact that the first Patents in the 1970s were acquired by the two brothers Bruno and Dominique Legaignoux. They developed a model of a Kite, that we still base today’s commonly used Tube Kites on. Back then, the Sport was extremely dangerous as the equipment was very dangerous and unforgiving. The lovers of the sport were true adrenaline junkies risking their life, which is why it is still defined as an extreme sport today. Despite that, new inventions, like solid security systems, have brought a lot of safety to the water and made the hobby more accessible in geographical and meteorological terms. Here, innovations like the “Wing Foil” or big boards like the “Door”, allow the use in very low wind conditions, bringing flexibility. 

What comes surprising to many is that although we consider it to be an extreme sport, nowadays, with the new technologies, security systems, and aerodynamics, everyone can learn it. Kite knows no age limit and even people in a lower fitness state engage more often. It becomes very common to see ten-year-old-children on the beach or men in their 70s  still jumping. The key to this is simply an awareness of security, combined with a healthy amount of respect. However, we can witness grand changes in the kite community throughout the last few years. First of all, the moderation in the risk of extreme sports has led to an increase in the number of participants. The desire to practice such leisure sports is especially observed among young people, who crave challenge, danger, and going beyond their limits. This allows many to leave behind daily routines and comfort zones, by satisfying adrenaline needs. Further, this concept is pushed by the wish for keeping up and not being outdone. Even more than new participants in the young generation, we also witness an increasing number of women being eager to practice various extreme sports, especially in the water. One theory is that this is pushed by the increasingly high media presence that Kite surfing has gained. 

All of this leads us to question: Is Kite turning from an extreme into a trend sport? Certainly, a transition from the area of leisure sports to that of competitive sports has taken place. This has increasingly developed and expressed its Olympic aspiration. In terms of Kite, huge commercial competitions are born and famous companies increasingly invest in the sport. Red Bull, for instance, has its own team or Porsche began to have a share in the spirit, by putting their logo on boards and setting tournaments. Red Bull stages the biggest annual event at phenomenal spots, focusing on big air jumps. These require increasingly stronger winds, which makes many athletes skeptical but also pushes them to experiment with “storm force” with special equipment. Winds that used to be considered “unrideable” have been tamed and conquered with so-called “mega loops”. Here we have disciplines that include the athletes doing tumbles, unhooked tricks, and grabs, which require high gymnastic skills. Many pros jump up to the height of fifteen-story buildings, where they perform their turns and loops. Riders, who are called legends in the sport, have emerged like “Robbie Naish” or “Susi Mai”, who have beaten what we know in terms of big air. However, one cannot forget that serious injuries can be caused, as after all, it is an extreme sport. The increased presence in media and competitive contexts drives more and more people to the beaches all over the world to try it. Also in terms of companies and profits, chances have been opened through this. Major brands, like North, Core, Ozone, or F.One, have been able to build their empires and benefit majorly. Ozone, for instance, has used this chance by extending its target audience to all kinds of Wind-powered sports, like windsurfing, sailing, or paragliding. 

However commercialized Kite is becoming and for whatever reason people might start, it is undeniable that it goes way beyond a mere sport. Kite surfers have built a giant supportive community, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. In this sense, one helps the other and it is really easy to make friends of all kinds of ages and ethnicities, as all are united by their common passion. This community is extremely helpful and open-minded, turning the beach into a very genuine environment. Moreover, the sport gives one the opportunity to travel to gorgeous places and experience different spots. There are many ways to progress and everyone can move at their own speed. It is a sport where in reality one competes against one’s mind, pushing past limits and making not only the body but further the mind stronger. 

One could conclude that as much as a “trend-sport” Kite has become, as much as it is still a high-intensity sport that allows people to work in their comfort zone. The new emergence of technologies and gadgets has made the previously deadly sport, relatively safe and accessible. At the same time, the increased participation has built a loving community. A common sentence in the kite community is “kite destroyed my life”. Many Surfers argue that kites would have “destroyed” their life because once they first hit the board they could never go back to the land.


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