I'm thinking about having a(nother) midlife crisis and learning to kite.
I'm 47, I'm time-poor, and I live in Ballarat which is as cold as arse and is an hour's drive from anywhere with a kiting scene.
I did a heap of sailing and board sports as a kid in Sydney, then got busy, then moved inland. I've been back sailing for about 6 years - the only real sailing scene here is racing Lasers, so that's what I'm doing, after a couple of years re-learning solo on an old catamaran. We have a couple of good size lakes and plenty of gusty inland wind.
But boats are bulky and inconvenient. Lasers are physically punishing, and my sketchy old man back gives me grief if I have a good session on the cat.
Word is geriatrics can kite. Maybe that's my future.
I've been watching a bunch of YouTube videos. Tonight was all about solo launches and landings, how dangerous they are, how it's only for experienced kiters, how dangerous solo kiting is in general.
Reality is, after a chunk of lessons in Melbourne and spending beginner time getting competent where there's others to call on in a crisis, if I'm going to sail a kite regularly, it's often going to be on the lakes, because I can't spare 3 hours drive time every time I want to head out for a quick sesh. And that means probably solo, because nobody else kites here.
I've been sailing my cat solo since I got it, mindful of safety (successfully self-rescued when I lost a mast one time), and I'm generally conservative and self-sufficient when I need to be.
Is solo kiting really a bad idea?
Should I stick to my boats?
Or try a different midlife crisis?
Haha, it might indeed be a bad idea, as it is an addiction! But you're asking a bunch of kiters.
Firstly, you've got many years ahead before considering yourself 'geriatric'.
I don't believe solo kiting to be particularly dangerous, once you know what you're doing and take appropriate precautions.
As you've got prior sailing experience and done a fair bit of research, it's likely that you'll learn kiting without any real issues.
Gusty winds can make self-launch & landings a bit sketchy, but you can learn techniques which eliminate any actual danger, beyond possible damage to your kite, from something going wrong.
If you can get some support even from a non-kiting mate, that could be very helpful for launch /landings and particularly for organising to pick you up from somewhere down-wind, where you're likely to end up in your early learning stages. (Maybe carry a phone in a waterproof pouch so you can call for a lift if you end up somewhere that's a bit far to walk back?)
The fitness benefits (especially for strengthening your back) of kiting easily outweigh any hazards and its always good to be learning something new. Maybe other people will even start kiting too, when they see you out there shredding on your lake!
We have students in their 70's learning to kite so no worries starting to learn at 47!
The learning process will be slower compared to learning in your 20's. I was a slow learner even in my mid 20's with lots of board sport background. Learning in poor conditions and challenging locations, it took me 1 year before I could get up and ride the board. It took me another 2 years before I could ride upwind well, do transitions and start learning my first jumps.
Being time poor and living far away from decent kite spots are major obstacles for you to learn and progress, but it can be done if you are determined and have lots of patience / perseverance.
Wind quality on lakes is often poor compared to ocean locations. You also have to consider getting some light wind specific equipment since you probably will be dealing with lighter winds in general (large size single strut kites and large twin tips is what I recommend).
I personally kited on lakes a lot as a beginner (including lakes in NSW) and I can tell you that it's much more difficult simply because winds are usually a lot less reliable and also because it can be hard to find a safe place to rig your kite, launch and land it. Learning to kite in lighter / gustier winds can be a lot harder compared to stronger / cleaner winds such as sea breezes. I was learning on a 16M kite by the way.
I recommend you start by reading this blog post from our website: www.kitebud.com.au/how-many-lessons-do-you-need-to-learn-kitesurfing/
Your background in sailing will only help a little bit but I'm sure you already understand that learning this sport will be completely different and require a whole new set of skills.
The truth is a lot of people kite solo, myself included. It's definitely not the smartest thing to do but if you are healthy you can mitigate the risks by taking smart decisions and getting some really good training (lessons). For example, if you are in a shallow water area with cross-on shore winds where other people can see you, it's a lot safer than going into deep waters with no one around.
You have to be very careful with YouTube videos. Self-launching and self-landing are skills that are very rarely performed / demonstrated safely. The videos often lack context and don't demonstrate what can go wrong and how to deal with things going wrong when self-launching or self-landing doesn't go as planned. This is the same issue with lessons nowadays where not enough is being done to show you how to handle the problematic sitautions.
Self-launching is something you should only worry about later on in your progression i.e. once you are able to ride upwind and do transitions.
Self-landing can be performed very safely (regardless of the wind conditions) as a complete beginner. We show this to our students in the very first lesson. You can check out these techniques in our online courses: www.kitebud.com.au/kitesurfing-online-courses/
It's hard to get quality lessons nowadays as most lessons are done in shallow waters with a focus to get you up and riding as quickly as possible. This means skipping over important steps that can make you a safer, more independent and more competent kitesurfer. You can read more about lesson quality here: www.kitebud.com.au/how-good-were-your-lessons/
Hope this helps
Christian - KiteBud
Wing foiling might be more suitable for lake riding. Handling gusty conditions with a kite requires a fair amount of skill. Wings are fairly benign in horrible conditions.
I think kiting safety relates very much to your appetite for risk. If you are cautious solo kiting on a lake, ensuring you have a safe launch and land area, that the wind is as good as it can be, that you minimise risky tricks then you should be ok. It is absolutely feasible that a careful kiter, who stays within their ability should be able to kite without issue. If you take lots of risks eventually something will catch you.
You've given me the biased confirmation I was looking for. Cheers for that.
Not saying that I'm geriatric yet, just aware that my days of getting beaten up by a Laser are numbered, and would be wise for my next craft to be something I can still do when I actually get old. I work with properly old people (I'm an audiologist), which gives a different perspective on aging.
I'll continue with my plans to get into some lessons when the weather improves next spring. Looks like there are a couple of kite schools in Melbourne - any recommendations or horror stories?
You get used to crappy inland lake wind, and it makes you appreciate sea breezes more. It was awesome holidaying down at Rosebud with my catamaran earlier this year, flying a hull basically the whole distance from Rosebud pier to Rye pier. Such lovely stable consistent pressure! We love the peninsula and I hope to spend a chunk of time kiting down there in years to come. Surely beats towing a boat down and queueing for a ramp to launch it.
Locally though, Lake Burrumbeet is our best sailing lake. About 10km across, 2m deep in the middle, with a long curved beach along the south shore that should have a cross/onshore somewhere along it a lot of the time. Just that it's pretty remote so you're really on your own if things go bad. Always have a phone on me when I sail out there.
A few of the Laser crew windsurf, although they only get out a handful of times a year these days. I would hope to head out to Burrumbeet with them whenever possible, for safety. Might end up converting them to kites. Haha.
Lake Wendouree, in the middle of Ballarat, is more convenient (2km from home, 2km across) but likely to be tricky for launches and landing due to lots of trees and structures around many parts of the foreshore. Also, being in town breaks the wind up - we end up with channels blowing along streets leading to the lake. That's where we race. You need local knowledge, like playing pool on a dodgy pub table.
I'll keep researching and over-analysing for a few months until next season. It's what I do.
Looks like there are a couple of kite schools in Melbourne - any recommendations or horror stories?
Take your time to shop around for lessons. Best to look for a particular instructor rather than a kite school. The quality of instruction can vary wildly between instructors in the same school. My advice is to look for an older, more experienced instructor who is able to adapt to your learning pace and specific training needs.
Lake Wendouree, in the middle of Ballarat, is more convenient
I had a quick look on Google Earth, those lakes look quite small and probably have very gusty winds.
As Gorgo and myself mentioned above you need strong quality wind to progress in kitesurfing. You simply cannot associate the wind needed to sail vs the wind needed to learn to kitesurf. Gusty, unreliable and light winds can make it impossible and dangerous to progress. As an example, when I was learning (mostly by myself) back in Canada, I remember taking my 16M kite out on lakes when it was windy. Pretty much made zero progress and never got to ride the board despite my countless attempts. The kite would constantly fall out of the sky with slack lines, wouldn't relaunch, etc. just a nightmare really.
One of the most common misconceptions from beginners is that light winds are easier and safer for learning...it's exactly the opposite and it took me a couple of years to figure that out! When I moved to Perth back in 2010 I couldn't believe the difference strong and reliable wind made in my progress. It was so easy!
When I went back to Canada 5 years later with all the experience I gained in Australia, I could manage to kite those lakes but 95% of the time on a hydrofoil since the winds are generally light and very gusty.
Even with a ton of experience and the right gear, I simply was not able to ride a twin tip on those lakes unless the wind was strong with gusts over 20 knots, which is very rare like in this picture:
The bottom line is unless the lakes close to where you live regularly have at least 15 knots (preferably 18) of clean and reliable wind as well as a safe area to rig, launch and land with the correct wind direction, then you can pretty much guarantee a similar experience to the one I had trying to learn on lakes back in Canada, meaning little to no progress, a ton of your time wasted and possibly damaging some gear if you are close to obstacles.
I am 65 and self taught myself to kite 22 years ago. If I could do it then you should be able to do it now.
There's lots of things you're going to encounter and have to deal with. One specific problem will be that you crash your kite and you won't be able to relaunch it. Relaunching is easy with plenty of steady wind. You might be caught in the lee of some land or trees or something and have not enough wind to relaunch. Relaunching in light wind is a skill. It's not that hard but if you're still learning it will be a bugger.
In the sea you simply go out in cross-onshore winds. If you get stuck then the wind and waves just push you back to the beach. On a lake I guess you can choose your spot so you're crossing a bit of a bay and get blown to a safe spot if you get stuck.
Rule 1 of all "extreme" sports is to have an escape route at all times and be able to use it. If you do that it can be very safe.
Harking back to wing foiling, if you run out of wind you can just drift and wait until you've got more wind. The whole relaunch thing is removed from the equation.