Kitesurfing is one of those exciting sports that is fairly self-explanatory through its name - it involves a person standing on a board, holding onto a kite that gets its power from the wind and pulls the board along. And nothing beats the thrill of a ride on a kiteboard! You can kitesurf anywhere from the open sea to a lake or even on cold snow, and it's up to you how fast you go, with some riders choosing to chill, some to ride fast and others jumping with the kite. However you choose to ride your kite, you can be sure to have an awesome experience.
Riders strap on a harness to ease the pressure on the arms, and this also helps to ensure the riders are safe. Sometimes called kiteboarding, anyone who attempts it is known as a kiteboarder or kitesurfer, and for the coolest people simply a 'rider'. There are several million kitesurfers based everywhere from South Africa to Australia, and it is famous for being one of the only sports in the world that allows you to jump many metres up in the air - in fact it is actively encouraged! Riders can harness the power of the wind to do acrobatics or simply glide through the water and it is up to you whether you strap your feet in with bindings or footstraps.
Kitesurfing first began as a new sporting fad in the 1970s, when new materials made it easier to design and build stronger but lighter kites. It was in 1978 that the idea of kitesurfing really took off, when Ian Day pulled his catamaran Tornado through the water by a kite and one year later, the first patent for kitesurfing came along through a keen Dutch sportsman called Gijsbertus Adrianus Panhuise. However, kitesurfing almost didn't take off as his patent failed to result in any interest from the commercial markets. Nevertheless, Panhuise is often described as the person who invented the sport.
By the time the 1980s rolled around the concept began to garner a little more interest, with various people experimenting with kites attached to everything from skis and ice skates to rollerblades and even a canoe to power them along. German inventor Dieter Strasilla developed an inflatable kite to be used in the water, and he also created a unique parachute-come-sailing system that used a similar design to the modern kiteboards. These could be used on buggies, grasskies and surfboards, but the equipment we know today as a kiteboard was yet to hit the market.
It was left to French brothers Dominique and Bruno Legaignoux to invent what we now know as the modern kiteboard. The keen windsurfers and sailors had a deep understanding of wind, and they mixed their passion for the water with their knowledge of the wind to patent a kite design that was used by a multitude of companies before they began their own kiteboard company, Wipika. They are often considered to be the pioneers for the kiteboarding phenomenon that we all know and love today, yet it wasn't until 1997 that kitesurfing became an official sport.
In the 1990s, the kites used in the sport were typically C-shaped and there were only a handful of schools worldwide that taught the extreme sport, accompanied by a few shops that specialised in the gear. In 1998, the first ever kiteboarding competition was held in none other than surfers' paradise Muai in Hawaii, and Flash Austin took home to the title of champion. One year later and the sport really began to take off, and famous windsurfing brands started making their own kiteboards. There were two key names that helped to make kitesurfing a roaring success around the world - Naish and Neil Pryde. Naish purchased a license to make kites using the same method that had earlier been patented by Wipika, while Pryde manufactured kites in the same style that the Legaignoux brothers had used.
It was in the late 1990s when directional kiteboards were introduced and the sport finally took off to a whole new level.
So, who's who is the world of kitesurfing?
England's Aaron Hadlow is certainly the most famous name in kitesurfing, and he is to kitesurfing what Cristiano Ronaldo is to football. The multiple world champion has won more Pro Kiteboard Rider's Association (PKRA) competitions than any other rider, with an impressive five wins. He most recently won the Redbull King of the Air competition in Cape Town South Africa in 2015 and 2016.
Dutch rider Ruben Lenton won the same competition back in 2005, and in the same year he also competed in the PKRA, where he finished second overall in the freestyle world tour. Lenton also took part in the 2014 and 2015 King of the Air finals, and after finishing an impressive third in 2014, he crashed out hard the following year and dislocated his hand in the process.
Known as Austria's best kitesurfer, Spiessberger taught himself how to kitesurf by learning on Lake Traunsee while he was just a kid. After spending every summer honing his skills, he eventually headed to Egypt in 2008, where he learnt new tricks at a dedicated school. Just one year later he was crowned the Austrian Freestyle Champion. He has since filled his trophy cabinet with everything from a first place finish at the KTE in Barcelona in 2013 to fourth at the PKRA in Holland in 2012, and most recently he secured a fifth position finish at the PKRA Dakhla / Morocco 2015 competition.
Free styler and big air competitor Paul Serin from France has been crowned the French champion twice already, after learning how to kitesurf with his dad at the tender age of 11. He went to his first competition in 2010 as a junior, where he took the first place trophy. Many predict he will impress the judges for many more years to come.
Some of the other famous male names in the extreme sport include:
- Youri Zoon
- Reno Romeu
- Nick Jacobsen
- Alex Pastor
- Alberto Rondina
- Sebastien Garat
- Ariel Corniel
- Marc Jacobs
- Christophe Tack
- Liam Whaley
- Jesse Richman
- Kevin Langeree
However, it isn't just the men who like to have fun in the waves and there are plenty of women who can ride the waves on their boards just as well.
Susi Mai is arguably the most famous professional female rider, and grew up in Germany in a family who had a passion for windsurfing. Much like Hadlow, she has won the King of the Air and has also attracted sponsorship from the likes of Red Bull and Cabrinha. Mai recently spoke out about the future of kitesurfing and she believes that because the sport is eco friendly, kitesurfing looks set to grow in worldwide popularity.
Originally from Holland, Lammerts specialises in freestyle, big air and slalom riding, and like many of the most famous names in the sport she taught herself the basics from a young age. She has since helped to develop the Riptide kiteboard designed especially for women and she works closely with Brunotti, promoting everything from boards to eyewear. She became Vice European Champion in 2014 and is now focusing on the world championships in 2016. We are surely not alone when we say we are looking forward to see what she can bring to the sport in the coming years.
Other great female riders from the past and present include:
- Karolina Winkowska
- Bruna Kajiya
- Gisela Pulido
- Joanna Litwin
- Manuela Jungo
- Helena Brochoka
- Clementine Bonzom
- Annabel Wan Westerop
- Wiktoria Rosinska
- Hannah Whiteley
- Jalou Langeree
- Erika Lindberg
- Kirsty Jones
- Nicky Rudd
There are a few kitesurfing competitions that take place at various hotspots around the world each year, including the most famous, the PKRA. Most are freestyle, while others include slalom, downwinders, freeriders, wakestyle, jumping and racing, as well as specialist skills such as big air and another popular event is the wave riding competition KSP.
The global market for kite gear is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and this figure looks set to rise as the extreme sport continues to grow in popularity around the world. With historic names like Lenton and promising youngsters like Lammerts on the scene, there's an awful lot to be excited about for anyone involved in the awesome kitesurfing circuit.