Rafa Ortiz gets four sports in one day
© Rafa Ortiz

Up your kitesurfing game with our beginner’s guide

Everything you need to know about learning to kitesurf, from choosing an instructor to buying kit and how to get started.
Written by Lucy Grewcock
10 min readUpdated on
Kitesurfing has to be one of the coolest sports you can do on water, but how do you get started in the first place? Where can you learn and how long does it take? To find out all about becoming a bona fide kitesurfer, we spoke to UK instructor Luke Denny, and three-time world wave champion and kitesurf coach, Kirsty Jones.
Follow these tips and this'll be you before you know it:

What is kitesurfing?

Kitesurfing is a wind-powered watersport that uses a kite and a board to propel you across the water. Despite the name, it doesn’t have to involve wave surfing – kitesurfing can be done on mirror-flat lagoons, as well as in choppy seas or big waves. All you need is wind and water.
There’s a lot of fun and progression to be had with kitesurfing. Once you've mastered the basics of riding along and staying upwind, you can start going faster, jumping, doing freestyle tricks, riding waves or going on long ‘downwinders’ along the coast.
If you want to see how kitesurfing is performed at an elite level than look no further than Red Bull King of the Air, one of kitesurfing's premier competitions for pro athletes.
Watch the best moments from Red Bull King of the Air 2022:

25 min

Best of the kitesurfing action

18 athletes competed, but only one came out on top. Get an insider's look at the best action from Kite Beach.

English +1

The 2023 event takes place once the weather conditions are just about right in a period between the end of November (November 24) to December 10. For more info, go to the Red Bull King of the Air event page.

What skills do you need to get started?

Most beginners are completely new to boardsports, watersports and kite-flying, so lessons start from scratch. “Many have never flown a kite or done another watersport in their life. Some have never even put on a wetsuit,” says Kirsty Jones. For safety reasons, you should be comfortable swimming in open water.

How fit do you need to be?

You don’t need to be super-fit to kitesurf. And the kit is lightweight, so you don’t need lots of muscle strength either. However, a general level of fitness will help you progress faster, give you more stamina on the water and help you avoid injuries.
Contestants rest from kitesurfing at BK Freestyle Kitesurfing 2018.

A decent level of fitness will help with learning to kitesurf

© Tom Leyden


Do you need lessons?

Yes. Any kitesurfer who respects the sport will agree that beginner lessons are essential. As well as getting you up and riding as soon as possible, a good instructor will furnish you with essential safety know-how and procedures. Without this knowledge, you’re a danger to yourself and everyone else on the water and beach.

Where can you get lessons?

You can find kitesurf schools and instructors around the globe. Most allow you to book online, and they offer anything from the choice of weekday and weekend lessons and longer packages.
Luke doing his thing in Zanzibar

Luke doing his thing in Zanzibar

© kitesurfkings.com

Or if you want full immersion try a kitesurf camp. Kitesurf camps like Heliophora in Dakhla off the coast of west Africa, Dare2Fly in Cabarete in the Dominican Republic, or at a whole host of other camps, based everywhere from Egypt to Brazil, to Sri Lanka and the Caribbean.

How do you choose an instructor or kite school?

“All instructors must have completed a training course with a recognised body [like IKO, BKSA or VDWS],” advises Luke Denny. “But, in my opinion, it’s not good enough to simply go through the syllabi. An instructor with lots of pre-and post-qualification experience is in a better position to coach you safely and successfully. They should also have a real passion for people – without this, they’re unlikely to give you the care, attention and confidence boost that new kiters need. If you’re unsure, ask friends or other kiters for recommendations.”
Luke Denny, Kitesurfkings

Luke Denny, Kitesurfkings

© kitesurfkings.com

An instructor with lots of pre-and post-qualification experience is in a better position to coach you safely and successfully
Luke Denny
If you’re learning overseas, make sure that you can communicate easily with your instructor. And don’t be afraid to ask about the kit you’ll be using. “Learning with new equipment that’s in excellent condition is ideal, and beginners should always be given suitable flotation vests and helmets. Learning with substandard equipment is not recommended,” Denny says.

What kit do you need for lessons?

Any decent instructor or kiteschool should provide the kit. They’ll have a range of different kites, boards and safety equipment to suit you and a full range of different wind conditions.
Participants seen at Red Bull Gone with the Wind in Knokke-Heist, Belgium on February 21st, 2016.

Most schools provide you with all the kit you'll need

© Damián Dávila/Red Bull Content Pool

In some cases, you may need your own wetsuit – check with the school first. Sun protection is important, too, especially if you’re learning abroad – consider things like waterproof sun-cream, a rash vest (thin top to protect your arms), a cap and polarised sunglasses.

What will I learn?

A standard beginner’s course is broken down into three core elements:
A kitesurfing instructor teaches a lesson.

A beginner's course starts on land with lessons in kite control

© kitesurfkings.com

  1. Flying a kite on land: launching, landing and kite control
  2. Flying a kite in the water: body dragging, control and re-launching
  3. Getting up and riding on a board
Within these elements, you'll also learn about:
  • Assessing an area for safe kiting conditions
  • Understanding the wind direction, strength and gusts
  • Understanding tides, currents and hazards
  • Choosing the right equipment for the conditions
  • Setting-up, tuning and packing down your equipment
  • Safety procedures and what to do in an emergency
  • Board-starts (getting up on the board)
  • Continuous riding and speed control
  • How to stay upwind
  • Rules and rights of way on the water

How many lessons do you need before you’re up and riding?

“Most people need around 10-12 hours, or a course of three lessons to get up and riding along. Some need more – or if a student has prior board-riding experience [like wakeboarding or windsurfing], plus the right one-to-one coaching, they could potentially be independent in a single day,” says Luke.
An image of a kitesurfer in action on the water.

Get ready for a fun time on the water!

© Brandon Scheid

If a student has prior board-riding experience, plus the right one-to-one coaching, they could potentially be independent in a single day
Luke Denny
“By the end of a course, you should have the knowledge and full skill set to make independent decisions and practise safely. This includes being able to assess each location and have a full grasp of weather, wind, tides and their impact, as well as knowing how to stay safe in all conditions.”

How do you know when you’re ready to stop having lessons?

”First of all, it's essential that you’re signed off by a qualified instructor,” says Jones. “They can give you a card stating that you have reached the suitable level (level 3 for IKO) to be independent and able to rent. Secondly, even if you have been signed off by an instructor, you must feel ready yourself, and it's always best to start with lessons whenever you feel unsure or go to a new kitesurf location.”
Ruben Lenten riding by the camera and making a peace sign in Le Morne, Mauritius.

Dutch kiteboarder Ruben Lenten in his element

© Joel Capillaire/Red Bull Content Pool

Denny agrees: “The ultimate decision is between the student and instructor – and you should only kitesurf independently when you feel 100 percent ready.” If not, book some more coaching, supervision or do a refresher course.

What are the main challenges you’ll face as a beginner?

Building your confidence and trusting your equipment is the first hurdle for many. Being strapped to a kite can feel scary at first, but a good instructor will help you relax and show you just how safe modern kiting equipment is, provided you use it right. Some people take a long time simply building up the confidence to get started: “The biggest challenge for some is actually taking the plunge to sign up for their first lesson!” says Jones.
Participant performs at Red Bull Gone with the Wind in Knokke-Heist, Belgium on February 21st, 2016.

Learn to trust the equipment

© Nathan Polis/Red Bull Content Pool

Beginners often get to grips with kite-flying and body-dragging through the water pretty quickly, but controlling the kite in all conditions, getting up on the board and staying upwind usually takes more time, patience and practice.
Denny points to another stumbling block: “Accepting that the wind strength and wind directions can change from what’s forecast is a challenge for some. Some people struggle with this level of uncertainty so we always highlight it at the booking stage.”

What kit should you buy as a beginner?

There’s no need to buy anything straight away, as any good instructor will provide equipment. “You’ll have a better idea about what to buy once you’ve completed the course – the location you plan to kite in, for example, will make a difference to the kite size you need,” Jones advises.
“And you may outgrow some of your entry-level equipment if you buy too soon.” Beginners often learn with a seat harness, a larger board and a floatation aid. Later on, you’ll probably want to change to a waist harness, smaller board and lower-profile impact vest. “But there’s always the option to part-exchange or sell your equipment when you've outgrown it.”
A boarder get to grips with the rough Baltic Sea

A boarder get to grips with the rough Baltic Sea

© Sebastian Marko/Red Bull Content Pool

Many kites, on the other hand, are suitable for all levels. The most common designs have an inflatable leading edge and a bridle to attach your lines to. At a beginner level, you don’t need to worry too much about specialist designs, as modern ‘everyday’ kites usually come in standard ‘bow’ or ‘delta’ shapes (both are good for beginners). Other kite types include C-kites (lots of power and lift); hybrids (a cross between a C-kite and bow-kite); and foil kites (used for hydrofoil kitesurfing).
Ines Correia on the beach with her surfboard, photographed through a tube.

Preparing for some action on the waves...

© Predrag Vuckovic/Red Bull Content Pool

When you are ready to buy, use your instructor to help you choose the kite and kit that’s best for you. If you can’t afford a range of different kite-sizes, you may need to hire occasionally if the wind is too strong or too light for your own kite(s).
Kitesurf kit is lightweight and easy to transport – if you don’t have a car, you could catch a bus, taxi or carry your kit to the beach.
Beginner kit list:
  • Kite – the size you’ll need depends on the wind strength
  • Bar and lines – the right size/length to match the kite
  • Board – beginners often start on larger sizes
  • A seat or waist harness – seat harnesses are easier to learn on
  • Safety leash and safety knife
  • Floatation vest – kitesurfing vests have a gap for your bar
  • Helmet – one that’s specifically designed for kitesurfing
  • Wetsuit – if learning in cold-water destinations

Is it okay to buy second-hand gear?

Buying an older board is fine but newer is better for kites, bars and lines. Jones explains: “New equipment is always evolving, especially the kites. Equipment gets better every year. If possible, go for the latest and newest equipment you can afford, and buy from a shop or person you trust.”
Contestant blows up kite for kitesurfing competition.

Invest in a good kite

© Fabio Piva/ Red Bull Content Pool

If you have one pot of gold allocated, then the majority of that should go on the best kite and bar possible
Luke Denny
“There are often excellent deals to be had on the previous season's kit – still new and with full warranty, this is a wise way to go,” adds Denny. “If you have one pot of gold allocated, then the majority of that should go on the best kite and bar possible.”

Do you need a license to kitesurf independently?

Generally speaking, you don’t need a licence but third party liability insurance is recommended, in case you injure another person or crash into their boat, car or expensive kitesurf kit!
Kitesurfer Susanne Mai pauses in the water for a photo.

Sun, sea and surfing

© Predrag Vučković/Red Bull Content Pool

Some spots do require a local permit, so you should always checking before launching somewhere new.

Are there any beginner-friendly clubs you can join?

According to Denny: “If you’ve learned on your local beach, then ask your instructor – they may be able to introduce you to other like-minded newbies they’ve taught.” Alternatively, search online for local clubs, even if you’re not based on the coast there may be groups that organise events and social activities, as well as lift shares to kitesurf spots.
Find someone at your level to kite with

Find someone at your level to kite with

© kitesurfkings.com


Finally, any tips for that first lesson?

“Try to relax and feel the wind and kite with sensitivity, not brute strength,” says Jones. “Being tense, gripping and rushing will block that intuitive feeling and progression.” Patience is important, too: “Learning to kitesurf is broken into steps – each one is an important part of the progression process, and has to be practised.”
Luke Denny qualified with both the IKO and BKSA. He runs Kitesurfkings kitesurf school in the UK and organises international training camps across the globe.
Kirsty Jones is a fully qualified kitesurf, windsurf, surf and yoga coach, and a full-time professional kitesurfer. She offers kite workshops, retreats and one-to-one coaching in various locations worldwide.

Part of this story

Red Bull King of the Air

18 of the world’s best kiteboarders descend upon Cape Town for some massive air. This year the series features four qualifying events in Argentina, USA, Denmark and France, plus an online qualifier.

13 Tour Stops

Red Bull King of the Air

The 2023 fleet consisted of the top three finishers from the 2022 competition, the champions of the Red Bull King of the Air Qualifier Series and the victors of the Online Qualifier.

South Africa