Ready to put your twintip aside and get started on a kite surfboard? Riding a directional board opens a whole new world of kitesurfing. For most kiteboarders, however, choosing a first directional board is a major challenge due to their lack of experience.
So what should you choose for a beginner kite surfboard? There are two sets of factors you need to take into account and match: on the one hand, you own build, expected riding style, and most common conditions you ride in. On the other hand, the main characteristics of the surfboard, including its length, volume, shape, material, fin setup, and even price.
In this post, I’m not going to go through highly technical, shaper-style considerations on the qualities of a surfboard. Rather, I’ll share what I’ve learned from my own experience switching from twintip to surfboard, and over time, trying all kinds of surfboards in various types of conditions.
Kite surfboard types and characteristics
Before we address how to choose the right directional board to begin with, let’s briefly look at the types of boards that exist out there and some key differences between them.
- Kite surfboard length: the most obvious and visible characteristic is the board’s length. Most surfboards used in kitesurfing are in the 5’4 to 6’4 range. Generally, I found that longer boards work better for bigger waves and lighter wind.
- Kite surfboard volume: most directional kiteboards have a volume between 25 and 35 liters. Volume determines the board’s buoyancy, which in turn affects the board’s ability to get gliding fast with less kite power. Volume, on the other hand, can make turning slower.
- Kite surfboard shape: a board’s shape determines its volume, but 2 boards with similar volume can have very different shapes. E.g. a fishtail is shorter, wider and thicker than a thruster, and thus get more speed in small mushy waves but won’t turn nearly as well.
- Kite surfboard rocker: the rocker is the boards lengthwise curvature (banana shape). In general, a flatter rocker leads to better planing (getting sliding on the water) and speed in turns, while more rocker helps snap tighter top and bottom turns in a wave.
- Kite surfboard rails: thicker rails add buoyancy and help maintain speed and momentum better. Thinner rails allow you to dig the board rail deeper in the water in turns, and thus facilitates turning. Of course, there’s a lot more to rails but that’s the basic principle.
- Kite surfboard concave: this has to do with the way water flows under the board when riding, as a concave bottom acts a bit like a channel. Different concave shapes give you a different feeling in choppy water vs in the waves.
- Kite surfboard fins: directional boards typically have either 2, 3 or 5 fins. There’s a lot of science around fins, but I find 3 fins work best in real waves, twin fins give the most speed but with skatey turns, and quad fins are best for upwind and jibes but slows down carving.
- Kite surfboard material: classic “paddle” surfboards made PU foam, polyester resin and fiberglass have nice flex for waves but give in fast, whereas specific kitesurf boards use tougher foam and skin material that make them stronger but stiffer and often heavier.
- Kite surfboard price: you can start on a PU regular surfboard for $60 to $200, you can get a kite specific board used for $300-500, or a brand new kite surfboard for $700-$1200. A kite specific board may last a lot longer but will give you a lot more stress if you damage it.
Now that we know the things that differentiate a directional kiteboard from another, let’s look at how these characteristics apply to you when choosing your beginner kite surfboard, based on your specific situation.
1. Your skill level and riding goals
The type of beginner kite surfboard you choose will depend on your general kitesurfing and/or surfing skills. If you’re a kiteboarder transitioning from twintip to directional, you may want to start with wider and flatter board that gets planing quickly and easily similar to a twintip.
If, on the other hand, you’re a proficient paddle surfer, you may feel comfortable learning to kitesurf on a regular surfboard, e.g. something around 6’0 in length and 2.5″ wide, for which you already have the stance down.
Although you can use your “surfing” PU foam surfboard to start kitesurfing on flat water or in small waves, be aware that the board’s deck is likely to collapse quickly under the pressure of your feet as you ride it with a kite. Surfing boards are not designed to resist the intense pressure from kitesurfing, namely edging upwind.
Even though I’m a long time, seasoned surfer, for my first directional kitesurf board I bought a used Wainman Gambler fishtail, 5″10 long, 20″ wide and 2.5″ thick, with a relatively large volume. The gambler made if very easy for me to get riding vs one of my regular surfboards.
2. Your height and weight
If you’re a heavier person, you typically want to start on a bigger board, i.e. one with more volume. A fishtail with a quad-fin setup, for example, can give you the buoyancy and stability you need to start riding comfortably and help you find the right stance with different amounts of kite power.
A good option for a heavier rider getting into directional kitesurfing is the North Whip (2015 or later) as it has lots of volume and a very wide outline, all the way from the tail to the nose, making for a floatable and stable board that copes well with extra weight.
If you’re a taller rider, all other things being equal you probably need a longer board. The 5″10 Gambler was perfect for me since I’m 6″1 – 5″10 may seem like a short size for a surfboard but you also need to take into account the shape and volume of the board. The 5″7 may have been a better choice for a shorter rider, though.
People often advise choosing a surfboard 2″ shorter than you. Truth is, though, there’s no hard and fast rule, as many other factors come into account. The 2″ rule may apply for a typical thruster shortboard for true surf conditions, but not necessarily for beginners and bulkier boards
3. Your average local conditions
The choice of a beginner kitesurfing surfboard is also affected by the sea and wind conditions you have access to.
If you’re going to be riding mostly in flat or choppy water or in small waves (< 1m) in lighter wind conditions (15kn max), then choose a board with volume and width, thicker rails, wide tail (e.g. fish), twin or quad-fin. The board’s planing ability and speed will make up for the moderate power from your kite.
Again, I’ve used the Wainman Gambler for exactly these kinds of conditions with great success. The North Nugget is a good option for a beginner in flattish and light wind conditions.
If, on the other hand, your local spot has strong (18+ knots) onshore winds and waves up to 1.5-2m, you may prefer a thinner board with a bit of rocker and a couple inches shorter than you, that can cut through chop and waves.
The thinner and narrower the board, the longer it should be to make up for lost volume so you can still move around and jibe comfortably on it. For really strong winds, however, much longer surfboards (6″2 +) fly off more easily in wind gusts.
4. Your riding objectives
The last thing that will influence your choice of a beginner kite surfboard is how you wish to evolve down the road. Do you mostly freeride or freestyle and only want a directional for those occasional flat / small waves, light wind days?
Do you expect to mostly slash big messy waves in 20-25 knot onshore conditions? Or is your ultimate goal to travel to top wave spots and learn to truly surf perfect waves in perfect cross/offshore wind conditions?
If you intend to surf bigger waves, keep in mind you may quickly outgrow your Gambler or Nugget – or, it’ll just become your light wind fallback as you move on to a more high-performance board.
Kite surfboards for offshore and onshore conditions have different requirements and thus shape characteristics. Both need to turn fast in the wave, but onshore boards are mostly powered by the kite’s pull whether offshore boards are designed to mainly ride the wave with minimum kite action – like a regular surfboard.
Onshore kiteboards are narrow and long to cut through the wind and waves, while offshore boards are typically closer to paddle surfboards, wider in the middle and with more rocker and concave for rail-to-rail transitions and wave slashing.
Many boards, however, are good all-rounders that will perform well in both types of conditions, such as the Slingshot Celeritas and the North Pro Session.
5. Your budget
After learning directional kitesurfing on my Wainman Gambler, I started taking it into small waves, then bigger ones, and eventually hit a progress ceiling as the board was super stable and wide but not turny and grippy enough for those bottom and top turns in the waves.
I didn’t want to fork out another $600-800 for a wave board, so I started buying some used boards that allowed me to test different shapes and sizes. You really don’t know what you want until you try a lot of things!
Also, a friend of mine was buying old PU surfboards, fixing them and reinforcing the rails for wave kitesurfing. The boards were 6″1 to 6″3 and worked very well in waves. At about $250 they were a great deal, so I got one and improved my surfing in all sorts of wave conditions.
I also had a chance to test a high-performance Pro Session board at a North (Duotone) school. The kite surfboard was amazingly fast, reactive, turny, and very very easy to ride strapless. It’s also incredibly lightweight and is apparently strong and durable despite school use.
The Pro Session, however, is insanely expensive – over $1000! If I were to buy a new Duotone surfboard, I’d probably get the Quest TT instead, a newer board, versatile, reasonably priced, very durable and ding resistant, with a classic surfboard style design.
My final word? after trying a bunch of boards, I picked up a used ($250) Resin8 Sam Egan 5″11 “paddle” surfboard – one you can drive on top of without snapping it! It’s super light with a perfect shape for my local conditions (onshore, midsize waves) and doesn’t even cave in over time!
The number of options for choosing a beginner kite surfboard is overwhelming. Where you start, you typically don’t know what you’re looking for, what your riding style will be, and what kind of wave and wind conditions you’ll primarily be riding in.
Directional kiteboards come in many shapes and sizes, and each feature has an impact on the kind of kitesurfing it will allow you to do. Small waves, big waves, light wind, onshore or offshore wind, strapless, strapped… There are so many factors and combinations to consider.
Avoid going insane by finding a wide, flat, stable board to begin on, if possible at a low price (e.g. used). You’ll soon outgrow that board, and perhaps keep it for light wind days. Then you’ll move on to a surfboard better suited for your kind of wind and waves.
Remember, you don’t have to break the bank to get into directional kitesurfing. There are some great deals out there once you know what to look for – including on the “classic surf” side!