How much kite does a rider over 95kg need to get up and stay upwind in low winds of 12-13 knots? What about 15 knots? What size board should that rider use and how will size impact his/her riding ability? Assuming the rider is not a very experienced kitesurfer.
Some of the best kites for heavy riders are the Cabrinha Switchblade, the Best Roca, the Rally Catalyst, and the Ozone Zephyr. The best kiteboards for heavy riders include the Spleene Door, the Litewave Wing, the Liquid Force Libre, and the Ocean Rodeo Mako.
A heavy rider needs either a very big kite (e.g. 17m) or a very large board (e.g 165cm) to stay upwind in 14-15 knot winds. A rider over 100 kg typically needs 2 -3 m2 more than an average (75 kg) rider in low winds. The higher the wind speed, however, the lower the difference in kite and board size needed.
Best learning kite size for a heavy rider
Heavier guys/gals who take kiteboarding lessons are often given a 12m2 kite in 12-15 knot wind conditions, which greatly impairs their progression. Many kiteboard schools don’t have bigger kites available, or the instructor may be wary of the learner being overpowered and unsafe.
Kite instructors typically don’t realize 12m2 will not allow a 120 kg person to get up and ride in such low wind. As a result, a lot of heavier learners are unable to learn, get frustrated and just give up the sport. Conversely, those who are able to use a 14m or 16m typically have a good learning experience.
12-15 knots is typically nice for learning to kiteboard, but a 120-130 kg heavier rider will need a 16-17m2 kite to get going when an average size rider will be using a 12m2.
As a heavy rider, you’ll also make much quicker progress if you have a very large board to get started on. Renting or borrowing a huge 165 x 50 board can get you from not being able to get up to riding upwind in a single session. After a couple sessions, you’ll be able to scale down to a “normal” sized board.
Kite/board size & wind range for heavier riders
Power-to-weight ratio is the key measure to keep in mind. As a heavier rider, because of your size most people don’t know how to assess your kite size. You need more kite than the average rider.
You typically need 2-3m2 more than an average kiteboarder, e.g. 12m when others are using 9m. In higher winds, though, the difference shrinks, e.g. 9m when others use 7m.
Board choice also plays a crucial role in determining your kite size for a given wind. A bigger board makes a huge difference in getting up and staying upwind. A flatter board also gets you riding with much less power than a rockered board.
Here are some concrete examples of kite size / board / wind from heavy riders :
- 100 kg: 12m from 18 knots to 28 knots on a normal board, down to 13 knots on a Spleene Monster Door (just need enough wind to get the kite up)
- 100 kg: 17m2 from 12 knots to 22 knots on a 142 board
- 125 kg: 17m2 from 15 knots to 20 knots on a 146 x 44 board
- 115 kg: 14m2 (Switchblade) from 14 knots on a 165 Cabrinha Stylus
Thus, a bigger board with a smaller kite can be a good alternative. If you struggle in lighter winds, a bigger board, particularly a wider one, can help you pop up over the water faster.
As you get better, using an appropriate size board, you can choose a faster and more efficient kite that you’ll work instead of a “park and ride” approach which typically requires more kite surface.
In general, many heavier riders invest in a 17m / 12m / 9m kite size combination to cover most wind conditions. Their board quiver typically includes a huge door-style board (160+) and an all-around 142-146cm board for use in higher winds or with the 17m kite.
You should typically start with the 17m2 assuming a usual wind range of between 12-18 knots on most days at your local spot.
Kite issues and tips for heavier riders
Most kites on the market are tested with riders that weigh around 65-75 kg. There aren’t that many 100kg kiteboarders, even fewer who weigh 120 kg or more, so kite manufacturers don’t tend to focus much on those users.
One of the issues bigger heavy riders encounter when riding is “jellyfishing” i.e. the kite starts fluttering instead of the canopy staying rigid, which can lead to unsteady power in your kite.
Another, even more serious issue bigger riders tend to experience is the kite’s leading edge bending when power loaded for edging hard or during a jump, which very negatively affects the kite’s flight and stability.
This issue affects a lot of kite brands, particularly kites that use bridles. Riders over 100kg, namely those in the 120-130 kg range, often have to cope with bending. Note that certain models like the North Rebel (see Amazon page) and Dyno are less likely to bend.
If you see your kite leading edge bend when the kite is powered up, one way around the issue is to pump your kite as hard as you can. You can pump it up to at least 9.5 without making the pump handles snap.
Many riders are not pumping their kites up enough, typically up to around 7 psi. For bigger riders, not pumping the kite hard enough allows it to fold and can make it unflyable. Your leading edge should ping when you flick it. It should be hard (but not impossible) to fold the tips of your kite. Pumping the kite hard makes a big difference for the heavier rider.
Another way to reduce the likelihood of bending is to choose a 5 or 6-strut kite vs a 3-struts. The North Dyno is a good example of a good 6-struts light wind kite. The extra struts add to the kite’s structure and stability while also reducing fluttering.
Kites heavy riders like the most
Right off the bat, a large number of heavy riders choose the Cabrinha Switchblade. The Switchblade has great low end, is very stable, extremely well-built, and lasts for years – read about my own experience with the Switchblade.
The size riders choose obviously depends on the usual wind conditions at their local spot and which kiteboard sizes they have available. A typical example for a 100+ kg rider is to fly a 17-18m2 Switchblade in 9-10 knots when others are out on 12m.
At that size the Switchblade is slow, but it has high power and can pull your weight in light winds and get you through lulls.
You may choose to go for a smaller size, but for light winds a rider over 100 kg shouldn’t go below 14m using a larger board such as the Cabrinha Stylus (see Amazon page). For higher winds, smaller Switchblades (9 or 10m2) work great.
Alternative kites for heavy riders
Although the Switchblade is probably the most popular, a few other kites are also well-liked by heavy riders over 100 kg.
The Cabrinha Contra 17m2 is one of them, even though it’s a 3-strut kite. That kite is specifically designed for light wind and comes only in larger sizes. (see Amazon page)
The Ozone Zephyr 17m is another favorite among bigger riders. Also a light wind specific kite, It has a bigger leading edge than other Ozone kites and doesn’t bend easily under heavy weight and power loading. It’s not as resistant as the Switchblade but is more nimble and handles softer.
Heavy riders also find the Slingshot Turbine to be a very good light wind kite with decent low end at 17m2. The Slingshot Rally also works for bigger guys as it’s more energetic and has better relaunch than the Turbine, but it doesn’t come in sizes bigger than 14m.
Finally, the Best Roca 17m is popular amongst heavy riders, not just because of its competitive pricing, but also because of its light turning capability and low var pressure which makes it feel almost like a 12m2 – only slower. Check out the Best Roca page on the manufacturer’s website.
Some kiteboards heavy riders often use
The following are some boards heavy kiteboarders often choose for light wind:
- Spleene Monster Door 166 x 50: often considered the ultimate lightwind board for heavier riders, this big, flat and lightweight (but expensive) board offers very good upwind riding. Check it on Amazon.
- Aboards Glider: 164 x 50, 154 x 48 or 147 x 45. Popular light wind and heavy rider board with great floatation and unusual lightweight.
- Liquid Force Libre: ultra light and ultra flat light wind board, works well for heavier riders. The 150cm is reasonably priced, see the Amazon page.
- Shinn King Gee: a light wind board from a Polish manufacturer designed for doing jumps despite a relatively flat shape thanks to the flex tips. Comes in sizes 146 x 46 and 150 x 50.
- Litewave Wing: ultra light wind board with wide tips that give the board good pop and allow it to carve nicely with little power.
- Cabrinha Stylus 165: optimized for extremely light wind planing and edging. Heavy riders often use the 165 version with a smaller kite. Also comes in 150cm – see it on Amazon
- Ocean Rodeo Mako: a very pricey board, an all-time best seller among heavy riders and kiteboarders in general. Rounded shape, very good upwind capabilities. See Amazon page
Conclusion: the right kite gear for a heavier rider
As a bigger kiteboarder, you don’t have to sit on the bench on light wind days! You do have to gear up properly, though.
Even though your kitesurf school instructor may have put a 12m2 kite in your hands when learning, in light winds you’ll probably need something bigger, at least 3m2 more than an average size rider.
Just as important as your kite size – if not more- is board size and shape. The bigger and flatter your board, the broader the wind range you’ll be able to ride upwind for a given kite size. Another way to look at it is, a bigger kiteboard will let you go with a smaller and faster kite.
Even though your weight may handicap you in light wind conditions – something you can work around with properly sized gear and by well-inflated kites, that disadvantage progressively fades away as the wind gets stronger – and of course, as you build up your riding skills.