Choosing your first kite can be a serious challenge! There are so many brands and models available out there. When you ask fellow kitesurfers, everyone seems to have a different answer. As for the school you went to for your initial kitesurfing lessons, they typically just want to sell you their stuff…
So what’s the best kiteboarding kite for beginners? The most important things you need to take into consideration when choosing your first kite are:
- Good stability
- Good depower
- Easy relaunch
- Large wind range
- Easy to use safety system
- Adequate size given weight / wind / board size
- No older than 3 years
- $500-600 including bar
- Minimal wear (if used)
In this article, I’ll go through the above aspects to help you understand exactly what to look for in a beginner kite, as I’ve been through this experience myself quite a few times.
Note : by “beginner” here I mean you’ve completed at least 8-10 hours of guided instruction in a kitesurf school, and you’ve paid your dues on a rented or used kite up to the point you’re able to ride upwind in average conditions (12-25 knots wind in flat or slightly choppy water).
NOTE: if you’re a beginner kiteboarder, PLEAAASE make sure you wear good kiting sunglasses! As a newbie, you’re constantly looking at your kite and into direct sunlight, which can have a nasty impact on your eyes! See my in-depth post about the best sunglasses I’ve found for kiteboarding (not just for showing off on the beach!)
What should you first look for in a beginner kite?
Obviously, the most important aspect of choosing your first kite as a beginner is safety. This includes the kite’s ability to relaunch after falling down into the water, the amount of depower it has, the kite’s ability to handle high winds well, and the quick release system.
Stability and depower
Your kite should have solid depower i.e. it should stop dragging or lifting you when you push out or let go of your control bar, particularly in stronger winds. Some kites, such as C kites, have little depower, which can be a hurdle for beginners.
Besides to depower, some kites have much more pull and bar pressure than others. As a beginner, having a powerful kite even in lower winds makes you feel more secure vs a kite that quickly stalls in lower wind. As a beginner, it’s also much easier to ride and stay upwind powered up than underpowered.
Your beginner kite needs to be stable. Stability is related to drift. A kite’s drift refers to its stability when parked, e.g. when depowered and positioned at 12 o’clock. You want your beginner kite to drift with you and not fall out of the window or have its canopy flapping canopy when depowered.
Turning speed is another stability factor. Kites that turn fast require more advanced skills to control and can be harder to jump with. As a beginner, you’ll soon want to try jumps, and you’ll want your kite to give you the confidence you need to learn new tricks.
Relaunch & wind range
Relaunching ability is a crucial feature in a beginner kiteboarding kite since you’ll still be crashing your kite quite a bit as you learn and try new things. Some kites are much easier to relaunch after falling into the water than others.
Bow kites, delta kites, and hybrid type kites have the best relaunch capabilities vs C kites. Bow and delta kites also have less power, are more stable in the air, and have a broader wind range which makes them good options for a beginner kite.
All three types make good kites for beginners, being forgiving, stable and offering good depower and relaunch capability. Hybrid kites have more power, especially when turning, which makes them slightly more technical to control but more versatile for future progression.
When it comes to choosing your first kite, however, don’t worry too much about the kite type, i.e. whether it’s a bow, delta or hybrid. The distinction between them is not always clear-cut and manufacturers often classify kites arbitrarily to highlight some features vs others. As long as you stay clear of pure C-kites for your beginner kite, you should be fine.
What about control and safety systems?
There are all kinds of control bars and safety systems. Some use pull straps for adjusting the length of front lines (aka power/depower) while others use “high-tech” buttons.
The sliding range of your bar can usually be adjusted to ensure it’s always within your arms reach. Some bars even have adjustable bar length.
Then there’s the kite’s safety / quick release (QR) system. It allows you to flag your kite, that is, release the lines to depower the kite completely, only keeping it attached to your harness on one line without any traction in them.
Some older kites release on 2 lines instead of just one, which improves relaunch but makes it harder to completely depower the kite for self-rescue. You can easily add a fifth line on these kites so they’ll release on just that line, allowing the kite to shed all of its power. Most newer kites, however, release on a single line, so be sure to check that when choosing your beginner kite.
Some quick release systems are triggered by pulling on a strap, others by pushing a handle away from the harness. Push-triggered systems are safer as they’re more intuitive and require less effort to activate. Some QR systems actually trigger too easily, which can also constitute a hazard.
The QR on your beginner kite should also be easy to put back on, i.e. tie the bar and lines back in place to resume riding. This is an essential point if you ever need to activate the QR out at sea – you don’t want to have to swim all the way back with your kite flapping around at the end of your last line!
Make sure the safety system on the beginner kite you choose feels easy to use and intuitive for you, both to release the kite and put everything back on. In my case, the Cabrinha IDS bar feels very secure and easy to use, it was actually fun triggering it on the beach for testing.
Make sure your safety system has a backup safety mechanism in case the kite remains powered up even after QR. My Cabrinha bar actually has 2 handles, one for releasing the kite and flag it, another for completely letting go of the kite and the bar if things go really bad.
What size kite should you buy as a beginner?
Even as a beginner – or should I say especially as a beginner – you’ll need more than one kite if you’re serious about kitesurfing: unlike more advanced kiteboarders, you may not have the skills to go out heavily over or underpowered safely.
I personally started with just a 9m2 North Evo and consequently had many days of sitting it out on the beach while others were sailing away, or desperately trying to ride underpowered, ending up walking up the beach after my kite dropped in the water and my lines got all tangled up.
Of course, it depends on your local conditions: if your local spot consistently gets steady 12-18 knot winds, you may be able to get by with a single 12m2 or 13m2 (depending on your weight and board size) for most days. See this post for more about minimum wind.
Most beginners, though, will get frustrated trying to ride in winds too low or high, so they typically buy at least 2 kites. Owning three kites is commonplace and will normally cover a broad wind range.
So if your local spot commonly gets 12 to 25 knots, as a beginner you might go for a 12 -13m2 and a 8-9 m2. If you live in a very windy area, or you’re a lightweight person, you may get a 6-7m2 for those windy days. Again, check out my post on wind for more info.
Kiteboarders on a budget often prefer to buy 3 used kites say for $500 each instead of a single new kite for around $1300-$1500. But are used kites a good option?
Beginner kiteboarding kite: new or used?
Why you shouldn’t start on a new kite
Many people recommend buying used for a first kite since you’re most likely going to damage it while still learning. Crashing a kite all the time often results in the kite ripping, so there’s no point in investing much money on equipment you’re going to trash.
As always, it also depends on how fast a learner you are. I stopped crashing my kites all the time soon after my basic training, while my buddy, who started with me, slaughtered two kites during the lessons and another one that we rented from the school after the lessons.
As a learner, you also may not be 100% certain that you’ll want to pursue the sport over the long run, so buying a new kite too early may not be a good idea.
You should generally be looking for a beginner kite no older than 3-years old and with a price of around $500-600 including control bar. Ideally, you want something that is resistant to impact and will likely have decent resell value after a few months.
Buying a used kite is a lottery
Here are some of the most common risks attached to buying a second-hand kite:
- The kite’s fabric may be damaged by excessive UV and sand exposure. Many kiteboarders leave their kite to sit on the beach in the wind for hours while they take a break or go to lunch
- The canopy may be porous and sink in the water, or may have gotten so thin it can no longer be repaired even at the shop or factory.
- The kite has been crashed so often it’s about to rip within the canopy or at the seams.
- The fabric is stretched out making the kite pull on one side no matter how you adjust the length of the lines
- The kite has been repeatedly rolled up and stored in its bag wet or with lots of sand and salt in it for long periods of time, damaging the material.
- In general, like many beginners, the owner knows he/she will be selling the kite back after a couple of months and so takes bad care of it.
How to judge a used kite
Unroll the kite flat and examine the canopy. If the fabric is crisp, it usually indicates the kite wasn’t used that much or left hanging in the sun in strong winds for long periods of time.
Also inspect the canopy for tears, rip, and pinholes. Check the leading edge, struts, and rubber connectors between the struts and the leading edge. Open the valves to check if they’re in good shape.
Be sure to pump the kite and keep it inflated for 10-15 minutes to check the bladder and struts are holding pressure and the valves function properly.
If you’re on a budget, you can easily fix small canopy tears (using kite tape), and bladder and valve issues yourself. In such cases, you can typically get a good discount on the kite.
Buying new gear from previous seasons
For a beginner kiteboarder, a middle road between buying your first kite new and buying a second-hand kite is to look for closeout gear from a past season in a kite shop or online.
This gets you a brand new kite in its bag that’s never been used before, with the added benefit of support from the shop (and manufacturer) without spending tons of money.
Make sure the kite is sold complete with its control bar, or else that you can find an affordable bar that will work out of the box with the kite.
I never buy a kite older than 2 or 3 seasons as you never know in which conditions it’s been stocked. Even on a first-hand kite, the fabric can weaken over time due to excessive heat, cold or humidity.
Typically, a kite from last season might sell at a 30% – 35% discount while kites 2 or 3 years old can often be found at 40-50% off.
Where can you buy your first kite?
Here are a few places you can check for good deals on used kites and new gear from previous seasons, such as:
- Kiteoutlet (the Netherlands, free worldwide shipping for purchases > $1000)
- Ikitesurf.com classifieds
- Green Hat Kiteboarding used gear (New Jersey)
- Real Watersports used gear
Of course, you should also check your local kite shop for occasional deals. I tend to stay away from kite schools for buying a used kite because school kites often get more than their fair share of crashing and sitting in the wind and sun.
Smart tip: certain kitesurfers specifically look for second-hand kites sold by either a girl or an older kiteboarder. Girls tend to ride less frequently and aggressively, and older riders tend to also be more mellow riders (no megaloops) and take better care of their gear than the average rider.
Which kite would I recommend for a beginner?
Though there are obviously tons of options, in my opinion (and many others) the Cabrinha Switchblade is one of the best choices for a first kite. I – and again a zillion other riders – think you can’t go wrong with a Switchblade:
- A very good all-around kite with one of the best wind range
- A very forgiving kite, easy to launch and relaunch, easy to ride
- Slow, powerful and very stable/reliable (good for beginners)
- High-performance enough for future progression
- Robustly built with plastic armor abrasion pads on the leading edge
- Very durable! I’ve had my Switchblades for over 5 years, still almost good as new
- The Cabrinha IDS system’s virtual 5th line very effectively flags the kite
A couple of cons:
- Switchblades above 10m2 start to get sluggish and quite slow turning
- The Switchblades are on the pricier end of the spectrum (but have good resell value).
Check out my recommended kites page for more detail on which kite to buy.
The choice of kiteboard is just as important – if not more
So far I’ve talked about how to choose the right kite for a beginner. This article wouldn’t be complete, though, if I didn’t mention choosing the right kiteboard to begin on. Board size is as important as kite size, if not more, for a beginner.
As explained in depth in my post on choosing the best board for heavy riders, a larger board can make up for a smaller kite because of extra buoyancy and earlier planing. The bigger the board, the quicker you’re up and riding.
A 144-144cm board (42-44cm wide) is usually a good beginner size for an average build rider (around 75kg) in light to moderate winds (12-18 knots). If you’re on the heavy side or tend to ride in low winds, you may need a bigger kite – see my oost Best kite and board for heavy riders.
If, on the other hand, you’re a smaller person, for example a petite sized girl, then a smaller board (e.g. 128cm) coupled with a smaller size kite will suit you better.
In addition to being large, your beginner kiteboard should have a flat rocker, which helps get the board moving sooner and ride upwind more easily in flat water. A good example of a good affordable light wind/beginner board with a flat rocker is the Cabrinha Stylus 145 (Amazon page).
Later on, you’ll gradually move to smaller boards with more rocker for jumps and efficiently riding in stronger winds and heavy chop.
Unlike with kites, as a beginner you can go for a new-ish kiteboard, as boards are much more durable and can last you for years with proper care. Likewise, get your harness new so it will mold to your shape over time and last for a few years as well.