Do cool kitesurfers really need a wind meter to assess wind conditions? Can’t they judge the wind just by looking at the ocean, the trees, the sand, the sky? Most seasoned kiteboarders can, yet many of them are sometimes seen measuring the wind using an anemometer.
So should you use a wind meter for kitesurfing? And if so, which one should you choose?
Using a wind meter for kiteboarding can help you feel more confident in picking the right gear for the current conditions. It can also provide you with helpful hard data to complement your gut feeling before you go out in a new kite spot.
The best wind meter should give you accurate and sufficient wind data readings, be easily positioned for reliable measurement, be rugged and waterproof, and have a good readable display.
In this post, I’ll first go over the rationale for using a wind meter for kitesurfing. I’ll discuss the qualities to look for in a good anemometer, and the limitations of these devices. Finally, I’ll share my experience with my two favorite wind meters, The Skywatch Eole and Xplorer.
Why use a wind meter anyway?
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As a beginner kiteboarder, you don’t really need a wind meter, but it gives you more confidence when assessing the wind and choosing the right kite and board. A good wind meter should be accurate enough to keep you from going out when the wind is really low or really high.
Over time, though, you will develop your ability to read the water (ripples, white caps), sand, trees, ships, clouds etc, to get a satisfactory perception of the wind. The Beaufort scale helps you assess the wind:
Using a wind meter initially helps you build these skills by cross-checking the visual cues with the numbers on the display.
On the other hand, as a newbie, relying solely on your wind meter can potentially get you in trouble as it may underestimate wind speed and encourage you to get out in dangerous winds.
Bottom line: as a newer kitesurfer, always cross-check the wind speed numbers you see on your wind meter with what other kiteboarders are doing and saying.
You’ll also see seasoned kiteboarders check the wind using a wind meter. These guys like to use an anemometer to “put numbers on the conditions”. The main reason is to build up their own database of the wind conditions.
They don’t technically need the wind meter to decide whether to go out and what gear to choose, as they have the experience for that. What they use the meter for is to get a more accurate judgment over time and reduce the amount of guesswork.
So for example when my wind meter gives a reading of 15 knots average, I know from experience that I’ll be riding comfortably with my 9m Cabrinha Switchblade on a directional board.
A second good reason for using a wind meter as an experienced kiteboarder is to share and compare data with others. Although different wind meters might give very different readings, exchanging number ranges with fellow riders is more helpful than a general impression about the wind.
So while I’m on the beach, I may call a friend and tell her about the 15-knot average I’m getting, and let her know what I think this means in terms of actual conditions and kite size.
A third compelling reason for using a wind meter for an experienced rider is when judging conditions at a new spot. When at a spot you don’t know, you’re unable to assess the wind based on past experience. Measuring wind speed with a meter, coupled with a “Beaufort-style” visual assessment, helps you compare to what you know.
Note: some wind meters allow sharing wind data with others through the internet. Having access to other riders’ data using the same anemometer may save you a trip to the beach (time and gas money).
What to look for in a wind meter for kiteboarding
There are all sorts of anemometers out there for all kinds of uses – engineering, construction, agriculture, boating, scientific etc. There are cup wind meters, vane meters, tube meters, hot wire meters, ultrasonic meters.
Prices can range from under $20 to over $600 depending on precision, built-in sensors, data, and additional features.
So which qualities should you look for in an anemometer for kiteboarding?
- Handheld and compact: most kiteboarders want a small enough tool to easily stuff it in a pocket or a kite bag – this article focuses exclusively on handheld anemometers.
- Accuracy, range, and consistency: your meter should give you readings that are close enough to reality, ideally within 2-3 knots – the best wind meters are much more accurate in light wind. You should also get similar numbers when measuring multiple times.
- Response time: since wind varies a lot from one moment to the next, you’d like your meter to react quickly to fluctuations and show up-to-date measurements.
- Easy positioning: a good wind meter shouldn’t be hard to position in order to get accurate measurements. In reality though, vane, fan-type meters on a horizontal axis are uni-directional – they must be positioned perpendicular to the wind to work properly, while cup meters on a vertical axis are omnidirectional.
- Easy reading: some meters have displays that are hard to read in direct sunlight. Also, since you typically be holding the meter up in the air to measure, it’s good to have an easy start and stop button and a way to hold the current reading until you can read it.
- Waterproof: being able to use your wind meter in the rain or walking into the water to measure wind. This is obviously even more important for boating uses.
- Helpful wind data: some meters will only give you current and max wind speed over a short time, while others hold more data such as average speed (which requires calculations) over a longer, customizable time. Some meters calibrate the readings to adjust them to height. Good meters adjust measurements for mass and for tilting.
- Rugged, with replaceable parts: a good anemometer should be solid enough to withstand strong wind that carries dust, humidity, and even rain. Some anemometers allow easy replacement of parts like the impeller, while others must be completely taken apart.
- Additional weather data: optionally, your wind meter may have additional sensors to provide wind headings, temperature, pressure, humidity, wind chill, and/or altitude data.
Things a good wind meter will NOT give you
Some important caveats to using a wind meter for kitesurfing:
- You may not get useful wind measurements if you don’t learn how to sample the wind correctly – go to an appropriate location, position the meter correctly, take multiple readings, adjust for various factors. For example, a wind meter held 2m above the ground will typically read 2-3 knots lighter than at the standard 10m measurement height. Wind flow at ground level is also distorted by the ground itself and all the obstacles around you. Some people put the meter up on a stick for more reliable results.
- A wind meter will only give you a relative number that you’ll need to cross with your own personal historical data in order to make the right decisions (go out or not, which kite etc)
- Omnidirectional anemometers are more reliable in shifting winds since they don’t need to be positioned precisely into the wind. Directional (fan) meters, though, help you determine wind direction through the required positioning.
- Many wind meters have lower accuracy in low wind, yet that’s when you most need to measure wind (to determine if it’s sufficient to go out)!
- Getting additional data such as temperature, humidity, air pressure etc requires more sensors in the meter and thus a more expensive tool.
What is the best wind meter for kiteboarding?
Now that we know what wind meters are good for in kiteboarding and what the main shortcomings are, let’s move on to which wind meter to choose for kitesurfing.
Again, there are LOTS of anemometers on the market, with vastly varying kinds, capabilities, and prices. In this section, I will talk about the ones that I have personally chosen based on many hours of research and hands-on discussions and comparisons with other kitesurfers.
To me, once you’ve decided to get an anemometer, the main questions you need to ask yourself boil down to how big a tool do you want, and how much do you want to spend.
Obviously, you can always go as expensive and feature-rich as you want. As far as I’m concerned, though, I’m not interested in a portable weather station, I just want something simple, sturdy, and relatively reliable for measuring the wind (and nothing else).
My top choice for kiteboarding wind meter: Skywatch Eole
This is my favorite anemometer. It’s a cup meter with an omnidirectional impeller on a vertical axis, so I don’t have to worry about positioning right in the wind for the best accuracy.
It’s large enough for a very comfortable hold and has a big enough display to be read from a few feet away. It’s waterproof – and even floats if I drop it.
It has a backlit screen, with one of the 4 buttons (a luxury) used to turn on the backlight. The meter is Swiss-built and quite rugged – I know someone who uses it for construction purposes. There’s a polyurethane cover to protect the cups when stored.
The anemometer has an aluminum insert in its base for mounting it on a tripod. This is great for leaving it out in the weather to measure the wind – though I must say I mostly use it handheld to measure wind at the beach.
The Eole gives me instant and maximum wind, and also calculates average wind speed over a configurable period from 3s to 24h. What I really like is that these 3 numbers are displayed together on the big screen – as opposed to having to push a button to see each.
The readings are quite consistent and more accurate than my previous meters – although I do adjust the readings up slightly by a couple of knots to make up for low measuring height (handheld).
One caveat is that the cups only start spinning at around 3 knots, and the meter is also a bit slow to react in variable light wind. This doesn’t really affect me, however, since I typically don’t start measuring under around 10 knots.
The Eole has a very long battery life. Changing the batteries is a bit of a pain because you need a small screwdriver to do it, and you have small springs popping out out of place. On the positive side, the 2 AA batteries the meter uses are easy to find.
In summary, I’m quite happy with the Eole which works great for my kitesurfing need: easy to position, easy to read including in the sunlight, good useful data presented in a user-friendly way, good quality build with protective cup, reliable and accurate enough for my kiteboarding use, reasonably priced at under $100 (Amazon).
Note: the Eole has 2 “big brothers”, the Meteos and the Atmos, which are pricier versions of the same product with added features: wind direction, temperature, wind chill, humidity, dew point. As mentioned above, I personally don’t have a need for that extra data.
My second choice of kiteboarding wind meter: Skywatch Xplorer
I bought the Skywatch Xplorer 1 before I got the Eole. Why would you want to get the Xplorer? 2 reasons:
- It’s tiny and super lightweight
- It’s very accurate and reliable if held properly
- It’s cheaper than an omnidirectional cup meter
The Xplorer is a vane anemometer so you have to place it EXACTLY facing the wind to get a reliable reading (the main drawback of these directional fan-like meters). If you use it right, however, you’ll get reliable wind readings – contrary to the Eole they are slightly overestimated.
The meter displays average wind speed and max speed on the same screen. The readings get updated a bit faster in rapid wind changes in comparison to the Eole. The Xplorer’s screen is also backlit, which is great.
The Xplorer1 sells for around $60 (Amazon). Some kitesurfers, however, may get frustrated with it if they don’t have the patience to learn to use it right and may prefer to invest in a cup anemometer. Obviously, that’s up to you.
Personally, I bought the Eole for that very reason, I wanted something I could just hold up in any position and get a good reading. The Xplorer is so tiny though, that I easily stuff it in my pocket. Over time I’ve learned to hold it right for accuracy, and it also helps me see the wind direction.
One thing I don’t like so much about the Xplorer is the single button that does everything – turn on/off, view wind speed, change units, reset max speed, turn the backlight on/ off, etc. You must hold the button for shorter or longer depending on what you want to do, which is error-prone.
Another drawback of the Xplorer (and fan meters in general) is that it sometimes accumulates some debris in its vanes over time, hindering accuracy. If that happens, it will need to be cleaned up. This is not an issue with a vertical axis cup anemometer like the Eole. On the other hand, the vanes are always protected inside the cage.
Overall, like most Skywatch products, I find the Xplorer to be a quality, reliable small wind meter that gives me accurate readings for wind speeds of 5 to 35 knots.
Xplorer2, 3 and 4 are more feature-rich versions, packing additional temperature, compass, pressure and altitude functions.
Note: before buying the Xplorer, I tried the Kestrel 1000, another popular meter among kiteboarders. I found it to be less reliable and consistent than the Xplorer. Also, although it has more buttons, I didn’t like having to press to view different measurements (vs having them all in one time).
Good plug-in wind meter for kitesurfing: Weatherflow
I don’t personally own a smartphone plug-in wind meter but I’ve been researching the best one for myself. Verdict: the Weatherflow meter for smartphone (Amazon) checks all the boxes for me, and here’s why:
- At $40 or less, it’s one of the most affordable options
- Everyone at the beach – and online – agrees it’s plenty accurate and very sensitive, including in light wind (3+ knots)
- It’s built using high-quality hardware, namely the bearings which keep the blades spinning even after the wind drops.
- Good user experience: looking at the readings on your smartphone beats a small built-in display anytime! The app (iPhone or Android) is well-designed and easy to use. The app shows wind speed, average, max, direction, and location.
- The meter even has a built-in compass – only found in pricier versions for traditional handheld anemometers. So you can see actual wind direction.
The main con I see for this device is that it’s a directional meter, so again, you need to have it (and your phone) face straight into the wind for accurate readings.
Also, the fact that it’s always used with a smartphone means it’s not as rugged as say the Eole, and it’s not waterproof (even though they claim the plug-in can be used in the rain).
On the other hand, using a smartphone as a wind meter gives you great display and storage space, and also lets you easily share your measurements over social networks.
Overall, it seems like fantastic value for the price and may be a good alternative to the Skywatch Xplorer.
Even so, however, I don’t think I’ll be parting with my trusted and rugged Eole any time soon!
Featured image: Skywatch Eole handheld windmeter