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Freestyle Kiteboarding: 10 Tricks That Will Make You High

freestyle kiteboarding

So you’re past the learning curve of kiteboarding and you’re comfortable riding upwind and downwind, changing directions, and even doing simple jumps.  You’re now ready for the next stage of freestyle kiteboarding.  Freestyle tricks are impressive but can be intimidating to learn at first.  They can also be dangerous if not performed right.  Once you get the basics down, though, you’ll quickly find yourself trying bolder and more technical things.

This post is a no-nonsense guide for learning simple and not-so-simple freestyle kiteboarding tricks. I’ve selected 10 of the most fun and visually appealing freestyle tricks ordered from easiest to hardest to perform.  Each trick is explained in a detailed step by step fashion.  I’ve also tried to pick a good video for each so you can see the end result.

Are you ready? Let’s fly!

1. Back Roll (aka Back Loop)

The Back Roll/Loop is a beginner freestyle kiteboarder’s first and easiest trick to learn. Although it’s a relatively simple trick to master, doing it with style will require a bit of work.

Choose a day with enough chop so you can focus less on working your kite and more on your body spinning.  Wind speed of around 15 knots and using a 12m2 kite is best to start with since the errors you’ll make will have a less radical impact.

Prerequisites:  you should know how to: do a basic jump, edge aggressively, ride without looking at your kite, fly your kite with your hands in the center of the bar, relaunch your kite in all sorts of conditions.

Step1:  edge slightly upwind, pick up some speed by getting your kite lower in the window, then move your kite slightly higher. Keep your hands close to the center of your control bar to avoid unwanted bar movements.

Step2: push your board firm upwind by pressing hard on your heels while leaning backward and looking out in your board’s riding direction, over your front shoulder.

Step3: sheet in and pop up to get your board off the water.  Keep your eyes looking over your front shoulder, it will naturally get your body to start rotating.

Step4: to help spin faster, bring your heels up close to your butt, keep looking above your front shoulder to keep the rotation going.

Step5: you’re now above the water and positioned completely backward, i.e. your body and head facing opposite your riding direction.  Your body continues to spin around toward your riding direction.

Step6: as your body spins closer to your initial riding direction, you can turn your head and look ahead to your landing zone. Meanwhile, you pull your bar down to send your kite back into the front half-window, giving it some power for a smooth landing.

Step7: you land on the water smoothly heading downwind.  As soon as your board is back on the water and planing, you can carve upwind again.

Tips: try not to pull on your back hand when you’re spinning as this may trigger a kiteloop.  Keep your hands close to the depower line (that runs through the middle of the bar).  This way, if you unwantedly pull the bar you’ll only be sheeting in, killing your speed and power.

2. Front Roll (aka Front Loop)

Now that you’re comfortable with the Back Roll, it’s time to try the Front Roll freestyle maneuver- at first sight, it doesn’t seem much harder.

Like for the Back Roll, try to go out on a choppy day for an easy launch pad (less kite work required)  and make sure you’re slightly underpowered to avoid hard impacts in case of a mistake.  Same prerequisites are for the Back Roll as well.

Step1: similar to the Back Roll, you build up speed, move your kite up in the window, edge hard upwind, sheet in, and pop off the water while initiating a body rotation.  Instead of looking outward above your front shoulder, though, you turn your head backward and look over your back shoulder, getting your front shoulder to rotate toward your back shoulder.

Step2: as you start taking off, you bend your front leg (relative to your initial riding direction) fully and extend your back leg.  As a result, you have the rear tip of your board much closer to the water than the front tip.  You continue to look over your rear shoulder (opposite your riding direction).

Step3: you bend your knees and bring your feet closer to your butt and keep looking over your back shoulder as your body rotates.

Step4: as you’re about to complete your rotation, start extending your legs again to slow down your rotation and move the board back down toward the water.  As in the Back Roll, you pull on the bar with your front hand to re-send the kite.

Step5: you land your board onto the water in a full downwind direction with some kite power for smooth landing.

Tips: like for the kiteloop, keep your hands toward the center of the bar to avoid unwanted kiteloops. Also, make sure to send your kite into the half-window with enough force before landing.

3. Nuclear grab

Aka Seatbelt Grab! This freestyle kiteboarding trick involves jumping and grabbing the nose of your board with your back hand.  As for many other freestyle kiteboarding tricks, a crucial aspect you need to master is the pop, through hard edging, heel pressure, and spring-like upper body popping while riding at good speed.

The way to practice this freestyle trick is to first try to pop up with your back hand off the bar, then trying to grab your knee, then your calf, your foot, until you can successfully grab the front of your kiteboard.

Prerequisite: being able to jump only through popping, without sheeting in much – as you only have your front hand on your bar.

Step1: lower your kite to build up speed, dig your rail hard with your heels as if trying to stop, and use your upper body to pop.

Step2: as you’re about to take off, turn your shoulders forward toward the front of the board (which you want to grab), take your back hand off the bar and move your front hand in the middle with the depower lines in between your fingers.  This keeps you safe from pulling the bar’s edge into a kiteloop.

Step3: to facilitate the grab, bend your front leg to bring the board’s nose closer to your hand. Keep your shoulders leaning forward to help your body get into a horizontal position.

Step4: grab the board nose with your free back hand.  With that grabbing hand, push your board backward for a more stylish maneuver – your body going fully horizontal and the board vertical in the air.

Step5: hold that position as long as you can.  Try to have your back leg higher than your pelvis by extending it as much as possible, bringing your body in an almost upside down position.  Meanwhile, your eyes are looking down, scouting the water for the landing zone.

Step6: let go of the board grab, release your hips and lower your legs, going back into upright position while still checking your landing zone.  Avoid hitting your face with the bar.

Step7: head your board downwind as you land on the water.

Tips: as for most freestyle tricks, it’s essential to have enough speed and to really commit at the time of digging the rail and popping up.  If you have trouble grabbing the nose after take-off, try bending your front leg more and moving your shoulders further forward.  If you land on your side, make sure to keep your eyes looking down while jumping.

If your kite goes into kiteloops, double-check that your front hand is well-centered on the bar.  If you drop like a stone at landing time, try re-sending your kite harder before you go down.

4. Raley

The Raley is probably to first unhooked freestyle kiteboarding trick you’ll learn.  You can also perform it hooked but it won’t be as impressive since the lower the kite sits in the window – i.e. the more the lines – the more powerful the trick gets.

Start hooked and first practice popping up high by really digging your rails in as you send the kite back.  You should not be overpowered nor underpowered for this trick. As always keep your hand close to the center of the bar.  Do your first jumps with your kite relatively high, then progressively lower it to go more horizontal – this will put less tension on your back.

Step1: focus on the pop as that’s the most important part of the trick.  Start with your kite at around 45º, then as you gain speed lower your kite slightly to lower the tension in your lines so you can unhook more easily.  Keeps your hands low after unhooking.

Step2: dig your rails in really hard, bend your knees, put your weight mostly in your heels and lean your upper body backward. You should feel the tension build up in your arms (since you’re unhooked).

When the tension becomes overwhelming, release the leg pressure on the board and let yourself get dragged forward in the air.  Relax your arms.

Step3: your arms are extended, and you extend your legs as well so they’re about parallel to the water.  You can even bring them up slightly above your pelvis.

Step4: keep flying for a moment with your body fully horizontal, enjoy the full-body stretch!  Your eyes should be looking far ahead.

Step5: as gravity finally kicks in, get ready to land. Scout your landing zone, and start bringing your legs back in to avoid landing on your stomach!

Step6: you may take your back hand off the bar to help balance yourself upright using your free arm.  Bend your knees to dampen the shock when your board lands back on water.

Tips: if your kite is too high after taking off you’ll feel your back muscles overextending.  If your flight time is very short, it’s probably due to poor popping resulting from insufficient initial speed and rail digging. Also, try to let your arms and legs relax as you go horizontal.

5. S-Bend

This intermediate-level freestyle kiteboarding trick starts off as a Front Roll but is performed unhooked.  Unlike the Front Roll, the body rotation is done while in a horizontal position.  Like in the Riley, this requires having your kite low and your lines horizontal as well.  A new school trick that has its roots in wakeboarding.

The setup for this jump is similar to the Riley.  Its success revolves around a strong pop, which in turns is reliant on getting enough speed and loading up with hard rail digging for a strong spring effect for launching. You can use chop to help to launch yourself better.

Like in the Riley, your first jumps are done with your kite relatively high, then with practice, you send your kite lower for more power and style.  With more power, your body rotating faster and easier on a horizontal axis.

Step1: the setup and launch is the same as in the Riley.  Before you take off, you should anticipate the body rotation by bringing your shoulders forward, bending your front leg, and extending your back leg.

Step2: your board and lower body are still forward facing while your upper body has already started the rotation and is facing toward the back.  Your arms are extended.

Step3: your lower body follows into the rotation as you go horizontal.  Let your legs extend themselves. Your head should be turned slightly ahead of the rest of your body, your eyes leading you through the rotation.

Step4: the rotation continues, with your upper body always ahead of your lower body.

Step5: the rotation is almost complete, you look at your landing zone while pulling on your bar with your leading hand to resend the kite to prepare for a smooth landing.

Step6: as always, you head your board fully downwind for landing it and bend your knees to dampen the impact, while keeping your kite slightly powered to reduce the impact.

Tips: make sure to keep your hands close to the depower line to avoid pulling it into a kiteloop. As always, getting enough pop initially is crucial to avoid dropping like a stone on your side.  Be sure to get your shoulder forward and rotating early enough in the jump.

6. Kiteloop

The superstar of freestyle kiteboarding tricks! This one is guaranteed to give you a shoot of adrenaline.  Hooked or unhooked, short lines, downloop… There are a lot of different kinds.

The kiteloop is a mindset. The the slightest amount of hesitation or lack of commitment is likely to result in failure and crashing.  I recommend that you start unhooked as that’ll make it easier for you to tilt the bar completely.

Also, make sure you’re underpowered for learning the kiteloop.  It’s also easiest to start with a Back Roll.  Start with your kite relatively high in the window to avoid hitting the ground/water.

Prerequisites: master the pop for simple jumps, watch kiteloop videos to get into the mindset, get used to crashing.

Step1: the kiteloop starts like a simple jump by digging your rail, sending the kite hard, and popping up.

Step2: wait until you’re all the way up in your jump to send the kite again. Then there’s no going back! If you must, place both your hands on the same side of the bar, and pull hard so the kite goes full-speed into the power zone.

Step3: your kite is fully powered with maximum traction. Do NOT release the bar! If you do, your kite will stop short and you’ll just hit the water.

Step4: take a deep breath, your kiteloop is almost complete.  Wait for the kite to go back up all the way before you sheet out.  Then as usual, don’t forget to resend your kite and to head your board downwind for a smooth landing.

Tips: if you smash the water with your back, ribs, or face, chances are it’s because you released the pressure on the bar before completing your kiteloop. It’s really intimidating so you just have to hold tight and not back out!  Everyone goes through this stage, you’ll just need to practice.

7. Blind Judge 360

Now you’re getting into the realm of expert freestyle power moves, that is moves which involve a low kite and a handle pass. The Blind Judge (18, then 36) is the easiest trick in this category. As usual, it’s all about initial pop and timing.

The ideal conditions for a Blind Judge is flat water or small regular chop and wind speed of 15-20 knots on a 9m or 12m kite.

Prerequisites: you should first master most of the basic unhooked tricks, e.g. Raley, backroll, S-bend.

Step1: the pop.  As always, this is a crucial step. Position your kite at 45º, send the kite down slightly for speed with your board flat, then edge hard and dig the rail deep while sending the kite back, then sheet in strongly before takeoff.  The more efficient your pop, the easier the handle pass will be.

Step2: this step involves a Raley.  Relax your body as much as possible, let your legs extend behind you as you go horizontal.  Keep your eyes looking above your bar and a downward pressure on the bar.  Try not to tilt the bar to keep the kite stable and horizontal.

Step3: the handle pass.  It has to occur as you reach the apex of the jump, after the spring effect of the pop fades away. As the kite settles on the window edge, the lines lose a bit of tension, assuming you got enough pop to send your body fast enough toward the kite.

Bring your legs toward your core and start a backside rotation. Take your back hand off the bar while maintaining solid downward pressure with your front hand, which helps stabilize you during the rotation.

Turn your head in the direction of the rotation. To perform the handle pass, bend forward at the hips.  The passing of the bar must be done very fast to avoid the kite dropping, throwing the bar from one hand to the other.

Step4: the 360º: bend your knees to maintain the momentum, then grab the bar with your front hand while staying regrouped. Once you have both your hands on the bar, try to stabilize yourself before the landing phase.

Step5: look toward the landing zone, extend your legs, land with your board flat and headed downwind.

Tips: make sure your pop is strong enough to allow passing the bar. Don’t pull too hard with your back hand to avoid getting boosted upward.  Try to keep your head clear during the jump in case it doesn’t go through.

8. KGB

The KGB is a new school unhooked freestyle kiteboarding trick that involves a backside rotation with a handle pass, followed by an inversion of the rotation mid-way.  Beware, this is expert level!

Like in the Blind Judge, the idea is to start with a strong enough pop to have enough slack at the moment of passing the bar between hands. You start like a Backloop, then midway through the rotation, pull hard with your arms to bring the bar to hip level.

At that point, you bring your legs back down vertically and invert the rotation by turning your head and hips in the opposite direction while pulling the bar downward, while passing the bar from your front hand to your back hand.  You have the kite behind your back before landing.

Prerequisite: in order to perform this highly technical trick, you need to master the Riley and the Backloop perfectly as well as the surface handle pass technique.

Step1: the more powerful your initial rail digging and pop, the less tension you’ll have in your lines after take-off and the easier passing the bar will be.  As usual, make sure to set up with a lot of speed before unhooking and edging hard before launch.

Step2: bring your shoulders and head backward to lead the rest of your body into a Back Roll, with your body fully extended – though you may initially find it easier to flex your knees and arms and bring your bar as close as possible to your hips.  As always, keep your hands centered on the bar to avoid unwillingly steering your kite up or down.

Step3: bring your legs up above the bar and above your head, while looking behind your shoulder.  As you reach the high point of your half-rotation, take advantage of the reduced traction in the bar to pass it between hands.

Step4: interrupt your half-rotation mid-way by bringing the bar down toward your hips, turning your head to look behind your back shoulder, and rotating your hips in the reverse direction.  Take your back hand off the bar for grabbing it behind your back. Keep your front arm alongside your torso.  Try to grab the bar in its center to avoid steering the kite down.

Step5: try to use your wrist to move your kite down slightly with the bar being held in your back hand in order to avoid an unwanted kiteloop toward the end of the jump.  Look toward the landing zone.

Tips: try to pull the bar with enough force to bring it down to your hips.  Don’t perform the handle pass too early, wait for the high point of the rotation when the lines loosen up a bit.

9. Slim Chance

A great-looking wakestyle trick that starts with a Front Roll followed by a handle with the front hand first off the bar.  The chances of landing this trick are slim initially, hence the name!

To practice for this trick, you should try doing Front Rolls going as vertical as possible.  Like all freestyle kiteboarding tricks that involve a low kite (horizontal) position, the initial setup and pop is the key to success.  Like in the KGB, you also need to reverse your rotation midway by turning your head and hips the opposite way.

Prerequisites: master the pop like for the most powerful Rileys. Perform hooked and unhooked Front Rolls seamlessly in all sorts of conditions. Be comfortable with low-kite tricks. Knowing how to tune your kite for unhooked riding.

Step1: edge with enough speed to get that spring effect when popping.  Lower your kite slightly as you gain speed to facilitate unhooking.  Once unhooked, keep your arms alongside your hips. Put all your weight in your heels like trying to stop.  When you can no longer hold the carve, it’s time to get air!

Step2: send your head backward to initiate the rotation while keeping your arms bent and close to your hips.  Bring your legs and board high up until you’re basically upside down.

Step3: don’t rush the handle pass, be sure to wait until you reach the high point of your half rotation.  This way, you can leverage the spring effect of your pop which results in a brief loss of traction in your lines after the boost.  That’s the perfect timing for passing the bar.

Step4: like in the KGB, block the rotation by turning your head and hips in the reverse direction, facilitating the handle pass.  Fully extend your back arm behind your back to go fetch the bar through a quick move.  Extending your legs helps you slow down and then reverse the rotation.

Step5: as soon as you grab the bar again, look toward the bottom to avoid shifting your rotation axis, and help slow it down. Bringing your second hand back further helps you stabilize your body before landing.

Tips: this freestyle move must be performed fast but it’s important to go through the steps with good timing, without rushing through them. Make sure to bring your legs up fully with your head down before moving on.

10. Front Mobe

The Front Mobe is one of the 4 main classic new school freestyle kiteboarding tricks.  It begins with a partial Front Roll followed by the back hand getting off the bar for handle passing. The rotation direction is the same as for the Slim Chance but here the handle pass is done within the rotation flow.

The kite must be low enough to allow for passing the bar without excessive vertical pull in the lines.  Your front leg is slightly bent to help bring your body up after the initial impulse.  Your head leads your body into the rotation before your board is completely off the water.

You forcefully send your legs up vertically-  this is made possible by a powerful and efficient boost off the water.  Try to turn keep your wrist flexible to avoid sending your kite into kiteloops when passing the bar.

Prerequisites: like for all the other basic low-kite handle pass wakestyle tricks, you need to be comfortable with going unhooked and keeping your kite stable while you jumps and pass the bar around. First be sure to master the Raley, S-bend, and Surface handle pass before trying this move.  Being able to perform a 313 (not covered in this article) would help even more.

Step1: move your kite down at speed to soften up your lines for unhooking, and set up for a powerful boost. As always, weight down your heels heavily on your rail and bring the bar down to your hips before the boost.

Step2: similar to an S-Blend, as soon as you get off the water, keep your eyes over your left shoulder so the rest of your body follows into the rotation.

Step3: bring your legs up horizontally, pushing your board up above the bar with the latter as close as possible to your hips. Get ready to start the handle pass as the lines lose a bit of traction toward the end of the boost.

Step4: your positioned vertically upside down! Flex your wrist to keep your kite low enough. This is the right timing for passing the bar. Your front arm is alongside your torso to make it easier to catch the bar with your other hand.  Turn your head and look over your shoulder to help locate the bar’s exact position.

Step5:  the handle pass occurs at hip level.  Catch the bar as close to its center as possible to avoid the kite going into a loop.

Step6: looking at the landing zone is essential for a successful landing, but also to get your body back into the right position – from its current horizontal position – as it completes the rotation. As with all handle pass maneuvers, quickly grab the bar with your second hand to avoid getting thrown off by the kite as you land.

Tips: if you pass the bar too early, you may go into excessive rotation, which makes it nearly impossible to bring the bar back against your hips because the pull is too strong.  Also, not getting enough height initially will likely result in a harsh landing.  Again, the success of most wakestyle tricks largely depends on a decent initial boost.

Final words

In this post, I tried to share some basic techniques and ticks for performing some of the most popular freestyle kiteboarding tricks, from the easier loops all the way to the most technical wakestyle unhooked handle pass tricks.

Of course, these explanations alone will not teach you how to perform these maneuvers, however, I hope they will help you focus on certain key aspects which, combined with visual observation and lots of practice, will eventually get you where you want to be, i.e. to freestyle stardom!

Photo credits:
Featured image “Kitesurf face au rocher de la sorcière” (CC BY 2.0) by Leucate Méditerranée




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