With the growing number of kiters learning to kite foil, more injuries are also being reported. It’s an amazing feeling to be flying above the water, but using a hydrofoil does present some potential hazards.
Kite foiling can be dangerous. In addition to the inherent risks of flying a power kite, the sharp edges and points of the foil assembly can cause injury. It’s no surprise that many new foilers approach the sport with some trepidation! But these risks can be managed.
With good preparation, safe foiling practices, and the right choice of equipment, you can learn to foil safely.
Specific risks of using a kite foil
Foil assemblies are usually made with some combination of carbon and aluminum. Both the mast and the foil have very sharp trailing edges. The fuselage also may have sharp points at the front and at the back.
Contact with these can cause lacerations, punctures, or other injuries.
Even just getting used to handling the foil, carrying it to the water, and bodydragging with it can cause nicks and cuts. The foil itself may not be visible under the surface of the water, and it’s easy to accidentally kick it when you are swimming near it.
There have also been cases of hydrofoils getting tangled in kite lines. When this happens, the kite may not be able to depower, or it may go in to a “death loop,” dragging the kiter on to the foil.
Foiling in shallow water can also be dangerous. It’s easy to misjudge the depth, hit the bottom, and crash.
Compared to twintips or surfboards, foilboards are more vulnerable to sea animals or debris in the water. When a foil runs into a plastic bag, a branch, a turtle, or a jellyfish, it may stop or slow down suddenly, sending the kiter over in front of the board.
Kite foilers who use footstraps are at an increased risk of ankle and knee injuries. If you lose control of the board and are unable to release your feet from the straps in time, the board may twist or wrench your legs.
Because kite foilers are more likely to go out in very light or marginal winds, they are also more vulnerable to wind drops, and may end up stranded far from their start point.
Self-rescuing is much more difficult in light wind, especially with a foil kite. Even more so if you are trying to bring your foil board back with you.
It’s also been observed that some sea life, including sharks, have been attracted to kitefoils as they pass through the water.
Is learning to kite foil a safe process?
The process itself can be safe or not, depending on how you go about it. Making yourself aware of the risks and managing them will make everything safer.
Remember, not only are you attached to a kite which can develop a great deal of power unexpectedly, you are managing a foil with the potential to inflict injury.
Beginners are at more risk than experienced foilers. Until they learn how to control the kite and the foil together, they tend to crash much more often.
Is falling off a foil dangerous?
Falling off a foil is the time when an injury is most likely to occur. It could mean landing on top of the foil.
When you fall, your foil may shoot forward in an unexpected direction, or even fly through the air. As you are recovering from the crash, it can bump into you again. Wearing a helmet is recommended.
Is doing the waterstart dangerous?
Waterstarting is the time when you are creating the most amount of power in the kite, and focusing it on the board and the foil. If you don’t have both the kite and the foil under control yet, it increases the window of opportunity for crashing.
Getting set up to do the waterstart with a kite foil requires much more skill at keeping the kite stable at 12:00 with one hand than it does with a twintip or surfboard. Losing control of the kite at this point can also pull you onto the foil.
Is changing directions (tacking or jibing) on the foil dangerous?
Changing course is also a likely time to fall or crash, and hence an opportunity for contact with the foil.
As a beginner, to change course you will want to just drop down in the water. Then, reorganize your kite and board, and waterstart again in the opposite direction.
As you get better, you can practice riding the board down on the surface of the water to make your turn, then ride back up on the foil again.
Expert riders will be able to complete full gybes or tacks, all while staying up on the foil.
Is kitefoiling in chop or waves dangerous?
Kitefoiling, especially when learning, is safer (and easier) in flat water. In choppy water, you can crash if the waves hit the bottom of the board.
If you’re off the foil and it’s bouncing around in the chop, it’s more likely bump into you unexpectedly.
Getting washed in the waves along with your foil can cause serious injury. If you lose your board in the shorebreak and it hits someone else, it can hurt them as well.
Is it safe to foil in higher winds?
Foiling in higher winds always increases the risk. Everything happens faster, and higher winds are usually accompanied by chop or waves. It’s more difficult to see if there is something in the water in front of you in wavy conditions.
It’s best to leave high-wind foiling to the experienced riders.
Is jumping on a foil safe?
Many people jump with their foils, and are just fine. That said, the technique of jumping on a foil is quite different than on a twintip. Kick on the back of the board, and you may send it flying.
For most people, jumping requires the use of straps on the board, which also increases the chance of injury in a crash.
Is kitefoiling downwind safe?
Kite foiling downwind is usually one of the harder things for late beginners/intermediates. When going downwind, there is more chance of ending up downwind of the wind window, causing the kite to fall out of the sky.
Foiling downwind requires good ability with the kite. Knowing how to downloop the kite is very useful.
Kite foiling safety tips (risk management)
To begin with, you should have good enough kite skills that you can control your kite intuitively. This usually means that you’ve been kiting long enough that you can ride both twintips and surfboards.
Good kite control includes the ability to quickly restabilize a kite at the edge of the window, and to relaunch in light winds. Without this, things can go wrong much more quickly.
Take lessons. A qualified instructor can help speed up the learning process, and show you how to handle your foil safely. If you don’t want to take lessons, at least talk with foilers, and do as much research as you can with Youtube videos.
Learn how to fall away from the board, and use the kite to pull you away from the board. Protect your head when you fall and when you come back up out of the water.
Choose your conditions and location carefully before going out. It’s best to start in flat water, with wind around 12-15 knots. Be aware if conditions are expected to change.
Learn in a spot with water deep enough that your foil won’t hit the bottom, or underwater obstacles like rocks or reefs.
Personal protective equipment for kite foiling
Using personal protective equipment can help reduce the chance of injury. Especially when you start learning, you should always wear a helmet and an impact vest. A wetsuit can also protect your body from cuts, and gloves can protect your hands.
But keep in mind: A helmet can’t protect your face, an impact vest can’t protect your arms and legs, and a wetsuit can’t protect your hands.
The most important piece of safety equipment you have is your brain, and the decisions you make.
Choose the right kite foiling gear for safety
Use a short mast. Many foil brands offer a set of “learning” equipment with masts of around 45 cm. A shorter mast makes things easier, and reduces the number of crashes. When you do crash, it will be from a lower height.
Use a large foil. It will allow you to get up and riding with much less speed. Just a few years ago, most foils were no bigger than 800 square centimeters. A newer, beginner foil such as the Slingshot Space Skate is close to 1,500 square centimeters. See the foils here on Green Hat.
Use a bigger board, with some volume. This makes the waterstart easier, with less chance of crashing. A good example is the Armstrong 411. It’s 4’11” by 21 inches, with 38 liters of volume. See the foil boards on Green Hat.
Minimize your use of footstraps. When learning, use a front footstrap only, not a back footstrap. It can make the waterstart easier by helping keep the board stable as you prepare to dive the kite.
Make sure your footstrap is loose. Or, consider using a hook instead of a strap, such as the NSI Hydrofoil Foot Hook.
Be aware, learn right, and enjoy the ride!