A big part of staying safe when kitesurfing is understanding the weather and wind conditions, choosing the right kite and board for the current wind, launching, landing and riding in appropriate places, and maintaining your equipment in shape to prevent failures at sea.
You should also consider wearing/packing the following safety gear when kitesurfing, depending on your level, your type of riding, and the weather and sea conditions:
- An impact or floatation vest
- A helmet
- A hook knife
Impact vests are padded vests that protect your upper body in case of strong impact. As a beginner kitesurfer you should be wearing one at all times since during that phase you typically don’t have perfect control of your kite and board.
If you make a bad maneuver on your control bar and suddenly overpower your kite, you may unexpectedly find yourself shooting up in the air and then hitting the water hard. Likewise, if you wear a board leash, your board may recoil and hit you hard.
An impact vest comes in very handy in these situations. I wore the Dakine surface vest (Amazon link) for a long time, as a newbie and later as I was learning to jump. The vest gave me good protection and confidence to try jumping without worrying about hurting myself on rough landings.
I find the Dakine vest to be lightweight and stretchy enough for comfort. It’s a little bulky but not so much as to hinder my movements. I for one prefer to have serious padding around my torso and particularly all around my rib cage – which not all vests cover well.
The floatation vest is designed to fit tightly for freedom of movement and to stay in place during impacts. It has a flat waist area for wearing a seat or waist harness on top of it. The harness on top helps keep the vest low in place, and conversely, the vest prevents the harness from riding up the torso.
The quality zipper in the front is very convenient – zipperless vests are a hassle to put on and remove, especially over a wetsuit. The neoprene is stretchy and durable. I wore my vest every session for over a year (until I stopped doing jumps) and it still looks good as new.
An impact vest is not a floatation vest, it’s designed for impact protection. It does offer a bit of floatation, but not enough to really keep you afloat if you get hurt. Impact vests are not certified as floatation devices.
Standard floatation vests, on the other hand, are usually bulky and uncomfortable, they will slide up your torso all the way up to your ears! You know, the kind of devices you may have been wearing during your kitesurfing lessons. Good luck doing jump tricks or wave riding with one of these things on!
There are, however, conditions that really grant wearing a floatation vest. I wear mine every time I go out in offshore winds or when sea conditions are rough – e.g. the tide is going out creating strong rips, the waves are big, or I’m doing a downwinder requiring me to ride out far around a cape or a rocky zone.
As far as I’m concerned, I’ve found the perfect device for these situations, the NP High Hook flotation vest (Amazon). This vest is just amazing really. It’s no thicker than an impact vest, it’s tiny, super lightweight – you just forget you have it on – and snug fitting. It looks like a small bulletproof vest.
Most importantly, this vest is designed for wearing with a harness: it has a big cutout opening at the bottom front with a small adjustable strap to hook it up around your harness hook. The elastic shoulder straps let you pull the vest down over the harness hook. Once you do, the vest is tighly secured in position.
I really like the thick and short side zipper for easy wearing and removal, and the small velcro strap on top of it for added safety. The front and back panels are very well padded and can actually work as an impact vest – although there’s no padding on the sides for rib protection.
It has a large torso pocket, big enough to stash a mobile, with a secure cord for attaching a key.
Overall, I find the quality and design of this vest truly outstanding. If you purchase it, make sure to get a smaller size than usual so that it will fit nice and snug. I initially got an XL sizebut then switched down to a M-L for a more adjusted fit. Here is the size chart printed on the interior of the vest itself :
I don’t usually wear a helmet, but a lot of people feel more comfortable riding with one, particularly for doing big jumps and flip tricks. It does sort of make sense, why would you protect your upper body from rough landings wearing an impact vest but not your head?
Something I keep telling myself…
If you kitesurf in rocky places, or with buildings really close to the beach, a helmet may be a good idea. Also, if you’re wearing a board leash, you should definitely wear a helmet. Your board may whip back and hit you in the head at any moment, particularly in strong wind.
The NP Surf helmet is extremely popular – I see quite a few freestyle riders wearing it. At around $50 it’s very reasonably priced, meets water safety standards, and is high quality made. It’s lightweight and wraps your head in quality soft foam.
Kiteboarders particularly appreciate the removable ear guards, the simple to use fit adjustment dial in the back, and the adjustable chin strap (right and left). The helmet is very well vented and doesn’t make your head feel hot in the sun. It also has a unique look riders appreciate.
This is most likely the helmet I’ll get for myself for my next kitesurf trip.
A line cutter can really save your life if your lines get tangled up in your harness, in rocks, or in another kitesurfer’s lines. In some situations you may not be able to trigger your quick release, or it may just fail on you. Even if it triggers your kite may stay attached to you somehow. I saw someone nearly drown one day in such an incident.
I always carry a hook knife (line cutter) in my Dakine harness knife pocket. I can’t remember whether my Dakine harness came with a knife, I just remember buying this Dakine hook knife (Amazon page) separately, probably as a replacement after losing the first one.
The hook knife does what it’s supposed to do: it has a flat profile for stashing in my harness and has a very resistant attached “pocket” I can slip a strap through to attach it to anything. I personally keep it stashed in my harness but some people also use it for other sports.
In case of emergency, I can pull my hook knife out of my harness front pocket and quickly cut the lines to let my kite loose. Although I do think that getting the kite lines inside the knife’s narrow channel where the blades sit might be tough in a high stress, chaotic situation…
Still, having the hook knife on me gives me some peace of mind. Hope I never get to use it though.