Kiteboarding lessons for wheelchair users: The perfect school at the perfect spot.

Deutsch: Kitesurf-Schulung für Rollstuhlfahrer: Die perfekte Schule am perfekten Spot.

How does the perfect spot and the perfect kiteboarding center for sitkiteboarding lessons look like? This article gives the answer.

In this article I will outline the perfect conditions for sitkite lessons. Main focus lies on the conditions at the spot and the infrastructure of the kiteboarding school. Not to misguide you, I’d like to state that we are talking about the ideal conception of a spot, basically the wet dream of every seated kiteboarder. As a matter of fact this peak cannot and does not have to be achievable everywhere. Nonetheless: Not every school or spot is suitable to teach kitesurfing to wheelchair users.

The spot

The steppe of Keros with some olive trees. In the background the turquoise bay with two kites.
One potential dream spot is situated on the Greek island of Lemnos . Foto by Surf Club Keros

The perfect spot for sitkite lessons doesn’t differ all too much from the perfect teaching spot in general – constant wind, flat water, loads of space and pleasant temperatures. Even though this might sound boring for some of you, to others these catchwords probably cause serious drooling.

For easier imagination let’s give our dream spot a touch of the Caribbean. Just visualize sunshine, a palm lined beach and crystal clear, turquoise water. Now only add tourists wearing socks in sandals, some plastic garbage floating in the water and here we are: The dream ambience peppered with a soupçon of realism. An idyllic mountain lake would also be imaginable. For pleasant water temperatures though one would need an outstanding imagination. But let’s cut to the chase …

Wind
Constant wind within the range of 15 – 20 knots are the ideal conditions. Apart from one or the other whitecap the lake or rather the sea does not yet appear all too menacing and is mostly not intimidating for kiteboarding students. Fear paralyzes or in this context a better choice of words … blocks. The less fear the easier the progress.
Also at these average wind speeds most people usually fly bigger kites between 12 and 14m². Due to their lesser agility, these kite sizes  are significantly more forgivable than their smaller siblings. Pilot errors are not penalized right away and at best can still be corrected.

The silhouette of some wind wheels at sunset.
Foto by Rafasoulart

Assuming the wind is constant, it’s direction actually only plays a tangential role. However I only dare to claim this against the background that there is or at least should always be an accompanying boat with impaired kiteboarding students. No matter if side-, off- or onshore, as long as it’s possible to keep enough distance to any potential hazard, teaching should not be an issue.

Waves
The smaller the waves the better students can focus on kite and board. This results in faster sense of achievement and in consequence in higher motivation. Glassy water is the dream per se. A little bit of chop doesn’t hurt either. Breaking waves and shorebreak however should be avoided. A sitkite student who is being washed right in the first session and can feel the sweet panic of assumed drowning, probably won’t have tendencies to touch a kite in the closer future.

Water depth
Do seated kiteboarders need shallow water? Here we have a striking divergence between seated and walking kiteboarding students. For sitkiteboarders it doesn’t make a difference if the water is hundred or only one meter deep. In none of these cases they can use the ground to their advantage. In general deep water is even preferable to shallow water. Reason: If the water is deep enough the ground ceases to be a potential hazard. Lets not forget that in case of walking impairment we can’t count on legs as natural shock absorbers. The only disadvantage of deeper water is that it tends to be a little more wavy.

A single yellow kite within a big bay. A small mountain in the background.
More than enough space on this spot. Foto by Rafasoulart

Space
The less populated a spot the better. The risk of getting involved into accidents with other kiteboarders is minimized. This allows the students to train safer and with more motivation. The increased leeway on the water results in faster progress as the time can be used more efficiently – you can fully focus on yourself and don’t always have to care about the surroundings.

Warm temperatures
This issue is mostly underestimated. Warm water and air temperatures however make a huge difference for sitkite lessons. Due to lack of circulation and movement of the lower limbs, especially paralyzed athletes tend to cool down pretty fast. Insofar pleasant temperatures lead to more time in the water and consequently a steeper learning curve. Apart from that kiteboarding is way more appealing with the sun smiling in your face instead of it hiding behind thick grey clouds. For the sake of completeness it should be mentioned that no matter the temperatures, sitkite students should always wear wetsuits as they prevent injuries and give additional floatability.

Beach

2 wheelchair-users on a ramp on the beach.
Wooden ramps on the island of Föhr

Not mandatory but definitely a big bonus is hard surface on land. In deep, soft sand it is barely possible to move autonomously in a wheelchair which means that you normally depend on help for every meter to cover. Hard sand, lawn or even ramps are worth their weight in gold for wheelchair users – even though probably no motivated kite aficionado will be discouraged by a stretch of sand. This issue can be categorized as luxury.

The Kite-Center

As even the best spot isn’t all too useful without a proper kiteboarding center, it makes sense to also imagine the perfect kitesurfing school. Accessibility, motorboat and sitkite board obviously are the most important keywords concerning adaptive kiteboarding.

Accessibility
Accessibility cannot be emphasized enough. Only when every client can reach every public area of the center easily, we have reached perfection. When disabled kitesurfing aficionados can enter reception, shop or maybe even the bar without complications, all the requirements are fulfilled to feel included instead of alienated.
Realistically speaking this won’t be possible everywhere – especially older kite schools have to work with the preexisting structural conditions and cannot establish complete accessibility. As long as the dignity of disabled athletes is not dented and participation is enabled as well as possible, not everything has to be perfect. Still, schools are allowed to make a little effort.

Quiz question:
When a wheelchair user has to publicly pee into a bottle on the parking lot because there are no accessible toilets in reach, this is …
————
a) … perfect because like this he covers his fluid requirements at the same time.
b) … not ideal as it’s difficult to aim with all the wind.
c) … not applicable because it’s a female wheelchair user.
d) … %§ß&#! because %§ß&#!

Bathrooms & showers

Open door to an accessible toilett
Accessible bathrooms are obligatory.

Even those who have answered with a) (cheers by the way) should meanwhile have figured out that accessible bathrooms are prerequisites for an adaptive kiteboarding school. Accessible toilets are obligatory. Also accessible showers and locker rooms should be a top priority. To squeeze oneself in or out of a wetsuit without the use of legs is laborious business – a little bit of privacy and sufficient space however do facilitate this self mortification. And if there is a warm shower waiting for you after a session, you’re in heaven on earth and will be eager to return.

Motorboat

In my opinion a sufficiently motorized boat is indispensable for sitkite lessons as such. Without a boat or at least a jetski I would keep my hands off adaptive kiteboarding as watersports center. In case of emergency only a motorized vehicle enables to reach a struggling kitesurfing student in less time to give a helping hand. Apart from that a boat also means more efficiency. The time on the water can be utilized way better as the students can experiment ad libitum without having to worry to stay upwind. After the session you just take the boat to get back to the starting point.

Das Platform Boot des Vereins auf dem See. Die Sonne scheint und im Hintergrund sieht man 2 Kites.
Lessons from the boat on lake Garda

But not only in terms of efficiency a boat is able to improve the learning progress. Especially when the first meters on the board are to be covered, a boat can work true wonders. Like this instructors can stay close to their protégés, are able to detect errors quickly and give direct instructions while the students are riding. „Also the knowledge to have someone by your side in case of emergency, definitely makes the experience less stressing and therefore more enjoyable.“¹
Last but not least a boat allows to give lessons even without wind. Instead of kitesurfing you can do wakeboard sessions which helps the students to get a feeling for the board.

Sitkite board
That a functioning sitkite board is obligatory, shouldn’t be questioned. Without a board and a seat, no kitesurfing. Concerning the board it doesn’t make a big difference if it’s a functional yet safe self-construction or a top of the class sitkite board.
The goal is to introduce the students to the sport to the degree that they have made their first riding experiences and know how to handle kite and board safely. Only when the students want to keep on practicing the sport it makes sense to go for perfectly fitting gear.

2 different sitkite boards on a boat in a lake.
Sitkite boards don’t have to be all the same. As long as they are safe and functional, all is good. Foto by Altogarda – Kite ASD

During the classes themselves safety has top priority. The seat should be constructed in a way that the customary safety systems of the kites are easily reach- and activatable in every situation. The students have to always be able to release the kite quickly. Please avoid constructions where the lines can tangle up.
For the board itself there is only one golden rule: NO VOLUME.
In sitkitboarding a voluminous board can be compared to keel boats that can’t capsize. The only catch is that on such a board the rider generally takes on the role of the keel, the counter weight underneath the water surface. Suboptimal for mammal that needs air to breathe.

Hopefully a little more understandable:
When in the water but not just riding, the board should have as little floatability as possible. Like this you usually float with the belly button at the surface and can easily adjust the body position with your arms in the water. With such a setup you can even tip over without harm as you can get the board underneath you again easily. FYI: It does make sense to train this in the water without a kite.
If the board has too much volume and floatability, it doesn’t sink. You then tip over and become the already mentioned human keel: Whilst the volume ensures that the board keeps floating on the surface, the body weight of the rider pulls down. Even with a life vest it is barely possible to get the head above the water to breathe. You stay upside down underneath the surface. If there is nobody around to help, the concerned person runs in serious danger to drown.

Luxury – Teaching gadgets
There are many options to optimize kiteboarding lessons for wheelchair users or to just make them more enjoyable. Practicing sports should also be fun after all, at least that’s what I once heard. In recent times especially 3 teaching aids have distinguished themselves:

A hobie cat with a kite instead of a sail. 4 people sitting on top. White spray from the speed.
Catakite in action on Lemnos

Catakite – A Hobie Cat without a mast and a kite instead of a sail. Like this students and instructor can train the steering of the kite riding together in the water. A catakite session is not only instructive but also gives a taste of what autonomous kitesurfing would feel like.

 

A person with red helmet sits in an adapted kitebuggy. Behind him on the axle of the buggy stands a man to help with the steering.
The wide beaches on the island of Foehr are perfect for buggy kiting.

Kitebuggy – Assuming they are adapted with hand steering, kite buggies are a useful and fun way to train kiting on wide beaches. Buggies can also be used as transportation devices on the beach. You kill two birds with one stone.

Two men on an inflateable sofa on the water. The man in front with beard and helmet is holding a kite-bar. The man in the background is pointing to the kite.
Sofa-Surfers on the Greek island of Lemnos

Kite couch –
These inflatable sofas are an enjoyable and safe option to teach kite steering on the water. Students and instructors sit side by side and comfortably train various flight patterns. To avoid being dragged downwind these sofas are mostly anchored to the ground.

Luxury – beach wheelchair
In the same way as hard surface on the spot, a beach wheelchair is no obligation for a school but definitely pleasant luxury. Even though one will always find ways to transport seated students into the water, beach wheelchairs, kite-trailers or kite buggies are the most elegant mobility devices on beaches. The wide balloon tires facilitate the way over the deep sand and preserve the staffs back and power. Like this the students can be transported into the shallow water with their own wheelchair staying dry and rust-free.

Those would now be the most important headwords for the adaptive kiteboarding spot of dreams. For those who still miss important facts: I haven’t mentioned wetsuits, helmets or life vests explicitly because they are or at least should be standard equipment for legitimate kiteboarding schools anyway. With or without disability: If a school doesn’t provide this gear, I recommend to turn around right away and find another kitesurfing center.

As I don’t see myself as inerrable god quite yet, I’d love to know your opinion. Have I forgotten something? Or is there any statement you don’t agree on? Let me know.

References:
¹Adapted kitesurfing – a possible breakthrough?

3 Kommentare zu „Kiteboarding lessons for wheelchair users: The perfect school at the perfect spot.

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  1. Hi, Thanks for your post. Its great to finally find someone with the same passion. I’ve been looking for ways to kite surf with my current condition and having not found anything until now, was resigned to try and build something myself. Your photos have given me inspiration to simplify my design and have confidence that it could actually work. I’ve been kite buggying for many years but aligning wind, tides and availability means i don’t get much chance…. so I’ve always wanted to take to the water to at least remove the tide variable!

    I buggy with foils but also have a quiver of LEI’s and a board sitting in the garage. my plan was to somehow attach a seat to the board and give it a go…. my design went down the route of sit ski’s with shock’s etc but it felt over kill. Your pictures looks much simpler and has made me re think. So thank you for sharing!

    Do you know if / where the seats would be available to purchase? I can’t afford much but wondered what the price range is.

    As background, whilst i still have both legs, my right knee doesn’t bend so is pretty useless along with pain yada yada… still got to live life though!!! so desperate to find a solution.

    Thanks again for your post. Its inspired me!
    G

    Gefällt 1 Person

    1. Hey there Gordon.

      Thanks for your nice commtent!
      I am completely your opinion: The more simple the better.
      There are meanwhile some very different approaches to sit-kite gear.
      From the solution you were thinking about with shock an everything to even some guys using kneeboards.
      The right choice of seat really depends on each riders physical situation.
      In your case it would depend a lot on how much you can bend your knee.

      There are seats available to purchase but the options are very limited. For now most of the riders still use custom made seats. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass to get your gear together.

      If you want more info about seats, just write me an email (you’ll find it in ‚Contact‘. And I’ll try to give you one or the other contact that might be helpful about the seat-issue.

      Meanwhile I wish you the very best.

      Cheers

      Nico

      Liken

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