One of the hardest things to understand about Kiteboarding, is going upwind and downwind. As you can't physically see the wind or direction its coming from, it makes it more difficult to fully understand it, but kiteboarders travel on the water much like a sailboat tacks across the wind, rather than straight downwind. In kiteboarding, the board is our "boat" and the kite is our sail.
Explaining something invisible is difficult, but once you "get it", riding the board and staying on plane is a LOT easier. It's one of those game-changing, magic moments when learning to kiteboard, and suddenly they're getting longer rides, begin riding upwind like a champ, learning to carve the board, and well on their way in learning to jump.
What Is A Reach?
When "reaching", you're traveling are at a 90 degree angle to the wind. In kiteboarding terms, its called "holding your ground", so you would leave the beach, turn around and come back to the same spot. Due to the pull of the kite, the kiter will drift a little downwind through the water, so if you want to return to the spot where you started, you’ll have to be riding slightly upwind. Doing transitions and jumps also cause you to"lose ground" downwind. That's why developing your upwind skills is essential to your progression into tricks.
The Stance on A Kiteboard
In kiteboarding, the rider's stance on the kiteboard has their back leg slightly bent, and the front leg relatively straight. Most of the rider's weight is on their rear leg. The body position, angle, and weight distribution of the rider's body are all factors in going upwind- as is the kite position, board type, etc. As you see- there's a lot going on at once and riding upwind consistently takes practice.
As the power of the kite pulls you downwind, you have to "hold your ground" with a combination of using the rail of the board and leaning back towards the water. It's a constantly changing variable the entire time you are riding the board Finding the right balance between the power of the kite and how much to lean back takes time and practice. You have to anticipate the power of the kite as it moves through the wind window and constantly adjust your stance in order to counter its power.
As the kite pulls you downwind, you have to edge the board on your heel side continuously to avoid going downwind. In doing so, your board will try to turn into the wind and the kite will try to pull you downwind. The result will be feeling much more power and speed as you cut across the wind. Power and speed are controlled by edging, stance, weight distribution, and sheeting out on the control bar. If you edge too hard, you will stop forward progress and sink into the water. If you' don't edge enough or are overpowered, the board will skip across the surface and you will go faster and faster until you crash. The two things you must learn before riding the board are the water start, and the water STOP. We will cover water starts and stops in another chapter.
Now that upwind and downwind travel is a bit easier to understand, you can understand that having kite and body control is key for riding upwind. Lets have a look at the hand positioning on the bar because it's quite important when it comes to steering and sheeting the kite for maximum upwind ability.