words by Joby Cook photos by Lance Koudele
More and more people are wearing boots and riding park in kiteboarding. But there aren’t a lot of kiteboarding terrain parks in the world. In North America, unless you live or visit Hood River, Cape Hatteras, the Florida Keys, or Squamish, you probably haven’t had the chance to hit any features. If you don’t live in one of these places you should consider building your own features.
Your first terrain park feature can be a somewhat daunting task but with the right planning, good design, and some willpower it can be a fun project. Here are some ideas that should help you from making the same mistakes I have made in the past.
This is a key factor in determining what to build. I have tried to build rails with less material/supports because I didn’t have enough money to build it properly. The result: a rail that lasted one season and fell apart. We had some fun with it, but in the long run it wasn’t economical. Build something that fits your budget and will last for at least a few seasons. It’s also better for the environment.
Consider finding a sponsor to help pay for the cost of construction in return for putting their logos on it.
Are you the only rider in your area that wants to ride park style or do you have a crew? Having a crew is ideal. Even a 12 foot long by 2 foot tall wood rail that sits on the sand can be heavy and awkward for one person to move. Plus, it’s more fun to ride with your friends. If you are solo or there are only a couple of you, consider building a floating feature that you could load onto a small trailer.
If you have a crew, anchoring and moving things around will make your set up much easier to manage. Regardless of the type of feature you build, you want it to be as easy as possible to move in and out of the water or to adjust the anchors.
Area of placement
Where do you want to put your feature? Is there flatwater? Is the bottom deep or shallow? Rocky or sandy? Will you need a permit? Are there tides or currents?
While you don’t need a flatwater spot, hitting features in choppy water is not ideal. Flatwater allows for faster speeds, predictable Ollies, and smoother landings.
The best locations are two-to-six feet deep with a sandy bottom on the downwind side of a small island or sandbar. If you are dealing with a rocky bottom you will want to build a floating feature as it will be very difficult to make a free-standing structure secure. If your spot has deep water you will probably want to build something floating. Long legs can work but can get expensive to build, are not as safe, and are less stable.
Permits are not very fun to deal with. If you are planning on leaving the structure in the water for the season, you may find yourself needing to file some paperwork to make your project legal and keep the local authorities off your back. If you remove it from the water each day, you probably won’t need to worry about a permit.
Type of structure
Wood, metal, plastic? HDPE (high-density polyethylene) is the best material for your sliding surface. It holds up to the abuse, lasts a long time, and slides well. Composite wood decking, PVC (polyvinyl chloride), or steel pipe can work also. What you make the structure out of can be difficult to decide.
Wood is the easiest to put together but falls apart the fastest. If you paint and seal it well it can last a season or two depending on how it is stored when not in use. Always use pressure treated wood. Remember, wood floats. If you are building a frame with legs out of wood, you may need to have some sandbags on the feet/legs to hold the structure down should it want to float, especially in saltwater.
The cost of steel is a little more expensive than wood but if built properly it can last up to 10 years or more in fresh water. However, not everyone owns a welder or knows how to weld. If this is the case, you could take your plans to a metal fabricator and have them construct your frame. Then you can screw on the sides and the top sheet. If your spot is in saltwater, use aluminum for your frame. Steel or aluminum frames are well worth the extra money you will spend in fabricating.
Welded HDPE is the best choice to build the feature out of. It will last the longest and requires little to no maintenance. However, a plastic welder is very expensive to purchase, so if this is what you want you will most likely purchase it from a company that specializes in building terrain park features.
What to build
Kicker or box? How do you like to ride? Do you want to go big, flipping and spinning, or get steezy sliding and pressing? Want both? Maybe build an incline box or rail that you can slide and send it off of.
Keep things simple. If building a kicker, a good rule of thumb is 4:1. This means for every foot tall the lip is off the water the kicker length would be four feet. Don’t put too much curve. A good angle at the lip is anywhere from 20-30 degrees. Keep the angle at the entry point mellow. This will make for a smooth transition from the water to the ramp, allowing you to go faster and bigger.
Building a box? A flat bar is the easiest. If you want an up-ramp, keep the angle mellow. Again, 4:1 is a good standard to go by.
Make sure the structure isn’t top heavy. If you were to draw an imaginary line from end-to-end splitting the structure into a top and bottom half, the top half needs to weigh less than the bottom.
Rails are pretty much the same as boxes, just skinnier. If the sliding surface is less than 8 inches wide, it is a rail. Rails can be round or flat. Follow the same guidelines to build a rail as you would a box.
If you are not confident in your building skills or don’t really build that much, ask for help. It’s way better to spend a little extra time and money asking an experienced builder for some pointers.
If using wood, make sure to use galvanized, exterior coated, or stainless fasteners. Use gussets to help hold framing together and paint everything.
Anchoring and placement
Floating: Use wedge anchors or sand anchors. An effective yet cheap way to make an anchor is by using an old tire and filling it with concrete with a rebar hook in the concrete. They are heavy, but can be rolled around and are not greatly affected by currents. You’ll want to set the feature at about 45 degrees downwind.
Another good ratio to remember is 7:1 for the anchor lines. This means if the water is 3 feet deep you will need at least 21 feet of line from the anchor to the feature.
Freestanding: Make sure to wiggle the structure so that it will sink into the sand a little and become stable. If you’re leaving a freestanding feature in the water overnight, put an anchor on it. The water could rise or the wind could blow it over allowing it to float away.
Obviously, as with kiteboarding, there is some inherent risk involved when riding towards a solid object. With that said, there are some precautions to keep things as safe as possible.
•Throughout your design and construction process make sure there are no sharp edges anywhere on your feature. Use a router to round over any plastic or wood edges.
•Do a visual inspection before each use. Make sure there are no screws sticking out and that nothing is broken.
•Sheet the walls (and legs that are above the water surface) of your rails. Exposed framing can make things more dangerous. Fingers, limbs, or your board can get lodged in the framing if you screw up and don’t make it to the end.
•Riding in shallow water can be a little risky and hitting a kicker in shallow water can be especially unsafe. It’s OK for a kicker to sit in shallow water but the water depth at the landing should be at least four feet deep.
•Make sure all anchor points and anchor lines are below the surface of the water.
•Put a small up-ramp at the beginning of your boxes or rails that require an Ollie on. If you come up short on your Ollie, it will save you from catching you board under the front edge.
Hopefully this info will help you build a terrain park feature. And remember, it’s all about having fun, so have fun with it.
Joby Cook has been kiting and building rails/kickers since 2002. He is the owner of Jibstruction, which specializes in terrain park feature construction. He, along with the rest of the old Hood River sandbar crew, built what is now the Hood River Kite Park. He has also built four of the five features that are in the REAL Kiteboarding terrain park in Cape Hatteras, NC.
This article originally appeared in the summer 2015 print issue of Kitesurfing Magazine. Check out the free digital Kitesurfing Magazine edition here: