What do you think is the lightest wind a person can kiteboard in? We posed this question to North Kiteboarding designer Ken Winner. Winner is also a top international kite racer, former professional windsurfer and long-time gear designer. He understands wind speed better than most, and we couldn’t think of a better person to answer this question.
“It’s hard to answer precisely because, as you know, air temperature, altitude (altitude of the body of water), vertical gradient, and ratio of gust strength to lull strength hugely affect the ability of a kite to generate the kind of power a kiteboarder needs. A steady, cold, onshore wind at sea level will work far better than a puffy, hot, offshore wind on Lake Titicaca, even if both winds average eight knots. And as you also know, rider weight, kite weight, line length and board type are other big variables.
That said, my seat-of-the-pants estimate is that an average size guy on a raceboard can race around an upwind-downwind course in a steady five knots of wind. I’m guessing five knots because I have been testing a lightweight 18-metre kite that will fly in barely perceptible wind (about two knots), and seems to power riders on race boards upwind in about five knots. In our tests, whenever we’re seeing more than the faintest ripples on the water, we’re planing.
I’m sure we can lower that threshold with lighter, more expensive kite materials. The main benefit of the lower threshold, in my view, will be to increase our tolerance for extreme lulls. Right now, if the wind average is five knots and the extreme lull is four, we’re fine, but if the average is five and the extreme lull is two knots, we’re in trouble because the kite may fall in the lulls. It only takes one big lull to ruin your day.
Which raises the topic of relaunch. Our light, 18-meter relaunches in surprisingly light winds—approximately five or six knots—when we use the fifth line because the fifth provides the rider with so much control over the kite. However, the same kite needs a few knots more to relaunch on four lines. The relaunch threshold may actually be the deciding factor for a lot of riders when it comes to kiting in light wind.”—Ken Winner, North Kite Designer