Wind Orientation For Kite Boarding And Kite Surfing


Kite surfing on a beautiful day

If you are just getting started or want to learn about kite riding, there are some important aspects of the wind you will need to learn along the way.  

Wind orientation for kiteboarding and kite surfing involves the launch angle, how to depower, speed up and steer and how to know when it is safe to ride.  

Here are some key concepts you will learn in this article:

  • Apparent wind produces the actual speed in which a rider is traveling since a rider can only be affected by a breeze in one direction.
  • The wind window is the space in which your foil can fly.
  • The kite flies faster when it is lower in the power zone of the wind window.
  • Kite riders use the wind window and power window to help launch, depower and steer

Since the science behind surfing and boarding with a kite are essentially the same, I will refer to both sports as kite riding.  Also, kites, wings, and foils are interchangeable terms. This article will lay the foundation that we can apply later.

Related Topics

Understanding The Effects Of Wind Direction

Wind direction has two important aspects as it pertains to kite sports: its true direction and its relationship to the shore. This is a basic tenet of wind orientation for kite riding.

Wind Direction Terminology

  • Upwind – direction when the rider is facing towards the source
  • Downwind – direction when the rider is facing away from the source
  • Onshore  – direction when it is traveling directly from the sea to the beach
  • Offshore – direction when it is traveling directly from the beach out to the sea
  • Cross upwind – direction a rider is traveling along the shore towards the source
  • Cross downwind – direction a ride is traveling along the shore away from the source

For kite sports, you want to avoid onshore and offshore wind conditions.  For all conditions you want to track the direction and look downwind to see what obstacles you could sail into.

The risk is that onshore conditions can drive you into people on the beach, trees or worse, a sea wall or house.

The risk is that offshore conditions,  in bad conditions, can drive you out to sea and with no real means to sail back towards shore.  Without boat rescue, a rider is in real danger.

Measuring Wind Speed

We measure wind speed over water in knots.  The speed applied to a kite wing is dependent on two things: the actual wind speed from the source and the angle of the wing in relation to the horizon. This is another basic tenet of wind orientation for kite riding.

Sailing either by kiteboarding or surfboarding has a realistic minimum wind speed of 8-10 knots (9.2 – 11.5 mph).  Below that the wing will tend to de-power and the rider will sink.

Explaining Apparent Wind

Kite riders tend to travel perpendicular to the direction of the true wind.  As they travel from the left or right of the direction, they are facing downwind.

When the rider is pulled perpendicular to downwind by the wing, this action generates a breeze in the direction being traveled.  As the rider goes faster, this second breeze blows harder.   This diagonal wind speed is called apparent wind.  This is the actual speed in which a rider is traveling since a rider can only be affected by wind in one direction.

kite and wind theory

Read an introduction to kite riding and how riders can go faster:  How Fast Can A Kite Board Go?

Wind Window Orientation

Apparent wind and the angle of the wing in relation to the horizon powers the kite.  The angle of the wing to the horizon is called the wind window.

The wind window is the space in which your foil can fly.  It is usually described as a half-dome tent.  If you sliced it in half, the front can be marked like a clock along the edge from left to right.

The foil travels back and forth across the window from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock. The radius is the length of the kite rope as below.   On the left side of the window, the wing is at 9 o’clock. As the wing rises, it travels to 10 o’clock and then at 11 o’clock.  Straight up, the kite is at 12 o’clock.

On the right side of the window, the wing travels downward to 1 o’clock, then 2 o’clock until it reaches 3 o’clock.

10:30 and 1:30 are referred to as 45 degrees.

kite wind theory

How The Kite Uses The Wind

Starting with 12 o’clock and lowest in the sky downwind, this is the heart of the Power Zone of the window.  In this area, the wind produces the most force and the wing flies the fastest and is in the RED area marked above.

As you lift the kite upwards from left to right partially upward, it moves into the medium power zone of the wind window marked in ORANGE above.  The chart below further illustrates the power zone.

As you lift the kite further away from downwind, it will move upward and side to side.  This is the lower power zone of the wind window and is marked in GREEN above.  This is the edge of the window and where your wing will not be able to support its own weight.

Wind orientation for kite

Wind orientation for kiteboarding and kite surfing – A Video Resource

Want to learn more about wind orientation?  Watch this video from Flukes on his Wind Orientation Lesson.  A little detailed, but great information.

How To Steer Your Kite

The kite flies faster when it is lower in the power zone of the wind window.  It starts to slow down as you steer the wing upward in the zone in a slow manner.  To do this, keep your kite leading edge pointing along the edge of the wind window.

To slow the kite, even more, steer it upwards into the low power zone.  As long as the edge faces outwards as you steer in a slow controlled manner, it will stay in low power.  In this manner, the leading edge of the wing will always point towards low power.

kite boarding

To speed up your wing, steer sharply and the leading edge will point deeper into the wind window. This will speed up the kite and move it into a power dive.  The firmer the steering motion, the more power to the kite.

Ground Level Window

Launching a kite uses this as the concept. Imagine your wing at ground level, straight away, fully downwind.  This is having your foil at full power.

Now, drag your kite just above the ground from the center (full power) to the left.  As you move left, your wing moves from the high power zone to the medium power zone.

Continue to drag the kite just above the ground further to the left and your wing will move to low power until finally no power to the full left of you.

You can repeat this process by moving from the “no power zone” on the left and drag close to the ground to the right from the lower power to medium power to full power.   Continue to the right of downwind, and move to medium power on the right side, then low power to eventually “no power zone” fully to your right side.

Kiteboarding

When the breeze changes direction, the window changes along with it.

When there are obstacles upwind, it will cause inconsistencies in the power zone and create a lower power zone along the bottom of the window as well.  Buildings, trees and other structures upwind can cause turbulence at these low levels.

Kite riders use the wind window and the power zones to launch their kites by powering the wing. The main difference is that kiteboarders have two boots attached to the board. Conversely, kitesurfing does not require any tethers to the surfboard other than an ankle strap.

You will see how this will also speed up and slow down your wing as you steer along.

Conclusion

In Wind orientation for kiteboarding and kite surfing, we learned the following:

  • For kite sports, you want to avoid onshore and offshore wind conditions.
  • Kite riding has a realistic minimum wind speed of 8-10 knots
  • Apparent wind produces the actual speed in which a rider is traveling since a rider can only be affected by a breeze in one direction.
  • The wind window is the space in which your foil can fly.
  • The kite flies faster when it is lower in the power zone of the wind window.
  • Kite riders use the wind window and power window to help launch, depower and steer

Related Questions

How do gusty winds affect the power zones?  Gusty winds cause problems by moving and flexing the zones.  This will cause instability of the power zone as you kite moves across the window.

How do high winds affect the power zones?  In high winds, the power zones expand and you will actually ride the edge of the window or GREEN zone.  During low winds, the power zones compress and your kite will need to sit lower in the power zones to stay powered.

Tracy Villarreal

I'm the owner of Active At The Beach. I grew up in a beach town in which I was fortunate enough to spend tons of time around the sea and the beach.

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