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Hazards

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Some common hazards you may encounter kitesurfing, and how to avoid them.
Caution

There are some hazards with kitesurfing associated with marine environments and weather.  Local knowledge is invaluable here in assessing and managing risks associated with hazards.

Sea creatures

Jellyfish.  Sometimes jellyfish can be a nuisance if there are large quantities of them near the surface.  Some jellyfish can also sting you and cause irritation.  In the tropics, there may be jellyfish with very strong venom at some times of the year that inflict extreme pain or even death.  
  • Check local conditions where you are kiting, and dress accordingly.  
  • You can wear a stinger suit if necessary.
Sea urchins. If you stand a sea urchin the spines can cause severe puncture wounds that are also prone to infection.  
  • Wear wetsuit or reef booties if there are sea urchins about.
Sharks. It is very unlikely you will be bothered by sharks while kitesurfing if you are up and going.  However, if the wind drops and you end up in the water for extended period and there are sharks about, they may become a problem.   Some kitesurfers have been killed by sharks in these circumstances.  
  • Check your location carefully regarding shark populations.  
  • You can minimize the risk of shark attack by not traveling too far off shore if there are sharks about.
Whales and Dugongs.  Keep a good lookout if you are kitesurfing in a location where there are Whales or Dugongs about.  While they are likely to sense you coming and dive, it is possible your board may impact and injure or even kill them.  You might get injured too.  Slow down if you think you see something and take immediate evasive action by veering downwind or turning around.

Crocodiles.  In some tropical locations, crocodiles can be a hazard.  Local knowledge is the key to assessing and managing this risk.  
  • If the local say there are crocs about, don't go in, or buy a Lottery ticket if you do.
  • Avoid close proximity to river mouths were crocs live
  • The sometimes cruise out to see, so if you are in croc country keep your eyes open and come in quick if you spot one. 
Turtles.  It is common to see turtles grazing on coral reefs is some tropical areas.  As for Whales and Dugongs, they will usually dive when they see you coming, but kitesurfers shoud take evasive action to avoid impact.

Wind and weather

Storms. Regular consistent sea breezes provide the best wind for kitesurfing as they are usually smooth and steady.  By contrast, storms usually have fronts associated with them that can result in a rapid increase in wind speed and change of direction.  It may be tempting to go out in winter storms if you have been off the water for a while, but exercise great caution if you do.  There have been cases of kiters becoming rapidly overpowered, lofted and carried significant distances downwind, sometimes impacting with solid objects with injury or death resulting.  
  • In general, beginner and intermediate riders are best advised to avoid storm conditions.  
  • Be warned – don’t mess with storms.
Strong wind and getting lofted. If you are are over powered (e.g strong wind and kite too large) the risk of getting lofted high into the air increases.   Once lofted, you can be carried a considerable distance and impact with boats, rock walls, parked cars, houses, trees and even power lines.  This has caused fatalities.
  • You can minimise the risk of lofting by avoiding weather conditions where strong and variable winds are forecast (e.g. northerlies in Australia, coming off land)
  • Never fly your kite above your head on the beach.  Keep is low and at the edge of the wind window.  Land it as soon as you can.
  • Deploy your safety and release the kite quickly if you get yanked.  Better to fall a few meters than to get carried higher and into much more danger.
  • If the wind is increasing signficantly, come in and land your kite before it gets too strong.

Physical stressors and health

Sunburn.  Being on the water for long sessions increases the risk of sunburn.  Wearing long shorts and a full length rash vest provides some protection.  A steamer wetsuit is better.  Use suncream on exposed skin such as your face and ears.  The risk of sunburn increases with proximity to the tropic latitudes,

Fatigue.  Kitesurfing is exciting.  During a good session you can so hyped up you lose track of how tired you are getting.  Mistakes increase with fatigue, and your ability to recover from them diminishes.  Come in before your arms turn to jelly.

Hypothermia.   Prolonged immersion in cold water without appropriate protective clothing will lead to hypothermia - reduction of the body core temperature.   As hypothermia progresses, decision making can be impaired and fatigue experienced.  Eventually, death can result.  Ensure you have appropriate clothing (wetsuit, drysuit, helmet, hood, booties and gloves) for the weather conditions.

Dangerous practices

Getting blown out to sea.   This will only happen if you crash your kite, cannot relaunch it, and the wind direction is cross-offshore or offshore.
  • Avoiding cross-offshore or offshore wind directions will minimise the risk of getting blown out to see.
  • You could get rescued by a boat if there is one available.  Rescue boards are available at some locations if you pay a fee for their service, or you might get lucky and be offered assistance by another water craft.
  • You can also release your kite, leave your board and swim back to shore.  If you are using a surfboard you can paddle it back to sure.  You may lose the kite, but this is better than losing your life!
Jumping in shallow water.  Do not jump in shallow water!  If you lose control of the kite or get disoriented you may impact the bottom and break you leg, ankle, back or neck.  It is simply not worth the risk.  Go out to deeper water for jumps, and maintain appropriate downwind clearance for other kiters and solid objects.

Equipment failure

Deathlooping kite.  In some uncommon circumstances, kites can start "deathlooping". The kite goes into uncontrollable loops and will drag an attached kitesurfer with considerable power.  It is very difficult activate safety releases or even to cut the lines with a line knife while being dragged though the water.  Deathloops can be caused by:
  • One line getting hitched or snagged to a one of the bar.  
  • A pulley or bridle line breaking - inspect these regularly for signs of wear and replace BEFORE they fail.
It is important to activate both safety releases rapidly if your kite starts deathlooping.  If you delay, the lines may wrap and twist and prevent your release systems from operating.  Practice retrieving and using your line knife also.

Other craft and swimmers

Boats and yachts.   Kitesurfers travel fast and can impact other water craft.  With 25 meters of kite line, your kite can also get tangled around the mast of a yacht if you get too close.  Fishermen may have lines out some distance from their boat. Maintain a safe distance (at least 50m) from other water craft.

Hang gliders.  Some beach locations, such as 4 Mile Beach (Port Douglas, Australia) can be used at times by both hang gliders (powered or landing) and kitesurfers.  A hang glider will crash if it hits kite lines. If any hang gliders are coming in to land all kites flying on or near the landing zone should be landed to clear the airspace.

Swimmers.  Some swimmers go offshore while training for endurance or club events.  Keep a close eye out for any swimmers.  They can be very difficult to spot in waves and chop.  You might only glimpse their arms in the air briefly if they are swimming freestyle.   You must keep at least 50m away from any swimmer.



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