Wave riding

Wave riding (kitesurfing) in waves is a style that combines kiteboarding with surfing. Learning to kitesurf big waves and to use a kitesurf directional board requires a whole new range of skills and techniques that can make an accomplished flat water kiter feel like a beginner again.

Most kitesurfers use a directional board with enough flotation and good turning characteristics to surf the wave. Many kiters use a board that can be used for regular surfing too (with the foot straps removed).

Wave riding is quite different from flat water kitesurfing where the wind always powers you and your board. You can also apply flat water style to riding waves by using the kite as your primary means of propulsion.

However, when you kitesurf big waves, you can transition from wind power to surfing using the power of the wave.

    • The kite becomes a method of getting into position for a big wave similar to a tow-in by a jet ski.

    • Once in position, the power of the wave takes over and you surf it as you would without the kite.

    • To do this you need to position and fly your kite "down the line" and follow it so that it ceases pulling you while it stays flying.

When you are out there, have selected wave and are about to catch it, do a quick 3 point check:

    • Front foot located

    • Rear foot located

    • Knees bent

It is well worth mastering toeside riding upwind for wave riding, so you can tack in both directions without switching your feet on the board. This allows you to remain in your preferred stance and approach and catch waves without switching your feet or riding "goofy" in one direction.

Practice releasing all your safety releases to ensure you can release the kite completely quickly and easily. Do a release check before you get on the water.

Using a board leash

Note: This is for experienced riders only. Wearing a lease is a personal choice. There are very experienced and capable riders that always wear a board leash, and there are those that don’t.

Attaching a board leash to your leg can be tricky. You fly the kite overhead, let go with both hands and quickly do up the ankle strap, and then grab the bar. It sounds easy but is a bit tricky. Conversely, the leash is best removed as soon as you reach the shore.


  • You won’t lose your board and have to swim or body drag in if you come off it. The leash stops the board being carried in on a wave without you.

  • If you have crashed your kite you can concentrate on relaunching it without having to body drag back to your board later


  • Your board can collide with you in a wipe out as it remains with you

  • If your kite or a wave gives you a big yank off the board, the leash will shoot it towards you and it can hit you hard. Wearing a helmet will reduce the risk of this injuring your head.

Getting out through surf

Some speed is good as it helps punch through and over waves. Bend your knees up to "soak up" the impact when hitting white water waves, and shift some weight to the rear of the board so the nose lifts over it.

    • When going out through surf, keep kite low down over the waves. It will tend to pull you out and through them if you get caught in white water.

    • Fly the kite, fly the kite, fly the kite.

    • If in doubt, fly the kite out (over the waves)

    • Pop your knees up to the height of the white water you are about to cross

    • If a big crest is coming, turn away to reduce impact, then turn back out after it has broken

    • If big broken water coming - jump of the board completely and do a "bomb shape" to reduce flailing

    • Slow down for broken waves - if you hit them too fast you can launch - if you have no straps you will come are off the board.

    • When going out and a good wave presents, you can turn the kite then turn board to get on wave.

Getting onto wave (left break)

    • Approach tacking right

    • Turn the kite left, then turn the kite right (figure 8) to "park it"

    • Turn the board left

    • Follow the kite, stay on the wave

General tips

    • If in big surf off the board, duck dive under the wave, dip the kite down (kite out behind the wave). While under, pull on bar to bring the kite back up.

    • When riding toeside, take the rear foot out and bring it behind the front foot to go upwind better.

    • Turn the kite, turn the board

    • Don't try and catch waves that break a long way out with no wall

    • Select waves a long way out and ride them all the way in

    • Keep your kite below 45 degrees to avoid getting lifted off your board

If you crash your kite in surf

    • Re-launch your kite immediately or release it completely.

    • If the kite is in waves, release and detach the kite. If your kite is caught by waves and you are attached to the bar, the tension in the lines can easily rip it.

Foot straps or strapless?

There are two options for using a directional kiteboard in the surf - with or without foot straps. Kitesurfers who start riding waves often start with a board that has foot straps. The foot straps provide some continuity for those who have used a twin tip board.

Conversely, surfers who take up kitesurfing may be less likely to start using foot straps.

You can easily remove foot straps from a directional board by unscrewing them when you want to give strapless riding a try.

Foot straps


  • Easier to keep the board on your feet going over broken waves

  • The board stays on your feet when you launch off a wave crest

  • The board stays on your feet if you get lofted or fly the kite high

  • Easier to do a water start. The footstraps enable you to position and attach the board on your feet.


  • Reduces the positions you can place your feet

  • Makes jibing more difficult

  • Riding with one foot in the front strap and the rear foot out when going upwind increases the risk of a twisting knee injury to your leading knee if you have a bad crash

  • It can be difficult to relocate your rear foot in the strap when you are setting up for a wave, particularly when riding toeside.



  • You can place your feet in the optimum position for both surfing waves and going upwind

  • You can move your feet easily without having to put them in or take them out of foot straps

  • Your board cannot damage your knees or ankles by twisting them


  • If you fly your kite high, launch of a wave lip or broken white water, you will come off the board

  • Water starts are more difficult until you learn the technique to perfect them

  • When you wipeout your board is loose in the waves and can collide with and injure you

Advanced wave riding skills

Riding unhooked unleashes the real power of the kite - and removes your depower, which can be scary. However, when surfing "down the line" on a wave, being unhooked with the kite "parked" means it is not generating much pull, and being unhooked frees your body up when surfing and turning the board. You can also fine tune the kite power by pushing your arms out or pulling them in.

Credit: Peter Campbell gained a lot of this knowledge on a Ben Wilson Wave Camp in Bali in 2011