Going upwind

Riding upwind is the key to kitesurfing. Level: basic.

Going upwind is a key skill development from "newbie" to "beginner". Once mastered, you can kite for your entire session without walking back along the beach.

While it is theoretically possible to ride at up to a 40 degree angle to the wind, in practice with normal equipment 10 to 20 degrees upwind is achievable.

Possible kiting directions

Once you can stay upwind you don't have to walk back along the beach at the end of each run (the "walk of shame") so you can keep kitesurfing in one location as long as you like.

Riding upwind in one direction, then turning around and continuing upwind is called tacking. A track log for a very short kiting session might look something like this:


Experienced kitesurfers can ride upwind at angles up to 20 degrees using specialist equipment such as race boards and foil boards.

How to go upwind on a twin tip board

To upwind, you need to combine several techniques and factors:

1. Speed. If the wind is strong enough, speed will not be a problem. In fact, you may need to slow down a little to be able to go upwind better. The faster you go the more "apparent wind" you create, which has the effect of pushing the wind window behind you, which makes it more difficult to go upwind. If the wind is light, it is a little trickier. You will need to work your kite through the window to generate enough speed. You may also need to go slightly downwind to build up speed before starting to go upwind. This will mean that you will take a large curved line to your destination where the star is your starting point

Going upwind

2. Edge. On a twin-tip board you must be riding on an edge - angle and steer the board in the direction you want to go, rather than letting the kite drag you directly downwind. The board will be at a 45 degree angle or greater to the water.

3. Kite position. If you are struggling, consider bringing your kite lower.

      • The higher the kite is in the sky, the more it will be pulling you vertically up, rather than horizontally upwind.

      • Try your kite at 45 degrees or lower and you will have better ability to go upwind. This is of course dependent on wind strength.

4. Body position and stance. The best stance for going up wind is:

      • Arms almost outstretched (not too bent)

      • Head and shoulders facing direction of travel (pick a distant marker to aim for and head towards it, or upwind of it). Look where you want to go.

      • Bum and hips in towards the bar (avoid bending your knees too much)

      • Front leg straight or nearly straight

      • Rear leg slightly bent. Use this to steer into the wind.

Failing to do any of these things will result in the "Walk of Shame" - the nemesis of all kiters. This basically means that you haven't been able to stay upwind, have drifted downwind as a result and have to walk back to your starting position where your gear is located.

A straight stance with hips forwards help you go upwind. Avoid crouching with both knees bent (the "poo stance").

Remember to keep your kite at about 45 degrees with the kite as de-powered as much as possible while walking along a beach - this will keep you safe if there are gusty conditions about. Having your kite high will leave you prone to wind gusts picking you up and landing you in places you don't want to be - roads, trees, backyards.

When walking on a beach keep the kite over water rather than over the beach/shore - if the wind drops the kite will land safely rather than on people or in palm trees.

When learning, its normal to go upwind easily in one direction (your "natural stance") but struggle to go upwind in the other direction (your "un-natural stance". Try getting your board speed and kite speed up first by going downwind slightly after your water start, then edge your board and bring your kite forward to go upwind.

How to go upwind on a surfboard or raceboard

Going upwind on a surfboard or raceboard requires a different technique:

  • Keep the board flatter on the water

  • Bring your rear foot out of the strap (if using foot straps) and place it closer to your front foot.

  • Use both your feet to twist and steer the board upwind - the fins provide tracking rather than the edge of the board

  • The kite handling is similar but you will need to keep the kite lower if you are riding strapless so you can keep pressure down on the board (and avoid getting lifted off it)

Edging the board
Peter Campbell kitesurfing at Brighton.  Photo:  Ian Currie
Edging the board