I’m asked this a lot.
On kite forums and kiteschool websites, I’ve seen people say anywhere from 6 hours to 12 months.
There’s no short answer to this question, except… “it depends.”
One, it depends on you. The more effort you put in, and the more prepared you are, the less time it will take.
We’ve had students who are physically fit, used to the ocean, and very focused on learning. Some of them had already learned similar sports like paragliding, windsurfing, and wakeboarding. They took the time to go through the lesson materials and Youtube videos we provide. They brought their questions to the Technical Sessions, and audited other students’ lessons. These students got through all the lesson points, and up and riding, in a few days. Shortly after that, they were more or less independent and riding around on their own.
For other students, it’s their first experience being out in the ocean, exposed to wind and waves. Getting comfortable in a new environment is a part of the learning curve, so they take a bit more time. But they’re still able to get through the steps OK.
Two: it depends on the conditions where you learn. In a few kite school spots around the world, you can take lessons on a huge beach, with lots of space and few other people around. The water is flat and waist-deep, the wind perfect. In these places, it doesn’t take a lot of skill or technique for students to “get on the board.” So, they can start making their first riding attempts in less time.
But it’s a trade-off. In these locations, people don’t need to learn basic deep-water survival and navigation skills. They’re not used to anything but the easiest of conditions. So they’re not prepared for most of the world’s kite spots (including ours). It takes them time to go back and learn the basics so they don’t get themselves (or others) in trouble. That’s why I recommend for people learn in a deep water spot. It takes a bit more time at the beginning, but pays off later.
Three: It depends on your school/ instructor. A good instructor has learned over the years how to use lesson time in an effective way. This involves understanding:
- which skills to introduce,
- in what order,
- how to develop each skill in the best way,
- which equipment to use (kite size, line length, board choice), and
- how to adapt to changing conditions and different students
A few simple instructor mistakes can end up wasting hours of a student’s paid lesson time.
And it’s tempting for an instructor to “babysit” their students, instead of teaching them to be independent and do things for themselves. All so that the students can get the board on their feet in minimum time.
Buried in the question “How long does it take” is another question: What does “being able to kite” mean? At what point can you say that you know how to kitesurf? We have a few reference points along the way that we use to measure your progress:
- “Independent in the water.” You can take care of yourself and your equipment, in deep water. You can launch your kite safely and get out into the water by yourself. You can do a basic self-rescue. When the kite falls on the water, you can relaunch it. You can navigate around to where you need to be, with or without your board. You can recover your board when you lose it. And you are aware of your surroundings. It may take about 6-12 hours to get here.
- “Waterstart and riding practice.” It takes repeated tries to get up on the board and ride. You may be riding for short distances, but not yet controlling your direction. You may be riding until you crash, instead of coming to a controlled stop. And you’re still ending up downwind every time and having to walk back up the beach to start again. Depending on your board skills, you may be at this level for some hours or a few sessions. And, the better you have been prepared for this level, the less time you will spend here. You are working toward the next point:
- “Staying upwind.” This is a huge milestone in your kiting progress! It means the ability to control where you are going, and actually work your way upwind. You are probably on a beginner board, and in easy conditions. You might sometimes still end up downwind, and have to do that “Walk of Shame.” But it’s happening less and less as you get better. Your relaunch and board recovery skills are getting smoother and smoother. This may take some hours, or days, or weeks, depending on your board skills and your overall kite control.
- “Competent Rider.” Here you can control your riding in a variety of conditions, on a regular size board. You’ve been putting the hours in, “paying your dues” as we sometimes call it. You’ve experienced some difficult situations, but have gotten better at sorting yourself out and getting going again. It’s no problem for you to perform a self rescue and get back to the beach on your own, with your board, if you need to. You know how to select your kite size and adjust the tuning before launching. You can launch your kite every time without any surprises for you or your helper. You can navigate around other kiters (this means knowing the Right-of-Way rules!) You can get back to the beach where you started from each time, and land your kite without drama. And you can judge for yourself if the conditions are suitable to go out in the first place.
After a couple of months, or a season of riding, you are past the beginner stage. maybe even making some jumps or starting to ride toeside. Now you can call yourself a kitesurfer! And you realise that “6 hours” to learn to kite is just not reasonable. In fact, you will never stop learning. So I would suggest to be wary of anyone telling you that you can learn to kitesurf after a few hours of lessons. There’s more to the picture.
It’s fun to watch experienced kiters jumping high, doing tricks, and riding the waves. Remember, many of these people have been kiting for years. Don’t worry, just put the time in and you will get there!