Here’s a post I put up on Launch failures

We get no shortage of chances to see people stuffing their launches near our spot.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen two failed launch situations where a kiter lost control of their kite. In one of them, the kiter flew through the air and landed on the beach within a metre of smashing her face on a parked jetski. In the other, the kiter got dragged down the beach and crashed his kite just beside some bystanders.  This kiter (former policeman) then got angry and yelled at both his helper and the people in the launch zone who came to check on things.  It was a tense moment.  

Launching your kite is one of the most vulnerable times for you as a kiter, because there are a lot of unknown variables that need to be addressed before the kite goes in the air. Is your kite the right size for the conditions? Is the tuning adjusted correctly? Is the wind quality sufficient for you to be kiting in?  Have you positioned yourself in the right place for a smooth, uneventful launch?

The vast majority of launch accidents are caused by either:

  1) The kiter moving too far upwind before pulling the lines tight, or

  2) Failure to do the “back line tension check” before launching.

In the case of the yelling man, he was in a rush to get his kite up in the air and go out. He’d come all the way from Europe, and had to wait a couple of days to kite because the wind wasn’t suitable when he first arrived.  He was already tense and impatient. He set his kite up, hooked in, and the helper started to move the kite into position.  But then he walked upwind without checking his “across the wind line” first, and stepped back to tension his lines.  The kite was already deep in the wind window,  so it overpowered and ripped out of the helper’s hands. This “hot-launch” dragged him down the beach a few metres, before his kite crashed just beside some bystanders.

In the case of the flying girl, she was a fairly confident kiter, able to jump, ride a surfboard and do tricks. But when she went to launch her kite, one of the back lines (the top one) was wrapped around the tip of the kite. The back line, being effectively shorter, turned the kite back and sent it up through the wind window. This yanked her up through the air, and she narrowly missed injury as she was pulled back down to the ground beside the jetski.

Neither of these accidents needed to happen, and both could have been prevented with a good launch procedure, complete with all the checks. And both of happened because of a problem that went unnoticed until far too late.

A good launch procedure (you can see ours on the lesson syllabus) addresses all these issues before the kite leaves the helper’s hand.

It’s very common for people be too far upwind of the kite when they pull their lines tight. It’s a result of not taking the time to be aware of the wind direction; that’s what happened to the angry policeman.  He also made the mistake of hooking in too early in the procedure. This compounded his mistake, so he was already connected to the kite when it powered up.

The girl who flew through the air skipped a very important but often-missed part of a good launch procedure: the back line tension check.   It’s one of the last checks we do, after moving into position and hooking in (which should be as late in the process as feasible).  Just before the 360 degree check, and the thumbs up, we:

  1. SHEET OUT all the way to check for depowerability.
  2. SHEET IN to check (feel) for sufficient & equal tension in the back lines.

Even for experienced kiters, one of those back lines sometimes get wrapped around the tip or there is some other problem with the lines/bridle, and the helper might not notice it. This “back line tension check” is meant to catch those issues before the launch- you’ll notice it when you sheet in.  It will also tell you if your kite is tuned properly, if you’re standing in the right place, and if the wind conditions are suitable and matched to your kite size.

As we say when this kind of thing happens… the root cause was NOT that the back line was wrapped around the tip of the kite. This happened because the kiter did not do their pre-launch checks properly. 

So do your checks carefully, every time. Take those 4-5 seconds to make sure that the kite feels like it’s flying already, and your helper can hold the kite lightly.  And if something doesn’t feel right, don’t just launch and hope you can sort it out when the kite is in the air– stop and look for the source of the trouble.

I see kiters all the time casually getting into place and giving the thumbs up without doing all the careful checks first.  In fact, when things go wrong, that’s usually what I’ve seen just beforehand.  Then, right after the incident they often say something like, “This NEVER happens!”

It was interesting to note the reactions of these two people to the situations they caused.

The ex-cop powered up his kite by going too far upwind, too soon. It knocked his helper down and endangered the people nearby when it crashed. And yet, he was angry. Not at himself, but at everyone else. He blamed his helper and yelled at the people who tried to contain the situation. It was a rare case where I had to invite someone not to use this launch spot again. I didn’t ban him because he caused a dangerous incident. I did it because he wasn’t willing to sit down and talk through what happened, and learn from it for next time.

The girl crashed her kite into the neighbor’s trees, and we had to shut down the launch site while we sorted everything out for her. The people waiting to go out after her had to wait some more until the area was cleared. Instead of apologising for the trouble she caused, she was so focused on getting kiting that she launched again and went out without even a thank you. Later I debriefed her on the situation, and suggested that this was a great chance for her to help others with what she’d learned from her experience. Her response: “Yes I can advise them. For $20 per hour.” And the next times i watched her launch her kite, she still gave the thumbs up signal without doing her checks.

Your mindset when you kite will have a huge impact on yourself, and on the other people who share the area with you. Impatience and a cavalier attitude are your two greatest enemies. Let’s use our experience to help each other.