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!
How can I tell a good school or instructor?
As a beginning kitesurfer, a lot depends on your choice of kite school… and there is a lot of information to sort through to make this decision. Pricing policies, equipment, wind and water conditions during the lessons, and of course especially the quality of instruction all come into play. A number of competing organizations offer instructor licenses. VDWS, BPJEPS, PASA, IKO, BKSA, KA… Some are better than others, “instructor certification” is often used as a selling point, and schools are sometimes under pressure to hire only instructors holding a particular teaching certificate. Some of these organizations are actually proper governing bodies, either government-related or nonprofit national sports associations. And some are private companies with their motive being profit from generating instructor and student certifications and other sources.
Keep in mind that just because someone holds an instructor card, that does not mean that they are a good instructor. There are very skilled instructors out there who don’t have a teaching certificate, or who have chosen to let theirs expire. There are also plenty of poor and mediocre instructors in possession of a teaching cert. In fact, it’s not that hard to get a teaching license—in some cases it takes just a few days’ course. Some organizations take much more time than others to monitor their instructor’s teaching performance before issuing a license.
I’m going to offer some observations based on my experience from 18 years in the industry, which includes teaching, hiring, training, and observing many instructors in action.
When choosing a school or instructor, it’s a good idea to shop around and ask some questions either online or in person before booking. But observing a lesson in progress is really the best way to tell– if you know what to look for. Here are a few particular points you can take note of:
1) Before booking any lessons, does the school confirm that you are a good swimmer, and ask specific questions about any health or medical factors that may affect you during your lesson? These would include blood sugar issues, heart conditions, old injuries, etc. If you are booked in for a lesson without being asked this, it is a major red flag, and an indication of how much attention is paid to other important safety details as well.
2) Many schools offer packages containing a number of hours. Are you “locked in” by being required to pay for the entire package first, or can you decide as you go whether to continue with that school? It’s very tempting for a school to collect the money first, then run out the hours in marginal conditions in order to finish a package. Check policies for refunds and no-wind situations.
3) Look at the training materials and handouts available to the students. Is there a methodical lesson plan laid out with goals and skills to learn along the way, with safety standards clearly specified?
4) You should be made to feel welcome to observe any lessons in progress. Watch how the instructor interacts with their students, and listen to how well they explain technical points. You can also look for these specific things:
>Students are wearing safety gear
>Watch several times as a student’s kite is launched into the air—this is a crucial point in time and should not be rushed. Just before the kite is launched, do you see the instructor/ student make a careful back-line tension check, as well as a 360 degree scan of the area around them, every time?
>This is probably one of the best clues, as we see many instructors getting sloppy with this during lessons: Watch to make sure that care is being taken to avoid flying kites upwind or above people on the beach or in the water. One of the first and most basic safety principles of kiting is to keep the downwind area (within your kite lines’ radius) as clear as possible. This is because the kite or lines can do significant damage if they strike a person. It’s bad practice for either a student or an instructor to fly a kite with long lines any more than necessary where there are people downwind; this includes walking up the beach with the kite in the air.
5) It’s a good indication to a look at the school’s beach and launching/landing area. Does it look organized and clear, or are there kites and lines and people cluttering up the place? Are people launching and landing their kites too close to others? Are they standing around or walking through the area with their kite in the air? In a well-managed launch zone, kites are launched and caught close to the water’s edge, and are only in the air for the time it takes to move to and from the water.
In my experience and observations, the two highest level instructor certifications come from BPJEPS (France) and VDWS (Germany). But keep in mind that no one particular organisation’s methods should be considered the standard for all others to follow in every situation. Each student, instructor, and location are unique and a good instructor continuously takes all these into account during a lesson. Ultimately, each school’s management tends to have more of an influence over the instructors’ methods and practices than whatever certification they happen to hold.