I have a lot of quirks about my personality. One of the strangest quirks is my preference for flying oversized high aspect ratio race kites in overhead surf. It’s clearly ‘the wrong tool for the job’ so why would I risk life, limb and overpriced kites by not flying a nice tiny inflatable kite that turns and maneuvers much faster in the surf?
One of my favorite places in NY is the east shore of Lake Ontario. The sandy beach there is home to hundreds of sea birds that thrive on the barrier islands. You can access many of the islands by kayak, canoe or SUP and often there is not that many people in the more remote sections. When the winds pick up the waves often get 7-8 feet tall. The sand is waist deep out several hundred yards so the waves can set up very nicely in lighter winds, in high winds it becomes disorganized garbage.
Today I had an epic 5 hours session with direct onshore winds and 6-7 foot waves. The wind was only 14 mph so most inflatables with that much wind pretty much go downwind. Unless you are flying a huge kite with a surfboard you wouldn’t have much luck even getting past the break. Several months ago I bought a Sonic 18 Full Race kite from Flysurfer (review is here). This kite is hands-down the best lightwind kite I have ever flown. It goes much farther to the edge of the window than anything I have ever flown and jumps much higher in light wind than anything I have ever seen. Even in light onshore winds with 6 foot break I had no problem breaking out upwind. With any other kite I’ve ever owned I would have been pushed back to shore by the currents and the waves.
One of the biggest problems that you have with foils is accidentally dumping them in the surf and having it get ripped to shreds by the waves. Most foils are designed to drop back into the window when they backstall which is a nice feature in the waves. You can pull in on the bar and the kite depowers and stalls dropping into the window while you get to ride the wave. As soon as you’re ready for power you release pressure on the bar and the kite recovers and starts to pull again.
This works reasonably well unless you stall the kite too much for too long then it ends up in the water. Riding waves with this technique you quickly learn to divide your attention between making sure you don’t get pounded by the waves and making sure you don’t drop your kite in the water.
There is a special feeling you get when you hear the wave setting up and crashing right behind you and instead of freaking out you just pull in the bar and shoot out ahead outrunning the crashing surf. You have cheated death once again, actually with 7 foot waves it’s pretty unlikely you’d die, but it IS likely you would get water up your nose.
While some kiters run shuttles so they can do a ‘downwinder’ and others sit on the beach because there isn’t enough wind to ride I’ll be out happily cranking upwind on my foil race kite. Although it was never designed to be ridden in huge surf, it works just fine for me.