Tutorials : How to Try to Avoid Lofting
by Rick Iossi, Florida Kite Surfing Association
Lofting or involuntary lifting can be a serious hazard to kiteboarders. Lofting used to be relatively rare a couple of years ago but it is becoming more common around the world. Some riders are being lifted out of control and slammed downwind with varying injuries, largely depending on luck. It is important to note that MOST LOFTING INCIDENTS ARE AVOIDABLE by using proper technique and judgment. See the Kitesurfing Accident Database for more information on specific incidents at the link listed below. In reading these accounts please note that the majority of victims are well experienced to very experienced kiteboarders so skill doesn't appear to play much of a factor in avoiding lofting.
Essentially if your kite is at or near the vertical or the zenith and you are hit by a strong enough gust, you will be lofted. If you are already airborne in a jump when the gust hits, you will likely fly even further and harder downwind. Kites lift very efficiently, so setting yourself up for lofting is relatively easy to do if you use improper technique (please see the photos below). Serious lofting incidents have occurred with gusts of LESS THAN 10 KTS. above background wind speed. A minor lofting is pictured below in only 10 to 14 kt. winds. Once you have been lofted into the air, you are blown downwind, largely out of control and often at high speed to a hard to very hard impact. Several riders have not been able to unhook while loaded up and airborne so once you start you may be in for the complete ride and bad landing. The severity of the experience will depend heavily on your speed and correctness of reaction, surroundings, the gust velocity and luck. Lofting has happened to riders on their boards out on the water relatively near shore and to many kitesurfers while still on the beach.
Gusts are the most common cause of lofting such as the sudden 35 to 51 kts. squall gust that carried a rider an incredible 820 ft. (250 m) and 100 ft. high (30 M) in Cabarete, DR. More rare causes could include the apparent dust devil lofting that occurred in Spain, or the uplift lofting that carried a rider up the windward face of a dike in Holland both of which resulted in rider fatalities. Another less common cause includes thermals such as lofted a rider to an incredible height of 225 ft in Oahu, HI. Of course these examples represent lofting extremes. It is quite possible to have a serious accident under much more commonly encountered circumstances, IF you permit it to happen.
The following reasoned precautions have been assembled to try to reduce the chance of lofting. Input is welcome, particularly from kiteboarders who have been lofted. Information on lofting and the means of avoiding it is still coming in.
- Pick your weather carefully and if it looks like it is going to change for the worse, come in promptly. The wind can gust suddenly with very little warning before a squall. If the weather radar, wind plots imply squalls or unduly gusty weather in your area or if obvious storm clouds or other signs of unstable weather are moving in, don't go kiteboarding. If you are already out and squalls are moving in, come in early and unrig well in advance of the storm. You should be onshore with your kite adequately anchored before either the wind or temperature changes. When in doubt, don't fly, wait for stable weather. Squall induced wind gusts are the most common cause of lofting.
- If you are on land or near hard objects such as rocks, boats, shallow water or other people, try to keep your kite at the edge of the wind window and near the surface. Get offshore without delay., NEVER LEAVE YOUR KITE NEAR THE ZENITH OR THE VERTICAL WHILE ON LAND OR NEAR HARD OBJECTS. When near hard objects, keep your kite low and near the surface. "Near" may mean within 100 ft. (30 m) or even further from the hard objects. Of course if you are hit by a strong gust with your kite low, you may be violently dragged as opposed to lofted, so plan accordingly. Be ready to depower your kite at the earliest opportunity if hit by a strong gust to try to avoid extended dragging and potential serious injury. If you are hit by a strong enough gust it may pop your kite up into the center of the power zone from near the ground. The trick is to not make yourself vulnerable to violent squally weather in the first place. If you are near hard objects or if pronounced gusty conditions are developing, stay unhooked and be prepared to let go of your bar. It is also a good idea not to snap shackle to your bar under these conditions. In order to be able to hold your kite bar it may be necessary for you to pull in on your trimming strap or line to depower your kite until you are safely offshore. It may also be necessary for you to rig down in kite size to be able to manage the depowered kite without connecting to the chicken or centerline loop. If you are using a snap shackle, it is important that it is rigged properly to improve reliability of release. A metal ring or shackle should connect the snapshackle to the chicken or centerline loop. Under no conditions should the shackle be directly connected to the chicken or centerline loop. A center release snapshackle may provide a more reliable release under the kind of tremendous loading that comes with lofting. If you do use a snapshackle, rehearse mentally, frequently, " if I get lofted, pull the snapshackle release cord". In the shock of lofting, your reactions may be slow, so rehearsing may help. Of course if you are already high over land, this one is a very tough judgment call as riding things out may be the wiser course. To avoid having to make such critical decisions in very little time, which mayresult in injury regardless of the decision, the best course is to work hard to avoid circumstances which may lead to lofting in the first place.
- Always carefully and methodically preflight your kiteboarding gear. One suggested preflighting procedure and set of guidelines for trying to avoid lofting are given at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/kitesurf/files/Kitesurfing%20Safety%20Information/ If you are launching in higher wind speeds, say 20 kts. or more, if your lines are uneven or your gear is otherwise not correct at launch you can be lofted very rapidly. The speed can be so great that you have insufficient time to react to correct the situation. If you aren't attached to your bar you can simply let go and defuse the situation.
- Avoid or simply don't fly with onshore winds or kiteboard within 300 ft.(100 m), upwind of hard objects. If you go out in onshore winds, which is NOT RECOMMENDED, kiteboard more than 300 ft. .(100 m), offshore until it is time to come in. Come in without delay, keeping the kite low and be prepared to let go of your bar if lofted. This technique generally requires assisted landings shortly after you make it to shore. Do not jump within 300 ft. .(100 m), of shore or hard downwind objects. If feasible it would be a good idea to have assisted launches and landings at least 200 feet, (60 m), offshore in onshore winds if the water is shallow enough.
- Be particularly cautious while upwind of bystanders and hard objects. If circumstances seem to support possible lofting, it would be best not to launch at all. If the rider decides to go despite this recommendation and prudence, he should move a substantial distance (300 ft. or more), away from the bystanders.
- Try to use shorter line sets if you are expecting stronger winds. Also do not fly a larger kite than supported by the probably conditions. Make sure your kite depower system COMPLETELY depowers your kite and will not break under normal loading.
- Always wear a good well padded, close fitting and light helmet! Wearing an impact vest is also a good idea.
- Do not come within 100' of substantial vertical surfaces or walls with onshore winds to avoid potentially being lifted in the slip stream that runs up the face of the vertical surface. In theory even relatively minor winds could cause substantial uplift along the face of buildings, cliffs, hills, etc.
- Do not fly your kite near thermal generating conditions. Please see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/kiteboard/message/34927 for more info on thermals.
Of course, kiteboarders can break all of the above guidelines and perhaps be perfectly OK for hundreds of hours on the water, then again, maybe not. One kiteboarder I know made it through two years of going out in virtually every kind of weather including two hurricanes, before he smacked into a very bad landing and critical injury onshore. There is one small launch area in Florida where three riders had avoidable loftings over a 7 month period with two riders going to the hospital. Unfortunately, sad experience has shown that given enough time, bad things have a way of catching up with us if we go a little too extreme, too often. Again, most lofting incidents are avoidable but only if proper technique and good judgment are used. The number of lofting cases is currently increasing around the world. We really need to avoid lofting, particularly near others, for both our own good and that of the sport.