Kitesurfing: Taking Surfing to New Heights

We are pleased to present you with this awesome article written by Rob Chrystal, highlighting the advantages of the wave riding side of kiting – kitesurfing.

Kitesurfing - Wave Riding - Rob Chrystal

For those of you who don’t know Rob, he is the owner of a well known kitesurfing shop in Durban, South Africa, called Ocean2air. Rob has been flying kites for around 17 years – starting on the beach with skis and foil kites and then progressing onto the water with inflatable kites in 1999. It is safe to say Rob is one of the true pioneers of kitesurfing in South Africa, and is highly respected in the kitesurfing industry.

Kitesurfing - Wave Riding - Rob Chrystal

Rob Chrystal – Photography by Ryan Joffe

Why Kitesurfing?

I started kiting because I was unable to surf when it was windy so it gave me an alternative sport to do, but I never imagined that I would be where I am now – surfing waves with a kite – and not just surfing, but catching more waves, going harder and getting more critical than I could ever have imagined.

Just for clarity, when I refer to kitesurfing, I mean the surfing side of kitesurfing or kiteboarding. In other words, riding waves with a kite.

The Evolution of Kitesurfing

We have seen kitesurfing equipment evolve at an exceptional rate. Boards have gone from long directional boards down to super short wide twin tips and then back to surfboards. Kites have gone from 2 line with no de-power to 4 line with massive de-power. Our tricks have changed from airs and spins to board-offs and handle passes, to kite loop handle passes and now we are starting to take those into the surf. The amazing thing about kiting is that it is a combination of so many sports – each one coming into the arena with their own special set of talents and setting their path. This diversity is what makes kitesurfing so unique. Here’s a great overview of the evolution of kitesurfing, and where we’re headed in the future.

Taking Surfing to a New Level

Surfing has always been a purest sport – it is the surfer, their board and the ocean. It is an extremely gratifying sport where you can spend time at peace with nature in its liquid form. A lot of surfers were against tow in surfing with jet-skis as they felt it went against the grain, but you cannot deny that they have allowed surfers to ride bigger waves and waves that were originally considered not surfable. Kites are nature’s jet-ski – but we now have the advantage of being in the driving seat – so now we can decide which wave to ride and where we want to be! We are now able to switch the power of the kite off, allowing us to surf the wave and then engage the kite when we need it. So if the wave closes out, we can use the kite to power us away from it. Surfing small gutless waves with a kite now gives you the speed to boost or drive off sections and changes the whole playing field!

Kitesurfing - Wave Riding - Tube - Rob Chrystal

Rob Getting Barrelled – Photography by Ryan Joffe

Misconceptions of Kitesurfing

There are a lot of misconceptions about kitesurfing. People have been put off by horror stories, often caused by irresponsible practises, or because of bad experiences trying the wrong gear. Some people have gone through the wrong kitesurfing school and have not been taught in the correct manner. Poor instruction could result in people thinking kitesurfing is harder than it actually is or they get scared off and give up. There is also the misconception that the learning curve is a long and hard one but it is actually a fast and fun one and you never stop learning.

Kitesurfing - Wave Riding - Josh Emanuel

Josh Emanuel – Photography by Ryan Joffe

Equally, some kitesurfers stay on a twin tip and never move onto the surfing side of the sport. When you start kiting you generally start on a twin tip as the board is more manoeuvrable and it is easy to change direction. You then move onto the jumps and for most people this is what attracted them to the sport in the first place. Next come the tricks, and as the tricks get more intense, so the risk of injury increases – for the guys doing this as professionals it is worth the risk, but the other guys start looking at the cost of injury and stop pushing it. Let’s face it; there is nothing we hate more than being injured. If you are out the water for a day a week or a year – you hate it. These are the guys that run the risk of losing the stoke, since they end up doing the same thing each time they kitesurf and this can get monotonous… but there is a solution to ensure they keep the stoke!

Keeping the Stoke

The combination of waves and wind is the solution! Have you ever noticed the number of older surfers in the water who are still loving it! They never get bored – they are still stoked! Every day they go out, they surf different waves and create different memories – waves are a variable and it makes them appreciate the good times even more. We now watch the wave size and direction on WindGuru as much as we watch the wind. If you only kite on flat water, you are dealing with a constant. In this case you only have the wind, so you use what you are given.

Where I live on the Indian Ocean, it is arguably year round one of the best places in the world to surf and kitesurf. We have decent surf and wind most of the year but we deal with a variable and this is what we thrive on. I am not saying that we are more stoked than the guys on flat water, but we definitely have something that is unique each time. Going out in 10 – 12ft surf gets our blood pumping a lot faster, and when the surf is running down the line we definitely are pumping our kites a lot quicker.

Kitesurfing - Wave Riding - Lyle Bottcher

Lyle Bottcher – Photography by Ryan Joffe

The Essence of Kitesurfing

So for me the way forward is through the waves! For a lot of us it is the waves that brought us here. The waves are our liquid studio and our kites provide us with the lines with which to draw. We are the artist creating our own master piece no matter how big or small. The simple truth is the guy who is cruising and riding the waves at his own beat, is having as much fun as the guy carving it large. This is the essence of kitesurfing. We have the biggest playground and we have the most insane tools with which to enjoy it.

Kiteboarding - Wave Riding - Rob Chrystal

Rob Chrystal – Photography by Ryan Joffe

One Eye in Mauritius is the perfect example of how good it can be to surf with a kite. This is a wave that I surfed as a surfer but when I kitesurfed it: my ride was 5 times longer. I hit the wave in the critical position more often and I had an eject button where I could use the kite to lift me off the wave when it closed out. You don’t get too much better than this when it comes to riding waves but best of all you will ride so many more waves in a session – maximising your time on the water.

Waves may not be everyone’s ideal, but kites are the perfect tool that allow you to ride bigger waves than you would have ever imagined. Fitness is often a major factor that prevents surfers from enjoying their session to the fullest – you now have a kite that can do most of the work for you. Advancements in technology allow you to switch the power of the kite off by parking it while you surf the wave, and to re-launch the kite out the water quicker and with a lot more ease.

I believe that we have yet to scratch the surface of what’s possible and the next generation of kiters are set to be guys who will push the limits in surfing further… when kiteboarders start kitesurfing – the sky is the limit!!

Written by

Rob Chrystal

As always, we would love to hear your opinion in the comments below… To learn more about Ocean2Air, visit their website at:

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  1. Jessica Winkler says:

    I’m always defending kitesurfing to surfers saying how I can catch 4 waves to their 1 but it’s never well received. I wish I could convince more surfers to try kitesurfing so they could see how much fun it is!

  2. I hear you Jessica – with me it is even worse as I have a shop and they think I am trying to sell to them. If only surfers knew what they were missing. One thing that I think surfers don’t realize, is that their years of surfing experience ultimately makes it way easier for them when they get onto a surfboard!!

  3. Shhhhhh, be quiet, more room for us and bugger the nay sayers ;-)) .Nice article rob..

  4. Dean Bottcher says:

    Well said Rob. I just ride, our time in the spotlight is coming soon.

  5. James Lea says:

    Great article Rob! I need to join you guys and progress on the surfs….