The History of Kiteboarding & Launch of a New Sport

I’m sure we can all agree that kiteboarding has to be one of the most dynamic and exhilarating sports on the planet. In fact, even people who have never had the pleasure of kiteboarding themselves, are drawn to the sport and fascinated by the speed, insanely high jumps, dizzying combinations of tricks, or the purity of riding the waves like surfers. But have you ever wondered where kiteboarding came from, who invented the inflatable kite, or how we got to where we are today as kiteboarders?  

Kiteboarding by Neil Egerton Photography

There are of course a number of great resources documenting the history of kiteboarding or kitesurfing, but we thought we’d summarise the highlights for you, so you can get back to doing what you live for… kiteboarding. And if you’d rather get body slammed into a mine field of sea urchins on an exposed reef than read an article on the history of kiteboarding, then feel free to skip straight to the video below, which is a humorous and very entertaining look at how it all started.

Seriously though, we can’t thank the producers, Josh Kendrick and Dan Connely enough for this brilliant tribute to kiteboarding, which comes packed with interviews with all the great pioneers of kitesurfing, and is what inspired us to write this article in the first place. It’s 55min long, so if you don’t have time for that, we’ve also included a 6 min video, Short Kiteboarding History by Susi Mai and Robby Naish.

Who Invented Kiteboarding

The story of kiteboarding will vary slightly depending on who you speak to. The Chinese for example are credited with using kites as a means of propulsion as far back as the 13th century. In the 1800’s George Pocock used kites to propel carts on land and ships on the water, making use of a 4-line control system similar to what we use today. And in 1903, aviation pioneer Samuel Cody developed “man-lifting kites” and succeeded in crossing the English Channel in a small collapsible canvas boat powered by a kite. You can read more about the early history of kites here.

Bruno Legaignoux Kitesurf Inventor

Bruno Legaignoux

But the pioneers of kiteboarding as we know it today are the Legaignoux brothers, Dominique and Bruno Legaignoux from Breton, France, who are credited with inventing the first inflatable kite. They first started experimenting with kites in 1984, and in 1985 demonstrated a prototype at the Brest International Speed Week and filed their first patent.

However, they weren’t alone… parallel to this, and all the way across the ocean in Oregon, USA, Cory Roeseler was developing his Kiteski together with his dad, Bill Roeseler, a Boeing aerodynamicist. Cory’s KiteSki became commercially available in 1994, could go upwind and had a rudimentary water re-launch system. In the late 1990s, the Kiteski evolved into a single board similar to a surfboard. The video (around minute 6:40) shows just how instrumental Cory was in the development of kiteboarding.

Cory Roeseler Kitesurf Pioneer

Cory Roeseler

Development of Kiteboarding as a Sport

In 1997 the Legaignoux brothers partnered with Neil Pryde to produce small numbers of kites, which they then sold under the brand name Wipika. These kites had preformed inflatable tubes and a simple bridle system, both of which greatly assisted their water re-launch ability. Bruno Legaignoux has continued to improve his kite designs, and went on to invent the bow kite design a few years ago which has been licensed to many kite manufacturers, and has become quite popular in modern day kitesurfing. Learn more about the various kite designs here.

Takoon Nova by Bruno Legaignoux

First Bow Kite | Image Courtesy of Ocean2Air

In 1998 Don Montague and Robby Naish requested a licence from Bruno, and as part of their agreement, Don Montague developed software which enabled them to design great kites in a fraction of the time. This was one of the defining moments of the sport.

The birth of kiteboarding as a mainstream sport really began in 1998 when Joe Keuhl organised the first kiteboarding event, which took place on Maui in Hawaii. The competition was jokingly dubbed the kitesurfing world championships and all the big names in kiteboarding were there (25 of them). Flash Austin won the competition.

Of course, learning to kitesurf in those days was treacherous. There were no instructors to learn from, no trainer kites, and nobody had figured out that they should launch the kite at the edge of the window yet. It really was the wild, Wild West back then…

One of the unique aspects of kiteboarding is that it developed in a number of different directions all roughly around the same time… on the one hand you had the likes of Robby Naish and Flash Austin boosting massive jumps, while guys like Lou Wainman and Elliot Leboe were pioneering the wakestyle side of kiteboarding. And now, largely thanks to the KSP World Pro Kite Tour, we’re getting back to our surfing roots with strapless wave kitesurfing.

Kitesurfing in Tarifa by Neil Egerton Photography

Originally the terms kiteboarding and kitesurfing really meant the same thing, however, in recent years there’s been a push to distinguish the two as different disciplines. Kiteboarding refers to anything that isn’t wave riding, so this would include freestyle, wakestyle, speed and racing, while riding waves with a kite would be kitesurfing. This trend really gained momentum when the KSP tour launched in 2011 with the One Eye Pro in Mauritius.

Video: Upwind Launch of a Sport

If you want to hear how it all began from the pioneers and influencers themselves, we highly recommend watching this video…

If you are reading this in an email or RSS reader, click here to watch the video.

The Future of Kiteboarding

The future is definitely looking bright for kiteboarding and kitesurfing. We’ve got two pro tours, with the PKRA covering freestyle and the KSP geared purely towards wave riding. We’ve got speed and course racing world championships. Kite gear is evolving at an incredible pace, with kites and bar systems becoming safer and more efficient. Kite schools with qualified instructors can be found all around the world, and more youngsters and girls are getting into kiteboarding, which is great for any new sport. On top of that, kiteboarding almost became an Olympic sport last year, and while we didn’t make it for the 2016 Games in the end, we’re confident that kiteboarding in the Olympics is in the not too distant future.

Short Kiteboarding History by Susi Mai & Robby Naish

If you are reading this in an email or RSS reader, click here to watch the video.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little walk down memory lane. If you think we’ve missed anything important, please do let us know in the comments below and we’ll update the article accordingly. And if you enjoyed this article or the videos, please do share it with your friends.

Note: The first and last image are courtesy of Neil Egerton Photography.

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Comments

  1. Hi guys, you may like to do some more research into the influences the southern hemisphere had on the history of kiteboarding, especially Peter Lynn (snr) and all the crew and family involved in his crazy ideas in the 80′s/90′s. This crew (esp. Kane Hartill) also had a big input on Adrian Roper’s, Underground Kiteboards, which as we know had a huge influence on the kiteboard industry in the early 2000′s. :) Su

    • Excellent point Su! Thanks for bringing that up… We haven’t managed to cover all the influences from all around the world in this article, but you are right, Peter Lynn certainly had a massive impact on the development of kiting… from world record sized kites, to his kite buggies, to kitesurfing…

      If you’d like to email us a short, accurate summary of the influences from down South, we’d be happy to include a segment (a paragraph or two) in this article. In the meantime, if anyone wants to read up more on some of Peter Lynn’s crazy ideas and his contribution to the sport, here’s his Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Lynn

      Thanks.

  2. Eric Steinbroner says:

    Hey there… Just a couple of points of clarification. The first X-Games in Providence Rhode Island in 1995 was the first try at competition. There wasn’t enough wind for the event so in the same year I held a small competition which I called the Kiteboarding Worlds in the SF Bay. The results:

    1) Cory Roeseler
    2) Eric Steinbroner
    3) Thomas Jeltsch
    4) Randy Schumacher
    5) Nils Andermo
    6) Tie: Terese Roeseler and Clarin Mustad

    In 1996, I held the second annual Kiteboarding worlds at the same location. The invitation list included some new folks who were getting into kiteboarding at the time like Laird Hamilton and Manu Bertin. Also invited were Bruno Legaignoux, Troy Navarro, Mike Murphy and others. That year we had match races, a downwinder from Oyster Point to 3rd Avenue and a timed upwind slalom course race. Cory was first, Eric second and Randy Schumacher third.

    In July of 1996 Lars and Kassen Bergstrom put on a Kiteboarding event at the Gorge Games as well.

    So, lots of activity well before 1998.

    I have a lot of this documented if anybody wants copies of what I have.

    Thanks,

    • Hey Eric… thank you very much for your contribution. It sounds like you have a wealth of interesting information on the early days of Kiteboarding. If you have anything else you think will make our account of the history of kiteboarding more complete, please feel free to get in touch with us. We can either add it to this article, or if you like, perhaps you could write your own article that we can publish here.

      Thanks.

  3. Hey,

    You have share great article about kiteboarding history, I’m a kietboarding instructor, teaching lessons in south Florida. Thanks to share kiteboarding lessons future.

    Cheers
    Nicole

  4. I love to water and beach and swimming and fishes and just everything about water. Kite surfing is the best sport I have ever experienced in my life as it goes with my love for water also. I like this article. Thanks!

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