Using Kite Momentum for Wave Riding

This is not an article for everyone. It will probably best suit the sci-fi nerd who wave kites, but it’s an interesting read none the less.

Using Kite Momentum for Wave Riding

Some of these principles do apply to kitesurfing disciplines outside of wave riding, so be mindful of them, and you may well find ways of improving your current techniques and performance.

A Bucket Full of Air

The Physics

According to our high school science teachers, the physics shows that momentum is equal to mass multiplied by velocity. So the faster you go or the greater your mass then the more momentum you will have. Considering that none of us are going to shed or add any mass of concern to our bodies or board during a session these become a constant leaving the formula having momentum equaling velocity which is quite simple but somewhat useless to our cause of becoming better riders of the waves.

While theoretically correct there is a vital element left out of this equation. This being the inherent momentum to be found stored within the kite. (Hang in there the good stuff is coming.) Let’s leave the formulas behind and take a practical look at what’s to be found in the kite. Think of it like this: Take a big empty bucket and run with it. Now come to a sudden stop. Not too difficult hey? Fill the very same bucket with water and run. Try come to the same sudden stop. Not so easy and it gets messy. The water wants to continue in the direction you were running and you needed to put in a whole lot more effort to come to a dry halt.

Kitesurfing: Using Kite Momentum for Wave Riding

Using Kite Momentum for Wave Riding


Bringing it Home to Wave Kiting

So how does this relate to wave kiting? If we consider our kites being giant buckets filled with not water but moving air and that the air is not feather light as we may be tempted to assume, but has a real mass, as we all know and experience when we head off downwind after losing an edge. It’s not so easy to stop, just like running with that bucket of water. We can then agree that the kite has its own independent momentum, which means it has a life of its own and this is something we can work with.

More and more riders in spite of their preference of being hooked-in or unhooked are seeing the advantages in parking the kite, allowing it to drift downwind, then focusing their attention on riding technically in the critical part of the wave as opposed to being distracted by the constant steering of the kite, and the consequences that come along with that. The idea in the park and ride style of riding is to have the kite almost achieve an auto pilot status where it drifts downwind under its own momentum, with the rider trailing loosely behind it attached only by the now un-tensioned lines. If you can attain to this, then you are coming close to wave kiting nirvana, where just about anything is possible.

Kitesurfing: Wave Riding with a Kite

Bringing it Home to Wave Kiting


The Love Triangle – the Basic Setup Rules

To get the kite to auto pilot more consistently some basic ideas need to be adhered to. The setup of the correct kite for the conditions of the day is important. Being underpowered tends to have the rider out-running/surfing the kite and being grossly over-powered is never healthy. If in doubt a bigger kite for the day especially if the swell is on the larger side is the better choice. With the correct kite in the air, the next step is to fill it with enough wind to first of all give the rider enough general or overall speed to ride the wave successfully and then enough momentum in the kite to keep it happy and flying.

It is kind of like a crazy love triangle, the rider, the kite and the wave. Setting up the cleat or strap adjustment for the present wind condition is also a good start whether you are unhooking or not. In lighter winds this gets more critical. Most important of all though the kite needs to be parked correctly with the right amount of air in it. This is where experience and feel come into play, getting out there and riding will help more than all this theory.

Kitesurfing: Wave Kiting

The Rider, the Kite and the Wave | Photo by John Bilderback


Wind Angle and the Full Bucket

Think of this final step of parking the kite full of air as taking a scoop of water out of a pond with the original bucket idea. By putting the kite into the power zone more, or less, with a kiteloop being the greediest of scoops, the kite will be set up to have the correct amount of momentum needed to stay flying without much input, on auto pilot if you like.

Fast breaking waves will need more generous scoops and slow breaking waves less of a scoop as a basic guideline. Wind angle is however a complicating factor. After scooping your bucket with the correct amount of air it is not good enough just to leave the kite parked haphazardly on the side of the window. This may work at times depending on the wind angle relative to the wave, which will vary from cross-off the wave to cross-on to the wave. Cross-off wind allows for an easier park and ride experience with cross-on being the most challenging of the park and ride winds. It is being found that parking the kite more aggressively, using even the much dreaded kite loop, which is not to be that feared when bearing off downwind down the line, is making the cross onshore wave riding experience a lot more enjoyable and radical.

Kitesurfing: Wave Riding with a Kite

Wind Angle and the Full Bucket | Dean Bottcher


Parking the kite correctly is critical to this whole process lest you find yourself riding past the kite. Some kite designs do perform better than others, but for the most part any hybrid style kite or c-kite can be tweaked to perform admirably, never forgetting that the chicken loop is always there whether you are hooked into it or not, to be used if you find the kite stalling out totally.

Although it should be fairly obvious to most readers, these principles apply mainly to downwind wave riding, down the line and not to the toeside upwind, onshore-wind style of riding waves.

Happy Days, hope the tech talk helps a bit. If you have any questions or would like to add your own wave riding theories and formulas, please add them in the comments below.

Written by

Dean Bottcher


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  1. Great article Dean!

    I’ve been watching some wave riding vids of late, trying to soak up some knowledge. Ben Wilson just makes it look far to easy though!

    In Durbans most common North Easter, cross on-shore: What angle is ideal to park at? Your kite in the last pic looks higher than I would have thought. Or is this too broad a question with too many factors to consider such as wave speed, strength, type .etc?


    • Hey James

      My kite in that picture is as about as high as you want to go and no higher or you start getting pulled off the back of the wave on your top turns. Too low is worse than too high for a few reasons. Mainly that you risk putting your kite in the water especially if you’re getting busy with a technical move or you’re in a barrel where you no longer get to see the kite and need to feel it more. The wind nearer to the water is also more unstable and unpredictable. The other factors you mention do not play too much of a part however every venue and wave is different but there is a “sweet spot” for parking your kite and you will know it when you find it as the kite will sit nicely in it with little fuss. You can park and ride on any wind, onshore downwind riding i.e. not toeside is the hardest.

      I am one of a few people who fly 30 meter lines, most production lines are anything from 22 to 27 meters. I also loop my kite a lot to get around sections, out of tubes and then enjoy the extra recovery time you have by having longer lines but most of all the wind higher up in most instances is better.

      Watching videos is key to progression in surfing, we all do it. My best discovery was a You Tube downloader app and then viewing the video clips using Apples free Quick Time player which allows you to control video playback speeds, forward and reverse using the arrow keys. It’s revolutionary.

      Good old Durb’s funny that you mention it as I was down at Suncoast yesterday having a surf. Funny thing I think it’s my first surf in town in about 10 years. I don’t do the city anymore but last night with the promenade in full swing I thought to myself I need to kite “Oasis” “Mosee’s Basket” beach again as it is safer than Kitebeach (public wise) and it gets some good waves (toeside mainly.) Then 10 minutes ago I hear my brother car got stolen there with laptop wallet….etc.

      Anyway generally I don’t kite town as it will hamper your wave riding progression. I have over the past 5 years been pushing hard for the discovery of new spots in both our prevailing winds for the cross-shore experience. The search has earned me the nickname of “Kingsley” (after legend Kingsley Holgate) and I have also earned huge rewards wave wise. A group of us now ride real waves with kites and not the sloppy shit that most others partake in. We have found spots that are cross-off in the NE with good wave faces. The SW spots that have been discovered are off the charts and some of the spots in 30 knot winds would have paddle in surfers chomping at the bit.

      If you are seriously wanting to progress in your wave riding you need to ride where the waves are good. Blown out onshore is not going to be that place. Hook up with me on Kitesports or Join the Durban group on the Kitesports site, it’s where we operate from.

      Till later, keep smacking it,

  2. Hey Dean

    It’s James Lea. We’ve chatted recently about finding a good SUP wave. Thanks for the detailed reponse. Interesting stuff!!

    After what you’ve said maybe I’m trying to park a little low. I also have longer than average lines. Think mine are 27m. I thought this was impeding me as the response time is slightly slower when I get in the dwang (usally trying to recover the kite from dropping), so it’s good to hear you use longer lines too….

    My kite also doesnt seem to park or drift easily. I’m using an realitvely unknown Brand, MRK Zoom ( Was thinking its the kite but perhaps as you say I need to find the correct settings.

    Im very keen to join you at some new kiting locations. Unfortunately I’m limited to weekends though. Got your links you sent me via facebook about 2 weeks ago. Let me know when you guys go next, whether SUP or Kite.

    Thanks again for the advise!