Windsurfing vs Kitesurfing

The eternal debate of whether windsurfing or kitesurfing is the better sport has been going on for years. The topic is widely discussed by water enthusiasts all over the world and if you are a sports lover yourself, you probably would have heard it all before yourself. Both kitesurfing and windsurfing are fantastic ways to have fun in the water, but ultimately, they provide completely different experiences, despite the common idea that suggests they are pretty much the same.

Whilst windsurfing involves more initial physical endurance in order to gain momentum, kitesurfing is more about using the wind as a means of powering the kite. Whilst the two sports are arguably similar in terms of skill and stamina, the primary difference between the two is that in kitesurfing, you are attached to the sail, whereas in windsurfing you are not attached at all.

Windsurfing vs Kitesurfing

It is extremely difficult to say which sport is better than the other, as they both offer some incredible mental and physical benefits. Both sports are supported all over the globe by millions of likeminded people. With this being said, the communities that surround windsurfing and kitesurfing will always argue that their individual sport is the better of the two.

In this article, we thought we would tell you a bit about the history and development of the two sports, their pros and cons and what factors you should be considering whilst deciding which sport is best for you. Whilst we can’t say exactly which sport takes the lead out of the two, we will provide you with lots of information to enable you to make that decision for yourself!

Windsurfing

It is thought that the sailboard first emerged in 1948 when an inventor called Newman Darcy conceived of a hand-operated square sail that was attached to a catamaran. In the mid-1960s, after teaching himself to sail a 10-foot model on a lake in the high winds of Pennsylvania, Darby developed what was known as the ‘Darby Sailboard’ and published this design in 1965 in the ‘Popular Science’ magazine. Whilst Darby did not initially file for a patent for his design, he is still widely recognized as the inventor of the first-ever sailboard.

After this, many other prototype sailboards emerged and windsurfing quickly spread throughout Northern America. By the late 1970s, the sport had become extremely popular in Europe and it wasn’t long until the continent welcomed a rapidly developing industry of sailboard manufacturers. During this time, the sport was starting to be recognized as a competitive sport and in 1973, the world saw its first windsurfing championship.

Today, windsurfing is a sport that is practiced by over 1.2 million Americans and countless others across the world. The craft lends itself to a huge variety of water types and atmospheric conditions but is heavily reliant on the right kind of wind in order for the surfer to enjoy to the fullest. The principle of the sport is quite simple, in that the surfer stands on the board and holds the sail up with their hands. The aim of windsurfing is to be able to sufficiently control the board so that you can execute all sorts of different maneuvers.

Pros

  • A great form of strength training
  • You won’t get involuntarily lofted in extreme winds
  • Sails are typically very durable
  • You will be able to both easily land and launch without the need of assistance
  • The technology of equipment is mature and developed so won’t need to frequently turn over gear

Cons

  • Time-consuming learning process
  • Can be extremely demanding and exhaustive
  • Equipment is heavy and requires a much larger carrying/storage capacity
  • Hefty equipment repair costs
  • Riders can be quite prone to injury during the first few stages of learning

Kitesurfing

In 1977, a man called Gijsbertus Adrianus Panhuise patented ‘Kitesurfing’ as a water sport. Although, at the time, Panhuise’s patent didn’t receive commercial interest. It was not until the 1970s that two brothers, Dominique Legaignoux and Bruno Legaignoux from the Atlantic coast of France caused a spike of interest in the sport after patenting an inflatable kite design. Since, that design has been used by companies all over the world to develop their products.

In 1996-1997, the Legaignoux brothers designed and sold the ‘Wipika’ kite which was deemed a breakthrough in the kitesurfing manufacturing industry. After this development of equipment, the kitesurfing phenomena really took off and was quickly pioneered by surf enthusiasts such as Manu Bertin and Raphael Baruch. Kitesurfing was now considered an extreme sport and the world saw the sport’s first competition in September 1998 in Maui, Hawaii.

Now, kitesurfing is a sport that is performed by men and women of all ages in a variety of water-based locations. It is often considered one of the most exciting water sports out there as it combines several aspects from surfing, wakeboarding, and kite flying. The key to the sport is the re-launchable kite that will be harnessed to your body. The kite will then be powered by the wind and it will tow you along on either a surfboard, snowboard, ski, or small inflatable boat. Unlike a windsurfer who rides the fin of their flat board, kiteboarding consists of riding the edges of the board to build higher speeds in the wind.

Pros

  • Has a much larger window to acquire wind
  • Lighter equipment that is easier to transport and store
  • Doesn’t take as long to get the hang of and progress
  • Not as physically demanding
  • Centre of balance doesn’t move around as much due to your close proximity to the sail

Cons

  • Much more likely to get involuntarily lofted in high winds
  • Can be difficult to launch without assistance
  • Can be a lot more dangerous
  • Will need to turn over gear more frequently as kitesurfing technology is constantly developing
  • Kites are a lot more fragile and susceptible to damage than windsurfing sails

Learning

One thing you will want to consider when choosing whether you are more suited towards windsurfing or kitesurfing is the kind of learner you are. Do you expect rapid results? Or are you a patient learner who is willing to put in hours and hours of work? This is an extremely important factor as the equipment is expensive. Imagine if you were to spend hundreds or even thousands of pounds on equipment only to realize that the learning process is going to be too time-consuming for your schedule!

The learning curves for windsurfing and kitesurfing are very different. Generally speaking, learning to stand up and ride is a lot easier with windsurfing. This is almost entirely down to the fact that windsurfing equipment is a lot more user friendly as it doesn’t require very much instruction. Windsurfing sails are simple to use as they are held up by the arms of the rider. Further, unlike the majority of kitesurfing boards, windsurfing boards are able to float without the requirement of any forward motion to keep it above the surface of the water. This means that it is a lot easier for beginners to get up onto the board and start moving. Due to the simplicity and buoyancy of windsurfing equipment, entry-level riders are far more likely to experience a thrill during their first time on the water.

With this being said, the development process of windsurfing isn’t as ideal. Whilst it’s all well and good being able to stand and ride your windsurfing board, eventually, you will want to progress so that you can perform tricks and maneuvers. To be able to do this, you will need a lot of time and patience as you will need to master water-starting and jibing.

In terms of kitesurfing, the initial learning curve is a lot steeper and the process can be frustrating. Unlike windsurfing, where in the right conditions you can actually teach yourself, kitesurfing will require the help from a qualified instructor. Not only will the instructor be able to teach you all the basic safety tips and skills you will need to get started, but they will also set you up with a determined learning plan that will allow you to learn both efficiently and safely.

On average, it is thought that to learn the basics of kitesurfing, it will take you approximately 12 hours of teaching practice. With this being said, every learner will be different, and whilst it may take one person 6 hours to get the hang of it, it could take another 25. Kitesurfing is quite complex to get to grips with as you will need to gain control over not just the kite but your body and the board. Kitesurfing requires both physical and cognitive processes such as speedy reactions, a lot of strength, muscle memory, and hand-eye coordination. Ultimately, one of the main reasons why the learning process of kitesurfing is so time-consuming is because, in addition to all these required skills, you will need to learn how to push and pull the control bar whilst simultaneously steering left and right. This can be a very confusing process to get the hang of, but once you do, kitesurfing can be incredibly fun. Despite the sport’s steep learning curve, as soon as you are comfortable with the logistics, you will be a proficient kitesurfer. Whilst windsurfing can take years to master in terms of technicality and agility, kitesurfing is a lot easier to progress with.

So, overall, if you’re a patient learner and you are willing to endure a good 12-20 hours of hard work, then kitesurfing may be the one for you. On the other hand, if you’re looking to get riding straight away are you aren’t too bothered about becoming a professional anytime soon, then windsurfing might be the better option. Either way, both sports take a lot of time, dedication, and graft.

Physical abilities

Both windsurfing and kitesurfing are demanding sports but they each require different levels of physical ability. Typically, windsurfing requires a lot more upper body strength and flexibility in comparison to kitesurfing as you will need it to steer in and sheet your sail. Without a harness, this is a lot more challenging and you are far more likely to feel your arms tiring out than you would if you were all fastened up. Many windsurfers find they need to train their bicep muscles outside of the water to ensure that they are capable of performing as best as they can. Finding your balance and moving around the board also requires a lot of strength and agility.

Kitesurfing on the other hand is widely recognized as the less-physically demanding sport. This is because technically it does not require much arm strength as the pull from the kite is directly going towards the harness. The use of a harness means that the strength will come from your lower back, abs, upper leg muscles, and glutes. This distribution of strength is a lot more manageable than if it were to come from your arms, which is why the sport is often preferred by younger or smaller riders.

Windsurfing and kitesurfing can be both incredibly challenging on the body, and in terms of improving cardiovascular health, they are great! With this being said, windsurfing generally requires a lot more physical capacity than kitesurfing, so if you’re looking for something a little easier on the arms, you may want to go for kitesurfing.

Location and weather conditions

Another crucial point you will need to consider before deciding between kitesurfing and windsurfing is your location and your local surf conditions. Your performance will depend almost entirely on these factors, so it is important to do your research before you go ahead and buy any equipment.

For learning to windsurf, the ideal conditions would be flat water, with consistent light winds. This would be perfect for beginners as the conditions would allow you to learn the basics without having to worry about any jarring gusts of strong wind. As soon as you become more experienced and you become accustomed to the craft, you will require slightly higher winds and often, choppier water. In terms of location, windsurfing does not require a lot of space to launch and land and you can perform the sport is not only beaches but lakes and other large water-based locations. Some popular locations for windsurfing around the world are the island of Paros in Greece, Tarifa in Spain, Essaouira in Morocco, Guincho in Portugal, Boracay in the Philippines, and the Red Sea of Egypt.

In comparison, Kitesurfing requires slightly more precise riding conditions. As the kite is powered by the wind, you will need to fully assess the speed and direction of the wind, the swell size, and the tide direction before setting out in the water. The ideal scenario for a kitesurfing session would be a cloudless, sunny day with consistent winds blowing in the range of 15-20 knots. With kitesurfing, you have to be very careful not to take out your board in dark skies, intense rain, or strong gusty winds. In terms of space, kitesurfing requires a lot more of it than windsurfing. As kitesurfers have less direct control over their board, rocks and other protruding objects can be extremely hazardous.

Overall, the location and atmospheric conditions in which you have access will massively contribute to which sport is best for you. You will simply need to think about where and when you are planning to be out in the water before you make that decision.

Safety/risks

With any extreme water sport, there are always going to be risks and dangers. This is because these sports rely on the ever-unreliable mother nature, which can sometimes cause extremely hazardous conditions. Typically, windsurfing is considered the safer of the two. This is basically because windsurfing sails handle fierce winds a lot better than kites. Also, windsurfers who go out in the rough waters, are normally strong and experienced enough to handle them, whereas kite surfers tend to take more risks and head out in wild conditions when they don’t have the experience to do so. If you were out windsurfing and you got injured or stuck out in the ocean, due to the buoyancy of the board, you will be able to hold on to it as a floatation device until you are rescued, or you can use it to paddle back to shore. You are also far less likely to attempt tricks and intricate maneuvers as a windsurfer, meaning you are a lot less susceptible to injury from impact.

On the other hand, Kitesurfing is considered a whole lot riskier. This is mainly because of the long flying range that the sport requires and the kite’s unpredictable response to unexpected weather changes. With kitesurfing, there are several extra opportunities for equipment to become damaged. For example, many kitesurfers will experience their kite lines snapping or their kite material splitting. Such failure of equipment can be dangerous, especially if you are out in the water on your own (which you should never be). Further, kitesurfing boards are nowhere near as buoyant as windsurfing boards, meaning you will not have the option to use it as a means of support or to paddle back to shore if you were injured. Finally, kite surfers are a lot more likely to perform dangerous tricks and jump on the water which will, of course, make them more susceptible to injury.

In conclusion, if you are someone who is a little more risk-averse, you may want to consider choosing wind-surfing. With this being said, as long as all the correct safety precautions are taken, you should not have any major issues with either sport.

Equipment and Budget

Both windsurfing and kitesurfing require quite a substantial amount of equipment. When choosing between the two sports, you will need to consider your budget, to ensure that you will be able to afford not only the initial equipment to learn but the upkeep of that gear over the years. On the market, you will find a variety of both windsurfing and kitesurfing kits to suit your needs, but these kits can be extremely pricey.

Generally, windsurfing tends to be the more expensive of the two as it requires slightly more pieces. To get started with the sport, you will need a board, a sail, a mast extension, a harness, ropes, a mast, and more. The cost of these can add up to amount to around $2-3000. Windsurfing equipment tends to be a lot more durable and better made which is another reason why the prices are typically higher. You will likely be able to wait quite a good few years before needing to replace your windsurfing equipment.

In comparison, kitesurfing gear is generally slightly cheaper. A regular kitesurfing kit will include a board, a harness, a kite, and a bar and this will set you back around $1500-1800 depending on the manufacturer. You will also want to keep in mind that kites are a lot less durable than sails, so their fragility makes them far more susceptible to damage. You will probably be looking at replacing your kite every 3 years (depending on how well it has been looked after.

To conclude, both sports are quite expensive and require quite a significant amount of equipment to get started. Compared to kitesurfing, windsurfing is a lot more expensive, but if you take care of your gear properly, it will provide you with years and years of fun.

Overall experience

Whilst kitesurfing and windsurfing may seem very similar, they offer completely different experiences. Before deciding between the two sports, you should be asking yourself exactly what type of riding experience are you looking to have?

Ultimately, both windsurfing and kitesurfing will provide thrilling, exciting experiences and they will both allow you to be at one with nature amongst the water. Generally, kitesurfing is thought to give you a more freeing and open experience. This is due to the lack of sail blocking your view. As a kitesurfer, you will have a 360-degree view of your surroundings, which can be both extremely liberating and reassuring. This way you will be able to see anyone or anything that is moving in your direction. With this being said, it can be a lot more difficult to steer and control your kitesurfing board which can hinder the ‘freeing’ feel of the experience.

With windsurfing, your vision will be inevitably reduced. This is because of the sail that is positioned in front of you. Whilst these sails are often partly transparent, they can still make for a slightly more restricted experience. Despite this, windsurfing boards and sails are typically a lot more responsive which means there is more possibility for a more exciting and wild riding style.

Community

In terms of the communities that surround windsurfing and kitesurfing, both are extremely passionate about their sport. Generally, windsurfing is taken a little more seriously than kitesurfing. Windsurfing tends to attract riders with far more dedication and competitive intentions. As it is far more psychically demanding than kitesurfing, the riders tend to be older, stronger, and more confident swimmers. The community of windsurfers is quite close-knit and their culture is very similar to that of the surfing community. They tend to hang out as groups of riders, visiting prime windsurfing spots and watching competitions.

In comparison, kite surfers tend to be a little more relaxed in their approach to the sport. Kitesurfing also typically attracts a much more diverse range of riders, with riders of all ages and abilities practicing the sport worldwide. The community is renowned for being extremely accepting, and open-minded when it comes to welcoming new kite surfers into their culture.

Whether you decide to involve yourself in kitesurfing or windsurfing, you should rest assured that both communities will welcome you with open arms. One thing to note when comparing the two is that windsurfing has been more commonly respected as an Olympic sport, whereas kitesurfing has had a rocky relationship with the games. If you are on the more competitive side, you might be more inclined towards windsurfing.

So which sport is best for you?

Windsurfing and kitesurfing are both fantastic, exciting extreme sports that are enjoyed by millions of water enthusiasts all over the world. Whilst the two sports have historically been grouped into the same category, they offer two entirely different experiences. Before deciding which of the two is more suitable for you, will have to consider all of these factors that we have highlighted above. If you are someone who is looking for a fast learning experience, you want to improve your upper body strength and you live near an area that is frequented by consistent winds, windsurfing might be the better choice for you. On the other hand, if you are a patient learner, you have a smaller budget and you are seeking a much more freeing riding experience, you may be more suited to kitesurfing.