Safety: Kite Death Loop

In case you have been trapped in a cubicle somewhere from sunrise to sunset, summer is officially here! The weather is beautiful, the water is warm, the beaches are getting crowded and more and more kite boarders are coming out for the season! With the onset of the summer season, it is a good idea to talk about safety. While we all love the sport and enjoy pushing our limits, it’s important that we stay safe about it so we can continue to enjoy it year after year! I am going to try to post about different safety topics/examples on a regular basis.

This week, I am going to be talking about death loops. If you have been kiteboarding for a while now, you have likely seen this happen. In my own experience, I have only watched this happen four times and I will share that experience with you now. The names have been left out to protect the privacy of the riders. As you read this, I want you to remember that anyone can get into a bad situation, regardless of your experience level.

A death loop is an uncontrolled looping of the kite. This happens when one of the outside lines gets caught up and is causing the kite to loop. This is a pretty easy situation to recognize. The rider will likely be in the water without their board and the kite is repeatedly looping. It can be looping in the air or complete a loop, hit the water or land and then begin another loop.

Hence the name, this is a dangerous and potentially deadly situation. The rider will quickly become disoriented and their is a chance of drowning from being pulled forward and under by the kite. The more likely scenario is that the rider gets pulled back into shore and into an object.
Situation 1:

Rider Level: Intermediate (able to ride upwind, basic jumps, starting to learn back rolls)

This rider was really just starting to get good with the kite. The rider had pulled the safety system and then tried to reset it in the water. Resetting your safety should be something that you are very careful about in moderate to high winds. If your lines get tangled around the bar during the release, then your kite could go into a death loop if you reset and hook back in before realizing there is a tangle.

I had kept my eye on the rider periodically when I saw he had pulled his safety. The next time I looked over, his kite was in a death loop. The kite looped several times, pulling him under the water from the force of the forward pull. This rider did the right thing and pulled his quick release on the leash (completely releasing the kite). As soon as this happened, myself and another rider who had been riding upwind of the kiteboarder came in. The other rider grabbed the stranded kiter and I retrieved the kite.

Everyone and everything was OK. The rider was pretty shaken up but otherwise fine and his equipment escaped any damage.

Situation 2:

Rider Level: Advanced (10 years experience)

There were three of us out riding this day. It was crazy conditions with gusts into the 40s, head high surf, and onshore winds. All of us were experienced riders and, of course, riding on small kites. Our session had been a good one and we had started to come back in. When my friend came in with his kite, I offered to let him try mine since he had never flown it before. He took the kite out and was really ripping it up. Me and my friend decided to stay on the beach and watch and rest a little.

The rider rode a wave in and dropped the kite in the surf. The waves tumbled the kite and the rider released the safety. He was a little way down the beach and we decided to start walking down to help him grab the kite. We hadn’t been in a rush because the safety had released properly and the kite was completely de-powered. This is when the rider made the decision to reset his safety system…

Let me stop and say right here that if you are in heavy winds, do NOT reset your safety system. Get back into shore and make sure your lines are OK before you out the kite back up.

His lines got tangled and was soon as he reset the system, his kite started a death loop. As soon as this happened, we began running over to him. He had been very close to shore when this started and the pull of the first loop brought him onto the beach (remember that this is a straight onshore wind condition). As my friend and I ran, we decided I would grab the rider and he would go for the kite. I reached the rider and tried to grab his harness, but he didn’t have a handle and he got pulled away from me. I ran back up to him and wrapped him in a bear hug to try to slow him down. As we were being dragged, he was yelling that he couldn’t reach the safety. We finally got it pulled…I don’t know if he finally released it or if I helped…the situation at that point is a little bit of a blur. My other friend had been ready to grab the kite and when he went to grab it, he missed, but one of the lines got wrapped around his leg. He was now being dragged up the beach, but fortunately, the rider and I were back up on our feet and able to grab the kite before the situation got any worse.

I want you to take a few lessons from this particular story:

1) We should not have even been out that day. Yes, we kite in some crazy winds because, let’s face it, we love the adrenaline. However, when kiting in conditions like that, it is even more important to be smart about it. If the wind had been side shore or even side-on, then it would have been more manageable. Kiting in an onshore wind leaves even less room for error in a situation where the conditions already leave you no room for error.

2) When I gave the kite to my friend, I should have gone over the safety system with him. I foolishly assumed he would know the system because he had been in the sport for so long…

3) Do NOT reset your safety system in heavy winds like that. It really isn’t worth it and it doesn’t take that much longer to just set your kite down and check your lines first.

Everyone was fine at the end of this-aside from bumps, bruises, scratches and a healthy reminder to have a little more respect for the wind and waves.

Situation 3:

Rider Level: Intermediate (rider is able to ride upwind, perform basic jumps, trying to learn back rolls); side-onshore winds from 15-25; rider on 12 meter

This situation happened most recently and is very fresh in my mind. I had been on the beach watching my boyfriend ride and giving him some pointers. A young woman walking down the beach stopped me and pointed out one of our local rider’s kite. I looked over and just explained that he was likely doing a self rescue and is OK. He was pretty far out, but I saw another rider bringing in his board and assumed everything was fine. I looked away for a few moments and then when I turned back to check on him, his kite had begun a death loop. I signaled for my boyfriend to come back in with my kite and I took it from him and told him that rider was in trouble. I jumped on the board and started riding down the beach down the rider. My boyfriend began running down the beach towards where the rider would likely come in. By the time I got to him, he was being dragged up onto the beach and there were people straight downwind of the kite and another group off to his side-all in a dangerous area. I yelled to everyone to get away from the kite several times and luckily they moved away. Just as I rode up onto the beach, the rider’s safety line snapped and the kite was blown into the dunes.

What caused this? When the kite fell onto its back, the rider decided to do a self rescue and come in. Instead of pulling the safety and flagging out the kite, the rider unhooked and began rolling up the lines. Let me stop here for a moment..

If you pull your safety, it is OK to wrap up your lines during a self rescue. If you have a long swim in, it just makes your life easier! When you pull your safety and pull the bar back to you, pull more of that safety line out through the safety system. Technically, you could just walk hand over hand up to the bar and start wrapping that safety line from there, but pulling more line out just helps to ensure the kite won’t power back up. So…

1) walk hand over hand along the safety line to the bar
2) pull additional line through the safety system
3) wrap ONLY the safety line (likely one of your center lines) on the bar
4) once you have completely wrapped up the safety line, begin wrapping all the lines on the bar
Continue your self rescue like normal

So, we have a rider wrapping lines up on a bar on a kite that has not been de-powered. As tension increased more on one wingtip than the other, the kite righted itself, relaunched and began it’s death loop. The rider was pulled all the way in and onto the beach and the only reason this person didn’t end up in a hospital is because the line BROKE.

Let’s go over what should have happened in this situation..

1) the rider should have pulled the safety first and flagged out the kite before wrapping up the lines…

2) Once the death loop began, the rider should have pulled the quick release on the leash and let the kite go

This was probably the worst death loop I have seen and simply thinking about it gives me chills.

What I want you to take away from this is that you should practice your safety. It might not seem “cool” to go to the beach and practice self rescues (not only when you are learning, but periodically if you are not needing to do it during normal riding). Kiteboarding is a safe sport, if you are safe about it. Just like any sport, the goal is to build muscle memory. When you are in a situation, you want to be able to react without thinking about it.

Of course, we don’t want to practice pulling that quick release on the leash with our kite attached, but we can practice just pulling it on the beach. You will build the muscle memory and pull it when you really need to.

I hope that this was helpful. Keep your eye out for more safety entries this season!

Check out this video of a death looping kite: death loop

2 Comments on “Safety: Kite Death Loop

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