The most common question asked to a kitesurfer is some variation of “do you need a lot of upper body strength to kitesurf?” I get asked this all of the time when I ride up on shore at the beach with my kite in one hand and my board in the other.
Most people have the impression that you have to use a lot of muscle strength to hold on to the giant kite that’s pulling you along the water.
So, do you need a lot of upper body strength to kitesurf? No, Kiteboarding does not requre a lot of upper body strength to kitesurf or to even hold the kite down. The reason is simple, kiteboarders use a harness that distributes the load across the hips instead of the shoulders, lats, biceps, triceps and forearms.
However kitesurfing (aka kiteboarding) will increase your overall strength and fitness level.
It’s a fun way to get in shape.
The main reason you do not have to be really strong to kitesurfer is that kiters are harnessed into the sail (kite) and their body weight and the wind itself does the majority of the work.
While not taking a lot of physical strength, kitesurfing will help get you in shape and tone your existing muscles.
Steph here is wearing a harness around her waist. It’s doing most of the work holding the kite in place.
How a Kiteboarding Harness Works (The Harness is the Kiteboarders Secret Weapon Against Fatigue)
Kiteboarding harnesses are used to reduce the load on the arms and shoulders of a kitesurfer. Wind creates a great deal of lift or pull on a kitesurfing kite.
A kitesurfer wears a harness around their waist or hips to transfer this load to the rider. The harness connects through a metal bar (Spreader Bar) to a loop (Chicken Loop) which connects the kite’s lines.
The chicken loop is part of the Control Bar and Lines system that connects to the kite itself.
The control bar allows the kitesurfer to steer the kite and place it in the area of the wind where they need it to determine how much power the kite will generate and what direction the pull will come from.
This bar is also used to pull (sheet) in and out. This sheeting movement adjusts the angle of attack in the kite and in turn the amount of power generated.
The chicken loop allows for the power generated from the kite to be transferred to the rider’s body. The pressure on the control bar varies from kite to kite.
Kites that offer “light bar pressure” will take less strength to turn and sheet the kite, while “more or heavy bar pressure” will take more input to turn and sheet the kite. Most kites are designed to take little or no strength to turn the kite and can almost be turned with finger tips.
The weight of the kiteboarder therefore does the majority of the work by holding down the power of the kite down. This is how kiteboarders can ride long amounts of time without being extremely fatigued.
This also allows for the large air or jumps that you see kiteboarders get. They are typically not just holding on with their arms (unless riding unhooked*) but are strapped to this kite through their harness.
*Unhooked– While kiteboarding, a rider will disconnect from the chicken loop and transfer all the load to their arms. This is an advanced maneuver. It typically goes with freestyle or wake-style riding involving spins, handle-passes and flips.
This kiteboarding style will require much more strength than the typical hooked in riding. Riders normally only unhook briefly to perform the trick and then hook back in to the harness.
Different Types of Harnesses for Kiteboarding
There are two main types of kiteboarding harnesses. These are the Waist Harness and the Seat Harness.
Each one of these types has their own slight variations and styles. Which one a kiteboarder uses comes down to preference, body shape or style of riding.
Kiteboarding Waist Harness
Waist harnesses wrap around one’s waist like a wrestling belt. They sit above the hips and below the chest. Typically there is a velcro strap that initially secures it, followed by some sort of metal connection for the spreader bar.
Waist harnesses are preferred by more advanced riders due to the high position of the spreader bar and the mobility offered by the minimal material and less restricting position.
Waist harnesses have a couple different styles including ones which offer a hardshell and ones with larger areas of support along the back. Kitesurfers with larger waist areas or very narrow shaped waists may struggle with waist harnesses.
They can have a tendency to ride up toward the chest while riding. This can be aggravating. Harnesses that ride up are more common when the kiter is a beginner. Beginners tend to spend more time with the kite high creating more upward pull on the harness. Some popular waist harnesses are the Dakine Pyro and Ride Engine Hex Core.
Kiteboarding Seat Harness
Seat harnesses will have leg straps and lower back support. These are closer to a rock climbing harness. The leg straps and lower back support creates a lower center of gravity and beginner or over weight riders often prefer this style.
Seat harnesses are also popular with older kiters and those with lower back problems. There are different styles of seat harnesses as well.
Some are large and bulky to offer the maximum amount of back support while others are lightweight and minimalistic. A variation of the seat harness is the Board Shorts Harness (Shorts Harness).
This is basically a minimalistic style seat harness built into a pair of shorts. This allows the shorts harness to offer mobility and look a little more stylish. Some popular seat harness are the Dakine Fusion and the ION B2.
Leg strength and Board Skills for Kitesurfers
When talking about how strong you need to be to kitesurf, the most obvious point is upper body strength. However, kiteboarding involves more body parts and muscles than just your arms and shoulders.
Flying the kite is only half of kiteboarding. Riding the board is the other half.
Riding a kiteboard can require some leg strength. But not much more than walking or going for a light jog.
Like many other activities, learning something new can be way more tiring and physically demanding than once you have it down and are proficient. Kiteboarding is no different.
When learning to kitesurf, you will probably spend a decent amount of time walking (often through water).
You will be walking while flying the kite which can be a little bit more of a work out than normal walking. So in these cases, physical endurance would be more important than actual strength.
Once a proficient kiteboarder, you will spend more time riding the board than walking. This may take a little more strength than just walking but not much. You will be loading one leg at a time to put pressure on the board which steers your directions and resists the pull of the kite.
This resistance and putting pressure on an edge of the board (edging) is what allows kiteboarders to go against the wind (upwind). Overall you will have slightly more pressure on your legs than normal daily activities, but it still does not require a lot of strength.
Will Kitesurfing Make Me Strong?
Overall kitesurfing does not require a lot of strength. However, it will help you get in shape and tone your body.
Steering and sheeting a kite are motions that you do continuously and repetitively, often without noticing. These motions do not take a lot of muscle strength but will definitely help tone and strengthen the existing muscles.
Just like any repetitive activity, flying a kite will make you stronger and toner. But unlike most repetitive activities, kiteboarding is incredibly fun and exciting!
When kiteboarding, you are constantly making adjustments in the control bar. These adjustments for turning, power and directions is very similar to doing multiple reps of light weight at a gym.
You will certainly notice an increase in bicep, tricep and fore arm strength from flying a kite often.
The board portion of kitesurfing transfers your weight and some load from the kite to one dominant leg at a time.
This pressure will help create strength and toning in your legs as well. There are constant slight motions in the calves as well by pulling and pushing your toes to adjust board angle.
Once a kiter begins jumping, the core muscle really come into play. The motions involved in jumping engages pretty much all your muscles but emphasizes the core.
The motion of “sending the kite” engages the arms followed by and “edge and pop” of the board which utilizes the legs. This results in your body being somewhat extended. The core is then engaged to bring the body back into the position needed to land the jump.
The landing then engages the arms and legs. It’s kind of like doing a crunch in the sky. The beauty of kiteboarding is that it is incredibly fun and exciting, so you don’t typically realize that it is also a work out.
It is common to have sore abs after a long day of kiteboarding, especially when working on jumps.
Muscles Most Used While Kiteboarding
Kitsurfing does not take a great deal of strength but will certainly get you in shape. It is a fun way to stay fit and healthy without mundane workouts at the gym.
Anyone can learn to kitesurf with proper instruction and you should not be scared off thinking it requires you to be strong. If you go to most popular kiteboarding locations, you will see kiters of all shapes, sizes and ages!