What do Kiteboarders Wear?
Kiteboarding is an outdoor sport that requires protection from the elements.
Knowing what to wear will help you to enjoy the sport more, and in some cases be safer.
There are differences in what to wear depending on where you are going and what type of kiteboarding you are planning to do. Keep in mind that not all of your time will be spend on the water kiting. You will need to have appropriate clothing to wear before and after your water time. You will also need a way/place to change into your water wear, and you may need some dry clothes for wearing afterward.
Clothing is for protection:
Clothing will protect you from the cold, the sun, the impact of boards, water injuries, and the kite lines. Kiteboarders are exposed to cold water as well as a high degree of wind chill. So although the ambient air temperature may seem relatively high, the kiter can still lose body heat faster in strong wind. Colorful clothing will help you be seen, this is especially important when kiting in remote areas, where rescue may be required.
Do not go underequipped or underdressed:
Make sure that you have enough kite wear for the environment you are in.
Cold water will require a wetsuit, very cold water will require a thick wetsuit, or even a drysuit, and maybe booties, gloves, a hood.
What to wear in warm water:
In warm water like Hawaii, you should wear sturdy swimwear like a bathing suit, covered with boardshorts, and a rashguard. Kids and small people or people with low body fat will need some sort of thermal protection. A thin shorty wetsuit, hot skin, or vest will be needed if you want to enjoy extended kiteboarding sessions.
Proper board shorts:
These should be the type of shorts that tie up on the front. This is to keep them on in a high speed crash. The snap type fly on shorts will not hold them on in a crash. Also the try to avoid the type with a velcro fly as they can open, or cause abrasion. Most modern shorts have a false fly that has no velcro. Stretchy shorts with flex fabric are best as they allow better range of movement. Do not have shorts that are too tight as they restrict movement and could rip if stretched too far.
Long Boardshorts called kite pants were very popular in the early days of the sport. These often had shin-high cuffs to allow for wake style bindings. These kite pants offered more protection from bumps and scrapes of kiteboarding. Kite pants are also starting to make making a comeback.
Avoid loose clothing:
Avoid clothing that is too loose as it will be pushed around and be displaced in a wipeout and not offer much protection. Loose shirts can get stuck over your head and cause problems.
It is a good idea to dress in layers especially your pants. If wearing board shorts it is s good idea to also wear a bathing suit underneath to reduce friction, but also to prevent unwanted water penetration in case of a severe wipeout. Kiteboarders often have high speed wipeouts and skip along the water on their butts, or have butt-first landings from high jumps. So layers of added protection like neoprene pants will help prevent unwanted water penetration problems or injuries in your body cavities. This is why water-skiers and jetskiers wear wetsuit shorts.
Another layer is also a good way to reduce discomfort of seat harness leg straps. Leg straps from seat harnesses can cause chafing and irritation to sensitive areas. So a pair of lycra shorts worn under board shorts will reduce problems there. Boardshort rash happens when a lot of walking and other movement rubs on unprotected skin. Any skin that gets repeatedly rubbed by the fabric will tend to chafe, so think about at least wearing Speedos (or bikini) under your board shorts or get some safety shorts.
Not just for warmth, but also for protection. Neoprene shorts are great for protection from chafing, cold, harness straps, and impact, and water penetration. Wetsuit shorts are comfortable to wear and can be worn discreetly under boardshorts if desired.
Wearing a waist harness without a shirt can cause friction against the skin that can lead to harness rash. In some cases open sores can develop on the skin especially near protruding hip bones or ribs. Wearing a rashguard shirt under a waist harness will help stop this from happening. The shirt needs to be long enough to cover the exposed areas of skin. Waist harnesses slide on the skin so the fabric of the shirt worn under a waist harness should be soft and untextured. A shorty wetsuit will also eliminate harness rash.
Boardshorts over wetsuits?
Some kiteboarders will wear boardshorts over their wetsuits. This is a matter of personal preference. Some wear board-short-harnesses, so they are integrated harnesses. Some kiters wear boardshorts so that they can have pockets to carry their car keys, or kite-knives or whatever. And some people will simply prefer the aesthetic of wearing boardshorts.
A rashguard shirt is designed to also offer some sun protection. Some shirts offer the same protection as wearing a 50 spf sunscreen. These are rated as such on the label. Wearing a white tee shirt does not offer sun protection because UV rays can easily penetrate most fabrics.
Wearing a swim shirt or rashguard is better than wearing sunscreen because it does not wash off. This is better for the environment because most Sunscreen can be harmful to marine life. Sunscreen is also not good for kiting equipment. Wearing a rashie or sunshirt means that you can use less sunscreen and have more sun protection. Wear a long sleeve rashguard for maximum coverage. Some people like to wear full length lycra pants and shorts for sun protection. This has added benefits for protection from jellyfish and other irritants.
In many kiteboarding locations jellyfish are a real problem, Northern australia and Thailand are a couple or locations that come to mind but jellyfish stings can happen almost anywhere. So think about wearing jellyfish pants. Jellyfish pants are simply tight fitting lycra pants that help stop the stinging tentacles of a jellyfish from directly contacting the skin. In areas with known jellyfish problems it is also necessary to wear a tight fitting lycra shirt tucked into the pants. You should wear booties too, preferably ones covering the ankles as well for maximum protection. But remember that your hands and face are still exposed too. There is special sunscreen that helps protect against jellyfish stings that can be used on the remaining areas of skin that are exposed. Full length wetsuits can offers even better protection from jellyfish sting than lycra clothing, but it is not always practical to wear wetsuits in hot climates. Many people wear the jellyfish pants under their boardshorts.
A stinger Suit is a full body suit of lycra/spandex that covers ankles to wrists, some may have feet or “sox” sewn in. These suits usually with a zipper down the front. These stinger suits are usually worn in high risk areas.
How to Wear Sunscreen:
You will still need to apply sunscreen to exposed skin areas. A good waterproof sunscreen for watersports should be used. Use a reef-safe brand, that is not animal tested. The face will need protection especially the nose and cheeks, but all areas will need some protection. Make sure you cover your forehead sparingly as excess sunscreen can get into your eyes. Many sunscreens will be painful if it gets into your eyes. But there are some that are non stinging. Use these for the face. Generally a gel or clear type stick sunscreen is best for faces and foreheads. Don’t forget to apply to your ears, and back of your neck, legs, back of calves, and tops of feet. Use sunscreen sparingly on lower legs and feet as it can adversely affect the footstraps or bindings. Apply sunscreen to the back of your hands, but try to avoid getting sunscreen on the palms of your hands, and wash it off your palms before kiting so you do not get it onto your control bar.
Wear a hat:
A hat with a stiff brim will offer some protection from sun on the face. The brim must be stiff or the wind will fold it down over your eyes. Many people wear a baseball cap, and it can be worn under the helmet as well. There are many other surfer style hats that are also suitable for kiting as well. A leash is a good idea to stop it floating away after a wipeout or a gust blowing it off your head.
Wear eye protection:
Wear eye protection, in the form of “Sea-specks”. These are waterproof sunglasses designed for waterports. These stop your eyelids getting burned, and protect eyes from sun, If you expose eyes to wind, and sun over the long term a medical condition called “Pterygium” can develop where tissue starts to grow over the eye that may need to be surgically removed.
Some people will want to wear face protection. This is fairly new but makes sense,. Anything that reduces long term sun exposure can help prevent sun damage, and possible skin cancer later on. Some countries wear face lycra coverings, and some people wear paintball type masks for protection. There are even full face helmet visors that block the sun and also some impacts from boards etc.
Of course we all know that helmets can offer a lot of protection for your head. They prevent many small injuries and they also help reduce severe injuries from the board impacting you, or your hear hitting hard objects like the seafloor etc. Helmets can also protect you from the sun, and prevent cuts from kite lines as well. Some helmets can protect the ears from direct impact, and may even protect your eardrums from bursting on a hard impact with the water. Only a proper water sports helmet should be used. Kiteboard specific helmets are best, Wakeboard helmets, and surfing helmets work too. Helmets also help you to keep warm in cold conditions, and are a great place to mount your go-pro camera.
An impact jacket is a thick neoprene vest that is padded. It protects your torso from impacts and can help prevent broken ribs and some chest injuries. Some impact jackets also offer added floatation which is always good to have. Especially when you have just cracked some ribs, and you can barely breathe, and can’t swim back to shore easily.
There are Life jackets, buoyancy vests, and floatation aids. The classification depends on the amount of floatation. Whether they are coast guard approved or not, most jackets designed to be worn while kiteboarding will not save your life all by itself. You still need to be a competent swimmer for kiteboarding. But buoyancy aid jackets can help you to increase your chances of survival until rescue arrives. Sports type life jackets called “Type III”, are comfortable and the most common type used in kiteboarding. A jacket must be tight fitting so that it stays on after impact, and so it does not slip up over your head or mouth. Short-bodied kayaker’s jackets are also used for kiting and work very well. Test your life jacket by swimming in it and see if it stays in the correct position when swimming. Some jackets have a strap that threads through your harness or spreader bar to keep it from riding too far up on your body. The general rule is the further you ride away from shore or from rescue, the more flotation you will need. Some US states and certain countries have specific laws requiring the use of a specific type of jacket. Like a coast guard approved Type II for example. Long distance kiteboarders and kite adventurers may consider using a type I (type one) “offshore jacket” or even an inflatable rig.
Booties (foot wear):
Water shoes, like neoprene booties can keep your feet warm, and protect them from cuts on shore and whilst riding. Booties offer better grip on the board, especially for skim board, or strapless surfing. Style riding. Booties come in different styles and thicknesses. Check to make sure that your booties fit unto your footstraps.
Gloves like leather sailing gloves for protection from blisters are good for people with sensitive skin. Neoprene gloves are good for cold water kiting. If you cannot feel you hands from cold that is a sign you need gloves.
A neoprene hood is necessary for cold water kiting. They increase your safety by slowing the onset of cold water exposure and hypothermia. The head is especially vulnerable to wind chill, ears will get super cold without a hood in cold water and strong wind.
Lycra hoods are built into some heavy duty rashguards, these are great for super hot sunny locations to reduce sun exposure. Separate lycra hoods are also available too.
Turtle neck style lycra tubes, can be worn around the neck and pulled over the face as needed for sun protection.
Neoprene Over jackets are made that can be work after you stop kiting to help you stay warm between sessions while your are still wearing your wet wetsuit. These might also good for instructors or support boat crews driving jetskis or dinghy’s in rain and spray conditions.
Getting in and out of a wetsuit is difficult, there are changing mats that help stop you getting sandy feet into a wetsuit, and there are terry toweling ponchos that you can wear to cover yourself while changing into/out of a wetsuit. These not only keep you warmer, but they also offer some degree of privacy as well.
Caring for your Kitewear:
Always have your kitewear ready to go. Take it out each night and wash it in soapy warm water. If you do not wash your rashguards and boardshorts you will get bacteria buildup and strong ammonia stink, and you can even get a skin fungus. Keep a spare set of your kitewear handy and rotate it as needed. Never put lycra or neoprene in the clothes dryer. Instead allow it time to drip dry. Do not use chemicals of strong soaps on lycra or neoprene. Follow the garment care instructions on wetsuits, lycra, bathing suits, or any specialized clothing.
Know before you go:
When traveling to a new location contact the local kite school or shop to ask about the best kitewear and protective gear to wear when you get there.