Last week I released a video with what I believe is the No. 1 Bad Habit for anyone learning to kitefoil – taking your front hand off the bar. This is something that nearer every beginner kitefoiler will do but it can cause lots of issues that will slow down your progression. Anyway, check out the video below and then a follow up I wrote to clear up some questions:
So there were some great comments on Youtube and Facebook, both from kiters who had given it a go and found it helpful, along with some instructors and foilers with other ideas. So I wrote this rather long response to a comment on Facebook’s Hydrofoil Kiteboarding group by Willie, who asked:
What are the better ways to teach balance?Genuinely interested
So here we go, my response which hopefully answers this and a few other points:
BEWARE – this is a long post, because kitefoiling is complicated and I never said one simple change will solve all problems
So WIllie you asked about some other ways people can try and improve their balance on the kitefoil without taking a hand off for balance reasons. What follows isn’t just directed at you specifically cos it sounds like you are past the stage where this is directly relevant but hopefully clarifies some of what I have talked about in the video for anyone that can be bothered to read the essay that follows And anyone that knows Progression knows I am a person who likes to cover things in detail and be thorough in my explanations! And just so we are completely clear when talking about one hand off I am referring to a tense arm, whether it is sticking out to the side, in front or by their side – but not an arm that is completely relaxed and in particular for people who are in the earlier stages of learning to foil.
The whole one hand off issue in the early part of someone learning to foil is actually a just a symptom of a bigger underlying problem – it’s the signpost to say – look around and see what else might not be quite right. But if someone relies on having one arm off for balance for too long, then it can become the root of problems further down the line and a hard habit for people to move away from.
Kite flying skills are, IMHO, the area that dictates how quickly and easily someone will learn to foil. Your ability to fly a kite both aggressively but in control and also make subtle movements and adjustments without having to overthink is a huge advantage for kitefoillers. So with this being the case, where kite control is so very important – wouldn’t we want to give beginner kite foilers the best chance of controlling the kite? And would anyone argue that flying a kite with one hand is as easy as with two? Therefore if someone starts to rely on having one hand off the bar so they can get their body in the correct position to stay balanced, what happens when they enviably need to put that hand back on the bar to help control the kite, because they will (no-one flies their kite with one hand continuously and when you have a foil that is taking your full focus kites drift around out of place), surely now they are riding with two hands on the bar but don’t know how to balance correctly in this position so things start to go wrong. They end up putting their hand on and off the bar, with their weight shift around and having to compensate with a more erratic kite or just an unstable board/foil. So we look to find ways to allow people to keep both hands on the bar, keep full control of the kite and get their weight forward into the correct position. And there are lots of ways to do this and many of them start before people even get on the water:
Often people riding with a bad stance or unable to get weight over their front foot, who then start using the front arm for balance / additional forward weight, are doing this because their foil/board are not set up incorrectly. This happens way more than people might think and we end up tuning most of the foils for our clients when they come on our camps. Strap position, mast mount position sometimes shimming of the rear wing – a 1cm change of position of straps or mast or a 1mm shim on a rear wing can make a foil way easier to ride and allow people to focus on the correct stance far easier. Sometimes it can be something bigger, we had a client struggle all day just trying to get up and riding on or off the foil – she was riding her board and foil and had previously got some foiling runs in at a different location. We tried her board/foil and it rode fine but she continued to struggle. So we put her foil on our beginner board and within 10 minutes she was up and riding. In this case, the point is that different people suit different styles of boards and getting them the correct one (and foil for that matter) can make all the difference. If someone is taking a lesson with a foiling instructor then this can be solved by the instructor, for the person self-learning, they need to be open to the idea and maybe find an experienced friend to ride there foil and see if there is another obvious that can be tweaked.
Practice the correct stance on the beach
If you ask new foilers, or people struggling to get into the correct stance, to get into the correct stance standing on the beach, nearly everyone stands incorrectly with their weight too far over their back foot. If someone doesn’t realise the correct stance when standing static on the beach, how are they going to get into this position on the water? So it’s a great exercise, easier with an instructor or experienced foiler friend who can show you the correct stance and move you around to get you in the correct position. It allows people to really see how much weight they should put on their front leg and often it’s good to get them to overcompensate this.
Riding off the foil
It’s surprising how many people you see, particularly self-learning who get up on the board and immediately try and rise up onto the foil, whether its by choice or accident. New foilers should start riding with the board on the water as this is an essential skill and the starting point for anyone learning to foil. It allows people to over-exaggerate front foot pressure without any negative consequences plus small mistakes in body positions that would cause instability and venting when foiling are more likely to be able to correct and learnt from. We recommend people are able to ride in both directions in control off the foil and hold there ground upwind before they learn how to rise and glide. Part of this is learning to deal with the foil rising up accidentally and getting it back down without crashing. Learning techniques like this all make the act of them learning to ride on the foil far easier because you only have a few extra techniques to remember and master whilst build on what you have already learnt. It’s never a bad thing to take a step back to riding off the foil if on any given day you are struggling with balance on the foil.
Too many people start foiling and focus on trying to get into a different stance than their twin tip but they put the kite in the same places that they would if they were twin tipping – 45 degrees or lower. On a foil this position is hard to balance against as it is generating too much sideways pull and not something novice foilers can deal with. So get the kite high in the sky so it is pulling lightly upwards and forward rather than allowing it to be lower and pulling sideways. The high kite position is the starting point to allow foilers to get their body in the correct position, stand over the board and foil rather than needing to lean outwards. If the kite needs to be flown, particularly when riding off the foil, fly it in smaller movements in the top of the wind window between 10:30 and 11:30 or 12:30 and 1:30. And often people fail in the initial stage of waterstarting when trying to get their kite into the correct position. They drop the kite low to get pulled up on the board but then leave it low. Ideally, use one large movement of the kite to get you up out of the water but drive that kite back up high, using the power from the upwards stroke to keep you moving, now the kite is high and you can park it at 11/1, or keep it flying high in the sky. With the kite high there is far less need to take a hand off as the kite pull is from a direction that is far more manageable.
Bend your legs!
Hopefully, people have learnt the correct stance on the beach, practised it and got a feel for the stance but other than the kite most peoples biggest mistake is standing too upright, reverting to twin tip stance with a straighter front leg and slightly bent back leg. Though some people will say that taking a front hand off allows them to bend the front leg and move away from the twin tip stance, often it is a short-lived fix, and people revert back to straight legs and weight back and just stick there arm out in front to get weight forward. What we find is that if people know that an exaggerated bend leg stance is something that will help them initially but they will transition out of it as they get better balance, then they are more likely to give it a go, get really low and into a more survival stance. A low centre of gravity is just easier on a foil, that is physics for you, and though it may look a little less cool and not be the most comfortable position when people realise how bent their legs can be, they find this allows them to get weight forward because it allows you to get your upper body forward over your front leg. And as they get more foil control, they natural stand up more, moving away for this slightly uncomfortable position, no ones get into a bad habit of squatting down low for that long! Another big advantage of bent legs, low body, is it naturally makes it easier for people to keep weight across the full length of their feet, equal weight on their toes and heels. It’s actually quite hard to lend back on your heels when you squat down slightly.
There is more, lots of small things that can be tweaked and suggestions made to people to get them into the correct position – a lot of it is in my Progression videos or things you just pick up when you see people ride and tweak as you go – I can’t give away all my gold here ;-) But it is a combination of many of these fundamental techniques that will help people to get the correct balance.
The Importance of Self-Evaluation
Rather than looking at the hand off issue as something that someone should or shouldn’t do, maybe a better way to think of it is as a way of looking at one’s own riding and self-evaluating, a trigger that allows them to question if they could improve their stance. Someone may be struggling to ride at speed or maintain control and simply blaming on the fact that foiling is hard when in fact they could be making some fundamental mistakes and they just need to look deeper, to work out what they may be doing wrong elsewhere, rather than papering over the cracks with a short term fix.