Nowadays, kitesurfing is one of the most popular water sports, providing a huge adrenaline rush to anyone that gives it a go. But did you know that everyone’s new favourite sport has its origins way back in the 19th Century?
The first kite surfers
Kites were first used as a mean of propelling carts and ships in the 1800s, when one George Pocock developed ‘kitepower’, using a four line system still in use today. As an alternative to horsepower, and, apparently, to avoid a “horse tax”, the concept was exploited by aviation pioneer, Samuel Cody, who crossed the English Channel in 1903 in a small collapsible canvas boat powered by a kite. However, it wasn’t until the late ‘70s with the development of stronger materials for flying lines, and more controllable kites, that the sport began to take shape in earnest.
Getting more adventurous
Through the late 70s and 80s, there were various attempts to combine kites with canoes, skis (snow and water) and skates; but it was the development of parachute skiing and kite skiing, and the various elements that would eventually be needed to create the kitesurf equipment that we know today. The French Atlantic coast saw the Legaignoux brothers develop kites for kitesurfing during this period, with the application for a patent of an inflatable kite design in November 1984.
By 1993, an American father and son, Bill and Cory Roesler had developed a kite ski system, which demonstrated speed, balance and upwind angle. The skis evolved to a single board in the late 90s giving rise to kitesurfing as we know it today.
The popular sport we know today
The sport was popularised off the Hawaiian coast of Maui by Laird Hamilton and Manu Bertin. In 1997, the Legaignoux brothers developed and sold the breakthrough “Wipika” kite design which greatly assisted water re-launch. This, along with the development of specialised kite boards by Raphaël Salles and Laurent Ness, the popularity of kitesurfing was cemented as an extreme sport worldwide. Mainstream manufacturers became involved in the production of equipment in 1999, bringing the sport into everyday life. Ongoing technical developments meant that the sport became more accessible to beginners, too, with governance undertaken by the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) and International Class Association of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF).
Not yet an Olympic sport, there are several separate kitesurfing categories including wave riding, freestyle and jumping, course racing, speed, and kite cross, with a wide variety of kite types available accordingly.