Kitesurfing is one of Britain’s fastest growing watersports, with an estimated 47,000 people participating in 2012. this has now risen to over double that number. A British Marine Watersports survey reported equal participation between men and women. It has been featured in several high-profile, multi-class regattas, and there is talk of the sport being included in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Basically, it involves standing on a small surfboard and being pulled along by what looks like a miniature parachute, which is controlled by a system of strings. Practitioners tend to specialise, either opting for racing or “freestyle”, which involves performing a complicated series of tricks.
Technically, kitesurfing is classified as an extreme sport. But according to Pete Shaw of the British Kitesports Association, it can be “as extreme as you like”.
“You can go out with a big kite in high winds and jump 40 feet in the air,” he says. “Or you can go out on a lighter wind day with a smaller kite, and essentially go sailing. Either way, it’s really good fun.”
This accessibility has been at the heart of the sport’s burgeoning popularity.
“The equipment is easier to transport than other extreme sports. It can fit in the boot of a hatchback car, and costs about £1,200,” says Shaw. “You don’t need a slipway to launch, as you would with a sailing craft. And you don’t need as much wind as you do with sailing and windsurfing.”
So broad is the sport’s appeal that it has even gained a reputation as “the new golf”, with CEOs such as Richard Branson and the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, counted among its fans. (As the prominent venture capitalist Bill Tai remarked, “I’ve never seen so many who’s who of Silicon Valley on the water.”)