Kite safety falls into many categories. One of the biggest is rider skill, awareness of safety protocols and adhering to them, and common sense. This is not the topic of this post though. What I will try to elaborate on is safety systems built into the kites (boards/leashes could be another topic). There are many systems out there and not all of them are the same. If you are still uncertain after reading this, buy new. Safety is continuously being addressed in each new year's kites.
We are also only going to discuss rider safety in this post. All riders should take responsibility for others as well. If you are riding where a loose kite could roll into beach goers, boaters, etc. you must wear a kite leash.
There are numerous reasons why you need safety systems built into your kite. You've blown a move, and one of your hands has slipped from the bar and you put the kite into a power swing, you're getting dragged and don't know when it will end...for example. You need to kill the power in the kite. A kite will depower as soon as the lines on one side of the kite loose tension.
Most systems out there have a way to connect to one of the flying lines, so that when you release the bar, the other three lines slacken as the bar gets pulled toward the kite. Since you are connected to that one line, and all the other lines go slack the kite opens end on end and completely depowers.
Some bars have that one line connected to one of the outer lines, some have it connected to one of the center lines. There has been a push for centerline attachment to simplify spinning the bar after a move that included a rotation. Both systems work well.
The most common form of "connection" to that one line is via a leash. Typically a bungied web line. Connecting this to your harness is preferred. Wrist leashes are used though your shoulder is an extremely fragile joint. When you get to the point of doing spins you'll need to look into spinning leash options. All leashes need to have a quick release on the body side attachment, just in case the kite doesn't depower.
Another form is a "handle". It is a small loop that you manually grab hold of before releasing the bar. If you are in an emergency you most likely would not grab this and your kite would be free, potentially risking the injury of others.
So far so good. Your riding and you can't hang on anymore for whatever reason and you let go of the bar and the kite falls out of the sky. Simple enough...well there's more involved.
Most people who ride cannot handle the power in the kite just holding onto the bar. Most bars have loops that extend down toward the rider that the rider can hook into a harness worn more near the center of their body. This way they can use their weight to resist the kite's pull and not put such a strain on their arms. The two loops are a Chicken loop used like a throttle to tune the kite in the air, and a fixed line.
Typically when you are riding you are either in your chicken loop and or in your fixed harness line ( if you have one), so just letting go of the bar isn't really an option. If you are lightly powered, pulling the bar toward you may drop your line(s) out of the hook, though in an emergency situation you most likely will not be able to do this. You will need to break free from these. This is where quick releases (QR) come in to play. Quick releases are connections put into a line that allows you to "break" the line, even under pressure. There are many forms of QRs. What ever system you choose make sure that it is designed to open under load. There are fixed harness lines with a QR. Worth getting if you'll be riding in the line. Most 2002 chicken loops had a QR on them. Either a small loop to pull, a slider on the chicken loop line, or a shackle on the loop. There are pros and cons of all of these systems. The best ones in my opinion are the ones that can be found easily and used many different ways. Make sure the action required to use the QR is a natural one ( when getting pulled through water across land etc.). None are quaranteed to work 100% of the time. The best thing to do is to use which ever you get, over and over to commit the motion to muscle memory.
So now you're riding along and a gust hits, you fling forward on your face and the kite goes into a power spin, you're getting dragged. You let go of the bar....you're still being dragged cause you are in one of your loops...gulp, gulp, water is coming in....find that QR...where is it? ...gulp, gulp...found it...pop... the bar flings away and the kite falls to the water and you have it by one line. Practice the sequence in your sleep. It may happen and it may not be water you're dragging across.
Some specific products:
Shackles. Snap shackles alow you to clip onto your Chicken Loop and ride always hooked in, with no fear that it will come off a spreader bar hook. First of all not all shackles are created equal. Buy one that is designed to release under load. There are only a few. Also, if you ride in a shackle you should swap your chicken loop out for a metal ring. A standard chicken loop can fold over on the shackle arm and not release with the shackle. Also make sure you can easily get to and release the shackle, especially if it is your only QR. Shackles in combination with other QR is a good idea. You have a redundant system and it spins!
Chicken loops with fingers
these are chicken loops with have an extra piece of tubing extending down from the loop. These are used to keep the loop in your harness hook. Great idea, just make sure you have a QR on your loop, otherwise you are locked in and may have troubles getting out.
Ocean Rodeo's punch system.
Ocean Rodeo's bar allows you to activate their QR by pushing the bar all the way up the chicken loop line and "punching" a stopper ball. Both hands stay on the bar. The downside is you can't ride with the bar powered up against an upper stop ball, which is rapidly replacing fixed lines.
Kite Control System.
This is an interesting newcomer in late 2003. Positioned as a option for many kite manufacturers, and probably intially adopted by Wipika, this system has an additional line running to the front of the kite. When the bar is released the kite falls from the sky and is easy to relaunch. It also allows for self landing the kite with the leading edge to the wind.
I'll add to this as I think of new things. I'll also try to get some photos included.
hope this helps.
LAKAWA Knowledge Base - What are your secrets to wind and water success? Share what you've learned that may assist others.
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