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The helmets thread and my recent trip to Maui once again gets me thinking about kiteboarding and helmets.
Here in the Bay Area I've, for some tme now, taken to wearing a helmet when I ride as several of the spots I launch from have very small launch zones surrounded by rocks. I've never had an incident or close call, but it makes sense to do so.
This last week I was on Maui and managed to score three great sessions during my week-long stay. The first two sessions I wore my helmet, but on the third I didn't. Why would I do that when I'm kiting in an area with potentially gusty big winds, rocks and reefs? Good question. Well, for one, the weather was great - warm air and warm water and after my last session here being in a 3/2 fullsuit with a rashguard inside and out with booties, it felt liberating to kite in only a rash guard and shorts. As for the helmet, it's true - you do forget it's on after a few minutes.
So, again, besides the fact that I wanted to kite in the warmth with as little as possible on, why would I forsake the helmet? I think it's because basically no one amateur or pro wears helmets on Maui, and maybe I started to feel like maybe I wouldn't either. Wouldn't want to look like a kook would I? Stupid, really.
So it's continually perpetuated at world-class kiting spots and in the videos and mags that people who "really" know what they are doing (pros and amateurs) don't wear helmets and that they just don't look cool.
So, let's hear it, who wears a helmet?
I always wear a helmet. One of my friends cut a major nerve in his face with his board fin, even with a helmet on. He always talks about what would have happened if he hadn't been wearing a helmet.
That being said, there are many people in my area who feel comfortable enough kiting that they don't wear helmets. This turning point in their kiting career came when they ditched their board leash. Here's the deal: even if you're on wide open sandy beaches that have no apparent obstacles except water and sand, if you're wearing a leash you board can become a missile. Say you goof and get yanked superman-style straight out of the water and into the air. Meanwhile your board is mostly submerged and being held back by the drag of the water. Your leash goes taught and, with the slight bit of elasticity, stretches. So when your board finally breaks free from the water, it gets slingshotted through the air straight at you. 49 times out of 50, you'll just hear a whizzing as it flies past you. Every once in a while though, BAM! OUCH! that hurt! Some leashes (NSI Real Leash) help reduce this risk, but it's never alleviated until you ditch the leash.
Of course my recommendation is to always wear one. But if you're considering going without, get rid of your board leash and learn to drag back upwind.
Could spend a bit of time talking about helmets. Instead I just reproduce a little of one KSI account from last year. The complete account, worth looking over by the way, is located at: http://www.fksa.org/viewtopic.php?t=226
83. Incident # 5 03 1 "Severe Lofting & Powerline Accident" Location: Camber, England, UK
An experienced kieboarder was out in 20 kt. side onshore winds with a 12 m Naish X2 kite. As he was riding towards the beach he was hit by a sudden strong gust that lofted him about 20 m (60 ft.), on to the beach. Other riders were out when the gust hit but this rider was closest to shore and presumably was the only one that couldn't activate his kite leash. He tried to open his unspecified snap shackle but it would not function. As he discovered this situation he was flying at speed towards a rock groin.
The rider considered his two choices including: 1) to take the kite through zenith and ditch it into the sea risking a second lofting (probably onto the groin) or 2) to fly the kite into the beach at the slight risk of the kite going over a set of 3 phase, 240 volt power lines. The rider chose the second option and had flown closer to the power lines. So once he dove the kite to the beach, it had gone over the power lines. At this point he was standing on the ground on one side of the power lines with the kite on the other.
Before the rider could figure out how to release his snap shackle he was hit by a second strong gust. This gust relaunched the kite. The kite pulled the rider up towards the powerlines about 8 m (25 ft.) above the ground. He slammed head first into a bungalow roof on the way up breaking the back of his Gath helmet open and sending it flying off... (text omitted)
... The rider had stopped using a helmet the week before when he decided to no longer use a board leash. He had cut his head on the garage door the morning of the accident and so chose to wear his helmet that day to protect the cut. "
You never know when something unexpected might pop up. A few guys would be likely dead IF they chose not to wear one when things went south with a vengence (including myself) and others might still be with us if they had worn a helmet.
Wear the best helmet that you can find and wear it whenever you ride.
I'm just starting out in kiteboarding. I've been wakeboarding for two years now and have been "Cable Wakeboarding" at Ski-Rixen in Deerfield Beach for some time. It's there that I started to use a helmet. That's the only way they allow you to use the ramps and sliders. Kooky or not the watersports helmet is the way to go.
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