The History of Kitesurfing
Have you ever wondered who invented kitesurfing? Kitesurfing has firmly established itself as one of the most popular watersports around. And in a short space of time kitesurfing has amassed a celebrity following including Barack Obama, Sir Richard Branson and Brad Pitt. As a sport that is continually evolving we’ve put together an overview of the history of kitesurfing, how kiteboarding became possible and the sport as we know it today.
The History of Kitesurfing
The story of kiteboarding can vary slightly depending on who you speak to. For example, the Chinese are credited with using kites as a means of propulsion as far back as the 13th century. In the 1800’s George Pocock used kites to propel carts on land and ships on the water, making use of a 4-line control system similar to what we use today. And in 1903, aviation pioneer Samuel Cody developed “man-lifting kites” and succeeded in crossing the English Channel in a small collapsible canvas boat powered by a kite.
However, the sport as we know it began in Brittany, France with two brothers who had a passion for watersports and wave surfing from the early age of 10.
Bruno and Dominique Legaignoux made a name for themselves in 1979 by winning The French National Junior Dingy Sailing Championship. As cruising boat skippers, surfers, windsurfers, sailing instructors, and more, they later found themselves experimenting with speed sailing. Without much success, their curiosity led them to attempts with a wide variety of speed hulls and boards.
Who Invented Kitesurfing - Pushing Limits
In 1984, after seeing Jacob’s Ladder, a custom-designed catamaran pulled by Flexifoils, the Legaignoux's saw the future of “speed sailing.” They began to work on how to solve issues like; launching the stack of kites, relaunching from the water, and traveling upwind at higher levels. The brothers set out on a global sailboat trip and cruised while experimenting with kite propulsion. It was apparent at that time a kite with the ability to relaunch still didn’t exist. Bruno and Dominique set out to make one.
In 1985, they demonstrated a device that allowed them to sail with water skis at the Brest International Speed Week and won the Ingenuity Prize. Around the same time the brothers also filed their first patent. Despite these achievements, windsurfing was the sport of the moment and no company was keen on developing a new sport.
Determined, Bruno made a successful demonstration of the biggest wing ever produced (17m2) at the Funboard World Cup in 1987. He had made great improvements with making more stable and lighter wings between 1988 and 1989.
A Manufacturing Company was Formed
By 1993, the brothers set up their own company after developing the WIPICAT, an inflatable craft pulled by the kite they invented. They tested their invention commercially and although it wasn’t successful, windsurfers were starting to notice their work.
In 1994 they sent units to Manu Bertin and big wave rider Laird Hamilton in Hawaii. In those early days there were many extreme water sports enthusiasts who helped bring kitesurfing into the mainstream.
Also around 1994, Cory Roesler developed a kiteski with his dad, a Boeing aerodynamicist. Cory’s KiteSki became commercially available in 1994. It could go upwind and possessed a rudimentary re-launcher system. By the late 1990’s the KiteSki transformed into a single board similar to a surfboard.
Development of Kiteboarding as a Sport
In 1997 the Legaignoux brothers partnered with Neil Pryde to produce kites, which they sold under the brand name Wipika. These kites had preformed inflatable tubes and a simple bridle system, both of which greatly assisted their water re-launch ability. Bruno Legaignoux continued to improve the kite designs – designing 60 kites for eight brands in one year - and went on to invent the bow kite.
In 1998 Don Montague and Robby Naish successfully requested a licence to the Legaignoux’s kite patent. A defining moment in the sport, Montague developed software which enabled enhanced kite design in a fraction of the time.
The birth of kiteboarding as a mainstream sport really began in 1998 when Joe Keuhl organised the first kiteboarding event on Maui, Hawaii. Jokingly dubbed the kitesurfing world championships, the event attracted all the big names in kiteboarding. Flash Austin won the competition.
Of course, learning to kitesurf in those days was treacherous. There were no instructors or lessons, no trainer kites, and nobody had figured out that they should launch the kite at the edge of the window yet.
By 2000, the French brothers moved to Dominican Republic and continued their quest for kite developments. They demonstrated the Bow Kite Design to Takoon and Cabrinha in mid-2004 and released their first Bow Kites to the market in August 2005.
In April 2008, the International Kiteboarding Association was founded.
The Sport Today
Today the future of kitesurfing or kiteboarding is very bright. Men, women and children can all enjoy this exhilarating sport. The kitesurfing or kiteboarding industry continues to attract interest and new talent . The sport has found it’s way to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. What was once a dream for those involved with the sport has finally become a reality.