Towing to Oblivion, Still? 5 Years Later
We all jones for wind, sometimes wind lust can take us to places we would be better off not going to. Towing up with kite gear is one such place. The main reason is that kite gear breaks all too easily, kites can stall dropping you like a rock, kites can rip in half, etc.. It's been done and guys have paid the price, like two French instructors one that is now paralyzed for life, Neil Hutchinson had a nasty go to from 150 ft. four years ago and could have easily been killed. Neil's account from four years ago is reproduced below:
You are flying through the sky on a clear, blue, sunny Florida day and can see for miles! You are in the midst of something exciting and extreme, the cameras are rolling and you are stoked! Then ... things go wrong, very wrong. You are ripped from your kite, sickly plummeting from almost 150 feet high, wildly out of control. You see your life charge blindingly before your eyes and in seconds feel you are done.
Then you slam into the water and the world goes black! .... PERMANENTLY?
Neil Hutchinson says...
TOWING KITES UP..... DON'T DO IT.
If you don't give a damn, then stop reading now. The Darwin Awards for singularly astonishing ways to needlessly and stupidly end your life are probably looking for a few kiteboarders.
If you care about staying fit enough to keep shredding and learn from Neil's hard won lessons, read on.
Neil Hutchinson is no stranger to extreme sports and putting it all on the line. He was one of the three riders to complete the world-record Red Bull crossing from Key West to Cuba in insanely rough 10 to 17 foot seas. If the wind wasn’t ripping him skyward off the crest of a roiling wave, he was power diving down the face at frightening speed. Talk about "Blue Crush!" He was overpowered for 8 ˝ hours, and claimed he would "make it on his board or in a body bag!" He made it on the board, not the body bag.
Neil has been shredding hard for three years and for the last couple has been competing as a professional in kiteboarding competitions. He recently returned from the Ford Gorge Games and a wrangling session with honking winds. He has also been running parasailing boats for 11 years and knows his way very well around paragliding. He is a hard edged, skillful kiteboarding competitor and singularly well accomplished shredder. Oh ... and he is the only person I know that can shred while holding a cig and a beer!
Neil, after landing in Cuba
"... anyone got a beer and some cigs?"
(Photo courtesy of Red Bull 2001)
Neil and another pro rider had gotten together with some professional photographers to shoot some riding footage recently in Florida. There was a problem through .... no wind! Neil figured to just tow high off the water under a large kiteboarding kite, pop loose and style in prime-form all the way to the base. It isn't that different from parasailing after all, is it? (WRONG). The first flight went well, or at least no one went to the hospital. Neil towed up to about 80 feet before popping the snap shackle and falling slowly to the water. He was hooked into to a regular kiteboarding harness with the snap shackle connecting him to the 150 ft. towline attached to the handle strap on the back of the harness. In other words, he was being towed aloft backwards! All this and seeing the world behind you as you are pulled up to the height of an eight story building.
On the second, ill-fated tow, he made it to 80 feet again. The cameras were rolling, which is like dumping fuel on a raging fire for many riders. You get stoked and feel the need to get extreme. Judgment was shoved into the backseat and the adrenaline rush made him go for more. Neil said not to fall into this trap when you are in front of the cameras. Stick to the familiar and be cool, you will stay healthier.
At a height of 80 feet on the second tow, Neil cycled his kite, whipping it up to build apparent wind speed and altitude. It also deserves mention that Neil had a board on for this tow, significantly increasing the danger. Following this power-up maneuver and still being towed at high speed, Neil lifted almost vertically to the full extent of the line--almost 150 feet off the water. Looking up, he noticed his kite looked like it was going to burst any second under the intense force. He reached behind him to release the towline snap shackle but the load became just too great and broke the harness line connecting the bar to his harness. So, like a cartoon figure, Neil was suspended with one end of the bar in his hand, feeling lost and quite sick. He was then ripped free from the bar, leaving his kite far behind and blasted towards the water out of control. He only remembers looking down, seeing the water and thinking, “Oh my God! I am done.” As they say in the movies, Neil saw events of his life flash across his mind in a blur.
He doesn't remember slamming in and losing consciousness on impact. They say that God takes care of little children, drunks ... and, perhaps, kiteboarders. In this case it was true. The water around the area was only a few feet deep, not enough to keep someone falling 150 feet from hammering a hole into the bottom and flashing into the great beyond. There was a narrow channel, bordered by hard shallows. Incredibly, Neil hit the deep water of the narrow channel. In a warped sense, fortune was still on his side. An EMT told Neil that if he had hit on his back, front or vertically he would have died on the spot in a violent, devastating manner. Lastly, his board thankfully disappeared before impact. All things considered, Neil was very lucky.
Upon greeting the water, he slammed himself into the "Land of Nod." A panicked drive to the hospital followed. Neil returned to the world in the hospital, amazingly with no broken bones or brain hemorrhaging, and only some monumental bruising, nausea and lung tissue injury diagnosed by a bloody froth. Neil is presently resting and healing. Neil is a trooper so he will soon be back at kiteboarding and shredding. One thing he says he will not be doing is towing aloft with a kite ... Ever Again.
Neil says that nothing about a kiteboarding setup is designed for the forces and emergencies that could easily happen under towing. He tried this activity, learned that it is unsafe and has been allowed to move on, intact. Other riders have had the same experience and have also come away with injuries. Smart riders will not test this concept again with kiteboarding gear, enough guys have learned the hard way that it is a very bad idea. The reality of it is that kiteboarding gear breaks not uncommonly under lower and far less frequent loads during normal kiteboarding activities. Most experienced kiteboarders have had one or more of the problems listed below, several times. If you are being towed and ANY of the following problems happen, you will fall like a rock and likely be injured. So, if something breaks, such as listed below, expect to be sent violently out of control and plummet at high speed to smash into the surface. If you are near land, boats, etc. you might even hammer into something hard, (like water isn't with a fall from altitude):
-breaking kite line (a common occurrence)
-breaking pigtail (a common occurrence)
-breaking bridle line (a relatively common occurrence)
-breaking harness or harness line (another relatively common occurrence)
-kite stalling (happens ALL the time)
-splitting or tearing the kite, (nothing easier under excessive loading)
-or any of another dozen potential occurrences that will likely result in serious injury or
KITEBOARDING GEAR IS NOT DESIGNED FOR TOWING. IT BREAKS FREQUENTLY UNDER LESS DEMANDING CONDITIONS AND AS A RESULT IT MAY LET YOU DOWN...HARD, IF YOU USE IT FOR TOWING!!!
Injuries by misuse and towing of kites now include a French kiteboarding instructor with a broken back, an Australian rider seriously injured and hospitalized. Other, similar stories from around the world about pain and injuries following the misuse of kiteboarding gear by towing have been reported. Neil says that if you want to tow up, go parasailing. It has been carefully designed and evolved for this use over decades. If you want to soar or glide get a paraglider or hang glider and the required training that goes with them. You will have a proper harness, weak tow links, reserve parachute and enough knowledge and safety gear to do it right with a fair expectation of making it home for dinner in one piece. You can tow up to 1400 ft., pop loose and then fly intense or mild aerobatics with a hang glider until the cows come home in relative safety. This provides more thrills at a greater height along with much greater maneuverability, time aloft and safety than remotely possible with towed kites. You will have a purpose designed, tested and manufactured harness, reserve parachute a very stable airframe in hang gliding. If you want to do the equivalent of taking shelter from a hurricane behind a cocktail umbrella, have at kite towing ... oh, and don't forget to register for the Darwin Awards before you try it!
So for the record: KITES + TOWING = BROKEN KITE GEAR + INJURIES OR DEATH
Fly safe and smart,