Career Guide for Kitesurfers

orange square Kitesurfing is a relatively new sport but it's growth has been rapid since its conception back in the 1970's and 80's when the first pioneers starting experimenting with kites and canoes, water skis and buggies.

Modern kitesurfing as we know it didn't develop in to a main stream sport until the mid to late 90's when surfers such as Laird Hamilton started to demonstrating the possibilities. Kitesurfing is now seen as a crossover sport, drawing in people from a surfing, windsurfing, snowboarding, and sailing background who want to give it a try. There are two kitesurfing qualifications you should look out for, the BKSA (British KiteSurfing Association) and the IKO (International Kiteboarding Organization).

The British Kitesurfing Association

The BKSA (British Kitesurfing Association) was formed in 1999 to oversee the development of the sport, and their membership has grown steadily. They are the National Governing Body (NGB), providing the necessary qualifications to those wanting to pursue a career as an Instructor in the UK, with the aim of providing one pathway of training which meets the standards set out worldwide. Instructor training is open to anyone with a good level of personal kite surfing ability. Below are the different levels of instructor qualification available, as a prerequisite for each you must be a member of the BKSA, have your riding ability assessed by a BKSA Instructor and have a valid Powerboat Level 2 and First Aid qualification:

BKSA Instructor - This is a 5 days course which after completion will allow you to teach up to 4 students at intermediate level in aspects such as riding upwind, equipment tuning, transitions and jumps.

BKSA Senior Instructor - Once you've completed a minimum of 6 months as an instructor and logged 150 hours of teaching at a BKSA school you can move up to Senior Instructor level. Again you can teach 4 students with 2 kites in the water at any one time, however you can now move on to advanced coaching.

Following on from the Instructor and Senior Instructor you have several options to further your career in kitesurfing. These include training to become a Coach (provide advanced coaching UK and Overseas), National Trainer/ School Inspector (Inspect schools for the BKSA), Trainer Examiner (provide BKSA Instructor and Senior Instructor courses). There seems to be some confusion about whether BKSA Instructors can teach overseas or whether they are restricted to the UK so before planning an extended trip abroad it's best to do some research and get a list of BKSA registered schools in your desired destination.

International Kiteboarding Organization

As the name suggests, this is the international standard instructor course allowing you to teach anywhere in the world. A lot of instructors tend to have both the BKSA and IKO Level 1 Instructor qualification so they are definitely covered to teach in the UK and overseas.

IKO Assistant Instructor - This is the base qualification allowing you to assist in teaching 1 student at a time under the supervision of a Level 2 Instructor. You will also able to manage the use and maintenance of equipment.

IKO Level 1 Instructor - As with the BKSA Instructor training, you must have a Powerboat Level 2 and First Aid certificate before you start. You will entitled to teach kite surfing anywhere in the world

Costs to Consider

Before you even start your training your need to have a BKSA Membership which costs £36 for an individual membership/ £100 for an instructor membership which you will need to teach in schools, or your IKO Membership (for prices please check IKO website). You also need your RYA Powerboat Level 2 certificate (approx £200) and a First Aid certificate (approx £100). The BKSA Instructor course costs approx £450 and then to move on to the BKSA Senior Instructor course will set you back approx £200. The IKO Assistant Instructor Course costs approx £350 and the Level 1 Instructor Course costs approx £600.

Career potential

As with other watersports such as windsurfing, demand is relatively high from the large holiday companies who employ seasonal instructors throughout the summer. The work is often short lived and you'll probably find yourself back in the UK before too long so our advice would be to get to know your local school, keep in regular contact with the owners/ instructors and get them to give you the heads up if they have any positions coming up. Like much of the adventure industry, a lot of instructor recruitment is done through word of mouth so keeping in touch with the right people will definitely help. The sport is only increasing in popularity and only going to get bigger so keep your eye peeled for opportunities such as going freelance or opening up you own kite surfing school.

Kitesurfing Interview

To get some idea of what it is really like to take the kitesurf instructor training and exam, we spoke to an experienced teacher about his experience of gaining the qualifications. We find out about his experience of teaching overseas and about how this has enabled him to run his own successful kitesurf school on the south coast of England.

Mike: I actually got into kitesurfing in a slightly unusual way. Back in 1998 a friend of mine bought a mountain board and for a year or so we used to throw ourselves down mountain bike trails. Then I discovered power kites and immediately decided to combine both of them at Baiter Park (the park where I now teach land based kite lessons). Then one windy day a friend and I, on a sudden impulse, decided to hit the water. Within 2 hours we managed to combine some plywood and a snake board into some kind of kiteboard! The biggest attraction of kitesurfing was that you could push yourself to the limits without worrying too much about crashing as you're in water.

What made you want to go down the instructor route and start teaching other people how to get started in the sport?

Mike: As soon as I flew my first kite I was hooked and after years of kitesurfing it was a natural progression to want to share my knowledge of the sport. As soon as I finished Uni I intended to have a year out to travel and teach kitesurfing. This turned into a craving to follow the winds, which has taken me around the world.

You hold the International Kiteboarding Organization's Level 2 award. Why did you decide to choose the IKO over the British Kitesurfing Association's instructor scheme?

Mike: The main reason I chose the IKO over the BKSA was due to its flexibility to travel worldwide and teach. This being said, the BKSA is now a very large association and recognised worldwide by most kitesurf schools. The teaching syllabus and instructor courses are also very similar now, so I wouldn't really favour one over the other today.

How good do you need to be before you can consider becoming an instructor?

Mike: In terms of physical ability to kitesurf the IKO say that you need to be at "Kiteboarder level 3". This includes the ability to ride upwind, change direction without stopping and perform a controlled jump.

This is a very basic level that some people can reach in a short period with consistent practise in suitable weather conditions. I personally think that you should have been riding with at least this ability for at least a year, have a wide knowledge of weather and, of course, understand fully all the IKO/BKSA codes of conduct. Apart from the physical and mental understanding of the sport, having a passion for teaching is essential. A good kitesurfer doesn't mean a good kitesurf instructor!

How does Level 1 differ from Level 2, what are the training and assessment like for each? Realistically, do you need to be a Level 2 instructor to make a career from kitesurfing, or can you expect someone to consider you for a job at the first level?

Mike: To become a level 2 instructor you need to log 160 teaching hours then do an online exam. So it's simply a matter of time before you become a level 2 instructor. The biggest motivation for me to become a level 2 instructor was that I could then open my own school as every school needs to have a level 2 instructor. When I was a level 1 instructor I worked for a large kitesurf school in Fuerteventura. This allowed me to work 5 days a week so I could log a large number of hours but, more importantly, I could gain valuable knowledge and experience from my highly experienced level 2 colleagues.

Can you tell us a bit about how the qualification helps you with your business? You teach kitesurfing at Poole Harbour, is that right?

Mike: My IKO training was in 2007 but is still the foundation for my teaching, but over the years I've gained more knowledge and experience from other colleagues and by simply seeing students' progression and gaining feedback from my students.

To run a kitesurf school it is very important to be associated with an organisation like the IKO or BKSA. This allows you to have teaching insurance and indicates that your students will be getting a professional learning experience.

Do you have any useful tips for people who might be thinking about taking part in the IKO instructor training scheme? How can they make sure they are ready and get most out of the experience?

Mike: If you're thinking about doing the IKO or BKSA course, first of all question your kitesurf ability and knowledge. Being a good kitesurfer isn't just about what tricks you can do; it's about good judgment, e.g. is the weather suitable? Is the location suitable? Is the equipment suitable? Is the student at an appropriate level to cope with the current conditions? As the instructor you are responsible for your students so make sure you and they stay safe.

Mike Bobin is an IKO Level 2 instructor and runs an independent kitesurf school in Poole Harbour. Call: 07825 639182.

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