Sunday, January 08, 2017

Fantastic kitesurfing downwinder Frankton to Mordialloc then kite carnage at the pier

Session 403. Stuart, Anthony and I did a car shuffle between Hampton and Frankston then headed off to a downwinder back to Hampton.  The wind was great, the sun was shining, the water was clear and the waves were nice.  Another day in paradise.

A great downwinder

The kitesurfing was glorious, riding the endless waves that stretch along the outer sandbar, doing the odd jump.   This section of the bay provides superb kitesurfing.

Near Seaford Pier I stacked on a wave and dropped my kite not far from some swimmers.  I was able to secure it, walk back up the beach and get going again.  I am back on some PTSD medication - it seems to interfere with my reflexes a bit and can reduce multitasking capability.

Some other kites were out but it wasn't crowded.  I made sure I detoured around the swimming zones and kept my eye out for swimmers.

I was getting a bit tired so I decided to conserve some energy in preparation for getting around Ricketts Point - the crux of the tour.

Down from Gnotuk I caught up with Stuart then started on a tack to get past Mordialloc pier.  I stacked, Stuart came past me.  I was on a comfortable tack again past the end of the pier with Stuart a little bit ahead and downwind.  He kept on his tack so I assumed he was going past the pier too.

Heading off from Frankston

Seaford pier

The surf line along the outer sandbar

Nice wave

Moments before the drama

Disaster strikes

Then disaster struck.  Stuart turned suddenly with his kite shooting to 12.  My kite lines crossed with  his and the kites were immediately tangled.  Then I was tangled in his lines trying to control my kite, safety deployed. Stuart's kite powered up a couple of times in deathloops - I got some huge yanks out of the water until I pulled in his lines and got to his kite.

A grabbed the leading edge and accidentally pulled off one of the strut tubes which deflated Stuart's kite. In hindsight this might have helped matters.  I pulled my lines in and got to my kite and started sailing it towards the beach, still connected to Stuart by his kite lines.

For a while it looked like we would make but suddenly we were in a strong current heading directly for the pier.  My lines were still dangling in the water, there wasn't time to wind them in.

We contacted the pier. Stuart went straight through the pylons with his kite all bundled.  Mine was still inflated so it wouldn't fit.  Some bystanders on the pier offered to help.  I was eventually able to lift the kite up so they could grab a wing tip and hold it.


Approach Mordy pier

Stuart floating under Mordy pier
Lines wrapped on pier pylon

Flailing around pylons with large clumps of mussels was not pleasant.

I disconnected from the kite bar and swam to the shore, scrambling out over the rocks and cutting my left leg on some mussels in the swell.  Ouch.  I got to the kite and Anthony had arrived to help.  I leant off the pier with Anthony holding my legs and disconnected the right hand bridle then got the kite onto the pier.

Stuart jumped in and cut my bar free, leaving the lines tangled around two pylons.   Anthony had rescued my board.

Two lifeguards from the Mordialloc Life Saving Club showed up to provide some first aid.  I went back to the club premises after our gear was sorted out so they could check out the mussel cuts.  I noticed my left arm was sore and there was a mark on the wetsuit sleeve from kite lines.

Anthony kited on to Hampton to get Stuart's car.  I caught the train back to Frankston to find my backpack that I had mistakenly left on the beach.  It was gone, but Stuart told me when he and Anthony showed up that Frankston Police had it.  Phew, an honest person had handed it in.

I collected the back pack, then had an iced coffee and contemplated the afternoon's events.  

Lessons learned

Big accidents are often result from a sum of small mistakes.  As an experienced kiter I must avoid getting complacent.

What you can learn from our mistakes - some considerations that come to mind after this experience:
  • Downwinders can be tiring - focus on the journey and conserve energy rather than going hard like a normal session.
  • Watch out for others and keep an eye on where your companions are, particularly in dodgy locations.
  • Give yourself plenty of room (e.g. 100m) when passing major obstacles
  • Keep a good distance away from other kiters (e.g. 50m) 
  • Tack well before you get to an obstacle if you aren't going to get past it.  Piers often have fishing lines off them and people swimming around them, there is no point going right up close.
  • If kites get tangled its best to immediately release your safety then fully detach so they can separate
  • Cut kite lines with your line knife once you are tangled in someone elses - a powered up kite can easily slice a line through flesh.
  • Wind your lines in so they don't get tangled around you or other obstacles.
  • Deflate your kite if you are heading for a major obstacle that you will get caught on (like a pier)
  • Wear reef boots on downwinders.  I was glad I had mine on when I was under the pier!
  • Wear a long sleeved wetsuit. A 2mm springsuit with long arms and short legs is not too hot for summer and provides some protection.
It is far better to avoid a situation like this than figure out how to deal with it.  Prevention is better than cure.


I went back to Mordy with snorkeling gear to retrieve the kite lines.  I took a catch bag to stuff them in and put a line knife on a leash around my neck.  I was able to untangle them without cutting and retrieve all the line pieces.  

The bridle wasn't damaged so its back on the kite.

The depower strap on the bar has been cut with a melted edge so it seems the lines generated enough heat friction to slice through it.  I need new lines and may need a new bar but I have spare to keep me going.

The wound on my arm is pronounced - if I wasn't a wearing a wetsuit this would have been a serious injury.  The mussel cuts are healing.

We got off lightly - not much equipment damage and no serious injuries.  It could have been much worse.  Getting tangled in kite lines carries laceration and drowning risks.

I get flashbacks of the kites instantly tangling and relive that "oh shit" moment.  I will be taking it easy for a while.

Injury on forearm from kiteline (though the wetsuit!)

Injury on upper arm from kiteline (though the wetsuit!)

Kite safe folks


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