I became a kiteboarding instructor in 2016 and I’ve learned so much since then. Switching from indoor gyms & swimming pools to the beach, from regular to irregular hours and from working all year round to working seasons. I loved working as an instructor for kiteboarding schools! Starting my own business wasn’t just a matter of becoming independent. Because let’s be honest: working for a boss definitely has its unique advantages! Besides that; why reinvent the wheel when there are already dozens of kite schools out there? The answer to that question, in two words? Group Lessons. Don’t get me wrong, they make perfect sense for other action sports, like windsurfing or snowboarding, but not for kiteboarding. Not anymore, at least. In this blog, I will explain to you why kiteboarding group lessons don’t work and why I think Dutch schools are still offering them today.
Why group lessons don’t work
Learning in a group is both fun & efficient. Giving instructions to more than 1 person at a time saves time, which reduces the costs and therefore making learning new skills more accessible to people. Group lessons work for activities, which are safe to be practiced independently, regardless of the skill level of the participants. Take windsurfing or snowboarding for example. Although these activities involve a certain amount of risk on the person practicing, they don’t necessarily require constant supervision. Now, the thing is: kiteboarding generally does, especially the first couple of sessions. For kiteboarding schools, safety is and should always be priority #1. This is why, no matter the group’s size, most kiteboarding instructors will teach only one student at a time. Put differently; the time you spend learning it is divided by the number of people that are in the group. For kite schools it’s cheap, yes, but it isn’t at all efficient in terms of learning. And also: who likes waiting 40 minutes per hour, or in some cases even 50?
Ask the experts
It bugged me, but I failed to get support from my colleagues, whenever I tried to discuss the matter. Looking back, this isn’t surprising. My younger colleagues were often showing great loyalty to the ones running the school, whom which they considered exemplary figures. My peers couldn’t be bothered as much, because they weren’t really loyal to anyone yet, working here and there, figuring out their lives. And lastly, the colleagues that were older than me were mostly keen to keep things the way they were. Cause why change a winning team? Because we weren’t winning, as far as I was concerned. So, instead of looking for confirmation by addressing my fellow instructors, I decided to turn to kiteboarders in general. I dropped an anonymous survey in the two main Kiteboarding groups on Facebook (containing about 2000 riders in total), in which I asked 1 simple question:
“A friend of yours wants to learn kiteboarding this season. What would you recommend him/her doing?”
- Book a group course
- Take private lessons
As it turns out, the vast majority (about 75%) of the riders chose option 2: take private lessons. You’re probably wondering, if experienced kiteboarders are giving out this advice, why is it that kitesurfing schools are focusing on group lessons?
Why schools do group lessons
So why do schools offer group lessons, if it doesn’t make any sense? Because it did make sense when kiteboarding was still a relatively young sport. 20 years ago, when the sport was still in the early stages of development, kiteboarding was considered an extreme sport. Because this is just what it every so often often became, back then! Keep in mind that the first inflatable kites that hit the market were expensive, very fragile, not to mention hard to control. More than once during this first phase, lack of knowledge and/or equipment failure led to near deadly and in some cases even deadly consequences. This would make headline news every now and then, after which local governments would even prohibit kiteboarding altogether at some spots. No wonder only a handful of wakeboarding and windsurfing schools were keen to start organising group courses for this “dangerous” new sport. Long story short: there was a time when both the equipment and the lessons were much more exclusive than they are now. Kiteboarding was like the iPhone when it first came out out. People would literally stand in line to be the next early adapter.
Kiteboarding in NL
Times have changed. Both the kites’ tech and the knowledge on how to use them have made giant leaps forward. It has thus become a mainstream sport, practiced by people of all ages, shapes and sizes; all over the world. What struck me though, is that when I started working abroad, none of the schools that I’ve worked for were offering group lessons. So how come Dutch schools keep doing so? Didn’t they get the memo? I think it is because in the Netherlands; one of the most densely populated areas in the world; time and space are particularly scarce. In order to be operational, a kiteschool needs either:
- A fixed location
- A mobile unit (bus/trailer)
Option 1 is very expensively, especially on the North Sea coast, plus you have to rebuild every season. Options 2 needs gas, insurance, parking space, maintenance, etc. I did the actual math during the process of designing the Kite Coach concept. It showed that to cover the expenses of a school in The Netherlands, you’d simply have do group lessons. I realized that in order to prevent this compromise, I’d have to come up with something different. So I did!
Calculate hourly rate
Group lessons are only cheaper, if you count the hours you spend waiting your turn on the beach. If you don’t take waiting on the beach as learning time and you’re considering booking a group lesson, I’ve made a little tool that might put things in perspective. All you need to, is fill in the Kite School’s course price, the amount of hours that the course takes and the group size. It calculates the hourly rate for the actual time you’ll be spending learning and riding. Transparency is the magic word here!