I’m exceptionally lucky. I can see and walk to my local kitesurfing spot from where I live in Cornwall (UK). So I can walk, not drive to kitesurf. Despite that, until the current UK Covid 19 related situation changes, I won’t be going kitesurfing.
Please look at my arguments, and tell me I’m wrong, as then I can go kitesurfing.
This was written on the 5th of April, with the data and arguments I understood at this time. If I’ve added or changed anything since then, I’ve tried to make that obvious, with a date note.
Table of Contents
Covid 19 Disease Characteristics & Consequences
- Covid 19 kills. Although about 80% who get it will only have, mild, flu like, stay at home symptoms, about 13% of us will have severe symptoms and around 4% will need Intensive Care. If a large proportion of the UK population, in any area (or the whole country) get Covid 19 at once, the 4% needing Intensive Care, for many days, to have a chance of surviving Covid 19, will exceed the NHS Intensive Care capacity. Which has been expanded massively, and is being expanded each day. But will never potentially never be enough if too many get it in an area at a time.
This is the often talked about ”flatten the curve”.
- 2020-04-07 additional note. Data to date has it that of confirmed cases, 2.5 to 3% die. In Italy in areas where the health system was overwhelmed it has been over 10%. So if, in the UK we can contribute to not overwhelming the health system, it has the potential to make a massive difference.
- 2020-04-07 additional note. Around 50% of those who get Covid 19 have no symptoms or such mild symptoms, they don’t notice they have it, but can spread Covid 19.
Both these 2020-04-07 additional notes come from listening to The WIRED Podcast (The next year under coronavirus).
- It’s highly infections. Most transfer is from direct receiving droplets from an infected person, breathing or coughing close enough to you. Hence the 2m social distancing rule. Covid 19 can also be transmitted via surfaces, where it can stay viable for days.
- If you get it, you don’t have symptoms for around a week. So for that week you could be unknowingly spreading it. You could also be one of the people that has such mild symptoms you don’t notice. So for a far longer duration, you could be spreading Covid 19 to others, directly or via surfaces.
- We don’t have a vaccine, and won’t have one for at least a year, which is less than the time for this initial hit and the anticipated 2nd wave in Autumn. Most historic death counts from big region or global viruses kill more in the 2nd wave than the first.
- This is not just about Covid 19. Every day the emergency and health services save the lives of many for plenty of other reasons. That capacity is being absorbed by dealing with Covid 19. Some of this is the reality that many emergency workers and NHS staff are themselves Covid 19 ill or Covid 19 related self isolating. So putting extra easily avoidable pressure on these systems could lead to harsh consequences for others.
I’ll kite alone or with only a small group and keep the 2m distances
Things can go wrong kitesurfing, so kitesurfing alone isn’t a great idea at the best of times.
Unless we only self launch and self land, which is higher risk than getting assistance from others we are then touching potential transfer surfaces. As no beaches I kitesurf at have soap and water, is alcohol gel going to be in my kite bag?
Unlike going to get needed supplies from the shops, going kitesurfing isn’t necessary.
Also, if I kitesurf, others might assume it’s OK to kitesurf (or similar) and so put further possible pressure on the emergency services and the NHS etc.
– with so many spots having Webcams and social media meaning what we do at kitesurf spots gets shared far and wide. Me going kitesurfing in Cornwall could mean others drive from near and far to kite.
It’s as low risk as a surf and that’s allowed?
Some police forces, such as here Cornwall, are saying going for a surf is OK.
“Cornwall’s top cop has said people can still go surfing, but they should not ‘take the mick’ by travelling huge distances to do so.”
BUT Kitesurfing is more dangerous than surfing. When you look at the data, the number of kitesurfers, as a % of those who do it, who have accidents, that need help from others (RNLI, health workers …) is greater. See Data sources on kitesurfing risk stats Vs other sports below.
- 2020-04-07 added summary, with comment of the data (which is at the bottom).
One study of several years has the kitesurf incident rate as 7.0 per 1,000 hours of kitesurfing and that more than windsurfers kitesurfers “required transport by ambulance, inpatient hospital stays and operative treatment”.
A different study had that surfing has a low injury rate of 2.2 injuries per 1,000 surfing days (not hours), and that “the large majority of injuries are not serious.”
This is, for kitesurfing a potential 3 times more accidents, that are apparently more often serious (requiring ambulance, hospital and operative treatment) Vs surfing. But is this just low risk to more but still low? So I then considered (the next bit you’ll read) the UK incidents I knew of in the last year, and the incidents I knew of amongst the 10 or so people I normally kitesurf with on a regular basis.
- 2020-04-09 comment. I don’t know how statistically significant the apparent 2.2 per 1,000 days/hours for surfing Vs 7.0 per 1,000 hours for kitesurfing are. But it’s the only stats I could find. Those who kitesurf know the power of a kite, the heights, speeds, how fast things can change. How it’s often more dangerous when on or near land (including if it’s super shallow). This to me, along with what I put below, make it clear that kitesurfing, on average, is higher risk than surfing.
We have all either been kitesurf related rescued, involved in a rescue or know of a rescue. Probably several. Last year a good friend snapped his ankle / lower leg kitesurfing on a tiny wave. A few years ago a different friend needed an emergency helicopter trip to hospital while unconscious and took over a year to be back on the water. A few months ago a different friend had the RNLI called out due to kit failure. He got to the beach by himself pre the lifeboat getting to him. These are all 3 experienced, non crazy session, sensible kitesurfers who did sensible risk assessments.
Kit failure isn’t always your fault, but it’s a fact of kitesurfing. If you were to snap a line and get flung so you broke a rib, you might need a ventilator. Either one that means a Covid 19 patient doesn’t get one, or they will all be in use by Covid 19 patients.
The lock down is to reduce the burden on the NHS, to flatten the curve and so increase the ability of the NHS to have the capacity to save lives.
Each time the NHS and other emergency workers (RNLI, air ambulance, emergency department) deal with an incident they are brought into contact with each other and the patient(s). (Because they can’t do their job and be 2m apart). We don’t know who currently has the Covid 19 virus. You don’t know if it’s you. If these emergency workers are using Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), they are using up stocks of this that we all know are running low. So later NHS emergency staff might have to work with known Covid 19 patients, without PPE, because it has run out.
Look at the ventilators and other medical equipment being rapid developed developed by Dyson and Formulae One companies etc. Look at the home 3D printing of face masks. People at home making scrubs for all the doctors that used to wear normal clothes for all or part of their health care work.
Consider the thousands who are volunteering to help the NHS. Volunteering to work on wards where they might get Covid 19 themselves. Many retired doctors are returning to the NHS to help. Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are working even more hours beyond their contracts to help deal with this.
Consider how many health workers have already died by helping save the currently low number of Covid 19 cases. (eg “Nursing assistant dies after helping virus patients.”
Potentially many more individuals are going to be harmed by the economic hit of Covid 19 than the direct health impact. I already have more friends who are already suffering job losses and job concerns than not. The sooner we can get back to whatever the new normal will be, the less will have this impact.
So why am I even thinking about going kitesurfing? Well, I really want to kitesurf. I miss it. I want the freedom it gives me. But if I do go for a kitesurf, it is only a matter of time before an accident or incident that might involve others coming to my help. Others that by doing so will be putting themselves at risk. Others that will then use time, money and a limited supply of resources that will, if left on the shelf, have the very real chance to save lives during these Covid 19 times.
Am I damaging the kitesurf sport reputation by saying it’s dangerous? (2020-04-09 added bit)
I’m only saying it’s more dangerous than surfing, in terms of risk to kitesurfing participants and that incidents can bring others within the current Covid 19 2m social distancing eg a boat comes out to rescue you, or you need medical treatment following an injury.
Kitesurfing has a long consistent image of being a potentially high adrenaline extreme sport. Red Bull big air competitions. Woo leader boards, a UK kitesurf pro hitting all the UK media for jumping Brighton Pier, magazine covers of kite surfing huge waves, … etc.
If this article is read by non kitesurfers, considering it, yes there are risks. So do it with caution, take proper lessons to get started. Risk assess all your sessions, check your gear regularly etc. Also compare the stats with alternatives such as contact supports like rugby and football. If you want super high risk, apparently the highest death sport in the UK is squash from (mostly) middle age men having heart attacks when unfit and engaging in it’s burst activity nature.
I want to kitesurf when the lock down is over
The public perception of kitesurfing, that kitesurfers enjoy, is that it’s an adrenaline junky radical sport. That means that if the public see a kitesurfer out in these times, including the police, they are likely to think we are taking more of a risk than we probably are.
I know that today (5th April 2020) 2 kitesurfers have been given penalty notices for going for a kitesurf in North Wales. As the North Wales Police notice below says, a non essential journey, with associated risks and they could have tied up valuable resources had they had an accident or got into difficulty at sea …..
I’ve just looked at the above North Wales Police post on Facebook. As of this morning at 10:12 am, 6th of April, an updated count of 3,000 views, 906 comments and 993 shares. This makes all kitesurfers look bad :-(
We need to keep a reputation as safe sensible members of wider society in order to long term enjoy being able to kitesurf.
It’s already the case that the UK government are saying that if the public (ie all of us) follow the ‘mission-critical’ rules, great, but they could make the current lock down more severe. Exercise out of the home could be banned. Source https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52172035, where there’s the quote:
“So I say this to the small minority of people who are breaking the rules or pushing the boundaries: you’re risking your own life and the lives of others and you’re making it harder for us all.”
In addition to the risk of a fine, could a kitesurf mean prison with a criminal record?
Given that a man was jailed for 6 months for deliberately coughing on a police officer and another man was jailed for visiting a hospital without a medical reason, could I, by going for a kitesurf and so knowingly putting front line emergency people (the police, rescue services such as the RNLI, hospital and other health workers) at unnecessary risk be given a prison sentence.
I suspect not. But as things progress, a possible?
This also makes me want to check the third party insurance I have for kitesurfing. The insurance I get as part of my BKSA membership. By knowingly going out in conditions (the Covid 19 circumstances) that would mean an arguably poor risk assessment. Is my third party insurance still valid?
It’s OK, Coronavirus / Covid 19 cases are low in my area
So if I go kitesurfing and it goes wrong such that I need others to help, it won’t matter?
But if things do go wrong, you might have Covid 19 and so pass it to those who come your help.
Those that come to your help will be using resources, that are expected to run out. For example the ambulance team or doctor wearing Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), incase you have Covid 19. May later run out, and get it from somebody who does have Covid 19.j
I need to stay mentally and physically healthy
This might be a preferred way to exercise (it’s certainly mine).
But there are plenty of lower risk ways to stay mentally and physically healthy, that pose less of potential risk to yourself and others.
I’ll be OK, I’m relatively fit an healthy for my age
Whether in this initial hit, or the expected 2nd wave (sadly, not a cross offshore left hand wave), also sometimes called “the bounce”, most of us will get Covid 19. Of those that get it, about 80% will only have, like flu, mild, stay at home symptoms. But about 13% of us will have severe symptoms and around 4% will need Intensive Care. (Source https://informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/covid-19-coronavirus-infographic-datapack/)
Being fit and healthy will help, but the data to date suggests that although it can tip the balance, it isn’t any guarantee of survival if you get Covid 19.
I hope that for all who read this, for all those known to those reading this, none end up in Intensive Care. That when people need Intensive Care, which can so drastically improve your survival chances, your area has Intensive Care capacity. It there isn’t it’ll apparently be a very miserable, but slow and lonely death.
By the end of this, by the end of the year I suspect we will all know victims of this. Friends in Spain, where the hit of Covid 19 is currently more than ours, mostly know people this has killed. Let’s keep the spread of Covid 19 within the capacity of our emergency services, so that more survive. I hope that it won’t take people knowing friends and family, who die, alone (no visitors to Covid 19 patients) to make them take it seriously.
Each time we either spread Covid 19, to potentially beyond the capacity of the NHS, or we use up resources that could today, or down the line, save Covid 19 patients, and other patients or people in need of rescue, support etc we are making things worse, where the consequence is likely to be the death of others or ourselves.
Instead be a part of the solution.
Please either don’t go kitesurfing and help more survive in these very unique times.
OR prove my arguments wrong, so that I can go kitesurfing, I really miss it.
As the BKSA have said:
- Enjoy a walk, a run, a cycle.
- It will be windy when this is over.
- Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives.
Data sources on kitesurfing risk stats Vs other sports:
“In 2016, Christiaan van Bergen led a study that analyzed the number and the seriousness of injuries windsurfers and kiteboarding suffered in the North Sea over a two-year period.
The research observed windsurfers and kiteboarders enjoying their time in the water in the same weather and environmental conditions, and scrutinized the sports injuries presented at a coastal hospital.
“The injury rates were 5.2 per 1,000 hours of windsurfing and 7.0 per 1,000 hours of kitesurfing,” the study reveals.
“Kitesurfers had a higher injury rate, and required transport by ambulance, inpatient hospital stays and operative treatment more often than windsurfers, even though the severity of the injuries does not differ.”
“Most patients sustained minor injuries, but severe injuries also occurred, including vertebral and tibial plateau fractures. The lower extremities were affected the most, followed by the head and cervical spine, the upper extremities, and the trunk.”
With seven injuries per 1,000 hours of physical activity, kiteboarding appears listed as a relatively safe sport, especially when compared to mainstream sports.
“Surfing is regarded as a safe sport. Compared to some other sports the overall risk of injury is low (2.2 injuries per 1,000 surfing days or 0.26 injuries per surfer per year) and the large majority of injuries are not serious.”
“researchers have computed the rate of injury among competitive surfers and found they are less prone to harm than collegiate soccer or basketball players”
“”Sprains and strains to the lower extremities, particularly the knees, were found to be the most common injuries reported. This is likely due to the aggressive turning and aerial maneuvers, which score highly in competitions, but also appear to place high stress on a surfer’s knee,” “