Kiters love their gear and everyone has an opinion on which brands are best. The really nice part of being into kiting right now is that there have been incredible advances in kite technology and safety systems, so pretty much any new kite you buy will suit you well, as long as you take the following basic parameters into account:
Terrain you will be kiting on
This boils down to water, snow or both. If you want to kite on water and snow, consider getting a water kite (with an inflatable bladder) or a cross-over kite (with closed cell foils). If you only plan to kite on snow (or you have multiple kites for multiple terrains) then a snow foil will be a better bet for you.
Typical wind speeds in the area you will be kiting
If you can only afford one or two kites, figure out a size that will give you the most safe kiting days. Study your prospective kite's wind range and remember they tend to be generous in their specs. If you plan to get a quiver of kites so that you kite in any wind speed, go in 4m increments. No matter what kite you choose, don't fly it if the wind seems too strong or gusty.
Your level of expertise
Not all kites are suitable for beginners, so be sure to choose an entry level kite (typically with a lower aspect ratio) so that you can progress at a safe and fun pace.
Popular kite brands include Best, Ozone, HQ, Naish, North, and Cabrinha. If you are buying new, you get the latest safety systems and designs. If you are buying used, carefully weigh the benefits of getting an older kite that might be a bit worn out, might be a lower performance design and might not have some of the safety features you'd expect. There are tons of kites on Ebay, but know what you want and don't be tempted to spend your good money on something that is not suitable.
These days, you can ride pretty much anything with a kite, so that old surfboard still has potential. But, to begin your kiting career, invest in a nice twin-tip kiteboard (and check out the forum post about the Chilkat Tube). It will be well worth it. Expect to spend at least $300 for your new board. For the snow, consider that old garage-sale snowboard and give it a new lease on life. Of course, your newer board with the better bindings will be better, but don't let the cost of a new snowboard slow you down.
You'll need a good harness for water and snow. There are several variations:
- Waist Harness: these tend to ride up under the armpits and can be quite uncomfortable for women. Probably best for water kiting.
- Seat Harness: nice for a good sense of lift and snug fit. Tend to be troublesome when body-dragging in water as it forces your legs forward.
- Waist-Seat: all the benefits of the waist harness without the riding up. Nothing bad to say about this style except might be pricier.
- Climbing Harness: similar to the seat harness, but be sure that it has a proper hook. A carabiner is not the safest way to attach to your kite.
Other Good Ideas
- Helmet! Find a decent helment and wear it each time you kite. Nothing will ruin your day quicker than a bonk on the head!
- The wetsuit/drysuit question boils down to access and cost. Both work just great. For wetsuits you are probably fine with a good 4/3mm since you will be out of the water most of the time. Board shorts usually don't cut it in Alaska.
- In our cold Alaska waters, wear a life-jacket and perhaps carry a waterproof VHF radio with you if you are heading away from shore.
- Carry a knife or line-cutter
- Kite with on-shore or side shore winds so that you will eventually wash up on shore if you have issues.
- Kite with a buddy.