You can’t give an opinion on this subject unless you are proficient with both, I am, although I haven’t always been.
So many articles I’ve read go on about how uncool “nappy” seat harnesses are and don’t go into the pro’s and cons in any kind of useful detail as to why either is better or worse. Mainly it is down to the aesthetic judgement of opinionated, under educated aloof freestyler who is too cool to retain any substance.
If you ask a waist harness user which harness they prefer, they will say smugly, “waist harness of course” and then slag off seat harnesses, rather than go into the merits of their harness to achieve that decision. They truth may well be that they don’t know any different.
It is my experience both can be unattractive so get over the vanity early on and you’ll be best placed to make the right decision. There are some genuine pros and cons to both aside from looks, and so you should be able to use them both well to form an educated preference as both are good for different bodies, conditions and disciplines.
Cons of a Waist Harness (the downside)
So being a woman, I’ve got boobs – more than a handful and when you’re learning, a waist harness can make you feel pretty uncomfortable. No one likes hanging off a kite at 12 with your nipples in your nostrils… at best they are nudging your earlobes. If you’re flat chested, crack on with the waist harness you wont know what I’m talking about.
To combat the above suffocation issue, the perceived solution is to tighten your waist harness to avoid it riding up. This actually achieves nothing other than making you uncomfortable, restricts your breathing and movement further.
Not only that, it delivers a figure like a hand clutching a sausage. Sexy. It still rides up, just now you can’t pull it back down and it’s cracking ribs.
I abandoned my “cool” ION waist harness fairly early on as it was impeding my progress, restricting my breathing and range of movement. Also when it did ride up it made the bar unreachable when I accidentally let go of it, which I did, a lot!
About the same time I give up trying to find kit, in particular harnesses for Women that fit and is as easily available as the mens kit. Luckily for me, I can use the same gear as the guys. Some of the ladies get fed up with the sizing and nothing being available for them, but its a fruitless fight.
My first seat harness was a set of Mens Dakine Nitrous harness shorts. They are now affectionately my “frankenshorts” as they have been somewhat modified over the years.
The spreader bar and pad switched from my ION waist as I preferred it and it didn’t twist up. To make them more feminine I asked my skill laden hubster to get his sewing machine on them and turned them into hot pants as I found the shorts heavy and a bit restrictive when wet. A few clips and strips here and there, over the years the whole thing has moulded to my body like a comfy old leather jacket.
The pro’s of a seat harness:
Other than feeling like a gun slinging bad ass, I instantly felt more comfortable and able to breathe fully, without any restricted movement in my core. As the bar and the chicken loop never stray above my navel I have full range of power at all times, even when I let go of the bar I can reach for it without too much drama unfolding. I also have a reoccurring lower back injury which didn’t twinge or ache once I made the change over.
I was able to hold down more power in the stronger winds and more confident. My stance and upwind sailing instantly improved, no more dreaded poo stance and getting pulled over the front in the gusts as the pull is from the hips not your upper body.
So all good things come to an end and my harness was really verging the side of ridiculous, desperately needed replacing before it disintegrated.
I really liked the look of this new kid on the block… The Ride Engine waist harness! I felt ready to give the waist harness another go, now strapless riding I put my previous bad experience down to inexperience and bought one.
Pros of a waist harness:
That was a while ago now, I am fully comfortable with my Ride Engine and I like it. Sure waist harnesses can bruise your ribs on a wipe out, ride up and give you titty chin and make you look a bit like a run over badger, but they also give you a massive amount of freedom from the waist down.
Great when you need nimble legs for manoeuvres, and although I’d much rather be in a seat harness in stronger winds the opposite is true for the waist harness – lighter winds a waist harness is better and certainly holds you up in a turn a little bit easier. Good support in the back, buoyancy and the warmth the waist offers is also an added bonus in the UK, although I still find them too rigid and bulky.
Cons of a seat harness?
Support is what some feel is lacking in most seat harnesses, some manufacturers have tried to put it into it and you often end up with a sort of hybrid jack of all trades. I find I am better off with the less is more approach.
The leg straps is also something to consider, they are often just webbing straps and cut in, I imagine for guys this is a massive incentive to make it work with a waist. I have opted for a Dakine Vega which has neoprene straps and are very comfy.
For freestyle, the seat can be trickier in rotations although, this is not something I have personally experienced, but probably because some pro wrote it somewhere once it has become gospel.
There is also a shortage of options in the market because they are less trendy than the waist harness, a situation I believe will change shortly with the growth of hydro-foiling where there are distinct advantages to wearing the seat.
So I have both. For all of the pro’s and cons mentioned above.
If I was just starting out with kiting again I’d go straight to seat and not worry about a waist harness until I was at an intermediate level, I wasted so much time wanting to be cool. Your harness should be the last thing you are thinking about, important to get right so you are comfortable, confident and progressing.
If you insist on the waist but want to reduce the struggle with it riding up, wear your velcro belt looser so when it does ride up, which it will no matter how tight you have it, you can just rest your kite tip down and shimmy it back into position easier. After time you will learn to do this on the fly.
Lets talk about the poo stance; despite what other blogs or forums might report, I have seen instances on poo stance much more frequently on those wearing a waist harness when over powered. It is reported that the seat encourages a poo stance, but logically, trying to ride with your arse out for any length of time in a seat is extremely difficult as the pull from the kite is naturally pulling your hips forward.
In a seat harness you will be able to hold down far greater loads in terms of power, thus faster and higher jumps.
Don’t think for a second I’ve had it easy on the RideEngine waist harness, going back to the waist was tough initially, there was a day when I went trawling the shops in Fuerta for a suitable replacement after a fairly traumatic first session of getting spanked over a reef. But I was determined to learn both as it had always bothered me that almost everyone uses waist harness and I should be happy with one too if I was to consider myself a good kiter.
For me kiting predominently in the UK, I just get more days where the seat is the better option, its more comfortable, never rides up and gives me full movement in my core, on a strapless board I get pulled off the board less in the gusts which means I can ride more powered. I use my waist harness on the lighter wind days where I might have a play on some smaller waves and practice a bit of strapless freestyle. The point being, I understand what each harness gives me and what each harnesses constraints are.