Jun 9, 2011
Author: SBC Kiteboard Test Team
2011 Buyers’ Guide and Test
Freestyle/Wakestyle Kite Showdown
Head Tester: Shane Thompson
Test Team: John Bryja, Chris Cram, Mikael Lanoe, Joel Shave, Daniel Steiner, Brent Stockman
This year offers plenty of options for every flavour of freestyle rider. Whether your future bag of tricks includes unhooked Handle Passes, Raleys and Mobes, 30-foot Mega Loops or Board-off-aerials, there is more than one style of kite to choose from in 2011. For this issue’s test, our team of experienced riders put an assortment of models to a head-to-head analysis in some perfect flatwater slick conditions in Hatteras, N.C. With our own slick just 300 metres from the test house, we had a ton of perfect sessions to discover how each kite caters to the grand expanse of style and performance within the freestyle discipline.
Each manufacturer is having refinement success in their designs and the kite technology continues to evolve in precise increments as the demands of riders continue to push the limits of freestyle. The level of riding, driven by team riders, continues to evolve and is becoming more fluid and powerful. Kite performance has helped with this evolution as the lift, control and pull of the kites have improved, as has handling, wind range, and power delivery. Looking at the different designs, there are four distinct styles that continue to evolve and provide awesome diversity for the modern kiteboarder.
The newest design trend is the three-strut Delta hybrid. Popularized by the success of the Liquid Force Envy, the ‘beyond Delta’ concept has spread as the three-strut Delta hybrid has become a popular choice for the all around bridled performance with the emphasis on good unhooked performance and simplicity and ease of use for all conditions and disciplines. Following this trend, both the Naish Park and the new F-One Bandit have emerged as new three-strut wonders with Delta and C-kite capability combined. With improvements in construction materials and bridle design, these lightweight and nimble handling kites provide exciting levels of freestyle performance with simplicity, stability, wind range and safety. All three also have exceptional crossover performance for waves or freeride with fast pivotal turns that combine smooth power delivery through the turn for quick and smooth Kite Loops and powered transitioning. The Envy shows the highest levels of refinement, as the second evolution of the three-strut Delta shape. It has the most consistent low-end power and smooth consistent pull and ultra stability in the air. The Park is the fastest of the bunch with rocket speed, lightning turns and the most nimble handing of the trio. The Bandit, with its completely new turn shows exciting levels of high-end performance with the most boost and glide for the high-altitude freestyle rider.
The C-kite platform is still a dominating force when it comes to unhooked freestyle and powered moves. The C-kites generate the most power through the Loop with their full wing tip and can boost big, and unhook with buttery smooth control that lets the rider concentrate on the manoeuvre. These C-kite generate the most efficient load and pop with the best control as they sit back in the window and offer the most slack in the lines after big pop and drift. In this test, the North Vegas and the Slingshot Fuel continued their duel as two of the top performing C-kites on the market. The Fuel’s four-line simplicity delivers the traditional grunty and smooth unhooked pull that advanced new-school riders look for. With its beefy lower aspect ratio, the Fuel has unmatched pop and control while unhooked, this new Fuel catapults the traditional four-line C-kite into an new era. The Vegas has more nimble steering settings with slightly more depower and quicker steering. It can boost big and anyone who likes to go big and throw Mega Loops can count on this kite to make it back to the top of the window to ensure smooth landings. Both kites have surprisingly easy water relaunch that almost compares to the quickest of the modern bridled kites in the test. Even on the Vegas there is rarely a need to use the fifth line as both kites relaunch with steering line pulls.
The BOW kite platform has been refined by Cabrinha and Starkites to offer the smoothest park and ride power delivery of any kite on the market. The popular Cab Switchblade has a distinct smooth pull and feel that has driven it up the ranks as one of the top freestyle and freeride kites on the market. Starkites Exa also continue to impress with this year’s model as it offers quicker steering control and the most powerful transitions available. These BOW kites can unhook, boost big and deliver the goods for freestyle in less-than-ideal wind and water conditions. They suck up gusts better than C-kites and have park and pop capability that lets the rider concentrate on new moves. They are capable of freeride but less suited to wave riding than the more all-around SLE’s of the test. The Cab has a distinct smooth pull with good power delivery through the turns and good levels of useable depower, while the EXA offers more true kite flying performance and big hangtime.
SLE - Five-strut or four-strut
The four-line SLE hybrid is the most prolific C-kite design on the market today and each company has its own unique blend of hybrid design that adopts SLE, BOW shape and Delta design features to make these kites both user-friendly with high levels of depower and freestyle capable. The SLEs tested here are the top performing freestyle specific models of each brands line and they include: the Royal Era, the RRD Obsession, the Epic Screamer, the Airush Lithium, and the Best Taboo. If you want a freestyle capable kite that also has great access to wave and freeride disciplines and if you like awesome boosting capability, the SLE hybrids have evolved bridle designs to offer well-rounded performance for the masses. Each kite performed exceptionally well in a wide range of conditions and offered good unhooked performance. The Era, Obsession and Screamer are big boosting and fast pivot turning kites with good amounts of low-end power. These are all kites that like to be flown rather than park and ride, which suits them well to the advanced riders. The Lithium also showed awesome levels of low-end power and the flat, strut free centered canopy gives this kite some awesome glide with slightly less depower but good direct constant power and control. The Taboo is a chameleon of performance with each kite size offering optimization for different disciplines. The 12 m Taboo is the most well rounded with some great unhooked performance and smooth pull. The Taboo is the most versatile of this bunch with good wave capability and comparable unhooked performance to the RRD Obsession. The Obsession and the Era are similar designs with quick and direct steering that lets you aggressively fly and boost big. All of the models have levels of precision above last season and in 2011 every company is delivering enhanced construction to keep canopies solid, flutter free and capable of freestyle abuse.
So there are lots of options available to help you break through to new levels of kiting performance from freestyle to freeride to waves. The new three-strut designs are the most nimble, light handling and easy to use kites with performance. They are efficient with the wind as their light weight gives them nimble handling and stability and the great combination of powered turns in their wing tip while maintaining versatility provided by good depower. The C-kites are always an option for the hardcore dedicated freestyle rider that wants no compromise in unhooked performance. BOW designs also have emerged again as an excellent option for the smooth power delivery, gust-sucking prowess and park-and-pop performance. And the hybrid SLEs are also advancing in their ability to unhook effectively, while providing awesome capability for the aggressive rider that wants to fly his kite to new performance levels and boost huge, on demand.
Scroll down for individual 2011 Kiteboarding reviews or click here: 2011 Kiteboarding reviews
- BEST Taboo 12, 8 m
- AIRUSH Lithium 13 m, 10 m
- Cabrinha Switchblade IDS 12, 9, 7 m
- EPIC Screamer 14 m, 10 m ltd
- F-ONE Bandit IV 7 m, 11 m
- LIQUID FORCE Envy 15, 12 m
- NAISH Park 8, 10, 12 m
- North Vegas 11 m
- RRD Obsession MKIII 12, 9 m
- Slingshot Fuel 11 m
- STARKITES ExA 11 m