Apr 19, 2011
Author: Shane Thompson / SBC Kiteboard test team
photos by David Tran
Head Tester: Shane Thompson
Test Team: John Bryja, Chris Cram, Mikael Lanoe, Joel Shave, Daniel Steiner, Brent Stockman
On the heels of the hurricane season, the SBC Kiteboard Test Team gathered in Cape Hatteras, N.C., to put 11 of the industry’s top surf-suitable kites and nine directional surf shapes in a head-to-head analysis. Our goal was to decipher how different models of board and kite could handle different wind and wave conditions. In addition, we hoped to gauge each kite’s suitability to perform in other disciplines of riding as most kiteboarders don’t confine their session exclusively to wave riding. Riding the surf can be the most satisfying kiteboarding experience. Beach, point and reef breaks create a natural park but unlike the man-made parks with their sliders and kickers, it’s moving masses of water that add the dynamic factor to the kite-riding experience. Getting the best wave session not only takes an advanced level of kite control but also respect and knowledge of the conditions.
If you think you are ready to try your hand in the surf, we encourage you to consult your local shop about what gear is best suited to the conditions you are riding, your experience level and your personal style of riding. Practice with your surfboard and kite in flat water to get ready for the wave sessions and take some lessons from a knowledgeable pro on what you need to know to get the most out of each wave day. A wave session can quickly turn into the most frustrating and devastating experiences when things go wrong and the ocean has its way with you and your gear. Having the right plan, knowledge of the site and the right equipment setup are all key factors to getting the most of each wave session. Fortunately all of the top kite companies are producing an awesome array of newly designed equipment that suits the entire range of wave-riding conditions and riding styles.
Most companies have one or two kites that are branded as the most suitable for waves, and all of the kites tested here are freeride, all-terrain capable, and able to conform to a variety of disciplines. So when you go to choose which new kite is best suited to your wave-riding skills, it’s important to understand what blend of performance characteristics you will most benefit from. Many advanced or intermediate riders that regularly ride waves, also ride a twin tip and indulge in freestyle or wakestyle riding. The best surf setup will be defined by your own personal preference of feel and style. Having the right setup for the type of conditions you’re facing and the style of riding you want to do can help advance your wave-riding skills and ensure that those epic wave session are in your near future.
Styles of wave riding
There are several styles and sub-styles of kite surfing and each are dictated by personal preference of riding as well as the conditions at hand. One of the fastest growing and increasingly popular styles is riding the board without foot straps, a.k.a., riding strapless. Riding strapless gives a more traditional surfing feel and lends to a style that mimics real surfing. Riding without straps gives you more freedom to alter your stance and can be easier for transitioning directions quickly as you need not worry about tripping over your foot straps. The two sub-styles of strapless riding are unhooked or hooked-in wave riding. Unhooked is often considered the most visually fluent and traditionally surf-like. It appeals to the traditionalist progressive surfer crowd that makes kitesurfing look and feel as much like real surfing as possible. Unhooking and surfing the wave requires more ideal sideshore or side-off conditions, smoother wave faces as the kite needs to park and drift at the right spot in the window to stay on the wave. Hooked-in wave riding is the most prominent wave-riding style and is done with or without footstraps. The kite can be used to generate more drive and be depowered quickly to position the rider in the right spot on the wave. Finally, the most powered and hardest carving style of wave riding is the hooked-in and powered riding that opens possibilities of doing more trick aerials and manoeuvres on the wave. Strapped riding is better for higher wind and bigger wave conditions or choppier wave conditions. Hooked-in and strapped, a rider can pull more speed into the board and drive faster down the wave and into the bottom turns.
Head-to-head in the Waves
All 11 kites were wave-capable with acceptable water relaunch capability, decent amounts of depower and good stability. In the water-relaunch category the top three standouts were the Epic Renegade, the Griffin Chimera, and the Starkites SBOW. Closely behind the leading pack for easy water relaunch were the Airush Varial and the North Rebel.
Instant, arm’s-length depower is important for onshore wave riding because it enables you to and pull into the pocket and shut off the power. It lets you stay at the right spot on the wave, sometimes without the kite pulling you off. The most capable instant depower kites of the test were the Varial, the Slingshot Rally and Star SBOW. If you were riding in onshore or side-on conditions, these kite have an extra bit of instant depower to make the most of an onshore session.
For balanced drift and stability and wave riding in powered side shore or side off condition the standouts are the North Rebel, and the Cabrinha Nomad, and the Liquid Force Havoc. These were the models with the smoothest power delivery through the turns and their rock-solid stability, and balanced drift really let you concentrate on carving up and down the face of the wave. Fast pivotal turning adds performance advantages while in the waves, because it lets you change the direction of the kite quickly to either stay on the wave or get out off of the wave before it closes out on your head. The fastest pivotal turning came from the Naish Park, and the Slingshot Rally.
For unhooked wave styles, you need a kite that can pull smoothly and not runaway downwind when you unhook and the Liquid Force Havoc, Naish Park and GK Trix were the top three for unhooking and pasting wave faces.
Alternate Disciplines: Wakestyle, Freestyle, All-Terrain
If boosting big hangtime and pulling manoeuvres at 20-foot-plus is your gig then the flatter-shaped canopies with the more swept wing tips deliver the goods. The Airush Varial, the Renegade, and the Griffin Chimera all had the big boosting and hangtime capability. Ironically, these kites, along with the GK Trix and the Star SBOW, are also better suited to the entry-level rider because of their good stability, and more instant-access depower. For the powered freestyle and unhooked the standouts are the Naish Park and the Liquid Force Havoc, and the F One Bandit. The wider wing tip and more C-like performance of these kites will make them the more popular choice among the booted, park and wakestyle riders. For all-around freeride, all-terrain performance, the Cabrinha Nomad and the North Rebel have the most well-rounded performance for advanced riders. They scored high in wave performance but were also top contenders for unhooking and boosting big airs.
All the individual reviews can be found here... 2011 Surf Kite Reviews.