May 16, 2008
Author: John Bryja
It all started in the ’70s in a basement on the coast of Belgium. Eric Hertsens was addicted to windsurfing and needed small three-metre sails to ride the North Sea storms. There wasn’t as much equipment available then, so out came the scissors. He started modifying existing sails and boards—at the age of 17. From that moment on, designing became a lifetime quest. He has since custom-built or modified all the equipment he needs to have fun: parachutes, windsurfers, sky boards, snowboards and now kites.
Hertsens’ kite designs have been used to start up big and small brands over the years, and Freak Dog Kites is the latest addition to the list. In this case, Freak Dog’s kites are produced from the same patterns and fabrics as Hertsens’ own EH kites. Basically, Freak Dog is EH in the U.S.
Ariel Corniel won the PKRA World Cup event in Cabarete, Dominican Republic, on an EH Ripper, or Freak Dog Vicious. How does that kite’s SLE design differ from what other brands are doing?
Just look at them in the sky. You can easily spot an EH design. They are the flattest design out there, with the most projected area for its size. Also, the Ripper is a kite that is easily configured for either pure waveriding or hardcore freestyle. The Ripper is not a kite for the beginner; it starts performing from 14 knots and up, whatever the size. Selecting a size is more a matter of body weight, and with a 15-knot range, you’ll only need two kites to cover most usable winds.
When others were looking at the beginner applications of bow kites, you were exploring pro-level performance. How did that come about?
I have a rule, and that is not to be dictated by marketing. In the end, we go our own way design-wise. In the early bow days I was a nonbeliever. The pulleys and the bar pressures, plus the long, complicated bridle systems, were a big no for me. I could not believe anyone would buy such a thing. Then my distributors and friends pushed me to start working on a bow or SLE. So I started the process, building proto after proto, and quickly learned that to be different I needed to go flat, and to achieve this I needed to get the licence from Bruno [Legaignoux] so I could integrate the concave trailing edge to keep it tensioned and the supported LE to keep it all balanced. Now, two years later, we have three different lines of flat kites that stand on their own in the kite world. This development is far from over. Our last protos have taught us a thing or two on low-end power.
What trends do you predict in kiteboarding over the coming years? Are you planning any specific new products?
Surf is in. I see more and more people go for the surfboards. Lightwind performance will be a field that I will dedicate myself to now that the highwind Ripper design is finalized. We already have a 13-metre ultra-flat that packs more power than a 20-metre C shape. One thing I’ve noticed is the fact that most people are stuck in what they know about kiteboarding. The old rules do not apply anymore, like with our Eze. You can use a much smaller kite to do what larger kites once dominated, and the need for such a huge board is not exactly what is needed now. With Freak Dog, we put the size of the canopy in a huge print to boast the fact that a 13-metre can do what a 17- or 20-metre can do. Or the way our Ripper/Unleashed handles gusts. The rider can feel much safer controlling a smaller kite and focus on tricks and enhancing their riding styles.
Any specific tuning tips for the 2008 kite line?
Just hook your bar to the kite and go. Then, after about 10 to 20 hours of use, move the rear lines up one knot on the rear leaders to make up for the stretch of the front lines. An EH bar is trimmed right when all the lines have the same tension and the C loop rests against the bar.
What excites you most about kite design?
Lightwind power. I love to see Ariel do double handlepasses in eight to 10 knots. Yesterday was a day like that. A Cabarete guest was trying to get going with a 20-metre C shape, and Louis Perlata was blasting around doing all his unhooked tricks on a much smaller kite.