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Safety Meeting: SLE and Bow Kites

Jan 10, 2007

Author: by Rick Iossi

Flat Bow and SLE kites like the Crossbow, Sonic, Turbo Diesel and ONE are taking over the kiteboarding market. These new kites can deliver substantially increased wind range with gas-peddle-like power, higher jumps with greater hangtime, and improved waveriding properties. Unlike traditional four-line C kites, once you launch a jump you are more a kite pilot than a rider with greater control over the jump. In delivering higher performance, more refined kiter control input is often required with flat kites than with C kites. There are also significant differences in operation of flat versus C kites. Experienced C-kite riders may require two to six or more sessions to develop a feel for flat kites.

Some might remember when two-line LEI kites were starting to be replaced by four-line LEI kites around 2000. Two-line kites had a limited wind range, which could be marginally expanded through technique and exertion. Staying upwind, jumping, landing and handling a much wider wind range became much easier and less technical with the onset of four-line kites. The number of accidents also appeared to have increased with the transition from two- to four-line kites. This increase was in part attributable to the explosion in kiteboarding’s popularity, along with increased opportunity for and occurrence of operator error in more powered conditions. Operator error was a common factor in the majority of early accidents aggravated by greater kite power in higher wind ranges and kite-system complexity with four-line LEIs.

Know the kite’s wind limits
Flat kites have increased handling of higher wind ranges under normal conditions, in excess of C kites. If you are rigged big for conditions with a C kite, it is hard to miss that fact. You can easily sense the extra power and additional handling required. Your unease usually goes up with the mounting power and handling demands at the upper end. With flat kites you may not necessarily feel overpowered even if you start to approach the manufacturer’s recommended upper wind limit for a given kite. Some riders exceed this recommended upper wind limit for flat kites, sometimes by a lot. So what? If everything goes well, with no errors or surprises,
it could just be a powered session. Most people have come to learn that, in kiteboarding, things don’t always go as planned.

Potential for rider error
The potential penalties for operator error with flat kites at the high end are higher. Kiters can land hotter or faster depending on setup and sheeting while in flight. Also, your jump length and duration can be substantially extended through building gusts, sheeting and other factors. Jumping near shore or hard objects could see you jumping into them if you are careless in maintaining an adequate downwind buffer. Distance really is your friend if a great jump gets stretched out.
You can also boost higher with flat kites once you dial in the technique required. Unlike C kites with some flat kites you can easily kill much of the power that threw you way up there in the first place mid-flight. This sort of operator error can drop you like a rock, and from 30 to 40 foot plus, that can hurt and cause injury.
Another type of rider error in well-powered conditions is sheeting in too much or freezing sheeted in when you should be sheeting out or easing off the power. In theory, by sheeting in at the wrong time you may be flying a kite approaching an effective area three times an appropriate kite size for the conditions. That equates to roughly nine times the power.
Relaunching and solo-launching flat kites can offer additional challenges in high wind with “hot” or downwind launches. Unlike C kites, you should have the ability to sheet out (bleed off) the power during the hot launch and avoid being launched yourself. If you lock up, maybe not.

Regarding tricks with flat hybrid kites in high wind ranges

Over-confidence mustered by ease of the experience on a flat kite might have kiters throwing tricks they might not bother with in similar conditions with C kites. With the increased jump height, length, duration and more spins, it is possible that kiter orientation and timing could be off. This could result in hard landings. Kiters need to plan for and evaluate these changes in performance.

Rig the right size
Despite the extraordinary wind range, kiters benefit from selecting the proper flat kite size for actual wind conditions. Usually, kites well selected for conditions have a lighter feel, are more manoeuvrable and jump better. In other words, they’re more fun. As with C kites, you lose these qualities by rigging too big and also gain a higher level of risk and exertion.

Kiters tend to rise to challenges and push the envelop. With the increased capacity of flat hybrid kites, this can result in some incredible sessions but also some bad ones, if things don’t go particularly well through overconfidence and other sources of operator error. If kiters employ precautions in session planning and execution with flat kites similar to that used with C kites, odds of having a great session free of hard knocks goes up. Flat hybrids are new, and we’re all learning about their capabilities and differences. Work to avoid learning about these differences at the high wind range. Some discoveries may
hurt more than others.

Rick Iossi founded the Florida Kitesurfing Association and several other groups for safe kiteboarding access. He is an engineer and a PASA instructor.

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