Buying Guide: Kiteboards
By Ian Perkins
The type of kiteboard you use for your kite sports not only provides a vehicle for your movement, but it also defines how and what you’ll be riding. For snow kiting you’ll be riding on a standard snowboard or ski setup. For more information on choosing the right snowboard or ski setup you can check here, however for this guide we’ll be covering kiteboards for water.
Click on a section to jump ahead to that section:
|Flex||Base Specs||Boot Friendly|
Similar to kites, kiteboards have specific uses that they are built and designed for. The differences involve the materials used, flex, shape, size and construction. Take a look at what style of riding you’ll most often be doing and choose a board that is appropriately built for it.
Freeride – This is the most popular style of kiteboarding. It is comprised of hitting all type of water. Spending the day cruising the coast under the colorful shadow of a beautiful kite. Most riders are more concerned with having fun and learning techniques to improve the status of their skill.
Freestyle – Freestyle riding is all about big air and awesome tricks. The “go anywhere” format calls for format free riding with riders hitting every wave, big or small and pulling only the coolest tricks.
Surf – Surf style kiteboarding requires surf style waves. This hybrid kite/surf sport involves riding the board like a surfboard with highly dynamic footwork and constant board manipulation. This can be done with or without foot straps, allowing the riders to maneuver their feet to improve balance and propulsion from the wave.
Wake/Cable – Tricks and aerials performed on flat water or in surf using the waves as kickers. The boards often involve full boots, similar to what is worn on a wakeboard. The skill set is similar to wakeboarding.
Race – Either course based or free-for-all, race style kiting is all about achieving the maximum speed over a set distance. Major differences involve more powerful kites to draw more wind power and special boards with specific fins designed for optimal control and speed.
Light Wind – You’ll often see boards that are used/good for light wind conditions. Generally speaking, wide directional boards or large twin tips will also be good for light wind conditions. When the wind doesn’t have much power it makes it hard to plane out your board to ensure a smooth landing. Wider and larger boards will create more surface area as you descend out of the wind to provide easier planing and softer landings.
Snow/Land - Snow and land kiting is done with the use of Skis, Snowboards or ATB’s. ATB’s are “all terrain boards,” essentially giant skateboards with A/T tires on them. These boards take kiting to the next level, allowing transportation through fields, beaches and dirt.
After you’ve chosen your riding style, you’re going to want to consider is what sized board you have. The size of the board affects speed, maneuverability and float (water and air). For beginners, you’re going to want to start with a larger sized board. This will give you more stability, better balance, and more controlled edging. As you progress to the more advanced level, you’re going to grow into smaller boards that are quicker, lighter and more maneuverable.
|Weight (lbs)||Board Size (cm)|
As you’ll notice from the chart above, there is overlap in the weight/size ratio. This is to allow for beginner-advanced skill level constraints. When choosing a size, first find your weight range and then consider the size that you’ll want within that range. A beginner who weighs 135lbs might want a board in the 140-148cm range, while an advanced rider who weighs 135lbs might want a 134-140cm board.
Once you’ve determined the size of your kiteboard it’s time to figure out what shape you need. There are three standard shapes when it comes to kiteboarding boards.
Twin Tip – The twin tip board is the most common and most popular board for riding. With a symmetrical shape from end to end, the twin tip allows for riders to switch from front side to backside with equal distribution and comfort on both sides. Twin Tip boards are also the most condition friendly boards to ride on, able to perform in any wind or wave style. Beginners looking to start out should invest in a twin tip board for easy learning and comfortable riding.
Directional – The directional board is ideal for catching and riding waves. Shaped more like a surfboard than a wakeboard, directional boards are build for carving and maneuvering through waves. The biggest challenge with riding this board is that riders need to move their feet around when changing directions. While this is a simple action, it can be challenging for new riders trying to get their balance down. Riders looking for big air, big jumps and spinning tricks can get some play, but would do better with a twin tip board. Directional boards are better suiting for riders looking to catch the biggest and baddest waves on the water.
Hybrid – Sometimes called the “mutant” board, these boards are designed for multi-purpose riding. They combine the feel and float of a directional board with the ability to ride backwards like a twin tip. Riders looking for hybrid boards are generally looking for a board that handles big waves like a surfboard and flat water like a twin tip. This is accomplished by changing the shape of the board to look similar (but not exactly symmetrical) to a twin tip board and then mount directional fins on both sides of the board. All in all the hybrid board rides like a directional board with the added advantage of backwards performance.
Flex determines the bend of the board. It represents how and why a board moves and bends on the water and in the air. There are two main types of flex; longitudinal and torsional. Longitudinal flex covers how the board bends from end to end in a straight line. Longitudinal flex determines how the board is going to perform when riding over choppy waves and how it’s going to perform during tricks and airtime. Torsional flex affects how the board maneuvers and turns. Torsional flex runs from opposite corners in an “x” shape across the middle of the board and determines how the board will handle going upwind or during the “pop” stage of the jump. Flex is often described in five different degrees:
Very Soft – Boards with very soft flex allow for a lot of play on the water. They generally run a little slower but allow for a bit for fun on the water. Intermediate to advanced riders will know a very soft board when they find one.
Soft – For those looking to play, but not wanting to lose all the speed, a soft board might be right for you.
Medium – Most boards will have a medium degree of flex. These are great boards for beginning riders trying to find their style with the perfect combination of control and play.
Stiff – For riders looking for more pop and better control in the chop, a board with more stiffness might be right for you. Also allows for better planing in the air.
Very Stiff – Advanced riders looking for optimal control in choppy waters, racers looking for speed and big air kiters will be looking for boards that are very stiff. Stiffness allows riders to plane out in the air, and doesn’t give or impact under the stress of repeated waves.
Boards are often made with multiple dimensions to the base. Rather than just a regular flat bottomed base, certain boards will have a concave layer to them to increase water speed under the board. The area of the board that remains concave are generally about 3-7mm thick, depending, and create more than just water speed. Concave board sections also create different flex and stiffness patterns as well as allowing for better grip on the water. A board will perform differently depending upon the number of concaves that you have.
Boards that are boot friendly are generally going to be for wakestyle and cable course boards. Any wakeboarding style boot/binding will mount directly onto the board itself, giving more control over the board with less freedom of movement.
To sum it all up, when getting ready to purchase your kiteboard take some time and analyze where and what you’ll be doing, then consider all of these properties so you can effectively choose the right board for you. Most importantly, sit down and figure out where and how you would like to be riding. After that, you should consider the appropriate size and shape to best fit your needs. Analyzing these three basic points should narrow down about 90% of the kiteboards on the market, making for an easier shopping experience.