Buying Guide: Kiteboarding Kites
By Ian Perkins
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|The Quiver||Kite Type|
|Other Considerations||Kite Style|
Choosing the right kiteboarding kite can be complicated and intimidating. Unlike other activities, ensuring that you have the perfect equipment for the surroundings is crucial for the sport of kiteboarding. This becomes especially important when you’re looking to invest in the sport for the first time.
The first and most important thing to understand is what you’re going to be shopping for. The standard “full” kite setup is called a quiver, and it usually comprises of 3 different kites. As wind speeds and weather change and morph, kiteboarding can become dangerous. Having 3 different kites ensures that you have adequate equipment to safely enjoy a day in the breeze. Generally speaking a quiver is going to be built like this:
Large Kite – The large kite is going to be used for low wind speeds. The increased surface area spread out across the kite is going to capture more air in order to give you, the rider, better boost when launching and more power when flying. The exact size of the kite is going to vary with your specific skill level and location, but understand that you’ll need a kite specifically designed for low wind situation.
Medium Kite – Your mid level kite will be your most commonly used kite. Your medium sized kite should be effective in the widest range of wind and weather conditions and should be able to take a long term beating. Since you’re going to be riding this kite the most often, don’t skimp on rigging or the bar, invest in what you’ll be using the most and take the time to research and choose this sized kite most appropriately for where you’ll be riding the most. If you’re just starting out, this should be the first kite you purchase after your trainer kite to ensure that you’ll be able to learn in comfortable conditions.
Small Kite – You smallest kite will be used in high-wind conditions. You’ll want this to be quick and responsive in order to deal with the powerful gusts that you will/could be experiencing. Depending upon your build, experience and skill level, the size of this kite may vary, but ensure that it’s smaller than your mid-sized kite to reduce redundancy.
When looking at what kites to fill your quiver with, you’re going to want to consider the build of the kites. Generally speaking, kites are either L.E.I. – Leading Edge Inflatable, or Foil Kites – non-inflatable. This is a particularly important distinction when considering your typical kiting destination. If you’re going to be spending most of your time kiting on water, you’re going to want to invest in an L.E.I. kite. L.E.I. kites have an inflatable tube that keeps them above the water so re-launching is easier and safer. Foil kites, designed for snow and land use will fill with water when submerged and effectively turn into an anchor. L.E.I. kites can be used anywhere, in any conditions, Foil kites can only be used on land either on the snow or as a trainer kite.
Location – Where you’re going to be kiting should be a top consideration when stocking your quiver. Do some research into what the wind conditions are like in the area you’ll be kiting. Inland lakes and ocean shores have vastly different wind patterns and require different sizes and shaped kites to handle the changing circumstances. Your midsized kite should be catered to your primary kiting destination while your small and large kites can cater and expand you’re potential conditions.
Terrain – In considering your location, also consider terrain. Will you be on snow or ice? Will you only be in the water? Different kites will handle different kite terrain more effectively than others so understand what you’re going to be riding on.
Size / Body Build – It’s also important to make sure that your body size and build match the kite and the bar that you’re buying. Smaller people generally require smaller kites while larger people require larger kites. People of a larger build will require more wind power to get up out of the water than those of a smaller build, therefore, they require a kite that will generate more power and vise versa.
Complete / Incomplete – Be sure to pay attention whether the kite you are purchase is considered to be “complete” or “incomplete.” While this won’t affect performance, it will affect price. For the most part, kites are sold as “incomplete” meaning they do NOT come with lines or a bar, however, you can find some that come as a “complete” package of kite, lines and a control bar. You’re going to need all 3 pieces, so be sure to check and see whether you’re buying a “complete” kite, or if you’re going to need to purchase bars and lines as well.
Trainer Kites – Trainer Kites are suggested for all first time kiters. It often takes time to learn the balance and feel that the ever changing wind can create so starting out with a smaller, less powerful kite will help beginners safely learn to handle the ropes. If you’re athletically prone, you’ll probably get through the process of learning on a trainer kite fairly quickly, but spending the time getting used to the pull of the kite can prevent potentially serious injuries. Trainer kites are smaller than standard use kites. They can be either foil or L.E.I. and will generally be designed for easy launch/re-launch. They’re designed to de-power quickly in the event of an emergency and encourage movement and steering. They’re used exclusively on land to teach steering, balance and control.
Once you’ve mastered the movement and feel of the trainer kite, there are many different aspects to the style of kiteboarding that a rider can take part in.
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.
Surfing – 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. Sometimes this requires riding without foot straps, allowing the riders to maneuver their feet to improve balance and propulsion from the wave. Strapped riders use the power of the wind (a.k.a. the kite) to position themselves on top of the wave.
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 fin design for optimal control and speed.
Snow/Land – Any kite on the market can be used for snow and land kiting. With no danger of submersion, snow and land kiting can be achieved with any kite that is strong enough to propel you.
When purchasing a kite take some time to consider the style of kiting that you intend on doing. You do not need to limit yourself to one style, obviously, but keep in mind that kites are made for certain activities. Generally speaking, kites are designed to handle a combination of ride styles, I.E. “freestyle/freeride,” or “race/wakestyle.” When you’re getting ready to purchase make sure that the kite you’re buying matches the activities you want to partake in.
Turning Speed – Turn speed defines the ability for the kite to maneuver through the wind during performance turns. Those with faster turn speeds will allow for smoother movement on the water/snow and more fluid motions in the air.
Relaunchability – The ease of which a kite can be launched or re-launched from the ground makes a huge difference in performance on the water. After depowering or taking a tumble a relaunchable kite can make or break a riders experience and safety.
Upwind Performance – The upwind performance determines how your kite will perform when tacking back upwind. Kites that perform better will allow you more freedom of movement in multiple directions, decreasing the need for the infamous “walk of shame” caused by getting stuck up the beach and having to manually walk back to your starting position.
Boost Performance – Boost performance involves the rider’s ability to be lifted off the surface. Faster, more dominant boost performance allows for more tricks, better maneuverability and an all around more dynamic riding experience.
Hang Time – For those looking to get some serious airtime, look for kites with a higher hang time performance rating. More time in the air means a more comfortable float, more time for tricks and greater distances covered.
Low End Power – Low end power affects how the kite is going to perform under poor wind conditions. Generally, larger kites are going to have better low-end power; however, some small kites will maneuver and perform better in low wind than others. Take this into consideration when purchasing a kite if you plan on riding in areas with less than optimal wind conditions.