With the massive number of kite options available today, the decision of replacing your old kite or purchasing your first kite may seem like a monumental challenge. Even deciphering which specific model from the same company’s kite line can get confusing. The best course of action is to try out as many different kite models as you can. Talk to your friends and kite peers about what they like about their kites, and consult with your local shops and kite schools to find out what they recommend. Remember, nothing beats the try-before-you-buy purchase, so try out as many different kites and model sizes as you can.
To help you prioritize your demo list, the SBC Test Team was hard at work this past fall in Cape Hatteras, NC, where they rode the top models of 2014. Headquartered for two weeks at Watermen’s Retreat in the village of Waves and compiled by a team of veteran riders, the SBC team logged a ton of solid test sessions that were split between oceanside, wave smacking, downwinders and ripping up all the famous slick locations of Pamlico Sound. In general, the test scores were favourable for all of the kites in this round. There are some solid improvements over last season’s designs and some new models that match the refinement necessary to keep pace with the legends.
Kite performance is still edging forward, offering more consistent handling, better water relaunch and better power delivery and range than ever before. The options are vast, with many brands offering multiple models that include designs that are wave-, freestyle-, or race-specific, as well as many general freeride models that encompass multiple kite disciplines and varying skill levels. With all the options and solid performance in both kites and boards, it’s a great time to get into kiteboarding or press your skills into new areas and disciplines of riding. In this test, the top brands provided their top kites for head-to-head results in both Wave and Freeride categories. The Freeride category is organized into several subcategories that best reflect the varied blends of kite performance that cater to certain riding styles, skill levels and disciplines. The dedicated Wave category of kites are also analyzed separately from the multi-use wave/freeride models.
Progression and Beyond: Expand Your Skill Set
Airush Lithium, Best Kahoona+, Cabrinha Vector, Core Riot XR3, HQ Ignition, Liquid Force Envy
This group of kites represents the models of the Freeride category that not only have the best performance qualities for learning the basics but also for developing the skills required to catapult your riding and flying skills to higher levels. Opting for one of these models can help hone your skills for new kite disciplines and more advanced maneuvers. These kites are all easy sheet-and-go and have great stability, easy water relaunch ability and are ready to handle a variety of conditions in waves or flatwater. Overall, the Airush Lithium 12m received the most praise and held a slight scoring edge for its unique blend of fast turning and smooth handling coupled with good low-end power. The Riot XR3 also scored well for its great low-end power and big gliding and jumping prowess. It has a more gentle, predictable and smooth turn rather than nimble and fast pivot. The Riot XR3 grants any rider the confidence to boost and soar with great hang time.
The Vector 12m was close behind the Riot XR3 in low-end power, and it offered similar smooth and easy jumping ability but with slightly less hang time. With the bar set to the outside setting, however, the Vector is capable of faster pivotal turns that better equip it for waves or faster looping transitions. If light-touch steering and point-and-go performance simplicity is what you’re looking for, the Best Kahoona takes the trophy for easy handling with less feedback and friction on your lines. It had the lightest touch steering of the group, which makes it ideal for the less experienced rider who wants to concentrate on board skills. Progressing riders who want a kite that is simple, stable and easy should consider the Kahoona.
The Ignition HQ scored impressive marks for a first-year model, and it sets itself up with easy-to-handle performance for the beginner but with plenty of top end for the more advanced. It was one of the most tunable kites for a great range of feel and different handling options enabled by its adjustable bridle system. If you’re looking for a kite that can change from a light-touch, high depower kite to more direct and grunty freestyle kite, this is a great choice. For pure ease of use combined with a big advantage for unhooked freestyle, you can’t overlook the LF Envy. It has amazingly smooth, power and pull, and it is the best kite of this group for ease of use combined with unmatched unhooked performance. If you’re a fast-learning grom or an aspiring wakestyle and park-oriented rider, the Envy offers the pop and drift performance that outpaces the rest of this group.
Unhooked Freestyle: Pushing the Limits of New-School
Cabrinha Switchblade 11m, Core GTS 10m, Slingshot RPM 11m
This group of models has advantages for unhooked freestyle that sets them apart. Their flying character offers smooth, unhooked pull, big pop and ideal slack line drift that’s required for easier handlepassing. Choosing a favorite between these four models is difficult, as they have more distinct feel and blend of freeride and freestyle performance. The purest high-end, unhooked performance has to go to the Core GTS; it’s a pure unhooked master. It doesn’t have a lot of depower at arm’s reach, sits deeper in the window and provides nice slack and pop. It has the purest C kite shape of the group, with ultra-wide wing tips and a deep profile.
The Slingshot RPM takes a very close second for ideal unhooked pop, but it’s also smoother pulling and easier to use. The RPM has more instant depower than the GTS. The RPM also offers decent wave capabity in the smaller sizes and more overall versatility than the others. The Cabrinha Switchblade has the most pull and power of any in this group, and the smooth delivery, big power and huge pop offer the greatest jumping and hang time of the group, and the most prominent all-around freeride prowess. It’s not as nimble as the GTS or the RPM in its steering, but if low-end power and an extra kick in jumping unhooked or hooked in is what you want, then you can count on the legendary Switchblade.
Masters of All-Terrain Freeride
North Rebel 9m, Naish Park 9m, F-One Bandit VII 10m, North Evo 9m
Three of these kites are generationally mature models that have led the way in Freeride All-Terrain category with high levels of performance that span from waves to freestyle to wakestyle. The North Evo is a reworked model for 2014 that has pushed its way into this group with its great blend of performance in freeride, freestyle and waves. It has the ability to be either a five- or four-line kite, which adds to its convenience and versatility. Compared to its legendary brother, the Rebel, the Evo has slightly more instant depower with more on-and-off power delivery, which can be advantageous for onshore waves or beginners who want extra and instant depower.
The North Rebel has the most low-end grunt of the group, with the biggest and most aggressive boosting character. It’s a workhorse in any condition, and has solid, on-demand power that provides great upwind drive and unwavering stability through any gust or aggressive flying tactic. The Rebel feels slightly less nimble and light in the air than the others, but it powers through gusts and has the best upper-end range of the group. The Naish Park has also been a top performer that always scores big with the test riders. It has well-rounded performance for both waves and unhooked freestyle. If your daily routine typically includes both booted up, wakestyle expression session followed by some strapless wave action, then you should try this kite. It has the unique blend of performance for unhooked freestyle and is also more capable than most for high-end wave action. Of the group it feels the most comfortable to unhook and lets you work on more technical unhooked moves. It also has the fastest pivotal turns of the group, with ability to pivot instantly on one wing tip, giving it an edge in the waves.
The Bandit is the most well-rounded for waves and freestyle. It has the ability to adapt to any situation and provide unhindered performance regardless of condition or discipline. It has the smoothest and most instant depower of the three, which gives it an edge in certain wave conditions. It has fast, pivotal turns that generate power smoothly and consistently, and it also has better upper-end wind range than the Park. Ultimately, each of these kites are masters of their class and should be on your demo list in 2014.
High Performance Freeride: Big Air, More Power, No Limits
Liquid Force NRG 10m, Best TS 12m, Epic Screamer 4G 12m, Flysurfer Cronix 10m
If aggressive big air, more power and drive through the turns and big performance in a user-friendly four-line setup is the thing you’re looking for, then put these kites on your wish list. Each of these models is fast, direct and aggressive, with more power through the loop and more power to utilize for big air and fast riding. They have big boosting capability, fly fast and can provide the best lift and drift of any kites in the general Freeride category.
The Screamer 4G will boost you to new heights and offers the biggest hang time of the group, combined with precision handing to ensure you land softly. The Screamer has a less direct feel than the NRG or TS, but its hang time is legendary. For smooth and precise handling, great low-end power and the best upwind drive of the three, the LF NRG will keep you excited about pushing the boundaries. The NRG likes to have the power on while you drive it, and rewards the more aggressive rider with exciting handling and powerful sweeping turns. This kite is ready to handle the most advanced level freestyle maneuvers at top speed and altitudes.
The smoothest and most consistent handling of these three goes to the Best TS. It has aggressive boost like the other two, but has smoother power delivery and is better for unhooked maneuvers. The Flysurfer Cronix has the most low-end power for its size, and some amazing lift and boost. The wide wing tips also provide great forward pull through the kite loop, which can be fun to use for transitions or soft landings from high altitudes. The Cronix also offers unique performance, with a rear relaunch bridle and the ability to change foil shape for more lower- and upper-end wind range. If you want to be the biggest boosting kiter at your beach and have a kite with performance options that you’ll never outgrow, these kites are the ideal choice.
Surf’s Up—and More
Blade Trigger 7m, North Dice 9m, Naish Trip 10m, Slingshot Rally 9m
There are lots of freeride models that have the capable blend of performance that will give you the edge for riding waves. All the models of this group are both wave-ready but also ideal for other aspects of kiteboarding beyond waves. The Naish Trip is the most unique of the group, with its no-strut canopy. It has fast, pivotal steering and quick depower with a lot of available depower throw that can keep you on the wave. Its lightweight frame offers amazing drift and keeps the kite airborne while you run down-the-line. The Trip is the ultimate travel companion kite that packs up so small you could stash it in your surfboard bag and have a single kite for you surf trip ready for when the wind blows and the surf is less than ideal for paddling in. It doesn’t have the boosting ability of the other three, but it will keep you excited on the multi-sport trips.
The Blade Trigger is an easy-to-use kite that works well for beginners, but also performs in the waves for the more advanced. Its quick, pivotal turns and quick depower outfit the kite nicely in the surf. It has slightly less high-end performance in boosting or unhooked realm than the Dice or the Rally, but for ease of use it takes top marks. The Rally and the Dice scored the big marks in the test and were equal performers in the waves. The Rally has evolved into an all-terrain master that rivals some of the best of the do-it-all-without-compromise group. It has bigger boost and drift than the Dice but slightly slower and pivotal turning speed.
The North Dice is a new model from North that wowed Test Team riders with its quick and smooth pull and sporty feel. It felt fresh and exciting to ride, with fast pivotal turns that have excellent, smooth power delivery through the loop. The Dice rivals some of the legendary models offering a great blend of unhooked freestyle performance that combines with good drift and handling that’s ideal for waves. So if you’re looking to get into waveriding but also want a great kite for riding when the surf is not cooperating, put these models on your list.
Head-to-Head Wave Kites: Pure Wave Dedication
Cabrinha Drifter 9m, Airush Wave 9m, Epic Surf 12m, Best Cabo 10m
More companies are producing pure wave specialty kites for those who prefer the dedicated handling for riding waves. Each of these dedicated wave kites posses the key performance traits that make a great wave kite: good range and instant depower, fast, pivotal turns and excellent slack line drift. They are also built with some extra durability to help withstand the perils of pounding surf. Overall, the Test Team gave the Cabrinha Drifter the top scores of the dedicated Wave kite group. The Drifter is true to its name, sitting perfectly in the pocket and offering the most balanced drift and smooth pull when riding down-the-line. The Airush Wave had the most significant instant depower and arguably the fastest no-pull pivotal turns. The Wave pivots off a single wing tip with quick speed and reactivity, even well fully sheeted-out. This kite also has the narrowest leading edge of the group, and seems to slip upwind to get to the back side quicker than the others. Because it sits slightly more forward in the window than some of the others, it does take extra feathering to keep it in the perfect drift position.
The Epic Surf 12m was the biggest dedicated wave kite of the group, and was in a class of its own for lightwind waveriding. It has the most unique performance of the group, and for a jumbo-sized wave kite it offers advantages when you’re actually on a wave that standard freeride kites lack. Its ability to pivot from its center without any forward pull in any position in the window makes it ideal for staying in that sweet spot on the wave. Fast turning for a 12 m with light-touch steering, the Surf will suit any rider who wants the ultimate performance in lighter winds or heavier currents. The Best Cabo 10m is a well-balanced kite, with a lightweight three-strut frame that makes it ideal for riding waves. It has the most well-rounded performance and would be ideal for freeriding and even some freestyle. The Cabo would cater to any rider who wants a dedicated wave kite but also needs something to have fun with when the surf is not cooperating. If a dedicated wave kite is in your future quiver, each of these models is up to the task.
Be sure to check out the individual test reviews to help find your perfect kite.