This past fall, Kitesurfing Magazine assembled a crew of experienced test riders in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The team scored a remarkable number of sessions on the industry’s best freeride kite models. In recent years the latest kites have become much more enjoyable for the riders as the performance and handling across brands has become more standardized. With the exception of the few more revolutionary models that typically evolve into multi-generational legends, kite performance upgrades are now like software updates: you don’t know what you’re missing until you try the upgrade. Things are just faster, easier, and more intuitive than before. Each year things are tweaked and construction technology and materials are upgraded to squeeze out every ounce of beneficial performance. Bridle configuration, leading edge shape, diameter and wingtip shape work with canopy profile and strut framing to give each design their own distinct character and performance. This latest batch of freeride kites have all received these tweaks and the results are impressive. These kites are arguably the world’s most popular, and in many cases, they are legendary, models. They represent the diverse mixture of highly advanced kite performance. With so many models falling into the freeride category, it’s important to understand how each model is distinct and how they each have a slightly different combination of handling traits. Each kite supports different disciplines of riding, preferences, skill levels and styles. Kite companies continue to drive performance by building on the solid foundations of their most successful models. One common design feature this year, although not new for the trend setting brands, is that almost every kite has adopted a larger diameter inflation valve. This makes pumping up your kite faster, with less effort than ever. New, higher-volume and smoother operating, dual-action pumps, also compliment the bigger inflation valves and get you out on the water faster with less effort.
If this is your year to invest in something new, there is lots to consider and lots of styles to try before you decide. Consult with your local shop and seek out information on the models that will cater to your preferred style of riding. To help narrow down
what model might work for you, we grouped some similar performing designs in a head-to-head comparison. There has never been a better time to get into kiteboarding or expand and enhance your skills and discover (or rediscover) your own latest version of the ultimate freeride experience.
PROGRESSION WAVE: SHEET-IN-AND-GO SIMPLICITY, HIGH DEPOWER, WAVE CAPABLE
The Progression Wave group of freeride kites are the models that offer easy handling and deliver power with a simple sheet-in-and-go drive. Sheet-in-and-go drive means the kite has an easy and linear power band when you pull in the bar to get power and sheet it out to spill it. They are easier to manoeuvre into a forward driving motion than some higher aspect, more aggressive pulling and more technical to fly models. Their plug and play simplicity, balanced drift, instant depower and easy water relaunch, also equip them well for performance in waves. They are by no means a beginner kite. Most people will never outgrow their inherently stable and easy to use performance. This group includes the Airush Lithium, Core XR4 and Liquid Force Solo.
These three kites are not only easy to use and learn with, but have the potential to extend into advanced levels of riding in waves and freeriding. The Lithium has been a leader for many years in this category with its optimum blend of good low-end power and well-rounded performance. Against the Solo and XR4, it offers the tightest and most, pull-free, pivotal turns of the group. Its light touch steering and easy drive, also put it above average for low-end power. If you want a capable companion with hassle-free performance and superb water relaunch, the Lithium will more than satisfy any weekend warrior that dabbles in every freeride discipline. What you get from XR4 over the Lithium, is slightly more precision steering when the wind gets stronger and some more glide and hang time for jumps. The XR4 also has a slight advantage in performance in the upper wind range with more precise feel and performance while slightly overpowered. Both the XR4 and the Lithium are capable in the waves, with quick pivotal turns and plenty of shut off depower when you need it. The smoothness of the XR4 turns can be appreciated by advanced riders in the waves and for landing big jumps. It may have slightly less low-end power than the Lithium, but its useable range may be even bigger.
The Solo can handle almost any condition and stands out as the most powerful and easy to generate power kite of the group. It has some of the most amazing handling and drive and in underpowered conditions it can add that extra juice. The Solo build is nimble and light and provides the best drift of the three for moderately powered, onshore wave conditions. It’s a kite that anyone can learn with and offers exciting get-up-and-go with performance for the advanced rider that wants to get into foil boarding or directional riding. It has the most direct feedback and feel from the kite of the three, and its low-end power and range set it apart. All three are ideal choices for advancing skills into directional riding or mastering the basics of twintip freeriding. If you want an all-around master, the Lithium is always there for you. For some bigger glide, more structure and precision in higher winds, the XR4 is a winner, and for power on simplicity and get-up-and-go in any condition, the Solo has you covered.
FREESTYLE WAVE: C-KITE INSPIRED, WAKESTYLE PERFORMANCE ADVANTAGE
The Freestyle Wave group features the models which adopt a modified C-kite flying character and are focussed on performance that caters to wakestyle, and unhooked manoeuvres or flatwater, park sessions. Faster flying and more technical, the Freestyle Wave group have pull through their turns or loop. This added dynamic is produced by their squared off and fuller wing tip. This adds a bit of aggressiveness to their character, but they keep their versatility, with their well-balanced, three strut frames. Their quick steering, direct control and ample depower also make them versatile for other disciplines of waves and directional freeride. This group includes: North Dice, Naish Park HD, Airush Union, and the Slingshot RPM.
This group offers more aggressive freestyle-focused performance with more pop and slack and more pull through the turns. The Dice has the most dynamic performance of the group with some of the most nimble and light touch controls. The combination of smooth power delivery through the turn and quick and reactive steering set the Dice apart. The Union is similar in its concept and performance with quick pull but with even more rewarding performance the more aggressively it’s flown. The Union’s wide wingtip shape and fluid controls give it a strong showing against this group with nice pop and slack while unhooked. It has direct but lighter touch steering than with perhaps a touch less low-end power than the others. It comes alive in the upper end with stable and fluid pull.
The RPM has the most direct feel and feedback of this group, it also might be one of the easiest to use of the three. It sits back in the window more than the others and pulls smoothly with direct and reactive and intuitive steering. Solid canopy structure remains through the window and smoothness and refinement that even out turbulence and gusts. With handling that provides an easy-to-find power band that begs you to find pop and boost for some fun, the RPM is a maverick for hard-popping freestyle and versatility of use across disciplines.
The Park HD has the most refined freestyle performance of this group and features the smoothest and most-powered pull through its kite loop that is as close to C-kite feel as might be possible. The combination of smooth pop, power and consistent rock-solid canopy is also impressive on the Park HD. It’s a kite that more technical riders will appreciate for its ability to be where you want it and pull when you want it but also be stable and slack a bit for freestyle pull.
Laying all the cards on the table, it could be argued that the Dice and the RPM are the most user-friendly and versatile of the group, while the Park and the Union have a hand up in more technical flying character that rewards the aggressive freestyle rider. Overall this is an impressive group that have the refinement that’s aimed at a more discerning freestyle rider who wants the added performance of a full-winged tip, full-profiled kite.
PERFORMANCE FREERIDE: MORE POWER AND LIFT
The Performance Freeride category tips the scale to the higher aspect realm of big boosting, precision steering, but also highly versatile kites. Their handling has less a focus on park riding, or pure, unhooked freestyle riding and more on speed, big-air and aggressive freeride blasting. Versatile enough for waves or directional riding, they take freeriding to higher levels, and cater to the discerning kite flier that wants extra boost and glide and some performance with slightly more precision and lift. They can be more technical to ride and can arm the more advanced rider with more boost and power. The North Rebel, the Cabrinha Switchblade, and the Takoon Furia with their five strut frames, make up the Performance Freeride category. Big boost, great glide and the gust-eating stability of fully-supported and full-driving canopy, these kites all have their own distinct feel and character that offer power, speed, boost and control. Two legends, the Switchblade and the Rebel, have traded top spots in this category for years. Both have undeniably, some of the best low-end power of any freeride kite on the market.
The Rebel with its distinct five-line set up has the most direct steering and precise upwind drive. Sweeping and powerful turns, and quick and nimble controls, the connection you get with a Rebel is unique. Rebel kite riders know that the speed and boost of this kite is hard to match.
Similarly, the Switchblades’ power and smooth pull, and its refined ability to park, pull and perform in a huge wind range is in a league of its own. The Switchblade is the preferred choice of many heavier weight riders because it generates such formidable park and drive power and blends it with some silky smooth pull. Its legendary power band has also given way to more nimble controls in its latest versions, and its versatility has become highly evolved. The powerful loops and pull you get from the Switchblade is what sets this legend apart, along with the epic boost and glide. It may not have quite the speed and direct steering of the Rebel, but the Switchblades’ useable power and park and pop control are hard to match.
The Takoon Furia may not have quite the low-end power of the other two, but in its wind range this kite has some exciting performance. It sits on the edge of the window as well as the Rebel, but has some lighter touch steering and has some added instant depower. Any intermediate or advanced level rider can look to these three models for high levels of performance freeride action. Go bigger, go faster, and ride to new heights with a kite that can match advanced skills without compromise.
ALL-TERRAIN MASTERS: ADAPTABLE, DO-IT-ALL MAVERICKS
The All-Terrain Masters category features an elite pair of kites that fit squarely in the middle of the performance corners of: ease-of-use; park-and-play; wave; or big jumping and speed. The F-One Bandit and the Liquid Force Envy are the two kites that can handle almost any terrain and provide the most adaptable performance across freeride disciplines. Their unbiased agility is unique for a balanced blend of freestyle, wave, progression and performance. The Bandit sets the bar for being a high-performance maverick of the kite world. It possesses a great blend of performance in each size that keeps it at the top of the All-Terrain category. This year’s Bandit scored some of the highest scores for its well-rounded performance and quick, and well-balanced feel. It’s a great choice for waves, directional or foil riding, but still has the C-kite style pop and overall jumping ability of a high performance kite. The only kite that comes close to being as truly versatile in this test group, is the Liquid Force Envy. Its evolution puts it in a category where few have stood or can stand today. The solid low-end power band of the Envy is impressive, and the narrow leading edge gives it great upwind drive. Its bridles are more compact and the Envy’s low-end drive is slightly better than the Bandit. The Envy has evolved from its roots as more of a park-and-pop kite, to a bigger boosting and more depowerable kite than it started out as years ago. The new bridle adjustment settings can change how the kite can pull or pivot for waves or freestyle, adding to its adaptability to different kite disciplines. At times the Envy may not have quite the refinement and slippery precision of the Bandit, but the overall range, boost, extra power, and handling adaptability has its advantages. If you are the ultimate maverick rider that wants a kite that can perform at the highest levels across disciplines, the Bandit and the Envy represent the best of the All-Terrain Masters to handle any situation.