2020 BIG AIR KITES TESTED

WORDS BY TEST EDITOR SHANE THOMPSON  / PHOTOS BY DAVE MARSHAL 

 The big air category of kites continues to grow in 2020 with more brands offering new kite models designed to jump big and hang in the air for long distances. Jumping is truly at the heart of kiteboarding and today’s big boosting kite designs are making it easier and safer to boost huge than ever before. All of these new big air kite models are more user friendly than they were in the past and this can help build rider confidence to jump big and stay in the air. The smooth pull and power delivery, high levels of range and depower, easy water relaunch and their direct feel and responsiveness, all combine to give the rider confidence to send the kite and soar for long distances. These big air kites provide top levels of control through gusts and in their upper wind range, they inspire the rider’s confidence to build speed, load up the lines and trigger the biggest lift possible. Their direct feel and feedback and quick response to turn also ensure the rider can bring the kite back to the right position for a soft landing. There are some key differences in shape and feel of these big boosting brethren and some distinct design features that may attract certain riders to one over the other. In this head to head showdown, the Kitesurfing Magazine test team put these 12 metre and 9 metre big air models to the test in some epic conditions in Cape Hatteras, NC. 

STRATOSPHERIC MASTERY 

High Performance Freeride Five Strut Kites: North Orbit, Core Starship XR6, Duotone Rebel, Ozone Edge 

Most kites that are designed to jump big are framed with five struts and feature more powerful canopy shapes with a flatter section through the middle. This gives them great low end power, and efficient lift and hang time. The extra struts give the kite more structure and keep the power smooth and driving through the extra load exerted on the kites in full and overpowered conditions. There were four models that had a similar overall feel and performance that are worth noting for a closer comparison. All of these four legends are stratospheric boosting machines that provide the most efficient lift and hang time and they also share similar design features. They have medium to higher aspect ratio canopy shapes and are user friendly for the intermediate or even beginner. With their highly evolved bridles and leading edge sweep, these kites offer quick water relaunch, easy to find depower and great wind range with solid stability that holds up through gusts and overpowered conditions. The Core XR6 in its sixth evolution, has been the workhorse of the Core lineup and this kite is arguably the most user friendly, five strut big jumping kite ever made. It makes jumping easy for any skill level. To jump with XR6 simply sheet in, pull on the back hand and the kite lifts and drifts for great distances. Our less experienced, big jumping test members love this kite for its power and user friendly nature. This year many test members felt the XR6 had a more direct feel with less lag in turn initiation than its previous versions. It also has the most efficient low end power of the group which makes it great for beginners that have a harder time finding and feathering the kite to get the right power. 

The North Orbit and the Duotone Rebel are not far behind for low end power but up their game in turn initiation and nice smooth power and pull through their loops. The Rebel has also evolved to be more user friendly with lighter touch steering in the newest model and a slightly more fluid and reactive feel over the others. This is a kite that may be the best jumping kite when driven fast and in the right hands. The Rebel’s smooth and fast pull speed and its ability to push hard and retain its reactive steering may be closely matched only by the Ozone Edge. Both these kites are the most efficient and speedy, upwind drivers. The Edge feels the most slippery and fast pulling with its race oriented nature and the narrowest diameter leading edge. It also may have the lightest touch steering and quickest pivotal turns of the group as well as the most instant shut off and depower. The North Orbit has the smoothest arcing turns with the most buttery pull and controllable power through the loop and its performance keeps delivering in the upper end wind range with its smooth and controlled power delivery. Through gusts and turbulent conditions the Orbit’s canopy remains rock solid, and the quick turn initiation and smooth power through the loops is impressive. In the hands of the more advanced the Orbit’s jump, hang time and control may be unmatched. In conclusion, the less advanced skill levels will love the low end power of the XR6 and it is a kite you can learn on and never outgrow. It also has the most tunable performance with its multiple attachment points and bridle settings. The Rebel and the Orbit have the smoothest pull through their turns and the most direct feel. The Rebel offers some of the most direct drive and its precision and performance keeps getting better the harder it’s driven. The Rebel also adds some superior stability in underpowered riding and could be used behind a foil or in the waves. The Orbit has the smoothest driving power and the most consistent and smooth pull through its loop. Finally, the Edge was the fastest pulling kite with the best upwind drive, lightest touch steering and the quickest pivotal turns. 

Progressive Boost and Easy Handling: Slingshot Raptor versus the Cabrinha AV8

These two models have big jumping and hang time performance that’s comparable to the first grouping, but distinguish themselves for their own unique character and feel. Both have a five strut frame and flat central canopy that give them amazing boost and glide and some smooth and easy power delivery. The Cabrinha AV8 is perhaps the most unique big boosting model of the entire group with its familiar Cabrinha bow kite feel, and the great low end power and lightweight efficiency. Both the AV8 and Raptor V1 are very smooth pulling kites with amazing range in the upper end and have more of a central pivot versus the sweeping and pulling turns of the first group. They smooth out turbulent wind and keep things controlled as the rider tracks hard for more speed. These two kites may have slightly less aggressive upward boost as some in the first group but offer enhanced control in overpowered conditions. They deliver some of the best hang time of the group with their wider leading edge arc and flat canopy section. The AV8 sits more forward in the window than the Raptor V1 and it pulls smoothly with moderate amounts of bar pressure and some nice pivotal turns. It’s more efficient in light air and has the best applications for foil cruising with its smooth downwind pull. Both of these kites are also very easy to jump and provide the rider with excellent amount of control through a huge range. Jumps get bigger the faster you go and the windier it gets, so having a kite that stays controlled and manoeuvrable when under more load is essential. While the AV8 has a bit more low end power, the Raptor V1 keeps things controlled and stable in the upper wind range and keeps delivering the controlled handling and massive glide even when the kite has got loads of power. It also has tight pivotal turns that don’t produce the pull through the sweep of its turn. Very smooth through gusts, the Raptor V1 is a kite you can set and forget as it keeps driving through heavy gusts. If you want a big jumping kite that also doubles as your light wind foil kite, Cabrinha’s AV8 is the answer. For true big air and hang time performance that gives you the most control and confidence to send it when the wind is pumping, the Slingshot Raptor is the best of the entire group. 

All Terrain: Three Strut Jumping Legends: Naish Pivot and the Eleveight RS 

The final pairing in this big air showdown is the Naish Pivot and the Eleveight RS. Both feature three struts that frame their hybrid canopy shape, and so predictably, both of them deliver a similar style of performance and feel. They lack the wider arced, flat section and the bow style trailing edge, like many of the other five strut designs in the test, so their overall horizontal hang glider ability is not as formidable. The Pivot and RS are still great jumping kites however, and offer some additional sporty performance and precision handling. The Pivot and RS may take some more coaxing and slightly more precise timing and speed to get the biggest loft and glide out of them, but in the right hands they can boost huge. They have the precision steering and intuitive and reactive control with smooth pull through their loops for soft landings. Both the Pivot and the RS also offer very light touch steering with direct feedback and great low end power. These all terrain masters have more adaptable flying performance for waves and foiling than the heavier and five strut canopies of the other sub groups with the exception of the AV8. The Pivot has proven its jumping prowess with two King of the Air wins in the past two seasons and its handling in the air after big jumps is smooth and reactive. It might have a slight edge over the RS in its overall hang time ability but they are very close. Once you are accustomed to the Pivot’s feel, it has the uncanny ability to react quickly to rider input and offers stable lift and pivot for soft landings. The Eleveight is even more similar to the Pivot in 2020 with its new stiffened frame that matches the Pivot’s quick response time. Where the Eleveight RS design has an edge is in the adjustable bridle settings, which can alter the pivot point of the kite turn. This allows the discerning rider to tune some more sweep and pull into the turn of the RS, which can increase the power and lift on take-off, giving more forward thrust through the kite loop. Intermediate to advanced level riders that want a bit more well-rounded performance but also a kite that offers exciting jumping and more sporty handling should consider the RS or the Pivot. They both offer the least compromise in performance across disciplines and can truly adapt to any session from boosting to the moon off wave kickers, slashing waves at your local break or cruising on a new freeride foil. 

Be sure to read all the individual 2020 Big Air Kite Reviews.