2022 Big Air Freeride Kites – Head-to-Head Tests

Jumping has always been one of the most exciting aspects of kiteboarding for both the rider and the spectator. Pro level riders continue to break new boundaries with bigger and more technical, high altitude manoeuvres. As the passion for huge height and hang time has increased, so has the explosion of new big air freeride kite models. The kites in this category all provide the power range and extra aggressive lift for jumping big and also the handling characteristics that keep the rider in control for safe landings. Kite brands continue to improve the handling and jumping capability of their designated big air kites and for this year’s test, the Kitesurfing Magazine team assembled an assortment of the industry’s top models. There are lots of options. Some brands have exciting new models while others continue to improve and evolve their long standing kite designs. New material configurations and newly developed materials not only provide weight savings, but also added durability and overall handling in the upper end wind range. 

For any rider looking to advance into big jumps and Kiteloops, there are great options in the three strut hybrid shapes. Although the Naish Pivot and F-One Bandit XV and the Reedin SuperModel 3 aren’t specifically for big air, they are designs that can compete against this class of kite. In fact, the Pivot has the most top three podium finishes in the professional big air competitions. It has legendary ability, not only to jump and soar, but also provides smooth consistent power through turns and offers versatile high performance. The Bandit XV is also one of the industry’s most highly evolved kite designs and this year in its fifteenth iteration has some of the most refined handling and big jumping capability. It’s also the best kite for unhooking and doing some classic wake style trickery, which is something the Pivot is not as adept at. 

The Reedin SuperModel 3 follows in the Pivot and Bandit XV’s legendary footsteps, with top notch performance for boosting huge but is an accessible kite for any skill level. It might be the most user friendly of the three models with simple and easy to find power and quick lift with ultra- smooth, consistent pull through the turns. Reedin believes one kite model can perform at top levels of every discipline and they have done well to prove this with the SuperModel 3. 

As three-strut kites these models have the advantage of lighter frames which help increase their lift efficiency and power. Their light frames and mid aspect canopies also provide very direct handling and good range and versatility. Where they might come into question is in the upper end of their wind range, where having five struts, can help keep the kite’s handling in check. If you want a big air kite that can handle wave riding or foiling, the F-One Bandit XV, Pivot and the SuperModel 3 are the best choice of this group but they might not be the easiest kite to learn to jump. Big jumps require full power and lots of it, which is why most big air kites are designed around a five strut platform. Unfortunately most five strut kites are not as user friendly for entry level skills as they are heavier and higher aspect shapes tend to require more constant flying skills. 

One kite that bucks this trend as a five strut, do-it-all model is the Core XR7. Core has three strut models also, but the XR7 is one five strut model that is easy to learn to jump huge with. Core’s bridle systems enable the kite to widen the arc when you power up and sheet in and tighten when you sheet the bar out for more depower. This is a kite that makes learning to jump higher and bigger easier as it simply pulls you up and lifts you higher as you sheet in. It then lets you down gently when you sheet out. The XR7 ease of use and easy jumping character have made it one of the most popular kites in this category and the newest version is no exception. The newbie big air enthusiasts will continue to love this kite. Another easy five strut kite to use, that also has soaring capability and even better upper wind range is the new Eleveight XS V2. With some revisions to the well reviewed design from last season, the XS V2 stands up well against the top performing, big air models. With improvements in direct feel and handling, as well as, low end power it gained some ground this year. Many of the brands are also using weight reducing materials, reducing seams and replacing heavier panels to give their kites more efficient lift and power. The new Slingshot Machine is a great example of a kite that adopts this philosophy in design. The Machine V1 is a standout for its light touch and direct steering. It’s an easy, forward flying kite that provides efficient glide and lift. With this flat and efficient canopy, Slingshot was able to find substantial weight savings by reducing the number of panels. Also notable on the Machine is the pulley-free bridle system, giving the kite a very direct feel while still maintaining nearly instant depower. North, as well as some other brands like Ozone were the real driver and promoter of the pulley-free bridle systems. The third edition North Orbit remains a top contender for one of the world’s top big air kite designs. The Orbit has evolved to be more user friendly and it has benefitted from some weight reduction and tweaks to its tuning. 

The Orbit likes lots of wind power and is a true performance kite; it keeps its tight handling and Kiteloop ability even in the upper echelons of its wind range. It’s a great choice for the intermediate rider to build confidence and boost big in those overpowered and gusty conditions. The five strut kite designs continue to evolve and are much enhanced by both shape and their material makeup. Two models in this group are employing cutting edge, new materials to substantially reduce weight and improve performance; Duotone and Ocean Rodeo. New leading edge and strut materials are ushering in a new era of kite performance. The SLS Series of kites from Duotone use their new Penta TX leading edge and center strut material and Ocean Rodeo uses the Aluula fabric. The new Duotone Rebel SLS is more user friendly, versatile and easier to jump than it has ever been. Both these brands deserve credit for driving innovation and investing in new material technology to open up new levels of performance. The Ocean Rodeo Rise is a pure, high performance, five strut kite and looping machine and with the Aluula fabric it was the lightest kite of the group. Reducing weight on a kite naturally improves the lift and efficiency. The lighter the kite, the higher it can lift itself with less power. But these new age materials like Aluula and Penta TX, not only reduce the kite’s weight, they also provide more rigidity to the frame which helps improve reaction time and handling. The Rebel SLS and the Rise, with their high tech materials, offer some breakthrough performance in jumping and upper end wind range. 

There has never been a better time to improve your jumping experience with one of these big air kite models. If you’re looking for more versatile performance for waves, foil or general freeride, but still want a great kite for massive air and tight and controlled loops, the Naish Pivot, F-One Bandit XV and Reedin SuperModel 3 are top options. If your skills are more rudimentary and you want to hone your big air approach, the five strut kite like the Core XR7 remains a top contender. Many of the other five strut kites are getting more user friendly as well, with break out performance in the new Slingshot Machine and the Eleveight XS V2. For serious Kitelooping and the most consistent handling performance in the upper end of the wind range, the North Orbit will not let you down. For the most technically advanced and lightest masters of big air, the new Duotone Rebel SSL and Ocean Rodeo Rise are standouts.