Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Best Kites for Freeride Hydrofoiling

Riding on a hydrofoil board is kiteboarding’s newest discipline and the foil board category has major momentum in 2017 with new freeride foil models from all the top brands. There’s no question that riding a hydrofoil board and developing the accessible skills to use it, is something you should do as a kiteboarder. The new freeride foil boards open up the lower end wind range of your entire kite quiver and unlock a whole world of unlimited potential for your kiteboarding experience. With the ight equipment and by learning to “foil” using the right structured approach, you can be hovering above the water in just a few sessions. To help in your search for the perfect foil and kite set up, the Kitesurfing Magazine Test Team assembled in Cape Hatteras this past fall and took sessions on the industry’s top freeride foil boards using a host of new models and styles of kite.

The good news is that most modern, four-line, inflatable freeride kites have enough of the key performance traits to work with a foil and get you into this game-changing discipline. If your current 12 meter has good levels of depower and capable water relaunch, getting a new freeride foil board alone will increase your days on the water and make those light wind sessions much more challenging and rewarding. In our test sessions the Test riders used a host of different styles of kites that were suitable for foil board riding. We rode kites from different categories; from high performance and all-around freeride kites to some of the top wave kites, as well as some light wind specific and specialty models. All of the brand’s most popular freeride kites and wave-specific kites have suitable amounts of depower, range, stability, and fundamental usability to work with the newest freeride foil boards. Wave kites have a distinct advantage for foil boarding especially in the more powered conditions, where most riders are actually likely to have a wave specific below 10 meters. There are also some great specialty models of freeride kite and light wind specific designs that are even better equipped to both increase the lower end wind range and enhance the foil experience as your skills and riding technique develops into more advanced levels of riding and flying. Here are some of our head-to-head discoveries within the three categories of light wind and specialty models, all terrian freeride and performance freeride models, and wave-specific models.

Kitesurfing Magazine test editor Shane Thompson.
Kitesurfing Magazine test editor Shane Thompson.

Light Wind Kites and Specialty Models

Foil boarding is best learned in very light winds because with less wind pressure the kite has less tendency to gain unwanted speed and power which can make it difficult for the less experienced rider to control the foil’s lift and drive. In this test we tried some light wind specific models and specialty kite designs that have key flying traits that enhance the foil riding experience in lighter winds. A light wind specific kite can be a great addition to your quiver. They guarantee you have the power in light wind to get up on a foil and start planing in ultra light winds but they also add another element to your foil experience and are less likely to limit your skill development. Head to head in this category we rode the Liquid Force Elite, the F-ONE Breeze and the Naish Trip. All three were dynamite behind the foil with each offering different key advantages.

The Liquid Force Elite was the only closed-cell, Ram Air design of the test, and this category of kite will be growing alongside the foil board craze. This kite not only has amazing drive and smooth control in very light winds, but retains its control and precision as the wind picks up, making it a virtual one kite quiver for your foil set up. The Elite has a long and higher aspect shape that allows it to sit on the edge of the window for smooth drive upwind. When you depower the Elite while on the edge of the window or you run with the foil towards the kite, the Elite has more balance and drift with no inflated frame to cause it to turn face down and crash to the water. If you do crash the Elite, it has amazing relaunch ability and was actually one of the easier kites to relaunch in ultra light winds with the ability to reverse launch. The efficiency and ability of Ram Air kites like the Elite to stay airborne and also drift back into the window giving you that extra time to re-engage the foil makes learning to foil and figuring out more advanced transitions that much easier.

The other two kites in this category are both reduced strut models that are designed to perform with less wind and lower line tension. They have lightweight frames that help keep them flying in less breeze and they have better turn initiation and control with less line tension. The Breeze has a single strut and it’s a kite that feels light and reactive in the air, operating on an easy sheet-in-and-go program. It was the most nimble of the three in this category and very easy to use. The Breeze did not have the aggressive low end power you might expect from a designated light wind kite, but the handling is quick and crisp and the feedback from the kite is very intuitive and direct so you always know where it is. It also had the best water relaunch of the group and has reverse relaunch capability that comes in handy when the wind is really light.

The Naish Trip was surprisingly one of the most stable and useable kites in the very low wind threshold. The super light, strut-free frame, stays in the air with minimal amounts of wind like no other inflatable in the test. It was very close even to the LF Elite Ram Air design for this feature. The Trip’s low end prowess and handling are ideal for the foil board experience as the kite can feather on the edge of the window, with smooth action, linear depower that helps the kite’s power or sheds the power when you need it to. Overall, these three kites are all gems for both learning to foil and expanding your foil skills. They can expand the lower end wind range of your foil and have more range overall then your standard freeride kites.

Ed Note: The single strut kites tested in Kitesurfing Magazine‘s Summer issue (on US and Canadian newsstands now) are also top choices for hydro foiling. We will be posted those reviews online soon.

Wave Specific Kites

Wave specific designs have some ideal flying traits for riding on a foil board especially as the wind picks up to more moderate speeds. Most experienced riders that use dedicated wave kites, typically ride them in the smaller size of 10 meters and down. This size of kite work well for foil riding in the low to middle wind range 12-to-20 knots. If you do put a foil board in your quiver the larger, light wind wave kites in each series will have even more application in the lower wind thresholds. There were six models of wave specific designs in the test and each one of them has great performance that is well suited for foil riding. First, these wave kites are built for the extra punishment you are likely to put your kite through in the early stages of your foil career. Secondly, they are designed to be very well balanced and drift more readily when the tension comes off your lines. This helps when you’re foiling because you can travel towards your kite very quickly in transitions or when running downwind. So having a kite that can drift nicely and stay in the air and drift into the window as tension comes off the lines is key. Most wave kites also have less pull through their turns and loops, and that pull is consistent and smooth. This is also ideal for foil boarding as you fly your kite and change direction on transition it’s nice to have a kite that doesn’t yank you off your board. Wave kites have high levels of depower when you sheet out and they are designed to still steer and direct the kite while highly depowered. You don’t want to use a kite that has a more constant pull to it like some of the more freestyle-oriented freeride designs.

The five models of wave specific kites we tested all had elements that made them great for riding the foil board. They all felt very comfortable in front of the foil and their ability to steer while highly depowered and pivot with very little pull made them great for transitions and for setting up to get onto your board. The Slingshot SST, with its smooth pull was a standout for firing downwind on the foil and its ability to react and steer while highly depowered set it apart. It’s also very smooth and is stable even through hefty gusts. This smooth pull, and reactive steering make the SST a great kite for foil riding. The North Neo was also a top performer in front of the foil with its great low end power and nimble controls and feel. The Neo has the most low end power of the group and gets you a bit more power in the lower wind ranges and allows you to use a smaller, faster turning kite. The Neo’s balance and stability in the air and the ability to manipulate its flight and direction while highly depowered was also one of the best of the group. The Ocean Rodeo Roam, although not as powerful as some in the group, was a standout for smooth pull, tons of depower and some of the best feedback so you know where the kite is at all times. This kite is snappy and has tight pivotal turns that allows the rider to down loop and turn the kite with very little added pull. The lower aspect shape and leading edge sweep make this kite one of the best at water relaunch as well. The Naish Slash offers some amazing stability for the foil and rarely back stalls. It was one of the smoothest pivoting kites of the group and it also had good low end power that came close to rivaling the Neo. The Slash also drifts and offers ideal feedback to track the kite’s position in the sky. The smooth powered pull through the turn make for easy transitions on Slash, and the comfort for drifting down wind was close to the SST. Finally, the Core Section was one of the quickest and most reactive turning kites in the test. It wasn’t quite as powerful as the Neo or Slash, but the feedback is close to perfect. The lightweight drift ability is a great benefit for the foil. The Section also comes in light wind versions in 12 and 13 meters which would likely be a great kite for extending the low wind performance of the freeride foil board. The Section is a high performance, wave specific design that ticks all the boxes for foil riding performance. Quick and thorough depower, fast pivoting turns with low and consistent pull through the turn, balanced drift, great water relaunch and excellent feedback from the kite lines to keep track of the kite’s position in the sky. Overall, if you have wave specific kites, they are a great choice to learn both directional riding and foil boarding. The wave kites will let you seamlessly move form foil to directional board and have the right flying traits to make it an easy transition to foil boarding.

All Terrain and Performance Freeride Kites

In this category, we rode freeride foil boards behind these three different types of freeride kites: the 12 meter Airush Lithium, the the 9 meter Slingshot Turbine, and the 12 meter Cabrinha Apollo. These kites are distinct in their design as freeride kites and they each have different advantages for foiling.

The Airush Lithium is a jack-of-all-trades type of kite, that’s both easy to use and has the linear depower, and plug and play, friendliness that helps with skill development. It’s a kite that allows the rider to focus on board skills rather than kite power or pull. This handling trait is well suited for basic foil boarding at the early stages. The Lithium also water relaunches easily and has a light, three strut frame that makes it very well balanced in the air, and efficient in lighter winds. It drifts fairly consistently and doesn’t back stall easily even when well under powered. Most brands have a three strut, “do-it-all” model, that you can cross into almost any discipline of kiteboarding without much compromise. Kites from other brands like the the Naish Ride, the Ocean Rodeo Prodigy, Slingshot Rally, and the Core Riot XR are just a few more examples of kites in the same category that will work for basic foiling and can be used to build skills in waves or general freeriding. Overall the Lithium has great low end power for its size, and the swept wing tips ensure that it has less power generation when it loops which makes it easy to handle, with predictable pull, for foil transitions. Compared with wave kites and light wind specific kites, general freeride kites don’t have as much positive feedback from the lines that help keep track of the kite in the sky and they don’t usually steer as reliably while highly depowered. Overall, the Lithium is a kite that works well for basic foil board cruising. It has solid performance in light wind, along with range, depower and simple handling that make it an ideal kite for most applications.

The Slingshot Turbine and Cabrinha Apollo are both higher aspect kites which have some distinct advantages for more skilled foil board riders and kiteboarders in general. The Apollo is the more extreme example of this with its ribbon like qualities in the sky, that mimic attributes of a high performance Ram Air, race kite. The Apollo has some high end foil performance with some fast pull speed and amazing power generation as you get the kite driving. This kite can sit very tight to the edge of the window and suck up any turbulence or gusts and keep driving smoothly at high angles of attack, upwind. The power isn’t as easy to find in the Apollo as it is for the Turbine, but in the right hands with more developed foil skills, the range of performance driven by the Apollo’s unique design make it a test winner. It’s best suited to the more experienced kiter that wants to capitalize on its unique shape and performance. The power of the 9 meter Turbine is more instant and doesn’t require as much finesse to get your speed up. The Turbine also turns a bit tighter and is slightly less technical to fly than the Apollo. On a foil board there are some advantages to having the high aspect, faster pulling kite; they can feather on the edge of the window and generate faster and more effortless upwind drive and drift back in the pocket faster downwind with less resistance to slow them down than a fat and wide, low aspect kite. The Apollo is so high aspect it has more upper end wind range then the Turbine and sits on the edge of the window better than any inflatable kite in the test. It continues to drive with smooth and efficient power even as the wind picks up. The Apollo could also have carried itself into the light wind category for its deep low end, as would a larger sized Turbine. Both designs also have quick and effective water relaunch capabilities. Overall their power and performance offer some extra spice for your foil ride. Both of these kite designs feature a higher aspect, flatter canopy that grant big power, big boosting ability and offer a faster pulling and better drive upwind than the standard freeride kites.

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