The relaunch of North Kiteboarding is unquestionably the most anticipated event in the kitesurfing industry this year. With Boards & More rebranding their kitesurfing division to Duotone, many industry insiders assumed it would be a matter of time before someone licenced the North name. The North Technology Group chose a separate path; hiring a team of kite industry veterans to start their own company and North Action Sports Group was born. North then purchase M Brands, the owners of Mystic. In less than a year, North Action Sports Group had put together a team with all the resources needed to compete, if not dominate, the kitesurfing industry.
This past summer, the North Action Sports Group hosted their first ever distributor meeting in Dakhla, Morocco launching North Kiteboarding. Brand manager Mike Raper spent the week delivering the plan differentiating North Kiteboarding. Engineered, refined and intuitive; the buzz words. It was on the water that the 140 plus distributors in attendance really came to understand the huge feat this group was able to accomplish.
North Kiteboarding started with a completely blank slate, giving the product team of Pat Goodman, Uli Sommerlatt and Hugh Pinfold a totally fresh start. The design team spent the better part of a year rethinking everything kiteboarding, and how they could do it better. Kitesurfing Magazine publisher John Bryja attended the meeting and had a chance to speak with the key personalities behind the rebirth of North Kiteboarding.
BEHIND THE KITE DESIGNS WITH PAT GOODMAN
Kitesurfing Magazine: Most consumers might assume the new North Orbit big air freeride kite might be similar to the Switchblade or another kite in the Cabrinha line that you designed but it’s not. It’s a fresh new design. Tell us a little about the starting point of the North Orbit.
Pat Goodman: We definitely wanted to have a kite in the same genre as the Switchblade, but I really wanted to start from scratch, and set ourselves apart from what we were doing in the past. I really went into depth and redid the entire outline and platform. A lot of refinement went into the profiles, it’s a much leaner entry than the profiles I’ve used in the past. A lot more curve carried through the entire profile. It has turned out to be nice and slippery through the sky, extremely lifty. Combined with the flattened arch shape, two-stage arch design. The central region is an open arch shape, that’s wide but not unnatural, then the tips are pulled in a little bit to help with the steering and stability. All combined it’s a boosting machine.
KM: Are there any drawbacks to having a flatter arch?
Pat Goodman: If you go too far there are stability issues. I think we are as far as we can go comfortably. I think we nailed it. It’s not only the boosting but the big hangtime that benefit from this big footprint in the sky. This shape gives you the biggest relationship between the actual kite area and the usable kite area. It’s the most efficient kite in the range.
Pat Goodman: That’s mostly done with the bridling. We put a lot of focus this year on trying to keep the sheeting range of the bar roughly the same for all our kites. There is a huge dynamic difference between a big kite and a small kite, but having the same kind of feel in the bar from fully sheeted in to fully sheeted out takes a great amount of work.
KM: What do you do bridle-wise to achieve that?
Pat Goodman: I can’t tell you (laughs). It’s about the dynamics of the bridle and balancing. In the smaller kites the bridles are more powered up and in the larger kites it’s more powered down. Each kite is individually tested, each kite is different. No two sizes are a scale of each other. There is some change throughout the entire range. We design and test every single one of them. It’s not a formula, but I definitely have enough experience to know where to go when I drop down in size or jump up. I know what direction to head with the bridle, so we maintain roughly the same feel.
KM: How much of it is mathematical equations and how much is an artform?
Pat Goodman: Bridling is a very hands-on thing. It’s experience, a lot of testing and hard work. I would like to say it can be figured out on a computer but it’s not true. Although the software is parametric. Once I have a logic, I can apply it to the next size kite and have a starting point that is really close. But there is usually a lot of fine tuning.
KM: On the bridle front, North made a very conscious decision not to have any pulleys. What brought that about?
Pat Goodman: Having no pulleys has always been my dream. Having no pulleys allows you to use thinner bridle line. It doesn’t have any moving parts or wear factor going on. We are using a small diameter control line and spacing in connections. We measure and produce them under load so that they are very accurate. Conventional bridle line is usually a Dyneema core with a polyester cover. The polyester cover wreaks havoc with shrinkage. It’s there for durability only. If you have pulleys, you have to have this, but it really shrinks a lot. It’s amazing how much a bridle can change. It changes in relation to the length of the line. So, if you have a couple percent shrinkage over time then the larger section of bridle is shrinking more than the smaller sections. It changes the dynamic and the bias of each cascade completely. Having a very stable bridle line was one of the reasons we wanted to move away from pulleys.
It’s a lot more work from a design point of view. Every time you change the bias of the cascade it affects the other cascade. Nothing is self leveling like you have with pulleys so it’s a lot more work. But the end result is lower drag, more dynamic, the feeling in the kite is very direct and sporty feeling. I like it a lot.
KM: Back in the day the Globe Kite was one of the first to have an O ring. Then the Best Waroo and also the Cabrinha Crossbow came out around the same time with pulleys.
Pat Goodman: We had six pulleys in some of the older kites for years. And then down to four. We made the primary cascade a fixed point and then it ended up just two. We actually started the North development with pulleys earlier this year. All the King of the Air kites you saw Nick Jacobson and Jesse Richman on had pulleys in the bridle. Just two, one on each side. We were able to work it out. We actually like the end result better.
KM: Do you start the design process on one size first?
Pat Goodman: I start with a few central sizes usually. You can’t rely on the wind being perfect nine meter weather. I usually start in the middle. I usually start with 7’s, 9’s and 12’s.
KM: How much of the design time is spent on the shape of the kite and how much is spent on the bridle?
Pat Goodman: In the beginning there is a lot of both. As time goes on, when we have got where we want to be with the arch shape and the profiles, when we are getting the behaviour we are after, then the final handling is a lot going on in the bridles. You can change the kite a thousand ways with the bridles. It’s amazing.
KM: The North Carve surf kite sits deeper in the window. How in the design process do you get it to sit deeper?
Pat Goodman: It’s a combination of the profile. The leading edge diameter and the attack angle the profiles are sitting in the wing itself. The whole kite is sheeted in a little bit more, so it tends to sit a little bit further back in the window.
KM: Is it more challenging to design a kite to sit back in the window and still have depower?
Pat Goodman: It is challenging because they don’t want to fly forward as easily. We kind of took a middle ground on that. We didn’t want to make it too hardcore down-the-line, because that’s a very limited dream for most of us. We chose the middle ground on this because it is for strapless freestyle as well. And everybody is going to use it for freeride as well. There are some complaints that if you have a too hardcore, down-the-line design they don’t go upwind very well. But the other thing too is if they do sit back in the window a reasonable amount they do foil really well. A lot of people use these wave kites for foiling. The Carves do drift, they have a nice and pivoty turn but they don’t struggle to go upwind.
But like you said if they sit back in the window it does affect the depower. One of the things I have done to overcome this problem is with the larger leading edge diameters. I’m able to use less curve in the canopy. So, we end up with a profile that is roughly the same thickness, producing the same kind of power but with less canopy deformation and blow down at lower attack angles. By having less curve through the canopy and a bit more leading edge diameter it helps the kite fly forward when you sheet out. When you sheet in it will sit back when you want it to, and when you sheet out it will fly forward.
Pat Goodman: It’s directly related to leading edge diameter. Not necessarily the kite style. Since the North Carve has a larger leading edge diameter for its size it may be the case where a 7 meter Carve has the same inflation pressure as a 9 meter Orbit. We supply a recommended inflation pressure on every kite. It’s different for every kite size and model. It’s a good starting point. You should still do what we call the bend test. Bend the leading edge over and make sure it springs back. Make sure it has a nice recovery. We have also found in the heavier winds here in Dakhla you should pump up one PSI higher. Inflation pressure impacts the steering and the stability.
KM: What are the challenges of designing a freestyle kite that has good slack and pop like the North Pulse?
Pat Goodman: It’s a combination of things. In the design itself, it has a more upright design, and a higher aspect ratio, which helps it fly forward and more of a C-shaped arch. We try to get the kite to fly off the wingtips as much as possible so that it has a more familiar feeling to a C-kite, but it has to depower still. So, it’s never going to have the slack of a true C-kite, but we have a very happy middle ground.
KM: What kites are you using for foiling?
Pat Goodman: Primarily I use Carves.
KM: How about on lighter wind days?
Pat Goodman: I am using the larger foils, so I never use anything bigger than a 9 or a 10. I don’t jump personally. I’m not a booting foiling guy, I like cruising around. I find that the 9 and the 10 Carve work fine. I know that Hugh and some of the other guys that like to boost use the Orbit in the larger sizes (12 meter). When it gets to the smaller sizes, they prefer the Carve. We all use relatively small kites for foiling. Jesse Richman was testing with me and was riding a Carve 10 in about 8 knots and flying all over the place.
KM: Over the years how many kites do you think you have flown?
Pat Goodman: I make it a personal goal of mine to ride everything that I have ever designed. Every single prototype. It’s got to get past me first.
Pat Goodman: Each and every kite had the team guys involved. The Orbit was the first kite that we put a lot of time into because we knew we were going to have Nick Jacobsen involved. We were considering a slightly different direction for that kite, but because the first event he was going to was the King of the Air we decided to make it a five-strut kite for stability. There are a lot of popular three-strut kites, but this week in Dakhla no one has come off the water and asked why we didn’t do a three-strut kite. Everyone has come off the water and said, “OMG the Orbit is so much fun.”
It really is like the dark horse; they weren’t expecting it to be so much fun.
Getting back to your question, we had Nick and the entire internal team working on the Orbit. Then Jesse Richman came on. Coming from C-kites, he had a week to get used to the Orbit before the King of the Air and he got on the podium, winning best trick. It just goes to show you how natural and easy it is to get used to that kite. Everyone has told me they feel right at home once they hop on it.
Jesse Richman and Bruna Kajiya have been a really big help with the Pulse.
KM: What sort of feedback do they give you?
Pat Goodman: When I am there working together with them it’s amazing because they are after something so different from the kite than what I can get out of it. They push it to such a different level. I’ll get it feeling to what is as close to what I envision, they then get on it and help me massage it into the final product.
KM: Kites now do a much better job of catching riders when they loop them than years ago. What was the change over the years that’s made that happen?
Pat Goodman: It’s refinement in the overall designs and bridles. The King of the Air was interesting to watch. It’s a little unusual to me to see these guys doing such huge Mega Loops on basically the freeride kite. I noticed the freeride kite has a slightly different style of loop. It turns really fast and then there is a bit of a hesitation on the upstroke. Once you leave the water you have no resistance against the kite, but since it’s got a bigger footprint in the sky when they start the loop it goes really fast and then hesitates a little bit. But since they have so much hang time it always catches them in time. But on the Pulse when they lay into it there is just a touch of a delay at the top and then it goes whoow. It’s always there for them. It’s super cool to work with these pros.
I think we have a really solid foundation. I’ve got a great team surrounding me. Not just the pro riders. Hugh Pinfold is our engineer, Uli Sommerlatt is our product manager also doing all the foils and assisting in the production of the surfboards and twintips. And of course, Mike Raper on the marketing side. It’s like a dream come true.
In the beginning, the North Technology group approached me and said they were interested in doing this project. When they said everything is a clean slate, and you can do anything you want, you can use the materials you want, you can be involved in the decision-making process in what kites we offer. Even on the graphics side. You can have total involvement, as a partner basically. I said count me in!
KM: How has the fresh start influenced the supply chain? The materials you’re using, the factories, all the things you have been sourcing.
Pat Goodman: It’s influenced everything! We have taken our production to Sri Lanka instead of in the past we have done it all in China. Not to say the China factories weren’t fantastic. In my previous set up the parent company actually owned the factory, so I had a little bit more freedom in there. The factory that we joined forces with in Sri Lanka has an amazing team. It’s not new but they keep all of their equipment in top-notch shape. The team of people that work there have the same passion for excellence that I do.
KM: How did the fresh start influence the materials that you use?
Pat Goodman: I have worked with Teijin in the past and really enjoy their products and their consistency. Even the factory that we are working with pointed out that the materials from Teijin are the most consistent that they have worked with. They lay flat on the table; they don’t have irregularity issues. We put a lot of testing into the options that we had. We had access to everything, we tested everything in the lab and in the field. We found that the Teijin Techno Force D2 that we are using had the best strength to weight ratio. And also, the best behaviour in the kite. It has good elongation control over the warp and web directions and on the bias its nice and soft but with really good recovery. It gives the kite a really dynamic feeling in the steering. We found that some of the other ones locked up the kites and they felt stiff in the steering, in addition to being heavier. Tear strength in the end wasn’t any stronger. I also prefer the Teijin Techno force Dacron that we use in all the inflated parts for a similar reason. I like some softness on the bias. These kites twist a lot for steering, and they can’t be too locked up. You want to control your elongation. It’s really nice to have some movement on the bias as long as you have recovery. Teijin has the magic formula for the recovery. It really does spring back.
KM: What are your thoughts on V height and why did you choose to use a low V on North kites?
Pat Goodman: It’s interesting because we used to work with a higher V in the past. It was primarily there for the safety system; it wasn’t there by choice. We got a lot of resistance from importers that they wanted the V low, they felt the kites felt more direct and faster in the steering and they also liked for teaching that they could pass the bar through the lines if the kite summersaulted. We did a lot of testing on this. The low V definitely makes the kite more direct feeling. I don’t know if it’s fair to say faster. We have recently done some testing and found that the high V, if the bridle is designed for it, can get a more pivoty turn. But with a low V you get a more direct turn and less lag in the steering. There are pros and cons to both systems. But you really need to design the bridle to match the low V or high V. If you put a kite designed for a low V on a high V bar, it will pull the tips in. It makes it faster, but it makes it misbehave. It loses a lot of power and it gives it a bit of a strange behaviour. At this point we definitely feel that there are more pros to having the V low. The safety system is also much cleaner with a low V. With a high V you either need to have some sort of bungee management system that’s flying airborne, unless you don’t mind having the landing line swinging in the wind. We really hated this. We wanted to have an internal landing line with the bungee system inside the depower mainline. We also found with a high V that the safety system was less dependable when there were more raps in the lines.
KM: How involved in the whole bar design were you?
Pat Goodman: Hugh and I are like brothers. We spend hours per day when we are together. I didn’t do the technical stuff, but I offered a lot of feedback on the control system. Hugh and I work together endlessly. We are the technical side of the kite and the control system. We spend at least an hour per day on Skype discussing projects and problem solving.
KM: You should be congratulated. The three new kites in the line and the bar have turned out amazing. All the dealers and the importers have been really impressed. The feedback from everyone has been top notch. So, congratulations.
Pat Goodman: Thanks.