Surfing waves with a directional surfboard continues to be one of the fastest growing disciplines of kiteboarding. This past fall, Kitesurfing Magazine’s Test Team rode some of the industry’s most prolific, wave-specific, kite models, in real world test conditions at some of the best surf spots in Cape Hatteras, NC.
This is an elite group of the industry’s top wave specific designs that all have specific flying and handling characteristics that can enhance your wave riding experience. Built to be both light and durable, with three-strut frames supported by advanced bridle systems, these wave specific designs offer enhanced depower and enhanced handling suited to riding waves. Their quick depower also combines with the right balance, float and drift, enabling the rider to surf the wave while the kite stays airborne and inert. While highly trimmed or depowered, these wave models are also designed to initiate turns and pivot quickly. This is vital for quick transitions whether on the wave or if you need the kite to power up and get you out of the impact zone. Wave kites are also designed so they don’t generate as much pull as their freeride counterparts when they turn. Their central pivot allows the kite to turn, loop or change direction with less power generation. This helps when you’re riding waves as you can change the kite’s direction or position without getting pulled off your board. Hassle free and reliable water relaunch is also essential when things go wrong in the surf and all of the wave kites have quick and reliable relaunch systems. Most of the truly dedicated wave kites are not tuned for big air or freestyle riding, but focus more on control, stability and steady pull. Each kite has handling that enhances the wave riding experience and they do this with their own distinct feel that’s derived from different combinations of power and depower, pull and pivot speed, drift, lift and handling. The advanced performance of today’s dedicated wave kites are helping the world’s top kite surfers push the boundaries of wave riding and strapless freestyle. The accessibility of learning to ride a surfboard in waves has also been enhanced by the evolving performance of both kite and board design.
Set and forget: controlled, balanced, drift masters
Sideshore or side-off wind conditions typically produce the smoothest and most hollowed wave breaks and it’s also the best wind direction for getting into the pocket and slashing some quality lines. Having a kite that can sit slightly deeper in the window and float down the line, completely depowered, while you carve your line, is component to a successful wave riding session. The two kites in the test that have the greatest emphasis on this ‘set and forget it’ smooth driving power, with no back-stall tendency and direct feel, are the Cabrinha Drifter and Slingshot Wave SST. Both kites are ideal for wave riding. The Drifter and the Wave SST have some of the smoothest and cushiony pull of any kite on the market and their balance and stability are ideal for making the most out of every wave. The Drifter has a touch more low end power than the SST and heavier riders always love the Cabrinha kites for their reliable range. This year Drifter is even more versatile with new bridle setting adjustments that can flatten the kite and sit it more forward in the window. This enhances the power conditions for freeriding where you want better upwind drive and more lift and hang time. The cushioning stability of the SST really put this kite in a class of its own. It’s also one of the most direct steering kites of the test and the lower aspect, compact C canopy grants some smooth pivoting turns. The wide and chopped tips of the SST ensure that you can direct the kite while completely depowered. And the gadget-free bridles are ultra-compact, which eliminates the chance of the bridles wrapping up with the wingtips when the kite gets rinsed in the waves. Ultimately, both the Slingshot SST and Cabrinha Drifter are high-performance, dedicated, wave masters that can take your wave riding to new levels.
Pushing limits off the lip and in the pocket
The new school of wave riders are also pushing the limits in the surf with bigger off the lip aerials and more technical strapless freestyle manoeuvres. Some of newest wave models in this group have ideal handling for that aggressive strapless rider. Having too much lift and power through your harness can make strapless airs or riding more difficult but the Airush Wave and the Core Section are two designs that offer very quick pivots and lighter touch steering with less lift and boost. Similar in shape with modified, squared tips, the Wave and Section evolved from delta, fattened C inspired designs that feature direct connections to the more squared tips. They have bridles that offer well-established depower that comes on at arm’s length. The Wave and Section don’t have as much boost and power as some of the others in the group but each has exceptional balance and stability throughout the wind window and they have great light weight drift capability and stability that makes them ideal for enhancing your session. They can easily adapt to a more forward flying position with tons of depower options for more onshore waves. The Wave has improved each year and shows the power and finesse of a multi-generational model with a smoothed out power band and tight controlled steering. The Section has impressive and exciting feel to it and their control systems are so light the kite bar almost feels weightless in your hand when riding a wave. The compact bridles of the Section also improve the likelihood of hassle-free relaunch when things go wrong. Any advanced rider looking to get the most out of every strapless session, both on the wave and off the lip, should consider the Core Section or the Airush Wave.
Powerful low end with precision, smooth pivots, wave specific but freeride friendly
The Liquid Force Wow and the Naish Pivot are well powered and quick pivoting designs that are similar in power delivery and handling. They have a touch less of the ‘set and forget it’ performance style with nimble and reactive turn speed that combines with central axis pivots that generates very little pull through the turn. Both have solid three-strut canopies that are nicely balanced and ideal for adapting to any wave riding requirements. The Wow has a very narrow leading edge and the right inflation pressure is key to giving it the correct low end drive and handling. It has quick and tight pivotal turns and good positional control that make it ideal for getting and staying on a wave. Both the Pivot and the Wow might be slightly more technical to fly and pitch sensitive than the Drifter or SST, but they may have better freeriding capability with direct boosting power and more lift and pop. The Wow even feels comfortable for unhooked freestyle, while the Pivot offers some additional hang time and glide.
The North Neo has been carving its own legend into the North line up for the past few years, and the wave prowess and overall performance of this kite sets the bar for performance in the waves or with any directional board. It has the right blend of contained but useable power, with enough excitement and lift for freeriding but the pivotal steering control and high depower that are required for waves. It’s not as big of a boosting kite as the Pivot or Wow, but has the smoothest power delivery and the compact shape that’s highly refined and ideal for waves. The Neo is so well powered and it delivers some of the smoothest and most direct control of any kite in the group. It has similar power and pull to the top rated Drifter, but with some extra zip in its speed and handling. The Neo is also easy to use and extremely stable at all angles of attack. The range and control of the Neo also made it one of the ‘go to’ models in the test for riding foil boards in ultra-light conditions. Smooth and quick turns with intuitive power delivery, the Neo’s overall stability, drift and balance in the air is highly refined. This is a kite you could teach with and also be a top performer in any wave condition. The Neo scored the highest marks with a magic blend of low end power, drift, balance and handling.
With improved performance of both kites and surfboard shapes, the boundaries and accessibility of the kite-surfing discipline continue to be pushed to reach new levels each year. If you haven’t tried riding a directional and catching waves with your kite, there has never been a better time to add a wave-specific design to your quiver. Each of these wave designs have the performance and handling that can be used for almost any level and with their stability, ease of water relaunch, and high depower, they allow the rider to focus on developing new board skills. So whether you are an experienced kitesurfer or just want a good performing kite to learn new riding skills, consider one of these wave models to expand and enhance your kiting experience in 2016.