Knowing the subtle differences between the various types of kiteboard kites will help you adapt and thrive in the wind and water.
The various types of kiteboard kites hide a world of different qualities, and knowing which kite should be used is a skill every kiteboarder should master. To the uninitiated, all kiteboarding kites look very much alike; they have similar features, but different types are used for subtle differences in wind speed and wave size. In the world of kiteboarding, details are key.
Here’s a guide to a few different kite styles, as well as a breakdown of two of the most important basic designs seen in the skies today.
Leading Edge Inflatables (LEI)
Kites come in two basic designs, foil and leading edge inflatable. Most of the kites discussed here are leading edge inflatables, and for good reason. The style has become a staple of modern kites, which derive numerous advantages from the same important feature: an inflated bladder. The bladder gives shape to the windward edge of the kite. Many benefits stem from this design, such as the kite retaining its shape, making it easier to fill, even if the wind lapses. It’s also much easier to launch after a kite has crashed into the waves with an inflated bladder, because it is easier to pull up. A bent or deformed kite rarely cooperates with filling up and getting you back in motion. Kites of yesteryear, without the bladder, could easily get swamped with water, leaving you stranded. Leading edge inflatables also have inflated bladders that run perpendicular to the leading edge, like ribs off a spine, helping the kite maintain its shape. These types of kites have a single skin or layer of fabric as opposed to foil kites, which trap air between the layers to give the kite shape.
Bow kites, also known as flat kites, pack a major punch and are a performance junkie’s dream. They’re relatively small but can squeeze a lot of power out of the wind. For that reason, they’re beloved by riders that have to put up with perpetually-light wind conditions. In high winds, though, experienced riders can gain tons of lift from a bow kite. The bridle, a line attached to the leading edge, allows riders to dump the wind, another bonus for high, low, or wildly-varying wind conditions. After dropping into the water, a bow kite’s swept-back wing tips make re-launching easier by staying out of the drink.
C-shaped kites, identified by a dramatic arcing C-shape, share characteristics with all manner of leading edge inflatable kites, but differ in one major way. C-shaped kites do not have a bridle, the control-giving line that attaches to the front and back of the kite. In heavy, unpredictable, or choppy winds, riders can use the bridle the other way: to instantly change the shape of the kite to dump the wind. Because C-shaped kites don’t offer this kind of control, they lack attractive features that would make them suitable for very heavy or light winds, or for riders of a wide range of abilities. C-shaped kites, however, will always be loved by purists that crave the heightened feel of even the smallest movements.
Hybrid kites are a cross between the C-shaped kites and bow kites. Some look at it as a watered-down version of two distinct styles, while others praise it as a unique design that captures the benefits of both. If you are a fan of hybrids, then you have something in common with legions of riders who want one kite to do it all. Hybrids, while not the best choice for entering a race or performing cutting-edge tricks, will let a rider cruise fast on heavy wind days, yet provide enough maneuverability for moderate tricks and air. It’s important to note that any hybrid kite will have a bridle on the leading edge, giving an edge for power and control.
A foil kite is the other basic design (as opposed to a leading edge inflatable) used in kites today. Instead of utilizing an inflated bladder, foil kites take shape by allowing air to plump the space between the top and bottom sheets of fabric. Foil kites, because they lack the inflatable bladder, have one major weakness: they can’t be used on water. Once the kite hits the water, it can’t be raised up again. For kiteboarding on snow or land, however, foil kites are an excellent choice.
What is your kite type of choice? Tell us in the comments below or @DegreeMen on Twitter.