Monday, November 15, 2010

Kite Surfing - How To Learn?

So you want to go kite surfing?

I would seriously look into getting some kite surfing lessons. Even though it may seem like a lot of money right now, in the end it could save you a lot more and even your life. :)

Kite surfing is an extreme sport, first you need a HUGE kite to generate enough power to get you up planing on your board. Without the proper knowledge of how to setup, launch, land, control, power and depower your kite you are putting yourself in a huge amount of danger. Now lets add in the fact that you may not be aware of the surroundings or wind conditions at your local area - and you get yourself a recipe for disaster! As an example, we have a launch area here that is somewhat sheltered by trees and the surrounding areas. What this does is give you a false reading of the wind conditions. The winds on the ground where you are standing may feel like 12-15 mph....a person who is unfamiliar with this area will probably launch up a 13-15 meter SLE or 16-18 meter LEI kite....BUT the winds about 30-40 feet up are much stronger and when the winds on the ground are 15 the winds above are usually 25-30 mph. Launching a 16 meter in those winds is very dangerous. Only an experienced person who is familiar with this particular riding spot would know that. A certified instructor will know their area well and will have kite surfed on it regularly. He/she will know what the wind conditions are now and what they will be in an hour or so from now. They will know what to watch out for, what turbulent or currents you will need to be aware of and if there are any other (underwater) dangers that you will need to know about. Think about a sharp rock just a couple inches below the water could do if you wipe out?

The other thing to think about when you are trying to save money is that when you are learning you WILL eventually smash your kite into the ground, every beginner will crash quite a few times before getting the hang of it. With the costs of surf kites usually starting around 1,000.00 plus for the basic package, do you really want to buy your new kite and then start slamming it into the ground and possibly destroy it before you even get a chance to get up on your board? With a lesson you get to not only beat up on rented gear but you get the opportunity to try several different sizes or brands while you learn which will give you tons of shopping knowledge before you have to drop your own hard earned money on a kite. Also, the kite is only half of the package. Your board size, shape and type will play a huge factor on your overall performance and your learning curve. Too small of a board will make it much more difficult to get on plane and ride. A huge board will be easier to get up on but you will soon outgrow it and want to move to a smaller one. There are literally thousands of kite boards on the market to choose from and every one performs differently. By taking a lesson the instructor will size your body weight up to a board and kite configuration that will work best for you...and he will usually have the ability to change your board and or kite as conditions change to get you the best chance of getting up on a board and actually completing your goal which is to RIDE! If the instructor screws up your board size, it is super easy for him/her to just swap it out with the right one on the spot. Unless you have the cash to purchase several different boards when you are first learning, this is a luxury that you can only get with lessons. I know several people who are very talented riders who still pay for a lesson just so they can try out several different boards. In the long run it ends up saving them hundreds if not thousands of dollars that would have been spent on gear they couldn’t use or just wasn’t up to the “hype” that the manufacturer advertised about it.

Another thing to take into consideration is the length of time it will take you to finally get up and ride (your ultimate goal). I do know that there are some people out there that are pure naturals who can get a setup and within a few tries are up and the real world with normal riders a self taught rider will usually take one to two months (or even longer) before they are up and riding and another month or longer before they are proficient with transitions (turning) and going upwind. Most of the riders I know who have taken a lesson are usually up on their board within a week and are working on transitions and going upwind good within the first month.

I don't want to sound like a poster child for lessons (I am not an instructor) but the truth is that they are the cheapest, safest and fastest way to learn to kite surf. In the long run it will save you time and money to take a lesson. It may even save you some time in the hospital which will always cost you more than the lessons and your kite/gear.

Now, there are some things you can do to save a ton of money on your lessons. The first is to learn to fly a kite! Get yourself a good quality dual line or quad line power kite with a control bar and learn to fly it. The better you are at controlling your kite the less time the instructor will have to take teaching you to fly. Most of the time when a student goes in for lessons and they already know how to fly the instructor will watch and if he/she feels you are skilled enough with the kite and controls, if they are comfortable then they will start to work on your water starts, water re-launching and maybe some board control. They may even take you out in the water and start working on body dragging on your first lesson. If you don't know how to fly then your entire first lesson will have you on the beach learning the basics such as left and right turns, hooking up your lines (rigging), landing, launching the kite, safety systems & releases, etc... Nearly all of this can be self-taught and you and your friends will have a blast learning to fly. This can be done at your local park at your own time, so no need to try and schedule in time to get the basics of flying down....and no need to waste your time and money paying someone else to teach you how to fly a trainer.

I highly recommend a quad line kite because that is what you will be using on the water. Dual line kites will work but if you haven't flown a quad line power kite then you will need to learn this before you step into a full blown depowerable surf kite. One of the best kites to start off with for water use is the HQ Hydra. This is a water-relaunchable trainer kite that can be used on both the land and the water. The Hydra is the perfect kite for learning the basics of kite flying while also allowing you to learn how to do some body dragging and water relaunching in the water! The Hydra is a great trainer. Another kite that work well is the HQ Scout II Series kite. Although the Scout is not really considered a “trainer”, the smaller sizes (3 & 4 meter) can be used both for land boarding as well as a trainer for the water. This is a great kite that will usually cost less than $350.00 (depending on the size) for the entire package including kite, safety leash, lines and control bar. This is a super fun kite that you can fly constantly at your local park and learn the basics of quad line flying, control bar system, safety system, etc... and even use on a mountain board or buggy in the stronger winds, giving you even more experience in power kiting that you can translate to the water. It also comes with a link line that you can hook into an optional harness should you choose to go that far. You will use a harness for kite surfing so this is one more thing that you can learn without having to pay an instructor. Even though this kite will be considerably smaller than the ones you will use for surfing, it packs a ton of power in the right winds and can drag you all over the place. Depending on the size it will also be able to lift you off the ground so be cautious when learning and start with light winds and work up from there. There are other kites on the market as well as the HQ Scout and Hydra, just look at them all to make sure they are quad line, come with a control bar and are the right sizes for your wind conditions. Talk to your local kite shop and they should be able to get you a size that will be fun to learn with and powerful enough to keep it exciting.

When you are confident with your kite and know everything about it, then look for an instructor who will be able to teach you on the big surf kites. One of the things you want to look for in an instructor is what gear they will have for you. Do they have a huge assortment of different sized kites and boards for different conditions. How old is their gear? The kites that were produced 3 and 4 years ago are poor kites compared to what is available on the market today. Today's kites produce smoother power, are more stable in the air, launch easier and have better safety systems. Find out about scheduling and what will happen if you get out on a day that the wind is non-existent. Make sure that your instructor knows that you already know how to fly a quad line kite on a bar and see if they will be willing to work with you to get you out on the water faster or if they will insist that you spend your first lesson flying on the beach. ***this is a huge safety concern and every instructor will want to make sure that your skills are good enough, so even if you tell them you know how to fly they will probably want to watch you to make sure for themselves*** Make sure that your instructor is adamant on safety and stresses that you will be safe and teaches how to use all the safety gear properly. Find out how many people will be taking lessons at the same time as you? I have heard of some instructors who will try and book 5 to 10 people at a time. I don't really like this idea and would prefer to pay a little extra for personalized lessons that are geared around my skills and talents, not the average skill of my "group".

I hope this information will help you as well as anyone else who is interested in kite surfing. Kite surfing is an awesome sport that is arguably the most exciting sport on water. As a last note of advise, do it safely and you will be able to do it for a long time to come.

Good luck and I hope this helps you out.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cheap Kites VS. High End Expensive Kites

So obviously, I am not that prompt on keeping up with my blog posts.....for my own satisfaction I will say that I am concentrating on quality over quantity....yea....that may work for now. I will try to be more diligent on getting more blog posts up for all of you in the future...but I can't give you any guarantee right now. :)

Ok, so I get tons of questions asking what the real difference is between a "cheap" stunt kite and a high dollar stunt kite is. The reason the question is asked is because to the normal shopper, both kites appear to be made from the same materials, have basically the same shape and look to be built about the same way. Of course there are obvious differences such as the higher end kites already having things like Yo-Yo stoppers installed or more detail to the leading edges, nose and back of the kite to reduce snagging points....but other than that, what really makes those high dollar sport kites cost so darn much??

Well, hopefully after this blog post you will have a much better idea as to why this is so.

The biggest difference between a "cheap" kite and an expensive one is usually the materials that are used to produce it. Most high end kites are produced with Icarex or Ripstop Polyester material. These materials are quite expensive to purchase and run the cost of the kite up much more than say Toray or Chicara or even standard ripstop nylon. Also, different materials have different types of coating on them to help protect them against UV damage as well as being somewhat water repellent and the coatings also effect the amount of porosity (how much air can blow through the material). The higher end kites usually have much better coatings that allow the kites to fly better in different wind conditions. Also, the more expensive materials such as Ripstop Poly and Icarex PC31 allow nearly zero stretch so your sail will stay stiffer over longer periods of time and will have less tendency to stretch out which can effect the way the kite flies. It has also been mentioned that Icarex "slips" through the air easier with less drag....well, I haven't really had any solid evidence on this so take this bit of info for what its worth. Regardless, Icarex usually costs about 4-6 times more per square yard than Ripstop Nylon. As most of the kite is the sail, just making a standard kite will cost the maker over 4 times as much going to Icarex over ripstop nylon. Like pretty much everything, the nicer materials usually cost premium. Ripstop Polyester or Icarex aren't necessarily chosen because they cost more, truth be is that they are stronger than ripstop Nylon and lighter, meaning that the designer can build a larger kite that weighs a fraction of what a kite with Nylon would weigh. This allows the designer to move the weight of the kite around to where it needs to be to perform tricks better while not adversely effecting light wind performance.

The second and usually the most unrealized cost is the time that is put into producing a high end kite. With some kite manufacturers, they can spend up to two years or even longer fine tuning and perfecting a design before they are satisfied enough to put their name on it and sell it. The designer makes sure the kite is absolutely the best it can be in all areas. Each re-design and tweak can be as simple as moving a tow point, changing the bridle, swapping out rods, repositioning the stand offs or upper and lower spreaders, etc... - all that can usually be done on the same prototype. But other redesigns such as deeper sail, different aspect ratio, longer spreaders, different curvatures in the leading edges, etc... all mean that the maker has to sit down and re-build a whole new kite. Most of the time the new rebuild replaces the older design and the old design is trash canned and no good to anyone. As mentioned above about the cost of material, this can add up pretty quickly and start to get very expensive.

I know of some kite makers that have worked on a kite for over a year and a half and have gone through hundreds of re-designs, resulting in building the same kite (with new ideas) two or even three dozen times. When the finished design is finally ready to market, you are not just paying for that one kite but actually having to pay a portion of the 30 - 40 different kites that were needed to get to that one final design - not to mention the hundreds of hours it took to get the kite finished. Total cost of building one high end kite could be as much as $20,000.00 or more if you added up all the hours, all the materials, the packaging, shipping, marketing, labeling etc.... Divide that cost over 75 to 150 kites that will be sold over the next two or three years (hopefully more will be sold but that would be pushing it), you end up with a kite that costs the kite maker to build about 150.00 to 200.00 each. The one kite you are purchasing may only cost about 30-40 bucks in materials....but you aren't really paying for that one kite, but paying for the designer and builder to produce a kite that is absolutely a dream to fly which includes everything else listed above. With most high end sport kites costing around $250 to $300 from your local dealer, you can see there is very little profit in them for the actual builder. Most high end kite builders do it more for the love of flying than profits...and many of them still have to keep their day jobs to make normal everyday ends meet.

Another factor in cost is the frame materials. Most high end kites will use a hand wrapped carbon or even a tapered wrapped carbon frame. Tapered rods can be designed into the kite to give the kite much more response and stiffness in different ares over normal protruded carbon rods. Again, wrapped carbon costs about 10 times more to make and is usually made by hand. Tapered Wrapped Carbon...well, thats even more. And if that isn't enough, some manufacturers such as Skyshark will even go one step further with their Nitro rods which are Tapered Wrapped Carbon rods that are sanded smooth and then lacquered for the ultimate in sexyness. If you are going to purchase a high end kite, you may as well get the best looking rods in it. :) Most mass produced kites will use protruded carbon rods or even fiberglass rods which are not quite as nice as the wrapped carbon and not nearly as strong or as light. Protruded rods are all straight rods and can not be made tapered which is another drawback when choosing rods for a particular application. Most higher end kites will use a combination of wrapped and/or protruded carbon. Again these rods are not only stronger, but are much lighter allowing the designer to position the weight of the kite right where it is needed to perform the way they want the kite to perform.

Now a "cheap" kite takes about oh.....20 minutes to design and finalize. Plug it into a computer, cut a demo, take it out and if it goes up in the air then its ready to go into production. People who design "cheap or mass produced" kites usually don't care if the kite can do everything....or even care if it can do anything. As long as it goes up and looks pretty, its done. Not only is there no real R&D costs, but the materials are usually whatever is cheapest at the time.

As said before, when it comes to high end kites and "cheap" really do get what you pay for. Now I am not saying that if you purchase a high end kite such as a Skyburner or Blue Moon you will instantly become the next worlds best pilot and be able to do everything under the sun....but the high end kites will allow you to learn faster and be much easier and nicer to fly - and if you are working on tricks, the high end kites will do those tricks much easier and smoother. Some tricks just can't be done on a "cheap" kite. One thing is for sure though, if you can't do a trick on a high end kite, chances are it isn't the kite that is holding you back. :)

There are some really great kites that are inexpensive. I would not call these kites as "cheap" because these kites are actually made by some really good kite designers and are made from some really good quality materials - "cheap" to me means they are kinda junky kites. There are some very nice kites that are not junky or "cheap" but instead, very affordable. Some of these would be the Premier Nighthawk, Premier Wolf, Premier Jewel, Premier Addiction, Prism Quantum, Prism Nexus, Flying Wings Acrobatx, Flying Wings Silver Fox Series, Skydog Crossfire... and I am sure some others that I can't seem to recall right now. All of these kites are very capable of doing a majority of today's tricks and most of them can be purchased under or slightly more than $100.00 - and they also come with good quality lines and flying straps!!!

So an affordable and capable kite doesn't necessarily have to be a "cheap" kite that you can't grow with.

Hope that helps!

Till next time......

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Power Kites - Handles or Control Bars?

So the question always seems to come up from time to time for power kites, Handles or Control Bar?

I fly both styles, fixed bridle on handles and depower on a bar. It really depends on what you are wanting to do with your riding as to which one is better. I can list a couple of pros/cons that I have experienced and hopefully it will help.

Fixed bridle kite on Handles:
This combination is usually the easiest way to control the kite, turns are much faster and more precise. Fixed bridle kites are usually smaller per wind condition and the kites can fly and deliver plenty of power in less wind. They are much more efficient in the air than depowerable kites. Fixed bridle kites on handles are usually easier to setup, launch and land. You can find tune the brake lines during flight by adjusting the position of your handles.
For buggies, this is usually the preferred method as you can rip the kite around pretty much anywhere in the wind window and still be under complete control. You can spin the kite faster without the huge swooping downstroke of power. Fixed bridle kites usually have less lift than depowerable kites so you have less chance of getting yanked up out of the buggy but still have plenty of speed and pull. This is not to say that a Fixed Bridle kite won’t lift you, any decent power kite will launch you off the ground in the right (or should we say wrong) wind conditions.

Fixed Bridle on a bar:
In this combination, kite turns can be slower and usually will make large swooping turns through the window. Launching is usually a bit harder than with handles. It is much harder to get your brake lines adjusted during flight unless your control bar has an adjustable setup on it. Usually you set your brake line tension once and then leave it. The kite usually flies slower and the feel (turning and input) is less responsive. The kite has a mushy feeling unless flown in really strong wind. It is a bit harder to keep the kite powered up in light winds. The control bar does give you a lot more freedom with a ground board or snow board in that you can rotate your upper torso easier because you can fly the kite with one hand, letting the other drop back behind you for easier upwind riding and also much easier toe-side riding. The harness can be connected to your waist / pelvic area so your center of gravity is much lower. This allows you to direct the power easier into your legs/board and pulls less on your shoulders. The bar offers better safety disconnect setups and should come with a safety kite leash. It is also easier to control your kite while you manipulate your board/harness/etc with your free hand for setup. The kite is also less twitchy and usually more forgiving during flight. Although you do lose some of the tight responsive control when putting a fixed bridled kite on a control bar, this setup is usually preferred by mountain boarders and snow boarders. This setup can also be used in the buggy as well but is not the preferred setup. The control bar is usually easier for beginners to learn on as you only have to hang on and turn right or left, you do not have to worry about brake tension or angle of attack. The kite basically flies like a two line kite with a safety leash.

Depower on Bar (handles are not recommended):
Depower gives you the most lift/hangtime over fixed bridle kites mainly because of the overall design of the wing, not because of the control bar. Depowerable kites have a very aggressive lift to drag ratio and are usually designed more for jumping than for speed. They also have larger wind ranges in which they can be flown in because of their unique ability to be depowered on the fly. They excel in gusty conditions, allowing you to adjust your power instantly when gusts or lulls come up during flight. They have the same advantages as fixed bridle on a bar but usually take more wind to fly than a fixed bridle kite of the same size. They generally are slower in turns than fixed bridle kites but can be flown quite aggressively when they are flown in their optimum wind range. Usually one depower kite will cover the same wind range as 2 or 3 fixed bridle kites. The safety release systems on depower kites are awesome. The Re-ride system developed by Ozone and now used on basically every depowerable land kite allows you to kill the kite completely while leaving the bar attached to you. This pretty much eliminates the tangled mess you use to get when activating your safety. Depower kites cost quite a bit more per kite than fixed bridle kites but they usually come complete ready to fly with matching bar setup and lines. Depower is usually the preferred kite with aggressive landboarders and snow kiting and is standard equipment on every major brand of kite surfing kites.

Basic generalizations:
Least expensive - Fixed bridle with handles
Most responsive - Fixed bridle with handles
Widest wind range - Depowerable kites with control bar
Biggest lift - Depowerable kites with control bar
Easiest to learn / fly - Fixed bridle with control bar
Most expensive - Depowerable with control bar

Each kite is designed for specific purposes. The best way to find out what kite or configuration is best for you is to talk to your local kite dealer or contact us at / We can help you choose the best kite for your application.

Hope that helps. Till next time, Happy Winds!!!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tuning your power kite for best performance.

How do I tune my power kite and why isn’t it already set up right from the factory?

So why isn’t your kite handles and lines pre-set from the factory? After all they should know what setting is best for the kites they are producing ... right??

The problem is that everyone has a different flying style, therefore there really isn't ONE setting that works for everyone. Some people hold the handles nearly perpendicular to the ground and others (like myself) hold the handles so the bottoms are almost always pointing at the kite. Because there could be over 4 inches or more of travel between the two positions you will almost always need to re-adjust your brake lines when switching from one pilot to another.

The best thing to do is just try a bunch of different settings until you find one that works best for your flying style. This is really easy to do and only takes a couple of minutes.

First, if you do not already have knots on your leader lines (the long lines running from your handles to where you attach your flying lines to) then tie a series of overhand knots about 1.5 to 2 inches apart starting with the first knot closest to the handles and moving outward to the ends of the leader line. Most power kites come with handles that have long leader lines on them so you can add in additional knots if needed.

If by some chance your leader lines are very short and you can't get 5 or 6 knots in them then add on 4 leaders appx. 12 inches long (one to each leader off the handles) and add the overhand knots to the new leaders. To make the leader extensions, get a length of leader line appx. 12-14 inches long, tie a loop in one end and larks head that loop to your short leaders on your handles. Basically your just extending the leaders out longer for more adjustments.

Now, the actual distance between the one knot to the next is not that important as long as the knots are EXACTLY EQUAL from the right handle to the left handle. If one knot is closer on one handle than the same knot on the other handle your kite won't fly straight.

Ok, we got our new leaders and a bunch of adjustment knots, lets start tuning the kite to your flying style.

Once you get your knots in your leaders, start by attaching your top lines to the furthest knot from the handles with the standard Larks Head knot. Attach your brake lines on the closest knot to the handles the same way. Fly the kite. This setting will usually make the kite feel very "heavy" (a term used when the kite just won't climb up to zenith and just stalls out). Basically when you pull on the top lines to launch, the kite heaves itself off the ground, stalls and drops back just wont fly and acts like there isn’t enough wind to launch. - Move the larks head knots on the bottom lines (brake lines) out to the next knot from the handles and try launching again. Keep moving the brake lines out each time until you find a setting that allows the kite to launch and fly with the best speed while still being able to safely stall the kite and brake it for landing. If you set your brake lines to far out (too loose) then you will not be able to stall the kite and land it, your steering will also suffer. If you adjust your brake lines all the way out and you are still stalling the kite to much, start adjusting your top lines in towards the handles and continue.

By placing the knots on the handle end it allows you to make simple adjustments to the kite without having to go to the kite each time. Changing your settings is super simple and only takes a couple seconds to do. The nice thing too is that in the event your lines stretch out you can make a very simple adjustment instead of having to re-adjust all your lines. This also helps for setting your kite up for different wind conditions. In stronger winds you may want to drop the brakes out a little so the kite races to the edge of the window faster. Stronger gusty winds will put a lot more force and resistance on the brake lines of your kites and may cause the kite to drop back into the power more. For lighter winds or gusty/turbulent winds you can bring the brakes in and stall the kite a little more so it doesn't overfly in the gusts.

With proper tuning of your power kite you can get the kite to perform at its maximum level and also make it easier to control. Remember that over time your flying lines may stretch out and this will change the amount of tension you have on your brake lines which could negatively effect the way your kite is performing. If your kite feels like it isn’t flying as good as it should, play around with your line settings and you may discover that you are choking the kites true performance. You may want to try adjusting your kite a little even though you might think it is perfectly fine. Many time people don't even realize they are choking their kites performance.

Hope this helps. If you need any more info on this just let me know.