Shinny talks foils and light wind efficiency
Mark Shinn has an appetite for the light wind freeride future.. as long as it’s within budget!
I exist in a somewhat special place in kiteboarding – special as in unique not special as in ‘the chosen one’. I no longer compete and I no longer even make claims to be a professional rider. I’m involved in the industry but I don’t have financial interests in any one brand of kites. For the record, I am sponsored by Blade kites and have been for many years. I wish to mention this from the start in the interest of transparency and to dispel any speculation that my following comments are financially based.
In the last issue of Kiteworld I was asked whether the development of twin-tips had stagnated or not? I replied that I felt that development was a complicated multi-dimensional process influenced by technology and construction techniques as much as by test feedback and rider development. Any one area can stimulate progress at any time, leading designers down paths previously un-travelled or that travelled to no useful end result. Right now I think there is an area of kiteboarding ripe for development and I’m eager to see where it will go. Let me explain.
I’ve made no secret of my new found passion for foiling and at the same time I have a passion for the development and testing of all kinds of equipment. I like to play with everything and, although I don’t make kites, that’s not to say that I don’t want to know everything I can about them. I have flown many in my time. I see every session on the water as a learning process; in the past that process was the development of my skills and abilities, these days I’m more focused on my equipment and I can’t help wondering about the relationships between all the component parts and how one interacts and enables possibilities in another.
Hydro-foils have completely changed the game because their power efficiency is so high that the previously tried and tested rules no longer seem to apply and that has profound implications on the kite you use. Let me make one thing clear before I go any further: you can foil with any kite that you can kiteboard with. I’m not advocating anyone has to buy new kites to start foiling (unless that is you really want to buy new kites and are looking for justification. In that case please feel free to ignore the last statement and shop away!). There are kites that are better and less suited, depending on what you want to do. My exploration of the light wind side of foiling quickly led me to an in-escapable conclusion: large inflatable kites (LEI), let’s say 14 metres and larger, offer absolutely no benefit over a kite around 12 metre in light wind foiling performance. In extreme light winds the physical weight of the kite overcomes the kite’s ability to climb when up-turning at the bottom of a power dive, the kite stalls and falls backwards into the water (and trust me, in six knots you have zero chance to re-launch an LEI no matter what the brand’s website and brochure might suggest).
In those same conditions smaller, faster LEI kites will generate enough power to start foiling, however having less weight and a faster flying speed makes them less likely to back-stall mid up-turn. It was at this moment that the idea of using a foil type kite started to appeal to me; no other kite has the light weight of a foil kite, so it seemed to me that this issue would be overcome. Prior to this the only time I’ve flown a foil kite was back in 2000 (I don’t think Windtools are with us anymore) and I have to confess that the experience was not a pleasant one, ending with me in a rescue boat.
It’s about here in the story that I count myself very fortunate, and with some small reaching out I arranged a lovely new Ozone foil kite for testing my theories in recent months. I’ve seen the re-birth of foil kites for kiteboarding in the last few years and although it was easy to appreciate their benefits for racing, I could never quite see the point for freeriders like me, so I never made the effort to really try them.
The result now that I have is stunning, though. Having not tried any other foils I can’t comment if the Ozone is better than the F-One, Elf, Flysurfer or Liquid Force offerings, but I can say without a doubt that in light winds there is a massive advantage over an LEI. Okay, that’s it then: light wind foil boarding means getting a lightweight foil kite. So let’s get one ordered up and let’s move on! Except… there is a catch (isn’t there always?).
I saw the price. It’s fair to say that the average 12 metre foil kite is going to cost you something in advance of €2,000 which is not an inconsiderable sum of money. In fact a 19 metre race-optimised foil kite is going to set you back closer to €4,000 and that is a serious amount of cash for a very specialised set of conditions. The foil kite resurgence was inspired by the racers whose win-at-all-costs attitude has forced the designers down such extreme roots that the end product is not going to appeal to the newly emerging section of light wind hydrofoil freeriders who have little or no interest in racing.
It’s a dilemma. I don’t like to develop equipment using a type of kite that the majority of people are not going to use but the performance benefits of it are big enough that I can honestly say that it will overly influence my own development in a way far removed from the general purchaser, so this is where I think the next big step forwards in kites is going to come from. I think there is a place for some sort of a freeride foil kite at a similar price to an LEI kite.
I want an extremely light weight kite that has massive low-end grunt, fast turning and great depower range to indulge my light wind fantasies. I don’t care about stability because I’m not going to use it in conventionally powered up conditions. I don’t care about hang-time or pop because I’m unlikely to jump on it and I don’t need a range of sizes because my nine metre wave kite works perfectly from 12 knots upwards. In the last year we’ve seen the emergence of the hydrofoil and subsequent increase in interest in light wind performance and this is going to be yet another case of the development of one aspect of the sport driving forwards the development of another.
Actually, I don’t know if it will be a freeride foil type kite in the end, a no-strut LEI kite or something else entirely that no one has considered yet, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled for it and meanwhile you should start saving!
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