INTRO ? Kite design is a full time job and goes slowly and, hopefully, surely. Jim Gaunt went along to the F-One meeting in Mauritius to track the development process of the new 2010 Bandit Three (and scored six out of six days on the water to boot!)
It's 11.23am and my glazing over of an inbox that has suffered a lack of monitoring over the last few days has been disturbed by the sudden pick up of wind, rustling the palm trees outside my hotel window. This is day four of the F-One dealer meeting in Le Morne, Mauritus, and this is how the previous three days developed.
F-One organise a two week trip every year on which they invite their biggest distributors from each country, alongside the kiting media, to come and try out all the new gear for the coming season. It's one of those trips where, on day two of being in paradise and, after being able to finally ride a wave frontside, instead of having to hack away backside, as I do at home, that I had a few moments to myself, muttering quietly as if someone might stop me if they realised how much fun I was having, 'Jim lad, this ain't half a bad ticket.' And with glee, I tucked into a few more pitchers and peelers breaking out on the reef before retiring to tuck into my third huge and delicious buffet meal of the day. I pinched myself again at the dinner table, but this was to loosen off my belt to allow room for one more pudding. Glutton for punishment I was.
It's a two-week trip for the F-One staff, including all the team riders, kite design team, head of international sales, videographers, photographer, and, of course, the F-One don himself, Raphael Salles. For the rest of us the trip is split in two ? the first week saw the German, French and Spanish mag staff and gear distributors visit, while week two was reserved for the Brits, Americans, Canadians and, of course, everyone's favourite travelling companions, the Dutch. Raphael didn't tell us that the reason he'd split the groups that way was because of the latter groups' greater interest in propping up the bar, but it seemed far more plausible than the simple fact that we all spoke English. Raphael would pat us on the back at the end of the night and ask, 'Just one for the road is it guys?' before heading to bed to rest and make sure he was ready to do battle with 'One Eye' once more in the morning. That's a big cross-offshore wave by the way...
This was my first experience of the Indian Ocean and after breakfast on arrival we took a wander out to the beach. It was just like all the picture postcards of paradise; 24 hours of travel fatigue wiped out in a single fresh breath. Deep green leaves on the thin veil of tree branches that drooped over the beach provided useful shade. The water looked an inviting turquoise blue and the sky was rich on the horizon against the white water from the reef break that lay ahead of us. This was the last time conditions would be so still and calm that week and, after a tactical power snooze, I pulled back the curtains to see umpteen kites in the sky. It made a refreshing change to slip easily into my shortie in my hotel room rather than wrestle with my steamer in the car park, the factor 40 was slapped on and the water was hit for the first of many times.
We were situated for the week in the southwest of the island in the Le Morne peninsula. Looking back at the mountain on your first tack back in, the unique backdrop seems strangely familiar from many photos and my favourite kite flick,
Space Monkeys 2, in which Vari, Herraiz, Tobias and James slice their way along Le Morne's finest walls of water jacked up by the encouragement from the reef below.
There was a lot of gear to tuck into on the beach that had been splayed out by Gautier, Raphael's gear man for the week. Personally, I have never had the opportunity to ride every item in a brand's range back-to-back and to my heart's content ? and the wind was relentless!
ONE SHORT YEAR, MANY BIG IMPROVEMENTS
From the array of Bandit Threes available I chose a size suitable for the conditions, a nine metre (as I would for most of the week ? I pinched myself so much that I came back with skin more puckered and polka-dotted than a smack addict, but having had more soul shaking highs, probably) and 6'0 bamboo surfboard.
There are some significant changes to the Bandit this year from the popular Dos model last year (the name of which Gautier told me is causing some confusion among their customers, as he keeps getting asked, 'When is the Bandit Dos 3 coming out?' Signor ? it's the Bandit Tres! Get it?)
The Bandit Three project started for the F-One design team - which includes company boss, Raphael Salles, designer Sylvain and riders, Mika Fernandez and Etienne L'Hote ? just over a year ago. It's easy to see the differences when you compare the Dos and the Bandit 3 back-to-back ? they are like night and day ? but to get there they had to change things millimetre by millimetre, feeling things out with just small steps taken on each prototype. The nine metre always gets designed and finished first and then all other sizes are based around the feeling of that. The nine sits bang in the middle of the range, and, according to Sylvain, '...generally doesn't suffer from the twitchy, fast reactions of the small kites and the more lethargic nature of the bigger sizes.' Once complete, the tweaking begins to a
pply the same handling and characteristics in each size.
It takes ten days from the moment a prototype design is sent off to the factory in China for it to arrive back at F-One HQ in Montpellier via Fedex. It's then a mad rush to find wind. The kites are delivered just before midday, they grab the package and go where it's windy, no matter where it is. Mika's in charge of reading the forecast and getting them to where they need to be. It's not an easy place for R&D, but it means they have to travel and test in so many different winds; shitty winds, summer and winter winds. Places that you and I do the sport. Of course they travel further afield too, but the brunt of the work is done on home soil, or waters. The kite is tested and in the evening the team meet up with Sylvain to discuss. The next morning he will do another design and that marks the start of the next ten day waiting period. It may surprise you to know that the team raced their way through 50 prototypes on the nine metre alone this year. That's before they got to work on the next sizes. Do the m
aths on that time frame and try to fit it into a year. Crazy organisation by the team. The Bandit One nine metre was finalised from ten prototypes and the Dos chalked up around 20 by comparison.
The team were in such a hurry to get ready for this meeting in Mauritius these still weren't the final versions and some had myriad possible bridle attachment points hanging off all the way along the leading edge. We were banned from touching them as, although Sylvain keeps everything methodically jots things down in a red leather-bound dog-eared notebook, matching the prototype number on the kite with his notes, to reset the settings after we'd 'tried a few things out' would really hold up the final progress that they hoped to achieve that week. Clearly the benefit of only making one kite (apart from the beginner-focussed Revolt), is that it allows the maximum time to be focussed on making it as good as possible.
So what's changed? Raphael's main wish at the beginning was to extend the wind range ? to keep the good low end, but to try and push the high end capabilities for overpowered conditions. The benefits of this being that it will soon be possible to kite in most conditions with just one size of kite. Plus, as they only make one kite, it has to appeal to as many people as possible. Without wanting to give away too many of his top secrets, it seemed this increase in range is down to a higher-aspect-ratio.
'It was really interesting as we got even better low end performance, perhaps not through pure pulling, but a greater pull to the front of the window that helps you go upwind. We worked on the profile, strut position, amount of square metres in the tips compared to the centre and it's really a combination of a lot of things, but really, with the C shape we now have a really good low end.' Raphael explained. The secret to good top-end it seems is also a kite that flies really far forward in the window, too. Win-win on both counts, then.
Raph also wanted to reduce the pull on the bar that was in the Bandit Dos as you sheeted out. They worked a lot on the bar feeling, improved the information that is felt through it and reduced how much movement you need to make for power and depower. Now, instead of being hunched over when you're over-powered, stretching to sheet out as much as you can, the Bandit Three allows you to have a much more over-the-board position, riding through gusty winds or lulls just the same, sheeting out or in slightly as necessary.
The enormously long bridles from last year have been reconfigured. Firstly, any four line bar with lines all the same length will work on the Bandit Three. The bridles themselves are shorter, there's less tangling and fewer knots for a much easier set-up. The front V goes all the way down to the fifth line attachment, helping to provide that C kite feeling in all the kite loops and turns.
'We used to have a really short V and the kite had a strange reaction in all the kite loops.' Raphael reasoned. 'So we got closer and closer to the C shaped feeling, which was also a goal for the product. The Bandit always got good reviews, but it was only the pure unhooked rider that found it a bit far from what they were used to.'
There's no escaping the fact that the Bandit Three really does look like a swept back C shape on bridles. After a chat on the beach with Sylvain as he carefully monitored the movement's of Raphael's seven metre as it swept across the sky, I found out that the flatter an area you have in the middle of the kite, the more projected area and aspect-ratio you have, but you also get more turbulence. With a half-circle like the C kite you lose a little power and aspect-ratio, but you gain a lot of drag and there is almost no vortex. So with the C shape, they've sacrificed some area in the middle, a little cord length, but what they do have is a better low end, better top end and better upwind performance. Et voila!
The delta shape (which F-One were the first to implement) basically adds stability and depower to a design. However, it used to put a lot of tension on the back lines. The front lines held most of the power, but the back lines had a lot too, which is why the pressure in the bar increased as the kite powered up and you sheeted out. Sylvain explained, 'If you take a C shape, 100% of the power is in the front lines. The back lines are just for steering. The bridled kites have a mixture of tension on the bridle on the front of the kite and the back line, which is why they depower and power back up so quickly. So we worked a lot this year on how the back line gets tension and, now, when you sheet out half way, the back lines actually don't hold any of the power.' This was mainly achieved through the profile arrangement, the outline delta they use, the four point bridle and the pulleys on each side. 'It's the toughest R&D process we've done, for sure.' Puffed Raphael.
The kite has already showed signed of reaping the rewards on the world stage though. World speed record holder, Alex Caizergues, rides for F-One and actually set his record last year of 50.57 knots on an early, but quick, Bandit three prototype. With the new production kite Alex has already clocked up a 58 knot maximum speed (not average over 500 metres, which is what's required for the record, but it's looking good). He will head off to Luderitz for the Speed World Cup in November. (We will have more on him next issue.)
I've ridden the Bandit Dos a lot, and loved it. I can honestly say that the improvements are obvious, and I didn't think they would be so. I was left in awe at the amount of work that must have gone in to producing something so different, just little steps at a time. It's not all kite trips and impressive moves when you work for a brand. Well, it is, but it's all 'work'.
Oh, and peer pressure works by the way. They've added a one pump
It blew every single day we were there and I got to try out the full range of boards, back-to-back, over six days, too. I don't know about anyone else, but I've never done that before. My rough notes on the boards, scribbled over a few beers, through sun-scorched eyes and with callous riddled hands at the end of each night are now online at:www.kiteworldmag.com/jims_fone_rides/You'll also find a full length interview with Raphael at: www.kiteworldmag.com/raphael_salles_uncut/
My recommendation after an amazing week that's got me so excited about 2010 gear and, kiteboarding in general, is to get out there and try as much gear as you can. Steal your mate's stuff when they're not looking, go on holiday and rent some, or call up your local shop and book a test session. Just make sure you do it. There's a lot of good stuff out there.
Located 2,400 kilometres off the southeast coast of Africa, Mauritius has a coastline circumference of 177 kilomtres, all of which is wide open to the Indian Ocean elements. It has a total area of 1,860 square kilometres and, driving from the north to the south, will take you a couple of hours. It's not far as the crow flies, but the roads are slow and winding but do take in some breathtaking scenery. So it's worth not just sticking to one spot while you're there.
The summer season in Mauritius is December ? May, with an average of four windy days per week where you'll be riding nines and twelve metre kites. The air temperature is around 30 degrees and, the water, a lovely 28. The winter, from June ? November, is the windiest, (I went at the end of July) with an average of 20 ? 25 knots most days (depending on the spot). The air temperature is still very pleasant in the low 20s and you should be looking to bring your seven and nine metres with you.
If we start at Le Morne on the southwest peninsula, where I stayed, we'll work our way round the island, clockwise from there. This isn't a definitive guide, but an example of some of the finest spots you'll find.
This is the most advertised and heavily frequented spot on the island. Winds from the southeast come in cross-on from the left, and the more easterly they get, the more cross-off they become. As you stand on the beach and look out to sea, in front of you is quite a busy, windy lagoon that stretches for about 350 metres before the first reef, 'Small Reef - the smallest and easiest wave sailing section here. To the right of that as you look out is 'Chameaux', meaning 'camel' in French because of its two humps, breaking left and right. Extremely hollow and really shallow, it should be approached with great caution. 'One Eye' is hallowed territory and the next section of the reef to the right. Facing a slightly different angle, the wind is almost always cross-off here and there's a lot of water moving about. There is a rescue service in the lagoon, but the boats can't always make it out and the current will sucking any passing object away with it. If you look out diagonally left, you'll be looking at 'Manawa', a big rolling foam ball of a wave that can be great for aspirational wave riders. Beware that on a big swell, the current travels in the same direction as the wind, and can seem to kill it.
As you look to the left, upwind, you'll see the lagoon opens to form a huge, shallow body of water beyond the point at the other end of the beach. This area is called La Prairie and is incredibly beautiful, with a stunning, lush, green, mountainous back drop. The beach faces east here, so the wind is onshore, but the lagoon is very shallow, so it's possible to walk out a long way and this is generally where all the lessons take place. Be careful to watch out for darker areas that are shallow and can have patches of staghorn coral and sea urchins. The rest is just lovely kiteboarding conditions! On a weekend, respect the locals who will want use of their home spot.
The west coast isn't as windy as the rest of the island, however, as the anticyclones move east, south of Mauritius, they can push good surfing swell into this area of the coast. The bay has many other attractions for tourists, though. Some spots like 'Black River', 'Flic en Flac' or Mont Choicy' can work for kiting, but only during strong northeasteries or after cyclone west winds.
The northernmost spot on the island is a tourist landmark, with views across to the northern islands with a good launch for kiters. 100 metres left is a perfect, long white sand beach with good wind in east and northeasterly winds. A private launch is reserved for the Sinbad kite school. Best conditions are anything from southeast to northeasters and there are two good wave spots. Just be aware of the tidal levels as most reefs are not passable at low tide.
ANSE LA RAIE
Just upwind and east of Cap Malheureux is a huge lagoon. Access it via the public beach (which you cannot see from the road) or by the beach in front of the youth sports centre. The shallow areas are evident from the darker patches, so go steady on the first couple of runs and there are some wave spots out on the reef at the edges of the bay.
Quite a way along the coast, beyond Grand Gaube ? a classic fishing village with potential for kiting (although more of a windsurfing spot), is Roches Noires. You'll find cross-onshore conditions here and another huge lagoon, expanding over several kilometres. Access is an issue as most beaches are privately owned. Watch out for submerged rocks and concrete jetties, but you can enjoy 20 kilometre downwinders to Cap Malheureux, organised by local schools.
Onto the east coast now and Poste Lafayette is a curved, wide public beach at the north of the bay with cross-onshore conditions. Popular with locals because of its easy access, it can be kited the 2.5 kilometres, from one side to the other. A little reforming wave in the middle of the lagoon at high tide provides fun jumping and riding, but take caution to steer well clear of the main channel heading out of the reef as there are serious currents in operation.
A popular spot on and off the water with lots of tourist activities, so respect other beach users. Enjoy cross to cross-onshore conditions with long runs over clear, shallow waters. Watch out for the outer areas of the lagoon where there are lots of fragile and sharp coral. There is a paddle surfing wave in the pass, but it's no place for beginners. Palmar is another spot to the south and basically an extension of Belle Mare beach. As it's narrower, it can offer a more 'interesting' launch experience.
TROU D'EAU DOUCE
Don't launch on the public beach as there rocks above and below the water. A public beach to the north offers better launching. The main pass is just upwind of here, but most people hire a boat to get them out to Ile Aux Cerfs, a few kilometres away where you'll find many small, white sandy coves to set up and pack down on with ease. The lagoon is huge - head upwind for a speed track called 'Joy Ride'! Avoid it at low tide if you want to keep your board in good condition.
This point on the southeast corner of the island has one of the biggest lagoons on the island. Cross-onshore conditions and acres of space make this one of the most popular flat water spots. Be aware of the strong current between the coast and Ile Aux Aigrettes though, which moves in the same direction as the wind. Finding the public beach can be a bit of a mission and most of the beach is owned by the private bungalows on the shoreline (some of which can be rented). One access point is halfway thought the village ? look for a narrow pathway from the main road to the beach. The other is on the northern boundary of the private yacht club opposite Ile Aux Aigrette. Walk upwind for better riding.
Right at the southern point you'll find a big, public beach that you can launch on anywhere. Cross-shore conditions blow over a wide, shallow lagoon that kicks up hardly any chop in the strongest of winds. Only really ride-able at high tide. Downwind, the current gets strong. Any east winds are good here.
Moving back up the southwest point, towards Le Morne again, is Bel Ombre ? a lagoon that's recently seen a lot of tourist development. There are a lot of coral patches and is therefore better at high tide. A thermal effect can mean there's often more wind here than anywhere else.
BAIE DU CAP
A quiet little village borders a windy lagoon that works in most easterly conditions. Not the best lagoon conditions on the island and you need to be careful riding out towards the reef as it gets shallow. Stay clear of the passes too as the current is strong. Waves on the reef are far out and shallow.
THE KITE CO
The Kite Co offer lessons, rentals and sales as well as clothing through the Habit multi-brand stores. They have a number of bases ? find them in: Caudan Waterfront - Port Louis; Racket Street ? Grand Bay; Ruisseau Creole ? Tamarin and they are partnered with the Le Gall shop in Le Morne.
Tel: +230 254 1919
SON OF BEACH / SON OF KITE
Son of Beach is the teaching side of the business, Son of Kite, the clothing and retail. They teach in the kite lagoon in Le Morne, upwind behind the Indian Resort and have a jet-boat available for downwinders and rescue.
Tel: +230 972 9019
Sportif offer specialist watersports holidays in the world's best locations. They have some fantastic all-inclusive special offers on to Mauritius at the moment, staying at the Indian Resort hotel and use the Skyriders centre in Le Morne for their lessons.
Tel: +44 (0) 1273 844 919
Our annual Travel Guide supplement will be out in January in issue #43, featuring Mauritius. If you can't wait that long, hit up www.kiteworldmag.com/travel/ where you'll find more info