KW gets to grip with the 2018 range from one of the biggest brands in the business
KW editorial anchors, Jim and Matt, headed to Tarifa to test out the North 2018 product range in October. Solid Levante winds greeted them along with more equipment than two men could ever hope to ride in the course of four days. Still, in the interests of credible journalism, they had to give it a good go, didn’t they?
WORDS – Matt Pearce
North have one of the biggest ranges going at the moment. Amassing so many kites and boards in their line-up, it’s understandable that you might wonder how it all subtly differs across the performance spectrum. Freeriding is freeriding, right? So how different can two freeride crossover kites really be? Well the answer there is ‘very’ and we’ve outlined our findings for you here!
Over the years the EVO hasn’t been the first kite to jump out at me. Originally, they were a beginner friendly freeride kite, developing into a grunty freeride kite with lots of sheet-and-go drive but less of a quick turning response than I was looking for. I always wondered why somebody wouldn’t just go for the Rebel instead as a similar ‘freeride’ kite. The answer was probably a lot to do with the Rebel being a dedicated 5-line kite (more on that later). This year the Evo is all change. Stripped back to three struts from five, it has become the do-it-all kite that you could give to anyone and they’ll have fun on it.
Over the days we were there we tested the 8, 9 and 10; each Evo model riding out the punchy, cross-off winds in superb comfort. The kite is really easy to tune into and the jumping performance is instantly gratifying. Flying smoothly forward in the window with adequate speed, the Evo can be tuned for very light bar steering, making it comfortable on a surfboard and, while it’s not as fast or responsive as the Neo, it’s now much more reactive and progressively powered than before and will certainly do the job for the freerider who wants a kite that can do the business in the waves should they ever need it to.
While Tom Hebert has shown this kite to be ideal for big-air mentalists over previous seasons, it’s now something you could hand to any rider and they’ll get something out of it. If you’re looking for uncompromised fun in a simple and logical feeling package then the Evo delivers. In a place like Tarifa where punchy Levante winds can make things pretty challenging, it’s the kite in the North range I’d probably find myself opting for more often than not if I wanted to grab a quick session on any board during a designated siesta-break! If you still crave big boosts, don’t worry, they’re still loaded into its DNA, but the power management technology is just more finely tuned now so the Evo seems more well-mannered.
North team shoot in South America / Image: Toby Bromwich
With the Evo now capably filling the everyman freeride kite bracket, the Rebel has been given free reign to fulfil it role as the true performance freeride, big-air behemoth in the North range. In many ways it’s similar to the Evo in that the jumping performance isn’t hard to access, but the key difference is that it’s a more forceful, potent and charged delivery, so hence responds well to a high level rider input who can access whopping jumping and hangtime performance!
There’s no doubt that in the right hands the Rebel will deliver a bigger jumping payload and has stacks of hangtime to match, so if you’re wondering which to go for then it comes down to being honest with yourself: How often do you ride? What are the conditions generally like and how beefy are your quads? Both kites are great but if you’re looking to reach that extra 15% boosting performance, the Rebel won’t let you down. If you want great performance but without having to work for it, smooth powering on and off, and a kite that turns in a tight but constant and smooth radius, the Evo is more forgiving across all board riding disciplines.
Finally, for the first time ever, the Rebel can be ridden as a four line – as can all the North kites that were previously five line focused. So, it’s a more simple and convenient set-up and if you crash and roll the kite, it won’t bow-tie itself and you’ll at least be able to relaunch it and get back to the beach.
Jim prepares to get Dice-Y
The Dice is a crossover kite, just like the Rebel and Evo, but it’s a performance one and for 2018 it finds itself steered towards the freestyle end of the freeriding spectrum. North themselves put it at 70% freestyle focused and that’s quite hard to gauge for yourself if you’re not an experienced freestyle rider but, in short, it makes for a high performing kite that still feels plenty manageable out on the water for general riding. Compared to the Evo, it’s sportier, gets off the mark quicker, turns with more drive and suits a rider who is used to a faster kite that clicks into gear immediately.
On the lightest setting you’ll feel comfortable pinging it into a downloop when riding on a strapless surfboard without being dragged off the board and, although the light setting does feel very light, smaller riders or those who prefer a less aggressive bar pressure will appreciate it. For freeriding it felt almost too light for my tastes but when you switch it to the heavier pressure setting, there’s more ‘contact’ with the kite and it’s certainly an exciting jumping kite.
It doesn’t have the easier drift overhead boosting procedure that the Evo and Rebel have and you need to know how to find the sweet spot to get the best of it. However, once you have, it’s super fun and very athletic through the sky and motors consistently through kite loops with more of an exciting and clean, predictable spike in power than before.
For a more advanced rider, this kite has perhaps the most crossover potential of all the kites in the range in my opinion. It’s fast and exciting enough for the waves without being too heavy at the bar (but suits a rider who likes to send the kite back and forth in the waves as it’s so drivey), delivers plenty of slack for unhooked tricks and is more than capable of going big with the right pilot at the controls.
It’s actually the kite of choice for a number of the North team, including Tom Court, Julia Castro and even Matchu Lopes who loves it for strapless freestyle due to the fact that it’s a smooth high performer that doesn’t make your life too difficult when you’re focussing on tricks without straps – or when riding from A to B for most freeriders.
Team Neo / Image: Toby Bromwich
I’m up for all aspects of kiting but, deep down, waves are still my thing, so the Neo’s a kite that I’m always itching to ride. It’s also the most widely used kite on the GKA Kite-Surf World Tour and it’s been through a few different phases in recent years.
In 2015 it was grunty and heftier at the bar and had a formidable low end. Over the last two years the refined feel has improved with less of a seat-of-the-pants flying style. What you have now is a kite that feels like an extension of your body in many ways. In short, the Neo is faultlessly responsive. Steer it through the turn quickly and it’s right where you want it, sheet it out for a quick shut-off of power and it’s instantaneously tamed. It’s fast but manageable because it’s so smooth and it won’t put a less experienced rider on their face with a slightly incorrect bar input at the critical moment as sportier wave kites might.
I don’t think there’s a wave kite going that’s more polished than the Neo, but I’m 95 kilos and this may sound strange, but in the last couple of seasons it’s almost been too clean and I missed the ‘hoik’ that the old 2015 Neo gave me as I stomped the accelerator and hurled myself towards the wave face. (But most wave riders aren’t hulking gents like Matt! – Ed).
This year’s Neo has rectified that though and, on the heavier bar setting (there are two settings and a marked difference between the two), it’s got that slightly more muscular power delivery that some riders will really appreciate in the waves.
We’ll be testing this one in more depth this winter in the waves of Cape Town, so keep your eyes peeled for a proper review but, in short, this year’s kite is the same ultra-polished Neo we know and love.
The North twin-tip range ready for action
We’ll be testing the North twin-tip line-up in much more depth this season too but, if you’re looking for a heads up on this year’s boards, the key thing I’d like to highlight is the difference between the carbon Textreme and basic constructions. Often when looking at twin-tips people get caught up in the outline, flex pattern and the like but when it comes to materials we sometimes assume that the role of carbon is purely to make a board lighter, stiffer and, inevitably, more expensive. Two boards that highlight the difference carbon can make are the Jaime and the Jaime Textreme.
The Jaime Textreme
Riding these boards, which have the same outline, rocker and basic dimensions, back to back underlined to me just how radically carbon can change a board. The Jaime was the first board I ever owned some eleven years ago and it’s retained its freeride/freestyle crossover ability throughout the last decade. In its basic construction it’s not the highest performance twin-tip in North’s quiver, but it’s comfortable in chop, fun through the turn and has enough grip to carry speed into decent jumps.
The Textreme construction seemingly totally reworks the board, though. It absorbs the chop better, which means you ride faster and carry more speed into jumps and turns and it’s substantially lighter which you notice when it’s under your feet mid-flight. The fact that you can go faster on it with more comfort changes the way you ride it effectively, so this is a clear example of the difference that carbon can make when used effectively in a board. You just want to give it full throttle all the time!
Don’t get the impression I’m trying to sell you on the idea of always buying premium construction boards but this is a clear indication of how in certain designs they can change your riding experience for the better.
Pro and Standard construction surfs
Another area this was evident was in the surfboards. North have slimmed down their surf range this year, focusing instead on producing fewer shapes in two different constructions. I spent a few hours switching back and forth between the Whip and the Whip CSC, a board that I watched the North team riding week in week out on this year’s GKA tour, and the difference in ride feel from the more basic construction to the CSC construction which utilises a carbon beam and net and exposed cork deck, is night and day.
Much more comfortable through choppier waters, so you ride faster, it feels snappier and livelier when you pop an ollie or drive out of a turn and, frankly, the CSC looks the business, too. We didn’t get to ride it in waves but I’m excited to get out on the Whip and some of the other North surfs this year in Cape Town to see how the different constructions perform in the surf!
The Pro Pads
Another interesting development is that North have released a new deckpad system this year, the Pro Pads. I don’t personally like pads and my own personal boards don’t have them, but these are a game changer. Rather than having a tread like what you’ll see on a surfboard’s tail pad, the Pro Pads are ultra grippy and yet smooth underfoot and you could ride them for hours without any discomfort.
All in all, the North 2018 stable is looking strong. We didn’t test everything, but we got through as much of it as humanly possible, and you can expect in-depth tests of much of it in the mag in the upcoming issues.
We also recorded a full tech talk about the Whip and the Whip CSC with none other than GKA World Champion Airton Cozzolino and the mastermind behind the North surfs range, Sky Solbach, so watch out for that coming up in The Kite Show soon.