NORTH NEO 9 & 7M
The Neo is a wave-freeride kite developed with Airton Cozzolino's input to meet demanding wave characteristics without losing the good freeride abilities. A floating strut and general structure of the kite is a little softer to better absorb gusts, giving a smoother power development and more control on the wave. Moving the struts more towards the outside of the kite has shifted the centre of gravity, allowing the kite to sit further back in the window for better drift down-the-line without worrying about stalling. It is also responsible for a fast and easy relaunch. Very responsive, even when sheeted out, the Neo is easy to manoeuvre and if you like riding waves but don't want to miss comfortable freeriding, the Neo is the kite for you.
TEST TEAM NOTES:
We tested this kite pretty much blind and were given it before any hype was released, which we think actually makes this reveiw all the more interesting.
Take the Neo from its big, sensibly sized bag and you'll notice that everything from the high calibre of stitching to the very robust tip reinforcements are typical of North. Also typical are the very minimal set-up options, the Neo is totally plug and play. The excellent quick inflation system allows you to twist and lock-on the end of your pump hose without any nozzle, and to pump with incredible efficency. The North bar is very well engineered. Clean and uncluttered, we're always fans of this polished and clever design. The ability to remove the end section of the bar allows you to alter the width setting for your outside lines on-the-fly in seconds. The Iron Heart quick release chicken-loop remains a shining example of function and user-friendlines and has been steadily refined over several years. In short and throughout the product, the North bar is a great example of North's design pedigree. Very comfortable and yet adequately grippy, the bar sits nicely in the hands and the cleat trimming system above the bar works effortlessly.
Good kite designers manage to produce such a recognisable feel throughout their ranges and, while North split their range between the employment of two designers, the Neo is very obviously a Ken Winner design. Always incredibly efficient and poised at the bar, Ken's kites, which have included the Rebel and Dyno, are always very well balanced aerodynamically with no spikes in power delivery. The Neo is flatter this year and with a more pronounced sweep from the very centre of the leading edge than last year. The way the Neo delivers its considerable power is beautifully measured for every inch of sheeting on the bar (which operates on a relatively short throw); it's like having a stash of secret jumping beans that you're worried one day may run out. The way that the kite looks after you in its boost and hangtime throughout your flight that is so impressive. Usually when we first jump on a kite it takes a couple of boosts to work out a kite's flight pattern, but this one was exquisite from the first send and very accessible for even intermediate riders. Solid, very stable and rooted right over your head, the Neo tracks obediently downwind over the long distance you cover until it somehow instinctively tells you to bring back into the power for the softest of landings. If Rolls Royce cars could jump, they would jump like this. That's not to say that this kite is for everyone. If you really like to aggressively steer your kite around the window and seek that explosive burst of boosting power up to the sky and then want an athletic ally for punchy mega loop shapes, then this isn't that kind of jumping. Instead it's easy, smooth, instinctively well behaved, lofty and always aware of its job of guiding you in for a safe touch down. It flies fast enough through the air to give rewarding, high jumps, but is steady enough for incredible hangtime. It's difficult to over-send the Neo, but if you do it it will still produce a nice moderate lift, you feel connected to it all the time and it's easy to recorrect. There may be kites that jump a little bit higher, but don't have such good hangtime or produce such easy, constant power delivery and float each time. The Neo doesn't ever drop you and is hard to get into a nasty position and so inspires lots of confidence. There's nothing violent, but don't confuse this with boring.
This is a good point to bring in the Neo's power. You can literally ride two sizes smaller than everyone else is riding, which is why North recommend it for waves. The trim is relatively small. The throw on the bar itself is also relatively small and full extension is within easy reach of most people. The gearing of the Neo means that you ride with the bar about three quarters of the way up the throw, getting oodles of grunt when you sheet in and also plenty of depower for a small amount of sheeting. Although the Neo doesn't depower to zero, it maintains a manageable amount of power, allowing the Neo to always hold its poise and even in lulls never seems to waver. For wave riding that sheeting position and kite control that is offered at the far end of the sheeting length means that the Neo steers excellently when sheeted out with finite control offered for small amounts of sheeting movements. The kite moves and turns very predictably, but its park and ride characteristics really shine. Plus there's plenty of power at the bar to pull you out of trouble. Pull hard you like and you won't get it to stall, even if you're riding quite aggressively towards the kite down-the-line.
These aren't quickest nines or sevens (unlike most kites that are billed as wave kites) but the Neo is all about a very sophisticated and smooth delivery of power. There is a bungey cord on the back line bridle which does remove the slack from the back lines and softens the steering but it means there's nothing spikey at all and the jumping feels like you're playing with a highly coiled spring. In terms of wave riding the joy is being able to get on a smaller kite much earlier, and while the nine isn't the fastest nine for example, it's still nimble, spins nicely and is certainly much more fun that wave riding on an 11 metre. The danger for smaller riders is that you might run out of small sizes in your quiver quite quickly. Bigger guys will find the Neo hard to fault for the majority of freeriding moves or most wave riding destinations.
The constant, dependable, very smooth power and extremely assured position it occupies in the window, providing delightful comfort.
KW WOULD CHANGE:
There isn't much to change in terms of what North have stated that they set out to achieve with the Neo, but smaller riders should beware of the power, and perhaps the very plain colourways could be a bit more exciting.
NEO BALANCE POINTS:
Build quality: 9
Full package: 9
Low end: 9
Top end: 6
Steering speed: 6
Turning circle: 4
Bar pressure: 7
Water relaunch: 8
Unhooked: 5 (Needs plenty of trimming, but offers some basic unhooked performance)
Ease of use: 8
SIZES: 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 and 4m