The test team are currently piecing themselves back together after a spate of injuries, but our annual light wind review pages carry on regardless. We are constantly staggered by the increase in performance and ease-of-use in today's big kites. Here's our guide to new innovations as well as several items we've ridden or watched develop over the years for having fun in conditions previously thought un-kite-able. Will you be sitting in the supermarket car park eating your sandwich at lunchtime or squeezing in yet another session?
SLINGSHOT TURBINE 17
Slingshot promise that, like Eric Rienstra who hits kickers in next to no wind, or their surf team riders in coastal swell shredding from dawn till dusk, you too can be having fun in just five to six knots. The Turbine features a progressive 'Open Delta C' design geometry, making it more efficient and faster in light wind, much like a high performance glider or wind turbine wing, improving lift through kite speed and allowing the Turbine to fly further forward in the window. In the wing tips, Free-Twist Tip Technology increases the narrow wind range of a large kite by positioning the bridal attachment points to let the wing-tips pivot freely. This allows the trailing edge leech panel to open and twist when overpowered to prevent stall in light wind. The result is a ighter, faster feel with a wide apparent wind range and quick turning radius for such a large kite.
We really enjoyed the Slingshot Turbine 17 last year and was a super example of the increased performance and usability of today's big kites. They're no longer slow, heavy and tiring to ride; they are fun, produce incredible low end and get you out on the water when no one else can. This year Slingshot have managed to improve the Turbine even further, by improving its low end by at least a couple of knots. But that's not all...
The kite is very well made, oozing quality throughout and there are certainly no orners cut in the production and development. The Turbine comes with a larger Slingshot Comp Stick bar which, although bigger than normal isn't too big for this kite. The lines are the usual high quality with the Turbine set-up on 27 metre lines to maximise light wind performance. The bar is absolutely bomb proof and that strength combined with the user-friendliness make it a great product. The cleat on the below-the-bar trimming system is nice and easy to use and smooth enough that you don't come unhooked when adjusting it. There's also a very easy-to-use stopper above the bar and there's nothing cluttering up your vision there. The quick release is also rock solid and super easy to trigger, so there are no complaints on this bar at all and there's the back up of Slingshot's timeless 'oh shit' handles on the side lines to grab if you get in the sort of jam where you need to release everything.
Pull the Turbine out of the bag and it feels enourmous but has been fitted with three flexible spars that slide into compartments on each wing tip, supporting the air frame at the wing-tips and seriously reducing distortion and fluttering. The kite has a super solid air frame which in turns produces a smoother look and feel when in use.
The Turbine comes with the usual Slingshot features like their classic, clean and tidy one pump system, three split struts and minimal pulley-less ridle. Once the kite is inflated you really do notice how light it is compared to large kites of yesteryear. Well balanced and behaved in the sky - dive the kite to set off and the power delivery is fast and smooth, not abrupt at all. And this is the first thing we noticed; that the smoothness has been increased on last year's model. That aggressive, heavier feeling at the bar hasbeen removed and the 2013 model feels agile and smooth, but with the same incredible low end. Less of a handful, it enjoys flying and driving forward in the window, delivering fast airspeed for such a big kite, suiting riders of all weights and sizes as the upwind riding is also quick and efficient.
Send the kite up for a jump and it surges quickly through the wind window at a remarkable pace for such a big kite, resulting in fairly high and floaty jumps in very light winds. Steering speed is better than last year with quite a tight turn and no hint f stalling; always flying forward. Tricks like transitions and dark slides are so much fun on this kite as it's reliable and solid through the air. Unhooked the kite behaves really well off the hook with a good, steady forward pull. (We actually saw Eric Rienstra warming up for the Triple-S and took the slider/kicker course on the Turbine, unhooked the whole way along it with the kite just sitting there. Impressive stuff.So, in how little wind can you get going on this kite? Bully is 84 kilos and got going on it in six knots with a big light wind freeride directional. At eight to ten knots the kite begins to deliver enough power to ride on a twin-tip and not lose ground downwind. At 12 knots you can get into your bindings, throw airs, passes and be having an amazing time when others can't get off the beach on their 12 metres. The incredible thing is how much fun these big kites are now. You're not just mowing the lawn.
On several sessions the wind continued to pick up, but the Turbine was so comfortable that we could stay on it with other people out on 12s, and in one case a nine; a great testament to the wind range and design/efficiency of this kite. Getting the balance right, providing low end power with good range, light steering, good elaunch and fun, usable performance is difficult, but this year the Turbine is hard to fault and does an excellent job. Whether you are a budding racer or light wind freestyler, this kite gets you out early and actually flies and feels like a much smaller kite. The performance and usability of light wind riding has just been stepped up a level. Job very well done.