In order to kitesurf, several pieces of basic gear are needed. These are detailed in the following sections.
A power kite is available in two major forms: leading edge inflatables and foil kites.
Leading edge inflatablesEdit
Leading edge inflatable kites, known also as inflatables, LEI kites or C-shaped kites, are typically made from ripstop nylon with inflatable plastic bladders.The inflated bladders give the kite its shape and also keep the kite floating once dropped in the water. LEIs are the most popular choice among most kitesurfers thanks to their quicker and more direct response to the rider's inputs, easy relaunchability once crashed into the water, and resillient nature. If an LEI kite hits the water/ground too hard or is subjected on water to substantial wave activity, bladders can burst or it can be torn apart.
In 2005 Bow kites (also known as flat LEI kites) were developed with features including a concave trailing edge, a shallower arc in planform, and frequently a bridle along the leading edge. These features allow the kite's angle of attack to be altered more and thus adjust the amount and range of power being generated to a much greater degree than previous LEIs. These kites can be fully depowered, which is a signficant safety feature. The ability to adjust the angle of attack also makes them easier to relaunch when lying front first on the water. Bow kites are popular with riders from beginner to advanced. Most LEI kite manufacturers developed a variation of the bow kite by 2006.
However, early bow kites have the following disadvantages compared to classic LEI kites:
- They can get inverted and not fly properly
- They are a bit twitchy and not as stable
- Heavier bar pressure makes them more tiring to fly
- More difficult to relaunch
- Lack of "sled boosting" effect when jumping
In 2006 second generation flat LEI kites were developed which combine 100% depower and easy, safe relaunch with higher performance and no performance penalties. These kites are suitable for both beginners and experts.
Foil kites are also mostly fabric (ripstop nylon) with air pockets (air cells) to provide it with lift and a fixed bridle to maintain the kite's arc-shape. Foils are designed with either an open or closed cell configuration; open cell foils rely on a constant airflow against the inlet valves to stay inflated, but are generally impossible to relaunch once they hit the water, since they have no means of avoiding deflation and quickly become soaked. Closed cell foils are almost identical to open cell foils except for the fact that they are equipped with inlet valves that do not allow air to leave the chambers, or water to get in, thus keeping the kite inflated (or, at least, making the deflation extremely slow) even once in the water. Water relaunches with closed cell foil kites are easy; a steady tug on the power lines is usually enough to get them to take off again. Foil kites are more popular for land or snow, where getting the kite wet is a non-issue. While traditionally foil kites are far more expensive than standard LEIs, they can cover a much wider wind range, comparable to that of up to 3 LEI sizes, due to their more refined aerodynamic performance and wide depower range, although the new LEI "bow" kites have a comparable wide range (still not as wide as foils, since bow kites are afflcted by most of the aerodynamic shortcomings of traditional LEI kites) and are cheaper. Foil kites have the advantage of not having to be inflated, a process which, with a LEI, can take up to ten minutes.
Kites come in various sizes ranging from .7 square meters to 21 square meters, or even larger. In general, the larger the surface area, the more power the kite has, although kite power is also directly linked to speed, and smaller kites can be flown faster; a tapering curve results, where going to a larger kite to reach lower wind ranges becomes futile at a wind speed of around eight knots. Kites come in a variety of designs. Some kites are more rectangular in shape; others have more tapered ends; each design determines the kites flying characteristics. 'Aspect ratio' is the ratio of span to length. Wider shorter (ribbon-like) kites have less drag because the wing-tip vortices are smaller. High aspect ratios (ribbon-like kites) develop more power in lower wind speeds.
Seasoned kiteboarders will likely have 3 or more kite sizes which are needed to accommodate various wind levels, although bow kites may change this, as they present an enormous wind range; some advanced kiters use only one bow kite. Smaller kites are used by light riders, or in strong wind conditions; larger kites are used by heavier riders or in light wind conditions. Larger and smaller kiteboards have the same effect: with more available power a given rider can ride a smaller board. In general, however, most kiteboarders only need one board and one to three kites.
Kite prices range from $100 (for small kites) to $1700+ USD. Prices generally increase relative to the kite size.
- Flying lines are made of a very strong, technologically advanced material, frequently Dyneema, in order to handle the dynamic load of various riders in unpredictable wind while maintaining a small cross-sectional profile to minimize drag. They come in many different sizes, generally between seven and thirty-three meters, although shorter and longer lines are not unheard of; experimentation with different line lengths is common in kiteboarding. The lines attach the rider's control bar to the kite at its edges or through the bridle. Most power kites use a 3, 4 or 5-line configuration. The 5th line is used to aid in water re-launching or adjusting the kite's angle of attack.
- The control bar is a solid metal or composite bar which attaches to the kite via the lines. The rider holds on to this bar and controls the kite by pulling at its ends, causing the kite to rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise like a bicycle. Typically a chicken loop from the control bar is attached to a latch or hook on a spreader bar on the rider's harness. Most bars also provide a quick-release safety-system and a control strap to adjust the kite's angle of attack. While kite control bars are made intentionally light, they must also be very strong, and so are usually heavier than water; "bar floats" made of foam are generally fixed to the lines right above the harness to keep the bar from sinking if lost in the water.
- A kite harness comes in seat (with leg loops), waist or vest types. The harness together with a spreader bar attaches the rider to the control bar. By hooking in, the harness takes most of the strain of the kite's pull off of the rider's arms, and spreads it across a portion of his body. This allows the rider to do jumps and other tricks while remaining attached to the kite via the control bar. Waist harnesses are by far the most popular harnesses among advanced riders, although seat harnesses make it possible to kitesurf with less effort from the rider and vest harnesses provide both flotation and impact protection. Kite harnesses look very, very similar to windsurfing or sailboarding harnesses, but are actually much different; usually a windsurfing harness used for kiteboarding will break very quickly, leading to unpredictable results including possible injury or gear loss.
- Kiteboard, a small composite, wooden, or foam board. There are now several types of kiteboards: directional surf-style boards, wakeboard-style boards, hybrids which can go in either direction but are built to operate better in one of them, and skim-type boards. Some riders also use standard surfboards, or even longboards, although without footstraps much of the high-jump capability of a kite is lost. Twintip boards are the easiest to learn on and are by far the most popular. The boards generally come with sandle-type footstraps that allow the rider to attach and detach from the board easily; this is required for doing board-off tricks and jumps. Kiteboards come in various shapes and sizes to suit the rider's skill level, riding style, wind and water conditions.
Wind strength and kite sizesEdit
Kitesurfers change kite size and/or line length from the harness to the kite depending on wind strength -- stronger winds call for a smaller kite to prevent overpower situations. It is important to avoid using too large a kite, particularly when you are new to the sport.
Kites come in different aspect ratios (AR). The AR refers to how much of the kite is exposed to the wind and what angle the wind takes as it passes through the kite. Newer kites also provide a "depower" option to reduce the power in the kite. By using depower, the kite's angle of attack to the wind is reduced, thereby catching less wind in the kite and reducing the power or pull.
The more optimal these factors, the lower wind speed you will be able to perform in. A 170 lbs. rider will need about 8 to 10 knots sustained wind and a larger kite (16 m² or bigger). In 12 - 15 knots you can have a lot of fun by doing low jumps and freestyle maneuvers. 16 - 20 knots on a 16 square meter kite will allow you jumping high, while 20 to 24 knots might allow you to fly with the birds on a 12 square meter kite. An experienced rider generally carries a 'quiver' of different sized kites appropriate for different wind ranges. A typical kite quiver might include 9m², 13m² and 18m² traditional "C-kites". Exact kite sizes will vary depending on rider weight and desired wind ranges.
Bow kites have a wider wind range than C-kites, so two kite sizes (such 7m² and 12m²) could form an effective quiver for winds ranging from 10 to 30+ knots for a 75kg rider.
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