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Cross-Pollination: Kiteboarding Crossover Technology
By Paul Lang
“It’s like we’re climbing two ladders at the same time.” That’s what Liquid Force Board Shaper Jimmy Redmon said when asked about how working on products for one sport creates knowledge and ideas for another sport. As a shaper of both wakeboards and kiteboards, Jimmy is in a fairly unique position to see how those two sports influence each other. “Because our perspective is wider, we are thinking of both simultaneously,” Jimmy continued. “The fact that there is this cross-pollination has made it more exciting for me to make whatever it is we need.”
From the beginning of kiteboarding, designers of kiteboarding gear have been borrowing ideas and technology from other sports to create the equipment that kiteboarders use, and that’s unlikely to change in the near future. What has changed is that now the sport of kiteboarding is not just taking, but also giving back to the sports it borrowed from.
In wakeboarding, the rise in popularity of cable parks has brought the sports of kiteboarding and wakeboarding closer together. “All of the growth and accessibility in wakeboarding is all about cable parks, which happen to have the same angle of pull as kiteboarding,” said Jimmy. “That, combined with the whole rail movement in wakeboarding, created a situation where wakeboarders wanted a different kind of board, and it was really similar to the kind of board that works really well for kiteboarding.“
Sometimes, when designing new products, a new idea just doesn’t quite work out. Constantly being around both wakeboarders and kiteboarders has helped Jimmy Redmon find applications for ideas that otherwise would have been thrown away. “I made these crazy fantasy wakeboard prototypes for Shane Bonifay in various flexes, and the ones that just completely didn’t work behind a boat became these magic boards that Mauricio Abreu, Jason Slezak, and Julien Fillion got on and said, ‘When can we get a board like this? This thing’s unreal.’ If I had only been designing wakeboards, those boards would have been thrown aside and we would have said, ‘Well, that didn’t work.’ Being around team riders from both wake and kite, I’m getting hit from both sides, and each side is influencing the other. There’s this great blending and synergy that’s happening.”
Slingshot, another manufacturer of both kite and wake products, has also found that having two sports under one roof can have benefits when technology developed for one sport finds a home in another. According to Slingshot’s Mira Kwon, “We take the wake Future Response Technology and apply it to kiteboards to benefit the rider in a number of ways. It’s a proprietary way we lay up our foam and wood to get a high-performance board with a high strength-to-weight ratio. FRT is the flex and rebound that comes out of the combination of ingredients in the board’s core. It improves the flex, feel, responsiveness, pop, energy, and rebound of the boards. We are also doing some secret binding work that will be a crossover from wake to a kite product.”
Kiteboarding course racing is increasing in popularity and the course racing equipment is evolving at a wild pace. Race board shaper Nils Stolzlechner from NJS Designs works with technicians at Future Fins to share knowledge on fin development. “What I share and get from Future is their technicians, the CNC technology, and suggestions on different profiles and angles for the fins I design. Since the process is very expensive, up to $1,000 for a new fin design, I now start off with stock fins, re-foil them, and see what results I get before committing to creating a completely new design. So far we have designed 10 different versions of fins, most of them an improvement over older versions. Because of their knowledge we have not had any failures and this helps drive the R&D effort in the right direction faster.” Nils gets a lot from his partnership with Future Fins, but the sharing of knowledge is a two-way street. “When I send the re-foiled fins back to Future, their technicians clean them up and CNC final designs. Future Fins then tests the kite fins on regular surfboards to check how they work. The crossover work influences three sports now: Surfing, kitesurfing, and SUP.”
At the far end of the crossover spectrum of gear is equipment from one sport that can be simply picked up and used in another sport. As kiteboarders push themselves in the waves, they’ve heavily relied on the knowledge base of the surfing industry in the development of kitesurfing gear. Firewire Surfboards just recently began producing kiteboards, and their boards are not just modified surfboards, they are surfboards. “Our goal with the Firewire Kiteboards was to produce the exact same boards as our surfboards, just more durable for kiting,” said Firewire CEO Mark Price. “We’ve spent a lot of time developing boards for the surf, and in working with Felix Pivic to develop the kiteboards, he was very specific that the shape of the boards not be different than the regular surfboards. Before we worked with him he was actually buying standard Firewire boards from a retail shop because he found they were the best performing boards for him.” The end product of that line of thinking is a board that can be easily paddle-surfed or kitesurfed. The board is simply made to ride a wave, and it doesn’t care how it got there.
As kiteboarding continues to grow and mature, not only will it continue to borrow ideas from other sports, but the technologies within kiteboarding will have more to offer other sports. Why should we care about this? More crossover between different sports will mean better gear for everyone. No longer just a crazy-looking small fringe sport, kiteboarding is a part of the board riding community, which is much larger than kiteboarding itself. If designers across all of the boardsports can find new ideas that they wouldn’t have thought of otherwise by looking to other sports, including kiteboarding, we all benefit.