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Can you Kite in Six Knots of Wind?
By Paul Lang
To make kiteboarding accessible to the most people possible, the low-wind limit of kiteboarding needs to be pushed as far down as possible. Decreasing the amount of wind that we need to ride will not only mean more days on the water, but will also open up previously unridable areas for kiteboarding, such as lakes, bays, and other places plagued by light wind. Almost by accident, the development that has been done for kiteboarding course racing boards may be doing just that. In searching for the most efficient and fastest board around a race course, shapers of course racing kiteboards have lowered the threshold for light wind kiteboarding to as little as six knots of wind.
Kasey Campbell, who lives and kites in San Diego, said, “My course racing boards have changed my outlook on light wind kiting. Now, I get excited when it’s blowing 6-10. With a race board, I can get out and kite, and it has changed the way I think about riding. I can do more than just mow the lawn. Since the ability to go upwind is so great, I find myself wandering around to places that were never ever ridable in the past, like kitting in San Diego Bay. Even going kitting in light offshore wind does not scare me anymore.” Because Kasey lives in the Light Wind Capitol of the World, where the wind creeps up to the 10 knot range almost every day, being able to ride in 6-10 knots means doubling or tripling his number of ridable days.
For those who have tried to ride in ultra-light wind, being able to easily ride upwind and even jump in as little as six knots of wind doesn’t sound believable. Alex Aguera, who shaped many of the top boards at the 2010 Course Racing World Championship, gave us the reasons why course racing boards are so efficient. “There is a combination of characteristics that make race boards really fast in light winds compared to other kiteboards including surfboard-style boards. First is the size of the race boards, which are generally wider creating more planing area. Second, the fins are much bigger and create a lot of force to brace against when powering up your kite. The fins will create an almost hydrofoil affect/sensation and lift the board up a little. This in turn will give you a bit of acceleration as well as much increased upwind ability which is nice on really light wind days. Third, less rocker in these boards creates an earlier planing board,” Alex said.
It’s true that race boards can be challenging to ride and difficult to control, especially downwind. For riders that are not interested in racing, there may be a solution to being able to ride in very light wind, while not having to master an unwieldy course racing board. When asked about the possibility of a board designed to be a light wind kiteboard, as opposed to a strict course racing board, Mike Zajicek, a San Francisco-based shaper, said, “That one is certainly open to possibilities. We could add some curves to the outline and rocker, go with a double or tri fin set up for comfort, and fin size could be selected for comfort.” When asked the same question, Aguera said, “I would recommend a race board with shorter fat fins that are easier to ride that come standard on my CR 53 and CR 59. A pro racer upgrades the fins to create more upwind ability. In turn, the larger fins are harder to control downwind if you are an average cruiser just interested in kiting in light air. The CR 53 seems to be sufficient for most kiters who just want to rip in light winds and it is easier to ride as well as faster downwind.”
The idea of a light-wind cruising board built just for kiting in light wind is an interesting one, and it looks like there might be one available shortly after this issue hits newsstands. We talked to Nils Stolzlecher of NJS Designs, and he informed us that he will soon have a production board designed for light wind cruising that he is calling the Freeride. “The Freeride is going to have smaller fins, more rocker, and be a wider board with a narrower tail. It’s a pleasure to ride because unlike a race board, it doesn’t take a lot of back leg pressure to ride. It will have a thruster fin configuration and will be built to be more durable than a race board,” said Nils.
The Reality Check:
Unfortunately, there are limits to being able to ride in light wind. Even now, with race boards having pushed the limit down to where it is now, we’ve passed a point where you cannot drop your kite if you want to avoid a swim. With a race board, you can actually ride is way less wind than what is needed to relaunch your kite from the water. Also, when riding at the light wind limit, you are much more susceptible to small changes in wind speed. If you are riding in 20 knots and the wind dies to 18 for a few minutes, you might barely notice the difference. However, if you are riding in six and the wind drops to four, it will take a miracle just to keep your kite in the sky, let alone get back to the beach.
Even though you can ride upwind and even jump on a race board, riding waves on one is basically out of the question. “I don’t think you would want to ride waves on a race board, as waves do not like straight lines,” said Zajicek. Also, because of the size of the boards, powered wakestyle moves are completely out of the question.
Even so, a race board, or even a race-inspired cruiser board could open up a new world of possibilities, especially for riders who are not into riding waves or throwing powered moves. Even in moderate and high winds, the upwind ability of a race board allows you to cover a lot more ground than other types of boards. This makes kiting in some conditions and some places possible where it just wasn’t possible before. Is it the same as a good day of kiting on your regular board? Definitely not, but it’s better than slogging on a surfboard or twin tip and a lot better than sitting on the beach waiting for the wind to come up just a little bit more.