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After a long absence from the US market Gaastra returned last year. Many riders thought Gaastra was a new brand, not realizing the company has been in existence for over 100 years and has been producing kites since the early 2000s. For 2014 the Gaastra line has received a big update with two brand new kites, the Spark and Toxic. Gaastra’s Urs Hungerbuhler and Tim Hendrics answered our questions about the 2014 Gaastra kite line.
Gaastra just re-emerged in the US last year after a long absence, so many kiters here think it’s a new company. What’s unique about the history of Gaastra compared to other kite manufacturers?
Yes, we played a fairly small roll in the US kitesurfing scene over the last few years, but Gaastra has a long history. The brand was originally founded way back in 1897, Gaastra Windsurfing has been on top of windsurfing since 1980, and Gaastra has played and important role in kitesurfing since around 2003. Gaastra was in the US market then, but then went through a reorganization and the new owners (US and German) decided to focus on the market in Europe first. We built our own factory to have full control of research and development as well as production. Of course it took some time to get things perfect, but Gaastra Kites is running very well in Europe now, so the US is the logical next step.
It looks like the kite line is getting a big update for 2014. What are the biggest changes?
Yes, and actually this was a long term plan. We started 2013 with big updates, for example the Pure, a modern C-kite, and the Jet race equipment line were launched last year. For 2014 we replaced the Jekyll and Hatch with two completely new kites. We know not everybody likes this, but for sure we kept all the good things we learned with these kites. We felt it was the right time to introduce the Spark and Toxic. Also our proven and well-known X2 bar system got some minor updates.
Both the Jekyll and the Hatch had been around for multiple years. Why replace them with new kite models?
As the demands of kiters change over the years we need to continuously develop all our kites. The existing kites get improvements, upgrades, and new features every year to meet the needs of the new riding styles and challenges. I think after a number of years of continuous development on a certain kite model it is good to just design it newly from scratch. Of course all the knowledge of the previous kites are still in there. That is what we did this year with these two kites. The Spark and the Toxic are completely new designs and they deserve a new name.
What type of rider is each of the 2014 kites designed for?
The Spark is the most versatile kite in our range and meets almost all the requirements of all styles of riding. It is a crossover freeride kite. The focus during the development was usability and diversity and the goal was to build a kite for everyone. The Toxic is a wave freeride kite. We made sure that this kite has a great ability to drift if the lines go slack and that it remains manoeuvrable. The kite perfectly suits riders using surfboards.
The Pure is our freestyle kite. Our goal was to develop a kite which satisfied all the requirements of freestylers while still being fun for a wide range of riders. The C-kite feeling was important but we didn’t want to lose the advantages of bridled kites which have more depower and in general a larger wind range.
The Jet is our race and light wind kite. The target was clear – fast, fast, and faster. This is a no-compromise race kite. What was a surprising side effect is its handling. Even though it is a high AR kite with fast flying profiles it remained easy to handle. Its turning speed and easiness of control was surprising even to myself. The Jet can be easily used as a light wind freeride kite, but using a directional freeride or race board is the best choice.
Gaastra claims that the HPX Dacron and twin seams result in a 50% stronger leading edge. Can you talk about this?
The leading edge is probably the part of a kite which suffers the most in crashes and with simple daily use. We decided to take a closer look at it to find ways to make it stronger without adding a lot of weight, so we did a lot of tests in our laboratory. We tried many combinations of different threads, stitch length, double stitching, and so on. At the end I went to the sewing machine mechanic and asked him to modify a machine so it could stitch two threads at the same time through the same needle hole. I still remember how this guy looked at me and said, “That’s impossible!” Well, a few days later he showed up super proud and presented his modified machine. We stitched some samples with that machine, using the best thread combination we found through hundreds of collapse load tests and then repeated the load tests. The result was a significantly stronger seam.
How should a light wind rider decide between the Spark 16 and Jet 17?
Both kites can be used for light wind kiting. If a rider is more performance oriented and considers using a directional free race board or even a race board then the Jet 17 is the right choice. The Spark 16 is more suitable for twin tip boards and riders who are not speed oriented but still want to jump a bit and do some wakestyle tricks.
Why doesn’t the Jet have a single inflation point system?
Mainly to save 150g of weight. The Jets are our lightest kites. A full quiver of Jet kites is only slightly above 12kg. Additionally, the struts can be inflated to a better stiffness when they don’t share inflation with the leading edge, which improves performance.
Are there any updates to the bar for 2014? What are some features of the bar that make it unique?
For the 2014 bar we did upgrade the depower rope. After more than a year of testing ropes we found one which lasts significantly longer than the previous one which already was not bad. We also added a clamp to the end of the depower rope which allows you to attach the loose end in order to prevent it from tangling. The magnetic quick release system is unique. There are no parts that get worn or damaged over time. It is also always easy to open without unexpected openings and is extremely easy to reassemble in any situation.
The integrated swivel and automatic untwist keeps all lines untangled, so there is no need to untwist the swivel by hand in order to keep the safety line clean. The whole safety system is very compact and is probably the shortest on the market. This allows us to use a bigger chicken loop without creating problems for people with short arms.