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The 2014 TKB testing team in La Ventana.

The 2014 TKB Freeride Testing Team.

For the 2014 Freeride Gear Test TKB trucked 28 kite models and 18 board models to La Ventana, Mexico, one of the best locations for reliable wind in North America during the winter months. The product reviews will be posting soon.

Our test team was hand selected from a large number of applicants and were chosen to represent the average kiteboarding demographic. Meet the testers below and see what 2014 kiteboarding products they chose as their favorites.

Cherie Costello

2014-TKB-TESTER-CHERIE“I am most happy when I can be out in nature, playing with my friends and family.”

Age: Old enough to know better but young enough to do it anyway
Hometown: Hood River, OR
Weight: 114 lbs.
Riding for How Long: 4 years
Typical Local Conditions: The Gorge! Windy (20-25 average) with frequent gusts, chop and swell (which often cap and break)

Style of Riding/Level: I am an advanced-intermediate rider who is comfortable in all but the gnarliest of conditions. After stepping onto a surfboard last year, I realized that I love riding waves & swell! The Gorge has a lot of high wind days where the opposing forces of wind vs. river current create big, beautiful rollers that are a blast to carve down, or use as ramps for getting air.

Current Quiver: Kites: 4.5m Slingshot RPM, 5.5m & 7m Cabrinha Drifters, 10m Cabrinha Crossbow. Boards: 5’0″ Cabrinha Skillit, 128 Cabrinha Caliber twin-tip.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? There is a lot of really exceptional new gear out there, and something for everybody. I became much more in tune with the details of a kite or board’s performance, and how it affects the riders experience depending on their riding style. While I might prefer a kite that is lively and responsive, another rider might deem the same kite unstable or twitchy – it’s all about personal preference.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: Although I love the board and kites I currently ride, out of the all the gear I tested, my favorite kite was the North Evo, and my favorite board was the Crazy Fly Raptor Pro. In the Gorge, I need a kite that will take me upwind with ease, handle gusts with grace, turn at a moments notice, or drift patiently with me as I play on the swell, and the Evo met those requirements exceptionally well. The kite was fun and responsive, always had power to boost me in the air, glide me gently back down, and await my next request – I knew I could count on it to perform as needed in any situation.

Board: Since I have not been on a twin-tip board in awhile, I had forgotten how much fun they can be to ride, so I really enjoyed the Raptor Pro. The bindings were quite comfortable, and it went upwind well, yet had enough shape to carve effortless turns. It felt light and lively underfoot, seemed to love getting air, and flexed enough to make for forgiving landings and a smooth ride – an all around fun, playful ride!

Davey Beard

2014-TKB-TESTER-DAVEY“I love water and wind sports and can’t wait to see how kiting continues to progress.”

Age: See how long I’ve been kiting…
Hometown: Santa Barbara, CA
Weight: 185 lbs.
Riding for How Long: My first kite didn’t have a chicken loop.
Typical Local Conditions: Waves & flatwater.
Style of Riding/Level: Freeride, race, and some waves.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? Almost all the gear was good. It was interesting to try and find each equipment’s forte and try to push that aspect of my riding during a test session.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: I liked the Blade Trigger 9m for its huge boost and very predictable smooth performance. Board: The North Jaime 136 seemed to have the best outline for my size balancing upwind performance and pop and control for tricks.

Dray Murray

2014-TKB-TESTER-DRAY“I work at in the kite industry at Murrays.com and I loved the opportunity to try all this equipment back to back and to get to know it beyond the hype.”

Age: 34
Hometown: Carpinteria, CA
Weight: 180 lbs.
Riding for How Long: I took my 1st lesson in 2000, but only started taking kiting seriously in the last 4 years.
Typical Local Conditions: Waves
Style of Riding/Level: Strapless Surf / Intermediate

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? Kites designs are getting more and more specialized to different styles of riding, even these “all-around” kites had varying intentions and capabilities. And many people have widely differing opinions on what they like.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: For myself I like a kite with quick pivotal turns and that is really stable above all else for use in the surf. The F-One Bandit and Best Cabos both fit the bill nicely as they were very responsive with quick turn initiation, they refused to come down LE forward, and even resisted back stalling well. A third candidate which was more of a surprise was the Cabrinha Vector for it’s rock solid stability and easy predictable handling, albeit not as quick as the other two. I didn’t get to test their low wind ability, which could have been the deciding factor, as it was I’d take the Cabo, because I liked the bar better than the F-One and it had less canopy flutter.
Board:Admittedly I’m no expert on twin tips, I looked for comfortable straps and pads, how well they handled the chop, landings, tracking and turning ability. I’m used to surfboards so really don’t like to have to ride loading up my back leg to get upwind. This lead me towards the boards with more rocker and more arc to the rail. My top 3 were Axis Vanguard, RRD Bliss and Fone Trax. Having to choose one I’m taking the Vanguard for its versatility and just riding comfort.

Eric McAuliffe

2014-TKB-TESTER-ERIC“I travel throughout the US and sometimes to Mexico for work servicing utility scale wind turbines, and this gives me a chance to kite board in lots of locations and different conditions. ”

Age: 27
Hometown: Tahoe City, CA
Weight: 175 lbs.
Riding for How Long: 2 years
Typical Local Conditions:Tahoe: Gusty high altitude, wind swell up to 6′ with chop, also some flat water. Sherman island: Rollers and flat water with consistent wind.

Style of Riding/Level: I am working towards wakestyle/freestyle riding, as well as big sent jumps and kite loops when the conditions are strong. I would like to get more ocean and surf experience. I’m beginning unhooked tricks like raley’s and s-bends.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? Since I have limited experience with equipment other than my Naish Torch 2010 C kites, the most eye opening thing about riding all the different gear was how amazingly different various kites handle and fly, bar pressure etc. From this I have determined that there is a kite out there that will provide every single rider, regardless of what style/skill level, the performance, handling, and forgiveness that suites their style. The main point I picked up on when looking for a new kite or board is fly and ride as many different brands and models as possible, to find the one that suites your style of riding.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: The Core Riot 9 was a total hit with most everyone who tested it. It wants to fly fast, and turns/loops quickly with a nice constant pull through the turn. I found it easy to ride the waves downwind and roll the kite over back and forth through the window, not stalling as long as you flew it actively. The boost/hangtime is also very good, it sent me on some of the biggest airs I’ve ever done. The de-power offers a fairly wide range for when you find yourself riding overpowered, the 12m also had really good de-power. The only part of the setup I disliked was the chicken loop release system. It is a twist action, not push to activate.
Board: The RRD Bliss 134x40cm carved real nice, cut through chop well and didn’t spray at all. It’s nice and light and feels snappy and nimble with solid pop, but is fairly stiff which made for a harder landing after a big jump. Being lighter weight, it was a little bouncy, but nothing unmanageable. The pads were very comfortable and I felt locked in to the board after careful adjustment.

Evangeline Amores

2014-TKB-TESTER-EVANGELINE“I was addicted to tennis before I discovered kiteboarding and now, I have a bad case of wind addiction.”

Age: 46- probably too old to be doing this.
Hometown: San Francisco
Weight: 120 lbs.
Riding for How Long: 4 years
Typical Local Conditions: I generally ride in 3rd Avenue- generally strong steady winds but occasionally gusty, currents can be pretty strong and pretty big swells.

Style of Riding/Level: I mainly free ride venturing more into freestyle, I like jumping ,riding swells and small waves, and doing downwinders.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? I was amazed by the “user friendliness” of almost all of the 2014 gear, especially the simplicity in design of most kite bars and the ease of relaunch of most kites.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: I liked the North Evo because the bar pressure is light enough so my arm doesn’t get tired as much, stable enough so it doesn’t feel “twitchy” but reactive enough so easy to move it around. It has good wind range and enabled me to do higher jumps. It only has 4 lines so it’s not as complicated as their 5-line models.
Board: I liked the Slingshot Misfit 132x40cm because it compliments my riding style- a fun board that floats well with the waves, enables me to pop off the water easily, and light enough that My legs don’t get tired after riding for a while.

Frank Russo

2014-TKB-TESTER-FRANK“I thrive on taking up hobbies, sports and activities that are very difficult at first, but once you get it, you learn exponentially from then on out.”

Age: 27
Hometown: Stony Brook, NY.
Weight: 150 lbs.
Riding for How Long: Bought my first kite, a trainer, 19 months ago.
Typical Local Conditions: We have it all. Butter flat water in the islands in the Great South Bay, out East, and at low tide at our local beach. Waves on the ocean. Varying levels of chop and waves everywhere else. Depending on the wind direction, your mood, and how much time before or after work you have determines where we go to kite.

Style of Riding/Level: Freestyle/Freeride. Upwinder enthusiast. Starting to unhook and progress beyond rolls, loops, boosted jumps and …Gaileys.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? All the gear we tested really was excellent. Certain kites and boards did things better than others, but there was no such thing as “the best” kite. Buying a kite is about looking at yourself in the mirror and determining what kind of rider you are, and what you like to feel in a kite the majority of the time you are out kiting. It’s about you, not the kite.

Being able to put down and pick up another kite at any moment, meant that by the last day (once our work was done), I could choose a kite to fly depending on my mood. I learned so much by testing kites back to back to back that I feel completely prepared for purchasing gear in the future. By the last day, I really felt like an expert in terms of how long it took me to get a feel for a kite.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: The conditions at my local kite spots mean that buying a pure freestyle or free ride kite is out of the question – I need something versatile. My favorite kiting session we had last season started by launching at a downwind location in and riding up wind to the most interesting flat water spot accessible.

My kite of choice needs to have moderate bar pressure, and great upwind performance. I want it to fly smooth and stable for the long trip. In a perfect world, I would start off with the Ozone Catalyst for the ride TO the flat water spot. I want to save my energy for when I get there. The Catalyst just wants to be in the air. It is smooth flying, incredibly stable and has light, comfortable, responsive bar input.

Then, upon arriving at the flat water spot, I would switch over to the JN Wild Thing to have some great fun in the flat water. Fast turns, great jumps, strong pull and good stability make this a great kite for this session.

However, since I may only bring one kite – I would go with the North Evo. It does nearly everything I want in a kite well, with a great ratio of freestyle characteristics to free ride characteristics that just fit my personality, riding style, and local kite spots.

Jeff Senne

2014-TKB-TESTER-JEFF“Kiting is one of the things that keeps my young. There is always a new challenge and even when I am frustrated, I can find the zen of the ride. I hope to continue kiting for 30 more years. Maybe by then I will be able to jibe a surfboard? ”

Age: 46
Hometown: Washington DC
Weight: 195 lbs.
Riding for How Long: 5 years
Typical Local Conditions: Chop and Waves
Style of Riding/Level: I can jump well, it is the landing that is the problem. Just started unhooking and working on tricks. Love the surf.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? I liked nearly all the gear. Much of it was not for me, as it did not match my style and what I want from my gear, but most all the gear was solid. The trick is to get to know yourself and what you like. Not every kite can do everything best. Decide what is important to you and what can be second best.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: Surfstyle is what is most important to me which means drift and re launch are critical especially given I am not as good as I think I am and can get myself in tricky spots, so having a kite that is predictable is key. I also like low end power and grunt as I hate being underpowered. For all this I like the Slingshot Rally best. It has amazing drift, great relaunch, good low end and boosts like an elevator as a bonus. While I am not a fan of below the bar sheeting, I also like the bar. 2nd place – I was very surprised how much I liked the Bandit. This was a near perfect kite. It simply did everything well. Not the best at anything, but one of the best all around kites I have ever flown.

Board: As for boards, I did not find one I thought I must add to my quiver, but the Axis Vanguard has me wondering. It has a nice rocker that made it much more maneuverable, while still being sticky enough to go upwind. But I had to watch how hard I pushed it or I would wash out the rear end. The F One Trax was also a favorite of mine. Rides like a dream in the chop.

Jonathan Dixon

2014-TKB-TESTER-JOHN“How did I get this lucky?”

Hometown: Sausalito, CA
Weight: 185 lbs.
Riding for How Long: 4 years
Typical Local Conditions: Chop, flatwater and waves.
Style of Riding/Level: Lots of twin-tipping and jumping, and now nailing 80% of my jibes on a strapped surfboard.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test?From 2010 when I started kiting to 2012, there seemed to be major improvements to safety systems and to a lesser extent canopy shapes and strut configurations. From 2012 to 2014 it feels more like small refinements.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?Kite:The Core 12 meter was my kind of kite. Fast yet stable, and a boosting monster. Did not get to ride it in lower winds to test it’s low end, or in waves to test it’s drift, but riding powered on a TT it was my favorite by far.

Board: I’d grab the Core 12 and the Xenon LaLuz and head out and you wouldn’t see me come back for a good while.

Laird Davis

2014-TKB-TESTER-LAIRD“I’m a middle-aged connoisseur of tacky single track, deep powder, and strong winds on sparkling blue water…. followed by Northwest brews.”

Age: 54 – the new 30.
Hometown: Hood River, OR
Weight: 185 lbs.
Riding for How Long: 5 years
Typical Local Conditions: 50% high winds on Columbia River Gorge and 50% Pacific ocean waves.
Style of Riding/Level: Expert. I’m at home riding surfboards in ocean waves and high winds. I like to be fully powered and I enjoy flying my kite with speed and precision.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? Try before you buy. There’s no substitute for actually riding the equipment. I was amazed how many people demoed the same gear and had completely different opinions about the performance.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself? I split my time between the strong winds of the Columbia River and the lighter wind conditions on the Pacific Ocean. I never “mow the lawn”. I’m either racing upwind or surfing downwind. I ride a surfboard with straps because I love to jump but occasionally ride strapless. My equipment has to perform well on all points of sail, have bomb-proof construction, easy to rig, and be safe.

Kite: For big kites in light winds (15 25) I’m cruising and jumping. I want a stable kite that stays where I put it set it and forget it. I also want a kite that responds to aggressive handling in transitions and jumping grip it and rip it. I would choose the Slingshot Rally. I would also be happy with the Core Riot XR3 or North Evo. For small kites in big winds (25 50) I want a kite that reads my mind, is easy to fly one-handed but isn’t twitchy in strong gusts. My first choice would be the Slingshot RPM. I would also be happy with the North Dice.

Marko Bartscherer

2014-TKB-TESTER-MARKO“At home the only kite I take to the beach is my 17.5 ASV, depending on the conditions I pick a board to go with it.”

Age: 44
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Weight: 226 lbs.
Riding for How Long: 13 years
Typical Local Conditions: Light wind, flat water and surf.
Style of Riding/Level: A bit of everything, surfboard when the surf is good, race board when the wind is light, twintip in flat water, scary waves or when I feel like jumping around.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? Almost all kites work well in perfect conditions, where you see the biggest differences is in fluky scenarios like a wind hole on the inside or just gusty conditions

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: I liked the 10m trigger a lot. It was so much fun, quick turning, good jumps and just the right amount of bar pressure for my taste.
Board: For boards I really liked the slingshot glide, it handled the chop really well, planned up early went upwind really well and was really fast driving downwind, and being as big as it is it may actually work at home.

Members of the TKB Staff also participated in testing gear. Brendan Richards, Gary Martin, Eunice Martin, Ginette Buttone, and Alexis Rovira all contributed their input on the products TKB tested in La Ventana.