The 2015 TKB Freeride Testing Team.

The 2015 TKB Freeride Testing Team.

For the 2015 Freeride Gear Test, TKB trucked 32 kite models and 25 board models to La Ventana, Mexico, one of the best locations for reliable wind in North America during the winter months.

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 2015 kiteboarding products they chose as their favorites.

Aaron Stephens

TESTING-TEAM-A-IMG_7340“I am very passionate about kiteboarding. Other than my family, kiteboarding is really the only other thing that I truly love! I am really going to miss the Ballenas of Pacifico!”

Weight: 200lbs
Riding for How Long: 7 years
Typical Local Conditions: Flat water, chop, some waves in light and high winds. We get it all in Michigan!
Style of Riding/Level: Freeride
Current Quiver: Blade Fat Lady 17m, Airush Lithium 10m, 12m, 14m, Epic Renegade 9m, Airush Cypher 5’8″, Crazy Fly Raptor Pro, Epic Oxygen, Epic Droid

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? Just because two or three guys say a kite it great does not necessarily mean that you will like that kite. There were many times when a couple guys said a kite was cool and then I’d ride it and I hated it. There really is a big difference between different kite brands and models. I never understood why companies like North and Cabrinha make 5 or 6 different model kites but now I know. My advice to anyone that has some experience and knows what they like is do not just buy a kite on a whim. Always try to demo the kite first. Many of the kites that I expected to like I didn’t and other models that I never even considered I ended up loving.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: I know that you only want one but I really had two kites that I liked a lot but they were both completely different performers. I like to have a lot of low end grunt and pulling power in my kite.

The Slingshot Rally had that power. It made power all of the time. The 11m seemed to make the power of a 12 or maybe a 13m in the conditions that I rode it in. It was a little slower turning than what I am used to but it made consistent power throughout the turn and I really liked that.

The second kite that I really liked was the Naish Pivot. This kite did not have as much low end grunt as what I am used to but it was so fast in the turns that you could generate power when you wanted to simply by pumping the kite quickly. This was the kite that really excited me while I was using it.

Board: The Axis Vanguard and the Axis Division were my two favorite boards. I really want to give you just one board because that’s what you are asking for but both were excellent. I really can’t decide!

The multiple concave bottom layer of the Vanguard really locked in its edge when you would lay back into it which in turn would just slice through the chop.

The Division was almost as good through the chop but was just slightly bouncier. However, this board had just a little more playfulness to it. I would release from the water easier when doing rolls and boosts.

Davey Beard

TESTING-TEAM-A-IMG_7376“Me? I’m just your average kitesurfer.”

Weight: 185lbs
Riding for How Long: 14 years
Typical Local Conditions: 8-16mph flat, kelp-infested water.
Style of Riding/Level: Race and freeride with some surf, but mostly foilboarding lately.
Current Quiver: North/Naish/Ozone/Slingshot/Spotz (everything)

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? I was really pleased with the gear this year. Designers did some smart things like reducing weight and improving bridles for all around better kites. It seemed like the main choice was either a kite that sat deeper in the window or more towards the edge i.e. Evo vs. Dice. It’d be great if they could somehow roll that into one kite with some sort of bridle adjustment or something. Thanks for a great week! Wish I was back in LV now.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: I found the Nobile T5 to be extremely stable and efficient. It turned fast and generated a lot of power through the window when actively flown but sat steady and pulled upwind well when I didn’t want to actively steer. The thinner bladder made the kite very efficient (fast and light) but a little floppy on relaunch. The bride was tuned perfectly though allowing a very solid structure when flying so it felt very rigid around the window, no fluttering or distorting. The solid, stable easy flying nature allowed me to focus on riding and tricks and ignore trying to keep the kite in the air.

At the other extreme, the North Rebel was a beast. It was smooth but required a bit more attention to constantly fly actively – it really wanted to jet to the edge of the window on me. But active flying generated a ridiculous amount of power on demand – huge airs, powered kite loops – and nice landings since the kite could be controlled so precisely on the down stroke even while hanging under it.

Board: As far as boards, I really like wood core for twin tip freeriding. It smooths out the bumps but has nice pop. It is a bit heavier than the full carbon boards, but I feel it’s worth it – the board is not holding me back in tricks but more my skill level. 135-136/41-42 seems to be the magic numbers for board size for me. The last and most important thing is foot straps. CrazyFly has some of the best, but North and LF also have comfy options.

Dray Murray

TESTING-TEAM-A-IMG_7365“I mostly ride waves so the kite characteristics that I look for first are stability, responsiveness and turning speed. I like a really fast kite. After that I look for wind range, upwind angle and, since we were testing in La Ventana, boosting.”

Weight: 180lbs
Riding for How Long: 7 years
Typical Local Conditions: 15-20 knots side-on with waves.
Style of Riding/Level: Strapless Surf
Current Quiver: 6, 7 and 12m LF Envy, 9m Airush Wave, 10m Blade Trigger, 17m Blade Fat Lady, 5’7″ Airush compact wave, 5’1″ LF Messanger.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? It is really cool to see how kite companies are starting to get really good at blending the traditional high and low aspect kite characteristics to make higher aspect kites turn really fast and are really stable while still offering the wind range and smooth power delivery that high aspect kites are known for. So some of the new high aspect kites are moving beyond racing and park and ride kites to lend their attributes to more active flyers.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: Hard to say, there were a lot of really nice kites in the test. Some of the surprises were the Ocean Rodeo Flite’s responsiveness and wind range and the Nobile T5s boosting prowess.

If I were to change something in my current quiver I would choose the Liquid Force Solo and Foil, because that was my favorite combo of the test week. The foil really opens up a whole new aspect to the sport and would extend the wind range of all my current kites, some even into the single digits. I felt the Solo was the right kite for the foils because it is so light, stable and has so much low end that it will be effective in really light winds. I found foiling really addictive because it presents a totally new challenge in learning how to ride it which I really enjoyed having this new obstacle to overcome to get this completely new riding sensation. When done right, foiling is really easy on the body because it is so efficient, needing very little pull from the kite meaning less stress on your body, and the smooth ride is also really easy on the knees. Riding a foil is a trip with how silent, smooth, fast and how far upwind they go. Foils open up so many more days to kiting as I live in Southern California where we get heaps of days in the low teens that just haven’t been fun to kite but now with a foil all those days will be prime foiling conditions.

Otherwise, I would choose the Naish Pivot because it was a very responsive kite with a sharp turning radius which are two aspects I look for in a good wave kite, and the medium aspect canopy shape was able to blend the pivotal turning of a low aspect kite with the smooth power delivery and larger wind range of a high aspect kite.

Board: The Cabrinha Ace would be my freeride board of choice because of its really comfortable and secure footstraps, softer flex, slightly rounded outline and medium rocker, which all made it a very comfortable board to ride in the choppy conditions in La Ventana. I’m not a wakestyle rider — I just look for boards that are not going to beat up my knees edging or on landings and will get me upwind with minimal effort, and the Cabrinha Ace did that for me. If there aren’t many reviews on this board it’s because I was on it almost the whole time.

Jason Kane

TESTING-TEAM-A-IMG_7355“Moved back to the SF Bay Area 3 years ago, started kiting and can’t stop. What a great sport. Thank you very much to The Kiteboarder Magazine crew and the rest of the test team for an epic week. Look forward to riding with you all again soon.”

Weight: 165lbs
Riding for How Long: 3 years
Typical Local Conditions: Strapless waves
Style of Riding/Level: Primarily Waves, flat water when I can’t make that happen.

Current Quiver: Boardriding Maui Cloud C2 quiver – F-One Mitu 5’6″ – Taaroa Sword.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? Since the test, people have been asking me what the best equipment was. There was not a kite that stood out as better than the rest, as all the manufacturers are producing excellent products. What I loved, the tester sitting next to me may have not. It comes down to style and how we ride.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: Ben Wilson Noise Pro – This extremely stable wave kite is so much different from the quick turning Clouds I fly. It would be a nice complement to the quiver and a killer tool for unhooked wave riding.

Board: Axis Vanguard – Very comfortable and confidence inspiring in choppy conditions.

John Steimle

TESTING-TEAM-A-IMG_7338“I’m a 6’ 3” 215 pound rider that likes to do jumps, back rolls, double back rolls, and front rolls. Next, I want to progress into surfboards and foils. I mainly kite at 3rd Avenue in the San Francisco Bay where there is lots of chop.”

Weight: 215 lbs
Riding for How Long: 6 years
Typical Local Conditions: Chop, and more chop, typically in the 18-25 knot range.
Style of Riding/Level: Freeride, Freestyle
Current Quiver: 2011 9m North Fuse and bar, 2013 12m North Fuse – Underground Future
What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? A manufacturer’s kite and bar performance can change significantly from year to year. It’s best to try it before you buy it.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: Blade Trigger. Great boost, hang time, turn speed and tight turn radius.

Board: CrazyFly Allround. Nice, smooth ride in the chop and all around great board. Liked it so much I got one!

Marko Bartscherer

TESTING-TEAM-A-IMG_7336“I really don’t care how windy it is or how big a kite I am using, as long as there is tension on my lines I will be out and having a good time with the appropriate board and kite.”

Weight: 230 lbs
Riding for How Long: 14 years. I learned when kiting was hard and dangerous
Typical Local Conditions: Light wind in 8-13 knots range, flat water and surf.
Style of Riding/Level: I do whatever the conditions of the day are best for. I like riding my foil, riding in surf when the surf is good and jumping around on my twin tip.
Current Quiver: ASV kites 9,11,14,17.5, MHL Lift Foil board, ASV 70cm raceboard, Slingshot Kneeswagger, Litewave 179 and DV8 as well as various other twin tips.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? All gear I tried worked, most gear I tried works well, it really comes down to personal taste, local conditions and riding style for what is right for you. I was very happy seeing how excited the LF guys are about kiting in light wind conditions that most brands wrote off just a few years ago.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: F-One Bandit. I really liked the smooth stable constant pull, especially through the turns as well as the predictable jumping.

Board: Axis Limited Edition. I felt comfortable with the board right on the first tack; it is a comfortable ride and does everything well I want it to do.

Michael Doucet

TESTING-TEAM-A-IMG_7359“I keep busy pretty much kiting; skiing; boarding; and motorcycle riding.”

Weight: 200 lbs
Riding for How Long: 5 years
Typical Local Conditions: Some flat windy Some wave windy.
Style of Riding/Level: All
Current Quiver: Slingshot RPM’s and Rally’s

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? I can kite in any wind conditions with the equipment out there!

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: 12m Liquid Force Solo, great in light wind. This was the kite I used on the first day I got to Baja when I arrived late in the afternoon.  It appeared that the wind had died down and I wouldn’t be able to kite that day.  The boys pumped up the LF Solo 12 kite and from the moment I flew it I was thoroughly impressed! Great low end power…easy to turn with plenty of punch!

Board:  Liquid Force foilboard and Crazy Fly Raptor Pro

The LF foilboard was incredibly user-friendly and much easier to get up on then I anticipated.  The construction was solid and rode really well.The CF  Raptor Pro was a favorite of mine because it was light, responsive, provided great boost and was terrific in the chop.

Mike Stephens

TESTING-TEAM-A-IMG_7353“A little bit of a wild man who likes to play on the water and have fun with everyone whether they’re a kiter or not; I am that guy who will chase down a stranger for a high five on the water or spray some kids on the beach turning a normal beach day into a water park. I’ve earned the nickname ‘Loon-A-Tik.’”

Weight: 160 lbs
Riding for How Long: 7 years
Typical Local Conditions: Michigan varies from butter flats and thermals to choppy and gusty, light to high wind!
Style of Riding/Level: Freestyle/Freeride
Current Quiver: Cabrinha 7m Dart, Wainman Mr. Green and Punch, North Dice 9m & 12m, North Dyno 13m and 15m, and now Flysurfer Speed 3 12m Deluxe, Epic Spartan 129, Crazyfly 132 Raptor Pro Ltd, F-One 134 Trax, Aggression 132 Super Fatty, Aggression 138 Custom, Axis 148 Tandem Vanguard, North 5’8″ Kontact, Switch Landboard

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? I found all the presentations and demos from the kite companies to be incredibly informative. Reading about how gear is designed is one thing but having the gear in front of you with someone who knows how it was made and why it was designed that way shed a whole new light on what goes into design and construction. In retrospect I regret not immediately getting on the kites and boards that we had presentations on that morning and putting more thought into my riding and what was discussed.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: My two favorite kites were the Slingshot Rally and the Naish Pivot.

I enjoyed the Rally because it was incredibly stable and took a little muscle to move around. I have a tendency to over fly a kite so the Rally kind of kept me in line. It also produces huge amounts of power regardless of where it is in the wind window and while not being the fastest turning kite it still produced good power through turns. The boosts were smooth taking off, not jarring like some other kites, and kept a predictable position without too much input.

The Naish Pivot got my attention because it is the exact opposite of the Rally. It truly turns on a pivot and is remarkably agile and responsive. Because of my tendency to over fly the kite I found that I could correct this quickly by bringing the kite back into position; you think it, it does it. Jumping with it was super fun due to the super fast turning speed and you can stack jumps and tricks right after each other. Even though it was fast it didn’t feel twitchy.

Board: The Axis Vanguard stood out as a great all around board that did everything very well. The multiple concave bottom also ate through the chop making an easy ride on the knees and it’s locked in edge gave a lot control. The other board I liked was the Naish Motion. It had a lot of rocker and was very loosey goosey. I had a lot of fun slipping around on the water slashing waves in mid-tack and then quickly continuing to tack. Jumping with it was fun but it’s more wake style as I was getting more rotations in my front roll than I was used to, nothing against the board, just would take a little getting used for my riding style.

Pat O’Connor

TESTING-TEAM-A-IMG_7369“I picked up kiteboarding in my 40’s and it’s the most addicting sport I’ve ever done. If it’s blowing, I’m going!”

Weight: 170lbs
Riding for How Long: 5 years
Typical Local Conditions: Choppy (inland lakes) in 15-30 knot conditions.

Style of Riding/Level: Freeride

Current Quiver: Naish Bolt 16m (2010) and 9m (2012) , 2015 Liquid Force Envy 12m, 2015 Ozone Zephyr 17m, LF Element 133, LF Kitefish

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? I was impressed with the various options, styles and characteristics of the different kites, bars and boards. No two kites fly identically!

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?
Kite: Ozone Edge 10m – great power and speed, yet fantastic stability as well.

Board: CrazyFly Allround 138 – it has smooth-as-silk ride, the footstraps are as comfortable as a pair of well-worn shoes, great bite on turns, and good feel on landings. It would be great in the conditions I ride in.