A company that needs no introduction, North Kiteboarding entered the market in 2001 and quickly climbed the ladder to the top, becoming one of the industry’s leading brands. Blending their visions for design and engineering, as well as setting high standards from the very outset, North has maintained their commitment to progression, technology and premium quality products. North USA’s Dan Schwarz addresses the performance of the various kites and twin tips along with the design of their new wake boot and the rework of some of North’s directional shapes in the 2016 lineup.
The Rebel has long been a staple of the North quiver and we’ve heard that the Evo is the Rebel’s 4-line equivalent. Is this true and how do you pair these kites with the various levels of riders out there and the various disciplines in kiting?
Last year we marketed them as pretty much equals, the difference between the two kites relying mainly on the personal preference regarding 4 or 5 lines. Both kites were freeride oriented, great for jumping, cruising, waves and freestyle — pretty much everything except advanced unhooked wakestyle. This year, the Rebel has had some tweaks to make it slightly more performance oriented. What this means is that while both kites will still appeal to the freeride market as a whole, the Rebel is being labeled a ‘performance freeride’ kite while the Evo remains a ‘freeride’ kite. The difference is mainly in the larger sizes, where the aspect ratio of the Rebel has been increased to make the kite a little quicker and better for jumping. The downside of this is that the kite is a little quicker to the edge of the window, so you have a little less pure grunt and a slightly less forgiving kite. They should have similar low ends, but the Evo will offer a more accessible grunt that will appeal more to beginners while the Rebel will need to be worked a bit to get that same low end. Basically, either kite will continue to work for all of your freeriding needs, but the Rebel will be the kite of choice for more experienced riders looking to maximize their boosting abilities, while the Evo will be a little more user-friendly and endearing to less experienced riders.
How should a freeride kiter who prefers a 4-line bar setup choose between the Evo and the Dice? How do you describe the performance differences between the two to an intermediate rider?
Both the Evo and the Dice are great freeride kites and most intermediate riders will be stoked on either one. However, there is definitely a difference in the ideal target for each kite. The best way to choose which kite is right for you is by considering the type of riding you expect to be doing. If you are mostly riding hooked in and sticking with freeriding, jumping, cruising, occasional forays into the waves or the unhooked raley here and there, then the freeride-oriented Evo is probably the better kite for you. It has 5 struts which gives it more stability in gusts, a slightly better wind range and crisper turning, while the more rounded leading edge gives it an easier relaunch and the shape is meant to boost really big. If you like freeriding but see yourself pushing more into unhooked wakestyle in flat water and/or getting deeper and more aggressive in the waves, you’ll probably get more out of the Dice. Its 3-strut shape means it’ll drift better and turn more quickly in the waves, plus its more C-shaped outline will give you better stability, pop and slack for unhooked flat water tricks.
At Surf Expo, Aaron Hadlow compared the Neo, North’s dedicated surf kite, to the Freestyle team’s Vegas kite in terms of direct response and crisp steering. How is that important in the surf and what changes will dedicated Neo riders find for 2016?
For help with this one, I had to go to the source, Neo designer Ken Winner, so his words are mixed with mine. All high-end, discerning riders, especially freestylers and wave riders, want precise control over his or her kite and good feedback about where the kite is located and where it’s going. Both the Vegas and Neo provide that.
For example, the Neo has very little flutter when turning. This means that once the Neo starts turning, there’s little or no flutter-induced drag to slow completion of the turn. The rider doesn’t have to pull harder on the bar to overcome flutter and complete the turn. The Neo turns predictably and precisely every time. The lack of flutter also means that the signal from kite to bar is very clean — like a radio signal with no static. This helps the rider feel where the kite is located and where it’s going.
As far as significant changes to the Neo from 2015 to 2016, as with most of our kites this year, it is evolution not revolution. Ken worked hard on improving the versatility of the Neo by enhancing both its wave and freeride performance qualities. He slightly flattened the center of the canopy and used a marginally more open cone, giving a longer trailing edge. Together, both of these offer better depower and a crisper, more direct feel at the bar, while making the bar less prone to being pulled away in gusts and when turning the kite. He also changed the profile and the flex of the tip struts. Ken learned a lot about the workings of a single strut kite while working on the Mono. He used that experience to get some of the advantages that a less supported wingtip can offer (softer feel, quickness to respond to turning input) while still maximizing the benefits that the more stable canopy of a 3-strut platform offers (more stable feel, resistance to deformation/ fluttering when depowered).
When it comes to freeriding on a twin tip, how do you steer kiters between the X-Ride, Jaime and full carbon Select?
This is a great question because these three boards are our most popular and obviously have the largest target demographic. The X-Ride has a more rounded outline and has a lot of flex, so obviously, it’s going to be the best of the three for carving and cruising. The flex allows you to hold down a ton of power, so it’ll work best for sending the kite for huge jumps. With all the flexibility, it is obviously very comfortable in chop and rough conditions. If you’re a committed freerider, the X-Ride is the board of choice. The Jaime will still work for freeriding, but with its squarer outline, stiffer flex pattern and more aggressive bottom shape, it’s definitely taking a big step towards wake/freestyle. While it is still comfortable enough to ride as an everyday board, it is definitely less comfortable in the chop than the X-Ride. What it gives up there, it makes up for in pop for freestyle and wakestyle flat water tricks. I’ve been told that some pros have used the Jaime in PKRA competition when the water is too choppy and rough for the ultra stiff Team Series. Basically, if you’re looking to throw down some pop-based flat water tricks, but you still want a board that you can use every day without destroying your knees in the chop, the Jaime is the way to go.
The Select falls in between the Jaime and X-Ride. It is nearly as stiff as the Jaime, so it will work for more advanced freestyle. However, we’ve found that much of the joint discomfort that comes from riding a stiffer twin tip is due to your knees fighting to keep the board on track. A flexible board will simply absorb the chop without getting knocked off-course while a stiff board requires constant redirection that wears on your knees. Since the Select is constructed of extremely light Textreme carbon, there’s very little swing weight, so your knees take far less abuse than they would with a heavier board. In short, the Select will give you the liveliness of the Jaime with the comfort of the X-Ride. It’s got the benefits of two boards in one.
For the growing population of kiters in the wake and park style segment of the sport, how do you recommend which board to mate with Craig Cunningham’s new wake boot?
Although you can mount boots on any of our boards with the Track System, we have reinforced the tracks on three boards specifically to take the extra strain of boots. The Team Series, the Gambler, and the Team Series Hadlow all have really similar shapes but very different constructions and purposes. First of all is the Gambler, which is what I’d recommend if you foresee yourself spending most of your time on sliders or kickers. The slickbase is meant to take all the abuse you can throw at it, and there is increased flex in certain areas of the board to make it easier to press more aggressively. If you plan to use the board for hitting obstacles with a kite and need a board that works equally well in a cable park, the Gambler is the board of choice. On the other end of the spectrum is the super stiff Team Series. The shape is identical to the Gambler, but the carbon layup makes it much stiffer and lighter, so this is going to be the ultimate board for flat water freestyle/wakestyle tricks. However, this board does not have the ultra-durable slickbase so you do not want to be using it on sliders and kickers. In between these boards is the Team Hadlow. It also uses a carbon construction, so it is very stiff and light, perfect for Hadlow’s signature powered style of flat water tricks. It also incorporates a slickbase like the Gambler, so it’ll take the abuse if you want to take it into the park. Basically, the Team Series Hadlow is meant for people looking to get to the next level in their flat water tricks without sacrificing the ability to ride it on sliders or take it to their local cable.
When it comes to surf, construction is a huge aspect of how the boards perform. North has three types of construction this year. What are the benefits of each build and how do you recommend each to the various kitesurfers out there?
The first two are largely unchanged from last year. The TT construction offers some great entry level options and represents our least expensive and most ding-resistant boards. Likewise, these shapes are high volume and easy to learn on, jibe and ride. For 2016 we’ve actually found a way to increase the strength of the deck by continuing the top cap around the rail instead of stopping it at the center of the rail. The increased strength of the new rail construction allows us to use a bit less glass, so the 2016 TT boards are slightly lighter than 2015 models. If you’re new to surfboards or are just looking for a sturdy, solid, higher volume board that will take a bit of abuse and makes light wind riding and jibing easy and fun, this is the construction I’d recommend.
Then there is our longest-running construction method, the Classic construction. Having used the same basic method with the same factory for many years now, we are highly confident in these boards. They offer a fantastic combination of lightweight, positive underfoot feel and durability. We are able to use highperformance materials like bamboo and cork to give the boards a lively flex and vibration dampening properties, each with a weight that feels more like a lightly built polyester board. This is the construction I’d recommend to most kiters out there; it is as light as a board with inserts and full EPS/wood layup can get but still offers all of the durability you need for an aggressive kiting style.
New for 2016 is our Light Team construction. In constructing these boards, we worked with our whole wave team, trying to pare the boards down to only what they needed in order to save on weight while keeping the boards as strong as they needed to be for the riders’ aggressive wave riding styles. As such, we have eliminated the inserts and all of the localized reinforcement previously required by them. We have also pared down the glass and bamboo layup on the bottom, opting instead for bamboo beams and a single carbon beam to handle the loads. Similarly, the resinthirsty cork top sheet has been reduced to two strips that run under your heels, so you get the same vibration absorbing qualities and resistance against heel dents at a fraction of the weight. All told, these boards offer the same or better performance attributes compared to our Classic construction but with approximately a 30% weight savings. If you are an aggressive and experienced wave rider who never plans to put straps on their board and are looking for the absolute best, lightest board available, this construction will be everything you could ever want.
Last year, Sky Solbach started working with the newer compact style board shapes, which resulted in two new Compact Shape Concept (CSS) boards for North in 2015. Are there any changes for 2016 and what kind of surf are these boards recommended for?
For 2015, Sky did a great job with the Whip CSC and Pro CSC. However, what we found was that the effect of the relatively large volume for the size combined with the increased proportion of surface area in contact with the water led to a board that felt bigger than the dimensions suggested. As such, the largest size boards for each model were fantastic big boards, but we found that the smaller sizes still felt a bit big to riders looking for a more aggressive lower volume board. Based on feedback from riders and our team, the larger size Whip is largely unchanged for 2016, while the smaller sizes were completely reworked, with the volume decreasing more dramatically throughout the sizes. The 2015 Whip was specifically a smallwave machine due to, among many other things, a low rocker line and high volume, especially in the tail. It is now a bit more of a well-rounded board, continuing to work well in smaller waves and light wind. This year, especially in the smaller sizes, the Whip holds up a bit better when you want to bury the rail in larger surf.
The Pro CSC has also been redone. Taking it from a more all-around board into a more aggressive surfboard, the volume had been decreased and the rocker increased. While the thick tail and straighter CSC rails still allow the Pro CSC to work in smaller waves, this board will really shine when the waves get bigger and more hollow. Its increased drive and grip will help more aggressive kitesurfers stay in the pocket better.
The Nugget has had its first big redesign in years with the 2016 Nugget CSC. Together, shaper Sky Solbach and North CEO, Till Eberle, worked on this board to take what was arguably the best light wind board on the market and make it even better. By taking what they’ve learned from our other CSC shapes and applying the straighter rails and increased surface area to the Nugget platform, they’ve managed to increase the Nugget’s ability to plane extremely early in light wind while also increasing its ability to carve and consequently, its playfulness in small to medium waves.
For those kitesurfers who are looking for traditional surf shapes, North has a pretty deep selection of performance boards. How should a rider choose between the standard surf shapes in your line?
While we’ve done a bit of shuffling in our lineup from 2014 until now, with the introduction of the Pro Series and then the CSC shapes, I feel that the lineup for 2016 has been simplified and clarified.
If you prefer traditional surf shapes, there are six options for you: Pro Surf, Pro Kontact, WAM, Woohoo, Nugget TT, and Quest TT. For most riders looking for a performance surfboard, I would generally recommend narrowing your search to two of these options, the Pro Surf and the WAM.
The WAM is our most popular shape and has the largest target audience. It is, as it has always been, our do-everything wave board. If you have one board to take on a trip where you may encounter large barreling waves as well as small choppy waves, this board is what I would recommend. It has enough drive and stability at high speeds to handle larger and more critical waves, but also (especially with the increased width at the nose and tail for 2016) has the volume and speed to work in smaller conditions. If you’re looking for one board to do it all, the WAM is the way to go. The Woohoo is based on the WAM shape, but with a smaller sizing and less volume meant for the smaller, lighter women who are looking for a do-it-all board.
The Pro Surf is dedicated slightly more to larger, hollow surf than the WAM. It is only available in the Light Team construction, meaning it is meant for riders looking for a very performance-oriented board who have no need for straps. If you’re looking for a board that allows you to pull tighter bottom turns to keep you in the pocket when the waves get steeper and more critical as well as something with a lighter, more responsive construction with a little more snappiness, drive, and grip at the expense of beginner-friendliness, the Pro Surf is what I would recommend.
The Pro Kontact is the kitesurf equivalent of a gun. It is meant to go straight and fast down huge waves and then give you the grip and drive to bottom turn and face it all over again. If you’re looking to push the limits in massive choppy waves, this board is the one for you.
The Nugget TT is largely unchanged from previous years. It’s the light wind board meant for the guy who is willing to take a slightly heavier construction for the added durability that the TT construction offers, who wants a board that works in the lightest of wind but still offers some playfulness in small waves.
The Quest TT is meant for someone fairly new to directional boards who is still looking for something that can do it all. Its increased volume, compared to our other traditional shapes, makes it super simple to learn to jibe and get up and riding even in light wind. Furthermore, when you get into bigger waves, it will hold up a bit better than the stubbier, less rockered Nugget TT.