2016-GEAR-REVIEW-TEST-TEAMFor the 2016 Freeride Gear Test, TKB trucked over 50 kites (23 models) and 35 boards (24 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. Each tester is handed a booklet, a pen, and the responsibility of reviewing the industry’s best products to create one expansive online database of free product reviews. A big thanks to Palapas Ventana for hosing our testers, WOO Sports and Versamount for helping us run a big air contest with our test team and swagging out our group! Also, WMFG (Waterman Mfg) for supplying us with the new pumps which were faster than the compressor!

Biggest Air WOO winner: Fernando Francia, Mexico City

Most Jumps WOO winner: Dray Murray, Carpinteria, CA

Best Wipe Out WOO winner: Davey Beard, Santa Barbara, CA

MARKO BARTSCHERER

2016-GEAR-TESTING-TEAM-3628“I kite just for fun, and really like to enjoy all aspects of the sport. I love foiling when it’s light just as much as riding in the waves when the surf is good or jumping around on my twin tips. It doesn’t matter what the conditions are; if you have the right gear you can have a good time.”

Weight: 220 lbs
Riding for How Long: 15 years give or take
Typical Local Conditions: Light wind, flat water and waves
Style of Riding/Level: I do a bit of everything, depending on the conditions, foiling, wave riding, jumping around on twin tips — it’s all good!

Current Quiver: ASV XR, Liquid Force Solo, Ozone R1, Lift foil/Camet board, Underground twin tips and a few surfboards.

Personal Kite Hero: Local San Diego kiter Leroy Rutledge.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? Most gear this year worked really good, it was more about what works for your application or riding style, than one kite being better than another. Also, Woo’s make you try to jump higher and cameras on the lines make you miss your landings!

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?

Kite: F-One Bandit. I felt they really got back to what made the original Bandits great and I felt instantly at home on it.

Board: Axis Limited. Once the footpads were adjusted I didn’t even notice there was a board on my feet, it rode so comfortable!

DAVEY BEARD

2016-GEAR-TESTING-TEAM-3686“I love almost all water-related activities, especially in and around the ocean. Testing a lot of kite gear does not help with my kitesurfing addiction.”

Weight: 180 lbs
Riding for How Long: 15 years
Typical Local Conditions: Flat water with seasonal waves, 8-18mph
Style of Riding/Level: Freeride and Race

Current Quiver: North Dice, Ozone, ASV, Foil board

Personal Kite Hero: Do I get bonus points for calling out “Hollywood” aka Tkb’s editor?

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? Smooth/slower turning kites are really nice and predictable and great for progressing on a twin tip, but it helps to have a little faster twitchier kite for pulling the trigger and boosting the biggest air.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?

Kite: The North Neo was a great and reliable kite. I felt that it did everything just a hair better than many of the other kites which all had a lot of overlap. The turning was quick but smooth and predictable – not jerky. But if you sent it right it accelerated through the window fast to give a big jerk for boosting. That’s a hard combo to design to I imagine. It was one of the lighter weight kite for its size – not overbuilt. But it was really solid and took a thrashing, springing right back to a solid true shape.

Board: The new Slingshot foil was really nice, but my favorite twin tip was the CrazyFly Shox Green. It’s a great board but I think need to work on their graphics as this board is not the easiest to find when losing it on the water. (Board) After having ridden many styles and constructions of twin tips, I always come back to the wood core boards as preferable. Something about their flex allows a straight rail when you need to edge and good rocker when you load up the tail and flex the board for some pop. The difference between the wood core flex and other carbon/glass/foam cores is the slower response that dampens the snap back after flex. This allows the board to ride through chop faster without chattering away and shaking the snot outta me.

ROSS DANIELSON

2016-GEAR-TESTING-TEAM-3541“I love to charge as hard as I can. I want to be the first on the water and the last off. I love to explore new places.”

Weight: 160 lbs
Riding for How Long: 10 years
Typical Local Conditions: 20-30 knots, waves, choppy
Style of Riding/Level: Freeride, waves

Current Quiver: North Vegas, Rebel and Neo, Firewire Vanguard, Shinn Monk

Personal Kite Hero: I love how much Mitu Monteiro has done to progress the strapless riding aspect of the sport. I wish I could ride like him!

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? The number of different quick release systems for all the different brands is crazy – some work well and some not so much. I think the industry could definitely benefit from more standardization here. Seeing and experiencing how each brand built their bars, bridles and adjustments gave me a lot of respect for the designers that do it really well – it can’t be easy!

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?

Kite: F-One Bandit. I loved how nimble it was when steering. It’s like driving a sports car.

Board: I didn’t ride a board that I liked more than my current boards, so probably the Nobile Split for traveling purposes.

JONATHAN DIXON

2016-GEAR-TESTING-TEAM-3699“Always ready to go out on the water, whether I am going surfing, kiting or bodysurfing.”

Weight: 185 lbs
Riding for How Long: 6 years
Typical Local Conditions: Usually riding in 15-30 mph, ocean or bay or river swell – wherever it’s blowing and there is less traffic getting to the launch!
Style of Riding/Level: Split between twin tips and a directional in waves

Current Quiver: Still riding my 2012 Bandits on North bars that I purchased based on what I like from being a past Tkb Freeride Tester!

Personal Kite Hero: Kinsley ThomasWong and Ruben Lenten; anyone who keeps showing up through really hard circumstances.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? It’s just incredible the range of kites available to the buyer. You really need to try before you buy, because two kites in the same size can have extremely different behavior!

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?

Kite: It’s really hard to choose as certain gear excels in different conditions, but I am still a fan of the F-One Bandit and I loved the Cabrinha FX as well. Both of these kites are fast with lighter bar pressure, so they can quickly generate apparent wind and boost fast and high. Both drift well down the line and would work well in waves. Finally, they both have simple bar systems that rebuild easily in the water – I particularly liked the QR on the new, spring-less, Cabrinha Bar.

Board: The Jaime (North) is one of the best combinations of comfort and edging ability I have ridden. The straps are nice, and it handles chop with good flex. It loads up well for jumps and landings are smooth. It was the best overall board for me with a runner up nod to the Liquid Force Drive.

FERNANDO FRANCIA

2016-GEAR-TESTING-TEAM-FERNANDO-3416“Born and raised in Peru. Lived in Boston, Puerto Rico and currently in Mexico City. Collector of great experiences and avid traveler. Passionate about the ocean and can’t live without kiteboarding. Love to cook and exercise frequently.”

Weight: 165 lbs
Riding for How Long: 2.5 years
Typical Local Conditions: 18 knots in average, choppy and some waves depending on the season
Style of Riding/Level: Freestyle

Current Quiver: Cabrinha Vector and Naish Momentum

Personal Kite Hero: Marc Jacobs; Impressive: Youri Zoon; Sexiest: Greta Menardo

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? I knew that there are a lot of manufacturers of kites and boards, but I’m very surprised that they are all so different from each other. This is something great because everyone has different preferences and with such big variety they can all find something they would like and feel comfortable riding. Even if the kite come from the same manufacturer, you can expect notorious differences among the models they offer.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?

Kite: I would choose the F-One Bandit. The kite is fast, powerful and stable, and allows you to get huge air and great hang time. It is definitely an all weather kite!

Board: North’s Jamie twin tip because it make a great pair with the Bandit. The Jamie board allows you to hold a great edge and makes it easy to go upwind, handles the chop excellent and very rarely sprays your face. It’s extremely light and comfortable — it feels like an extension of your feet and gives you total control all times. Excellent for freestyle!

DAVID GORDON

2016-GEAR-TESTING-TEAM-3569“I am 48 years old and kite to get away from the stress of work. When I’m on the water I have no phone, emails or customers. I can jump, practice tricks and basically act and look like an idiot because I know that no matter how goofy I look to better kiters I still am doing something that is more fun and cooler than standing on shore watching.”

Weight: 170 lbs
Riding for How Long: 5 years
Typical Local Conditions: 20-25 mph wind, flat water and small chop
Style of Riding/Level: Freestyle

Current Quiver: RRD Obsession’s

Personal Kite Hero: Dimitri Maramenides. He’s similar to my age, looks like he has fun and makes it look very cool.

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? I was surprised how much I liked or didn’t like certain pieces of equipment. Unfortunately, much of my feedback was based on gut feelings and I struggled to put it into written words.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?

Kite: Cabrinha Switchbade 11 with the bar that does not have the spring. It boosted well and had good hang time which allowed me to have softer landings. Water relaunch was easy. I couldn’t tell you if it was fast turning or slow, heavy bar pressure or soft, all I know is that I had fun when flying it!

Board: The CrazyFly Raptor LTD because it is very light and was easy to jump but still let me carve without slipping out from under me. The black color is cool but I’d have to put bright paint on it because I’d never find it in the San Francisco bay water.

RICKY WONG

2016-GEAR-TESTING-TEAM-3648“All in all I love to ride the swells and throw as much water as I can.”

Weight: 140 lbs
Riding for How Long: Riding for 6 years
Typical Local Conditions: My backyard is 3rd Ave in the San Francisco Bay Area where you can pretty much count on the wind to pick-up at 1:30 and blow until 7:30 with a solid 25mph and highs in the 70’s; my everyday size is a 9m.
Style of Riding/Level: I generally kite with a “surf style” character even though I’m not in an ocean surf, but rather looking for large swells.

Current Quiver: F-One Bandits, Slingshot Screamer

Personal Kite Hero: I never get tired watching Mitu Monteiro or Patrick Rebstock tearing it up; it’s these riders that I dream of becoming, or close to!

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? All the kites I tried can be tuned to your needs and likes, maybe not 100% but very close to your your own personal preferences.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?

Kite: After trying out all the test gear, I would still stick with latest F-One Bandit because it handles the exact way I like to ride.
The bar grip is soft enough to eliminate any type of abrasions but more important, it’s not squishy (which for me is important) and it gives me a solid feel of being connected and always in control. I think it’s a great bar with its “no-nonsense” approach to its design. Interesting for 2016 that F-One removed the center-line larkshead adjustment in lieu a of double-loop; I’ve used this adjustment in the past to increase the depower when conditions appear to be extreme, so I guess I’ll have to add a 5m to my quiver to safely sail in 30 mph gust to 40 mph conditions. The Bandits have a very light touch to any inputs, meaning the total pressure on the bar is actually substantial, but takes very little input to send the kite; it’s almost akin to driving a race car where the slightest input has instant response but at the same time it stays where you last left it. It seems that changing the wing-tip attach point “forward” works well for me, making the kite much more responsive while increasing the pressure very little, if none at all. I have not figured out why one kite seems to always want to “run” to the edge of the window while another (Bandit) stays where you want it (10:00 in the power zone). This trait is just as important to me as the ability to turn in a pivoting fashion.

Board: I liked the Cabrinha Ace as the bindings felt secure but not restricting, and on the fly adjustments were super easy. The board itself felt almost as light as boards four times the cost . It felt very compliant with still enough feedback to know what it’s doing. It’s a board I would not have any regrets buying.

CLAUDE WALEDISCH

2016-GEAR-TESTING-TEAM-6930“I like to ride with flair, away from the crowd looking for the best swells to make the best, the most and faster turns (I’m not there yet). I have no cartilage left on one knee so I know age has finally caught up with me (66). Therefore I enjoy every minute of it as it could be the last one.”

Weight: 145 lbs
Riding for How Long: 8 years
Typical Local Conditions: Very choppy, 14 to 35 mph, mostly 20 mph on 9m, chasing swells in the channel in ebb days or near a sandbar during flood for better terrain to play with.
Style of Riding/Level: Swell riding, few jumps, back rolls.

Current Quiver: F-One Bandits, F-One Fish, Firewire Vader, Spleene RIP

Personal Kite Hero: Robby Naish x 5

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? Most kites are good enough, my Bandit bar could be improved, and my personal gear was well chosen for what I like to do at home.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?

Kite: If I did not own a Bandit I would buy one, but the Core XR4 would be my second choice followed by the Airush Lithium and Ozone Enduro not too far behind. Regarding the Bandit and XR4, both of them are soft on the hand without fluttering and drifting out of position. This is very important to me while walking on slippery mud in gusty and shifty winds (we had that a lot last year). The power on power off is very linear on both kites. For each, it was easy to find the trim, depower position and any adjustments were very predictable. Some other kite are much harder to adjust, and you can feel them pulling, breathing. The Bandit has a huge range and is manageable despite being overpowered. Of course my views are skewed for riding them for 4 years. The best quality for me, since I like to surf, is its turning speed. That, I have verified in La Ventana. I also liked the bar of the Core; that kite is well made and predictable.

Board: The CrazyFly Raptor board was light in my hands and on my feet, loose on demand but locked when reaching, and did not catch a chop or drop the heading. I liked its quick reaction and smoothness on chop for my left knee (no cartilage). I did not care for the footstraps though, but they were ‘average’ enough so they did not affect my riding. I also liked the AXIS Vanguard for comfort, the Carved Imperator and Cabrinha’s Ace and Tronic twin tips.

TRISTAN MORGAN

2016-GEAR-TESTING-TEAM-3554“British import to the Bay Area that loves anything outdoors, fast paced and challenging. Ski and kite as much as possible as well as cycle, play rugby, golf and squash when there is no wind. Love meeting new like-minded people and am always keen to meet up for a kite and beer at 3rd Avenue.”

Weight: 200 lbs
Riding for How Long: 4 years
Typical Local Conditions: 20-25mph, very choppy, tiny and muddy launch/landing area.
Style of Riding/Level: Freeride

Current Quiver: North Rebels, North Jaime Board

Personal Kite Hero: Aaron Hadlow, just a ridiculous talent!

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? All kites have their strengths and weaknesses but once you’re confident in rigging and riding a few different brands/styles, you can ride them all!

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?

Kite: North Evo – best all round kite of the week that just excelled in everything from boosting to flying upwind.

Board: Carved Imperator – Full carbon that blew all my expectations out of the water. Lightest board I have ever used with great pop that just cut through the chop like a hot knife through butter.

ROB SHEA

2016-GEAR-TESTING-TEAM-3589“Relaxed personality, enjoy life and work; I work on managing my kiteboarding addiction daily.”

Weight: 175 lbs
Riding for How Long: 5 years
Typical Local Conditions: 3rd Ave, San Mateo, 22 to 25 knots, choppy with some smaller wind waves.
Style of Riding/Level: Mixed focus on surfing and freestyle with some foilboarding on the side.

Current Quiver: F-One Bandits, Blade Trigger, Cabrinha Switchblade, various directionals

Personal Kite Hero: I am not a good sports fan so I do not have a favorite pro. I really enjoy riding with my kite buds, Ricky and Claude. We ride together almost every day during the season at 3rd Ave, then debrief at the pub there under the watchful eye of our favorite bar “tenderess.”

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? The amazing quality of all the kites and boards. I enjoyed the opportunity to ride them.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?

Kite: I would choose the North Neo for my kite. Its power band is excellent — when put where wanted in the window, or overhead when surfing yet when moved, it responded crisply and quickly and was consistently stable. There was no lag or difficulty in getting what was requested by the bar. I was also impressed by the way the kite handled gusts with easy response through the bar to release extra power smoothly.

Board: For a twin tip I would choose the Axis Vanguard. This board was excellent when tracking and going upwind and handled the chop great. I was able to pop and jump easily and yet flexible enough on landing to do that smoothly. Being mainly a surfer I thought this board had good edging to be able to carve the waves. It also was able to take the bottom turn and yet on sliding, it would release cleanly and slide when wanted.

BILL GORDON

2016-GEAR-TESTING-TEAM-3664“51 years old, entrepreneur technology industry exec, live in the Bay Area, husband and father. Kite about 15-20 days a year mostly in the bay area, also mountain bike and occasionally run.”

Weight: 178 lbs
Riding for How Long: 5 years
Typical Local Conditions: Sherman Island and 3rd Avenue in the San Francisco Bay area. Wind speed 18 to 25mph, choppy
Style of Riding/Level: Freestyle

Current Quiver: North Rebels

Personal Kite Hero: Sandy Parker from Kitopia. She’s a great kiteboarding teacher!

What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test? That there are real differences in the feel and character of different kites and boards, and it’s useful to test before buying, however the wind and conditions when you happen to go dramatically impact how you feel about a kite/board. And that changing between kites is not a big deal — most of the bars and safety systems are similar enough to make trying different gears relatively simple.

What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself?

Kite: North Evo – I love the quality of the North kites, and the Evo had great boost and hang time, and turned quickly enough that I could react to changes in the air, but without being too fast.

Board: F-One Acid Carbon – thin, lightweight, handled chop well, good load and pop, great upwind ability!

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