As a designer, my guiding light is purpose. Cost, manufacturing, mass appeal, aesthetics, etc. are factors too, but purpose is the navigational point that leads to the sleekest most high performance design. An object that is designed purely around its function will always be beautiful. Anything that doesn’t increase function is either a marketing gimmick or dead weight and should, in my opinion, be discarded.
I think there are two main reasons that this Spartan attitude to design is not more prevalent in kiting. The first is marketing. Companies need to be able to drop flashy buzzwords about their products to get customers’ attention and one-up the competition. It’s hard to get people excited about minimalism; most just assume that more features mean a better product and I attribute this to the bloat of features that make equipment much clunkier and less elegant than it could be.
The second rationale for getting away from function is that gear is designed with too much of a “one size fits all” approach. A good example of this is the connection between rider and kite. Currently, almost everyone uses a chicken loop and a spreader bar with a hook on it. Chicken loops evolved from the days before quick releases and these days, the loop is ideal for unhooked freestyle, but for the rest of us, it’s a nightmare.
Chicken loops are expensive, bulky and worst of all don’t even provide a reliable connection since they are prone to slipping off the spreader bar hook. This is where purpose and specialization comes in; most riders are not unhooking and simply need to connect their center lines to their harness. There are a lot of solutions to this that are much higher performance and more user-friendly than a chicken loop and it’s the same story for the spreader bar with a hook. The hook’s purpose originated in windsurfing when the pull came horizontally from the sail. However, in kiting the load is coming more vertically from above and since the hook sticks out, it acts like a lever and tends to torque the spreader bar into an uncomfortable position. Imagine an attachment system that is flush with the spreader bar. Voilá, no more torque so no more metal getting yanked into your ribs. There’s a lot of low hanging fruit that I think is pretty easy to tailor to specific riding styles and results in a significantly better experience.
Kite gear evolves particularly slowly because designers get bogged down overseeing production rather than inventive design, and the business side of the industry doesn’t like to take risks on designs that don’t already have mass adoption. Frequently, it’s the superfluous features and buzzwords that sidetrack and drowns out true innovation, and unfortunately, this isn’t going away anytime soon.
Don’t despair though. Trust your instincts because only you know what you want from your gear. It’s not sacred or even complicated for that matter, so don’t be afraid to experiment with it. Go to a boat supply store and see if you get inspired by anything in the hardware section. Look up a YouTube video on how to splice rope (a “Brummel eye splice” is an easy one). Take a hacksaw to the hook on your spreader bar and call up your buddy that knows how to weld. If you keep “purpose” as your mantra, you’ll end up with something good.
Words by Coleman Buckley | Photo by Brendan Richards