Based out of the Munich area, Duotone kite designer Ralf Grösel is the architect behind the widely acclaimed Evo, Vegas, Dice and Juice kite lines. With a testing regimen that ranges from Cape Town in the winter months to the north of Germany, Holland and the very southernmost points of Italy in the summer, Ralf also oversees the company’s manufacturing and material innovation. In addition to his successes in kiteboarding, Ralf has also introduced a number of technical products to the paragliding and yachting industries along with consumer inflatable products, and most recently, he developed small-business efficiency software that helps him keep all of his projects on track. When Ralf is not imagining new products he likes to renovate classic cars, known as ‘old timers’ from the 60s, fine-tune his BMW race car and push limits as a partner in the Gybe Racing Team. We caught up with Ralf in the few spare moments between his many enterprises.
The first chapter of your design career started at a relatively early age and revolved around wings for flight. How did this come about?
I remember sitting on the beach watching paragliders launch from a little dune, trying to use the small updraft area to stay in the air as long as possible. This was 1993; I was 14 and paragliders had just started to look like proper wings instead of an advanced version of a parachute. I was instantly hooked on the idea of flying a self-inflating, stitched, lightweight material wing. Ever since I was a young kid, I have been deeply interested in building and designing model airplanes. Even back then, the general rules of physics in terms of aerodynamics were already well known to me. But it was the combination of flexible material, lightness in weight and the obvious fun that the pilots were having that motivated me to look into this matter way deeper. I quickly found myself behind a sewing machine and building my first scaled paraglider. Once I had grasped the manufacturing side, I took it to the next level by scraping together all of the money I had, as well as borrowing some from my mother, to buy my first computer.
At the age of 15, I was highly allergic to books, yet I still managed to read the entire 600 pages of Autocad for Beginners in four days. In 1994 the internet did not capture an ounce of the information available today, so there was no such thing as downloading a profile or a 3D model wing. Forced to be an autodidact, I had to figure it all out by myself. Reading and studying every book about aerodynamic profiles from NACA to Eppler, I quickly advanced from two-dimensional CAD designs to 3D models. The result was the B-Wing (birds-wing) which I developed in 1997. This model was the start of my career; I got in touch with a paragliding brand and started to work as a paragliding test pilot.
How did you transition from paragliding R&D to kiteboarding and where did you stand on the early debates about soft/ram-air wings versus leading edge inflatable designs?
I was very much into paragliding, but one day I saw the video High from Chris Tronolone and became totally hooked. Together with Armin Harich, a paragliding pilot, we decided that kitesurfing was so much cooler than flying paragliders and founded the company Flysurfer in 2001. I had just finished civilian service and started to develop all of our products while simultaneously searching for a production facility which I ultimately found in China. I started in 2001 with the belief that soft kites were going to be the future of the sport. While I have kited on all kinds of boards, in the early years, I was quite focused on riding with boots and a wakeboard. After two years with Flysurfer, it was clear to me that soft kites weren’t going to be the future of the sport and I went to Naish Kiteboarding, the market leader back in 2004, for a couple of months. Don Montague, Naish’s kite designer at the time, was also very curious about the idea of a hybrid kite, as it made—at least theoretically—sense to try it out. I had the chance to go crazy on complex hybrid ideas during this period. We tried literally everything: Inflatable LE with double layer profiles, ARC-shaped hybrids with flap systems, tube kites with flaps and so on. However, after four months, we realized that all these concepts had their downsides and that the easiest and smartest way of making kitesurfing commercially attractive would be the tube kite, or as we all know it today, the leading edge inflatable… To read the full article become a subscriber of Tkb Magazine.