For our 2020 Freeride Gear Test, Tkb trucked over 120 kites and boards to the never-failing windy destination of La Ventana, Mexico for one of the largest and most comprehensive kiteboarding equipment testing sessions in this magazine’s history, and quite possibly the entire industry! With the help of these carefully vetted obsessive kitesurfing souls, we put every piece of equipment through the wringer.
When it comes to testing there is a tremendous amount of subjectivity that bleeds its way into the process, from the variability of conditions to the diversity of personal tester preference and the wide range of riding styles. However, the Tkb Test Team aims to create objective assessments of kite equipment to help the end-user decide which equipment to demo and eventually integrate into the idealized quiver.
One of the ways we aim to bring objectivity to our testing is by expanding the size of our team beyond two or three magazine staffers to a divergent group of testers that bring to the test a broad spectrum of style, skill level and equipment experience. We pack our pre-wind mornings with presentations by brand representatives in order to help educate testers on gear highlights and host Q&A sessions to get an in depth understanding of the equipment.
This year the individuals that comprise the testing team are as diverse at the 120+ models of equipment submitted by brands worldwide. The 2020 team integrates kiters of all age groups and sizes and includes testers with retail and industry experience. Aside from highlighting tester quotes in each of the product reviews, we have collected their profiles and personal reflections on this year’s test to lend insight into the kiteboarders behind the process.
Tkb thanks Patagonia for styling out our test team with new Stretch Terre Planing Hoodies and the Palapas Ventana family for taking such good care of our staff and team.
“I’m a casual rider, always progressing from bigger boosts to perfecting back rolls and grabs.”
Weight: 175 lbs.
Riding experience: 12 years
From: Carlsbad, CA
Personal gear: Slingshot Rallys 2015-2019, Slingshot Turbine 2015, Slingshot Misfit and Litewave Wing
Local spot(s): Seal Beach, Belmont Shore, Mission Bay, Silver Strand
Riding style/home riding conditions: Freeride, beginner foiler, light wind 14-20 mph
Your favorite pro kiter / most impressive kiter / most influential / sexiest kiter / your personal kite hero? Too many to choose from—I’m too busy focusing on my riding to follow any specific pros. However, industry leaders like Robbie Naish and Pete Cahbrina, who not only were good riders but helped create a lasting brand are inspiring.
If you were going to be reincarnated as one piece of kite equipment, what would it be and why? A light wind big board, smooth and reliable.
What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test week? There really is a difference in kite designs. I was surprised to find some kites had incredibly easy big boosting and hangtime capabilities, based on their target designs.
What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself and why? I currently have a Slingshot Misfit and after the test week, comparing the SS Misfit to the Asylum, I will be selling the Misfit and buying the Asylum. The Asylum was smoother for landings and tracked easier. As to my kite choice, the Duotone Rebel—great boosting, “the elevator.”
“Although my friends think I’m pretty crazy for the sports I do, I see myself very calculated and cautious, understanding the risks, preparing and playing well within my boundaries and comfort level. However, it’s hard to turn off the need for pursuing my adrenaline-filled activities. I’m always on the go and up for another adventure.”
Weight: 165 lbs.
Riding experience: 16 years
From: Newbury Park, CA
Personal gear: Cabrinha Drifter 8 and 11, some grom’s surfboards and Litewave Dave twintip
Local spot(s): County Line
Riding style and home riding conditions: Surf, 3-6 ft waves, 20-28 mph, smooth and steady wind over waves and smooth water in and behind the kelp beds.
Your favorite pro kiter / most impressive kiter / most influential / sexiest kiter / your personal kite hero? I’m not that in tune with the latest pool of stars but I’d love to hang with Ben Wilson on a kite surfing adventure.
If you were going to be reincarnated as one piece of kite equipment, what would it be and why? I see a foil kite as the ultimate piece of equipment with its ability to propel you on land or snow and in light winds with a foilboard; probably a size 9m.
What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test week? I was a little out of the sport for a few years and not much has changed in what a love. There are a lot of kites that try to do it all but not one thing well. The kites that do it well are not too different, simple in design, bar and bridle. But the standout would have to be foilboarding. I really look forward to learning and improving in that area.
What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself and why? A light wind kite and a foil board so I could ride more days out of the year in spots near me that typically get lighter winds. However, the Naish Pivot was my favorite kite by far and the Naish Skater was my go-to board when I tried new kites.
“I’m a boardsports enthusiast who grew up snowboarding, skateboarding, and wakeboarding. When I moved to Santa Barbara, I caught the kite bug and go out wherever possible! I’m currently a biochemistry graduate student at UCSB where I am also the Captain of the Isla Vista Kiteboarding Club.”
Riding experience: 1.5 years
From: Santa Barbara, California
Personal gear: Naish Pivot (2020), RRD Vision (2017), Naish Switch (2020)
Local spot(s): Ellwood Beach, Goleta
Riding style and home riding conditions: Mostly flat water and freeride. In season: low teens gusting mid/high teens (knots). Off-season storms high teens/low 20s, gusting to mid/high 20s
Your favorite pro kiter / most impressive kiter / most influential / sexiest kiter / your personal kite hero? Favorite pro kiter Carlos Mario Bebe; most impressive kiter Maarten Haeger; most influential Kevin Langeree; sexiest kiter Bruna Kajiya and my personal kite hero is Alex Steele, an old friend who first introduced me to kiteboarding as a sport and community in 2008. It took 10 years for me to cultivate the seed he planted, but he continues to push me to keep progressing!
If you were going to be reincarnated as one piece of kite equipment, what would it be and why? Harness for sure. Because their ‘game time’ is dependent on environmental conditions, boards, kites, and bars all sit on the shelf waiting their turn. The harness never warms the bench due to the integral role it has on the team. It always gets court time. As a harness, not only would I get to go out for every session but I would be able to partake in the most intimate kite gear relationship. The act of supporting the rider and connecting them to the power of the wind generates a foundation of trust and familiarity. It is no wonder why kiteboarders have a relationship with their harness like no other piece of equipment.
What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test week? Ram-air kites are game-changers for bigger riders in lighter wind conditions. The technical talks given by Dieter Hecker at Flysurfer and by David Tyburski from Ozone provided a nice overview of ram-air kites as well as the differences between the two brands. I first flew the Flysurfer 15 m Soul in relatively light wind conditions. At the time a lot of the bigger riders were struggling to maintain position. The Soul flew so much further into the window when compared to all the LEI kites I had been flying. I had no problems riding a twin tip in light wind. Then I went to the 9 m Hyperlink which continued to change the game with a fun combination of power and response in lighter wind.
What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself and why? Ozone Hyperlink 13m. The kite flies with the responsiveness and feel of a LEI kite yet has the wind range and stability of a ram-air kite. It would be very ideal for the light wind conditions around my area, unlocking more days to ride! The Liquid Force Absolute has fantastic edge control; it locks in giving great loading and pop. It was a lot of fun to ride and really stands out as a top carbon fiberboard. Additionally, it won’t break the bank as much as other boards in the carbon fiber class.
“I grew up in Switzerland skiing at a very young age. At age 9 I started windsurfing on lakes in Switzerland and was instantly hooked. I always kept the connection to riding the wind either by skiing, snowboarding, windsurfing, sailing or more recently kiteboarding. When the wind is too light to ride I sail a Farr 40 in local regattas.”
Weight: 165 lbs.
Riding experience: 4 ½ years
From: Boston, MA
Personal gear: Eleveight FS 12m, 10m, 8m (2018/2019), 2010 RRD Poison LTD 133×41, 2010 Airush Chop Top 5’3″, 2016 Liquid Force Libre 150cm
Local spot(s): Nahant Beach and a few other secret spots.
Riding style and home riding conditions: Freestyle, freeride and surf. Nahant Beach has it all, depending on the wind direction—onshore, offshore and side-offshore—so we get chop, super smooth or big wave conditions.
Your favorite pro kiter / most impressive kiter / most influential / sexiest kiter / your personal kite hero? I started windsurfing as a kid so I always looked up to Robby Nash. He is extremely talented yet humble.
If you were going to be reincarnated as one piece of kite equipment, what would it be and why? A surfboard, so I can feel the water and fly in the air (please wash your feet before you step on me).
What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test week? Don’t damage it or you’ll hear from Marina (Tkb Publisher); aka the Boss! Joking aside, I learned that all the equipment is good and it’s all about what you can do with it.
What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself and why? I liked the Nash Pivot because it can do waves and freestyle and has plenty of boost. For surfboards I liked the Naish Skater; it’s well balanced e.g. not too aggressive but no slouch either. For a TT I liked the Naish Motion, a great allrounder, comfy yet secure straps, not too heavy yet cheaper than many other boards.
“I’m a working professional with roots on the farm and always struggling to get more days on the water. After 30+ years windsurfing, I started kiting and have never looked back. I’m really stoked my daughter is getting into it now. I also enjoy mountain biking, motocross and anything outdoors, but when the forecast is good, kiting is king.”
Weight: 225 lbs.
Riding for how long: 10 years
From: Baltimore/Monkton, Maryland
Personal gear: Cabrinha Switchblade and Contra kites (5), Cabrinha Spectrum twintip and Slingshot Celeritas surfboard
Local spot(s): Chesapeake Bay (Rocky Point and Gunpowder) and Dewey Beach, DE, both the bayside and the ocean.
Riding style and home riding conditions: Freeride. Chesapeake Bay is typically flat water/chop, 12-20 knots with gusty launches that can be tricky with holes on the inside so one typically needs a bigger kite and a floaty board. Dewey Beach has both flatwater bayside and ocean. The bayside is typically a consistent 15-25 knots with flat water (no butter) and some chop, depending on direction. The ocean side is typically 15-25 with large rollers and chop but waves don’t form too well.
Your favorite pro kiter / most impressive kiter / most influential / sexiest kiter / your personal kite hero? That’s a tough one. Kai Lenny just because of everything he does, Susi Mai was the first really sexy kiter so she is still on my list. Hard to say most impressive—anyone who competes in the King Of The Air!
If you were going to be reincarnated as one piece of kite equipment, what would it be and why? Anything Naish. Having grown up watching Robby dominate, it is great to see him continue in so many waterman sports (kiting, windsurfing, foiling, SUP, etc.) and pass the stoke on to others.
What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test week? Having only ridden the same kites for 10 years, I was truly amazed at the different feel and performance of the various kites and boards. As an average rider, I learned to feel the differences and understand why a particular kite/board was well suited for certain conditions (drift, boost, stability…). Some were very specific to one aspect while others seemed to really excel at everything. Those stood out because they were always where you wanted them so you could push your limits freeriding/freestyle but offered tremendous boost/pull.
What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself and why? Tough to answer. Kite-wise, it is a toss-up between the Duotone Juice and The F-One Bandit. Both were incredibly nimble and powerful but stable. For boards, I loved the North Atmos for a twin tip and the Naish Skater for a directional.
“I develop products for a living and try to get out to kite whenever I can. To me, any day on the water is a good day, and the size of my kite doesn’t correlate to the fun I am having, I just go out on the gear that is best for the conditions.”
Weight: 220 lbs. or so
Riding experience: 19 years
From: Portland, Oregon but previously lived in San Diego for many years.
Personal gear: F-One Furtive and Bandit 2018/2019, F-One Foil, Camet Foilboard, Litewave Kick-S and DV8
Local spot(s): Hood River Event site, Stevenson and Rooster Rock; 25-35 mph with larger river swell, sometimes steady, sometimes gusty winds.
Riding style and home riding conditions: Everything depending on conditions and my mood.
Your favorite pro kiter / most impressive kiter / most influential / sexiest kiter / your personal kite hero? Steve Gunn, former West Coast rep for Cabrinha and Neil Pryde. I hope I will still be kiting at his age.
If you were going to be reincarnated as one piece of kite equipment, what would it be and why? A kite leash as everybody needs it and it may save you one day.
What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test week? Twin tips are getting bigger and there are a lot of kites that are fun to ride.
What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself and why? I really liked the F-One Bandit a lot—it felt like it went back to its roots which suits my riding style. The 2020 Bandit offers this grunty raw power characteristic; maybe it doesn’t depower quite as much as other kites—you have to dig in your heels a little more to get it to depower or stop, I really like that, and I remember the older Bandits doing more of it than the last year or two. For a board, I liked the Carved Imperator LW a lot. It had no problems riding powered and handling the La Ventana chop. It also had a ton of pop for jumping around.
“I am stoked to work in the kite industry at Murrays.com. We sell kitesurfing, windsurfing and sailing gear, but I am definitely most passionate about kiting. To me kiting represents the leading edge of sailing, stripping down sailing to its core and adding new variables with the ability to move the sail to create apparent wind for foiling, waves and freestyle. Creativity and innovation are what gets me stoked.”
Riding experience: 15+ years
From: Carpinteria, California
Personal gear: Airush Ultra V2, F-One Bandit S, BWSurf Stallion and Stallion Overhead, Slingshot Dwarfcraft, Liquid Force Impulse foil
Local spot(s): Ventura, CA
Riding style and home riding conditions: Strapless surf and foiling. II foil in 10-16 knots and then grab a Surfboard for 17+. We usually have small to medium surf, and relatively light, side-on wind.
Your favorite pro kiter / most impressive kiter / most influential / sexiest kiter / your personal kite hero? Airton’s strapless game is as strong as most pros strapped game and he is inventing new moves. His power and ingenuity are inspiring.
If you were going to be reincarnated as one piece of kite equipment, what would it be and why? A pair of waterproof earbuds that allow you to hear, because listening to music while kiting is euphoric, and I just discovered Metalachi!
What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test week? Carrying surf wings and a foil SUP back upwind is masochistic but they really are more fun than they look, and foil kites take freeriding to the next level.
What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself and why? Airush team foil board, Cabrinha foil, and the Ozone Hyperlink. The Airush board is just the right size and shape; its deck contour provides great control and the construction is so light. The Cabrinha foils were the most agile and playful with a good speed range from low foiling speed paired with a higher top end. The Ozone Hyperlink, while it doesn’t make sense in the surf, the foiling and jumping characteristics are next level and gives you excellent wind range, angle of attack and phenomenal boosting!
“I live in Hood River, Oregon where I spend I spend my working hours as a desk jockey in the cube farm. Coming from a windsurfing background I have slowly been switching over more and more to the dark side. I have mastered the art of mowing the lawn and strapless airs of the no-board variety.”
Weight: 160 lbs.
Riding experience: 4 years
From: Hood River, OR (but a Colorado native)
Personal gear: 2017 Naish Pivots, 2015 Slingshot Vision, 2018 Naish KS1 Foil with Hover 130 Board, Firewire Evo Surfboard
Local spot(s): Usually Hood River event site
Riding style and home riding conditions: Bump and jump, swell humping and foil bombing. Winds from low teens (mph) to smoke on the water nuke (40mph+), gusty winds, choppy wind swell (can be pretty big in the spring).
Your favorite pro kiter / most impressive kiter / most influential / sexiest kiter / your personal kite hero? My favorite kiter would have to be Kevin Langeree because he always seems so happy and stoked to be out playing in the wind and water.
If you were going to be reincarnated as one piece of kite equipment, what would it be and why? I hope I would be reincarnated as a well-loved harness. A harness is akin to man’s best friend and always gets to partake in the fun regardless of the kite, board, or bar.
What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test week? How much fun riding a foil is with a bigger front wing can be (up in the 1000-1300 sq. cm range). I loved being able to cruise around at slow speeds, and the top speed was plenty exciting for me if I wanted to push it.
What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself and why? F-One Bandit S or Core Section Kite. Both of these kites really stood out to me as versatile kites covering more of the surf and foil end of the spectrum that just felt very intuitive to me (and I loved the lightweight and compact bar and lines!) For a board, I’d choose the Naish Jet 1050 foil or the Cabrinha Varial M foil: These were super fun all-around foils that had easy mellow turns and were great for my low-speed skill level that allowed me to actually focus on having fun instead of trying to maintain a lot of speed to keep the foil from stalling.
“I find myself checking the wind forecasts as often as my sales forecasts and am always keen to get out on the water. Kiting has become a way of life and I’m overtly passionate about spreading the stoke of this fine sport.”
Weight: 210 lbs.
Riding experience: 5 years
From: Vancouver, BC Canada
Personal gear: 2015 Slingshot RPM, BRM Cloud C1, Liquid Force Rocket Foil/SS Alien Air, Nomad Carbon Wave (TT), Skimboard
Local spot(s): Squamish Spit in the summer, Jericho Beach\Boundary Bay during fall\spring storm season.
Riding style and home riding conditions: I’m mostly into freeride and am a beginner freeride foilboarder. At home, conditions are choppy with waves up to 4 feet during storm swells. Squamish averages around 24 knots due to a steady thermal influence during the summer with some chop around the outside and smooth in the ‘Honey Hole.’ Local beaches can be gusty ranging from 18-35 knots during frontal systems.
Your favorite pro kiter / most impressive kiter / most influential / sexiest kiter / your personal kite hero? I love all the household names and the progress they’ve instilled in the sport. I’d commend anyone who gives kitesurfing a try but beware; you might have aspirations to change the world, once you’ve found kitesurfing it will change you.
If you were going to be reincarnated as one piece of kite equipment, what would it be and why? I’d be reincarnated as a hydrofoil wing so I can live the life aquatic and check out what’s below the surface.
What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test week? Pay attention to the QR on each bar from different brands. They are all very different and is the single focal point when using a new kite (and bar) if you are using a rope slider. When the wind is howling and you want to get out there take a few extra minutes to familiarize yourself with the click\twist\latch type systems before you rig up because standing on the beach with your lines laid out and attached to the kite while you try and figure out how the safety mechanism works can waste a lot of time.
What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself and why? I would go for the 2020 Naish Boxer as it felt like flying a 5 strut kite and was the most versatile for my riding (strapless and foil) and the Duotone Spirit Surf 1250 foil for its glide-ability.
“I like to push the limit and try new things. Usually, I am a pretty aggressive rider who doesn’t have a fear of crashing.”
Weight: 160 lbs.
Riding experience: 1.5 years
From: Living in Santa Barbara but from Lindau, Germany
Personal gear: North Mono, Cabrinha FX, Nobile and LF twintip boards
Local spot(s): Lake Constance/snowkite spots in the Alps and Santa Barbara, CA.
Riding style and home riding conditions: Freeride, waves, foil and snowkite. Conditions range from stormy gusty winds to steady winds and thermals!
Your favorite pro kiter / most impressive kiter / most influential / sexiest kiter / your personal kite hero? Nick Jacobsen!
If you were going to be reincarnated as one piece of kite equipment what would it be and why? Core XR due to its insane amount of power paired with fast turning speeds—the perfect match for an aggressive rider.
What was the main thing you learned about kiteboarding gear during the test week? I really noticed subtle differences in turning speed, drift and lift for the kites and different flexes and pop for the boards; the direct comparison of different gear all at our fingertips was very helpful for that. Also, foil kites are awesome and even when crashing on the water they keep inflated!
What kite and board would you want to purchase for yourself and why? Core XR/ GTS + Fusion or Carved board, I felt the most comfortable on the Core setup; it allows you to control insane amounts of power better.
If you are a subscriber, log into your account to access our 2020 Freeride Gear Review Guide, if not, sign up to get free digital access for a limited time HERE.