With a powerhouse team of designers and team riders at its helm pushing technical development and performance, North barely missed a beat under lockdown and got creative as they rigorously tested their 2021 prototypes. North’s Holley Butler explains what went into getting their 2021 products ready for launch, along with the highlights of the new lineup.
What’s most noticeably new for North has been our decision to split the launch of our new 2021 range. The 2021 Big Air, Freeride, and Surf collections were released in September 2020, along with new sizes in the Reach, and our new 2021 Freestyle and Foil collections will be released in March. A big factor in the split-launch decision was COVID-19, which struck as North was in the middle of our 2021 testing, development, molding and prototyping stage. Fortunately, the brand had uninterrupted access to manufacturing partners and thanks to the ‘go hard, go early’ mentality from the NZ government, we were out of lockdown and back to business before much of the world. Shops being closed and consequently delayed sales did impact our decision, but recently we’ve had a few record months and now we can’t keep up with the demand.
In terms of athletes, between Jesse Richman, Nick Jacobsen and Marc Jacobs, I’m pretty sure we have Big Air and King of the Air covered! The more recent addition of Strapless Freestyle rider Camille Delannoy completes our formidable surf team with Jalou Langeree and Jesse. Young UK freestyle and foil rider Tom Bridge came onboard this year to join Bruna Kajiya and Marc on the Freestyle team, and Annabel Van Westerop and Graham Howes keep charging in Freeride. We love working with each of these athletes, all having proven themselves time and again as role models and inspiration for us all. Having such an experienced international team has also meant that despite restrictions on travel, we’ve been able to forge ahead with testing and photoshoots to deliver product to market on time. The riders have been invaluable in providing feedback— especially to Kite Designer Pat Goodman, Head of Engineering Hugh Pinfold and Product Manager Uli Sommerlatt.
In terms of designers, North’s Product Development, Brand and Marketing team are based in Kumeu, New Zealand, within half an hour’s drive from ideal testing locations on both the east and west coasts. Head of Engineering Hugh Pinfold, and Surf/Foil Board Shaper Jaimie Scott are also based in New Zealand, so can work closely alongside the Product Development team, headed by former America’s Cup foil engineer Uli Sommerlatt. Meetings are virtual with renowned US hydrofoil designer George Hradil, as the team goes into production with the 2021 Foil Range (to be released in March).
Our Chief Kite Designer Pat Goodman is based in Taiwan, where he has a great kiting community supporting him locally. Since COVID-19 travel restrictions have been in place, instead of making just one prototype of a kite, Pat will now order three or four and have them shipped across from Sri Lanka to Maui, down to New Zealand, Brazil and over to Holland so riders can provide video feedback. While it will never be quite the same as working alongside each other at the beach, thanks to digital technology, this new system is running smoothly.
IS THERE A SINGLE INNOVATION THAT YOU WOULD FIRST LIKE TO HIGHLIGHT?
Over the past 12 months, North’s designers have focused on improving the durability and refining the ride of every product in our range, so they feel even more intuitive. Chief Kite Designer Pat Goodman has focused on improving the performance and feel of both the Orbit and Carve, introducing new lighter materials and new bridling. One of our biggest technological changes was introducing a new lighter canopy reinforcement material to strategically replace the heavy dacron in our kites. The lighter material reduces the overall weight of the kite, without compromising on strength and elongation control. It protects the lighter inner main canopy body, producing a durable kite that can hold its profile for increased performance and lift. The new fabric also conforms more effectively to the inflated structure, helping create a smoother, cleaner entry on the profiles.
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THE KITE MODELS IN YOUR 2021 LINEUP IN A NUTSHELL? FOR EACH KITE, WHAT IS THE INTENDED TYPE OF RIDING AND TARGET USER AND KEY CHANGES FOR 2021?
As mentioned, we split the 2021 launch to release the new season Orbit Big Air/Freeride and Carve Surf/ Strapless Freestyle kites. The 2021 Reach Performance Freeride and Pulse Freestyle/Wakestyle are coming in March 2021.
Committing to overpowered airs and megaloops in gusty conditions demands an unwavering trust in your kite. Our iconic premier 5-strut kite, the Orbit, delivers incredible top-end control and allows you to hold down more power than any other kite per square meter. For 2021 we’ve modified the bridle for a more playful feel, and further improved the stability while maintaining the kite’s high-end performance and kiteloop recovery.
We’ve also strategically replaced the heavy dacron with lighter weight reinforcement material, so the kite feels even lighter and more responsive. This kite was designed to rocket you upwind fast, with effortless steering, extreme boosting and hangtime. The Orbit has your back when the rules of gravity don’t apply.
For 2021 the Carve has a fresh evolved design with a more playful feel, increased wind range and noticeably higher top end. We’ve modified the bridle for more controlled power, even better depower and reduced back stall. We have also reduced the overall weight, using lighter canopy reinforcement and lighter bladders in the larger two sizes. Powerful, reactive and controllable, the Carve powers on and off instantly, so you can stay in the pocket for longer and out of the critical impact zone. Featuring a sensory pivot turn for control and huge depower range, the Carve gives you the confidence to focus on surfing—onshore, offshore and anything in between.
The Reach kite performs in all riding styles—performance freeride, boosting, looping, foiling and surf. We’ve introduced a range of new sizes in the Reach, including a 17m light wind kite. This fuller-profile, lightweight 3-strut design has amazing power delivery, so you can stay out on the water long after everyone else has gone home.
IF YOU ARE RELEASING A WING PRODUCT THIS YEAR, WHAT IS THE TYPE OF RIDING THAT IS TARGETED AND WHAT ARE THE KEY FUNCTIONAL AND PERFORMANCE FEATURES INTRODUCED THIS YEAR TO YOUR WING?
Our Foil collection will be released in March 2021. We can’t wait to share what we’ve been working on with you!
WHAT ARE THE NEW AND/OR THE MOST POPULAR MODELS IN YOUR TWIN TIP LINEUP? HOW HAS THAT CHANGED FOR 2021?
For 2021, we’ve introduced the sellout Astra Freeride/Big Air model, a board with more responsive flex for lighter weight riders. The Astra delivers increased control in a range of conditions, greater comfort and softer landings—without sacrificing performance. Its smaller board length, narrower stance and basalt technology construction provides riders of all levels just the right amount of flex for controlled edging, boosts and loops. Its consistent, dependable rail grip gives you extra confidence to push boundaries as you load up for massive jumps. With a super-efficient bottom shape and rocker, the board feels fast through the water and flies upwind. The medium flex is dense enough to deliver clean and powerful pop, yet soft enough to forgive your knees and legs on harder landings. The Atmos Carbon is our most popular high-performance Freeride/Big Air board for explosive boosting, looping and stable, predictable landings. For 2021, the Prime Freeride and Atmos Big Air/Freeride boards feature a new tip shape for durability, new graphics and new composite fins.
WHAT ARE THE NEW AND/OR THE MOST POPULAR MODELS IN YOUR SURFBOARD LINEUP? HOW HAS THAT CHANGED FOR 2021?
For 2021, Board Designer Jaimie Scott has made considerable refinements to the shape of the surfboards, focusing on improving the durability and performance characteristics of each board so they can edge harder and give you an even more direct connection to the power of the wave. Across our surfboard range we’ve introduced a stronger fiberglass layup with VectorNET carbon fiber diamond weave to increase durability while maintaining flex, and we’ve introduced new lighter weight Premium FCSII fin boxes.
The 2021 Charge has a new 5’5” size which our team riders and customers alike have been stoked with so far. A slightly re-tuned rocker under the back foot of the Charge adds drive and speed. We’ve also subtly refined its outline with reduced hip width for faster rail to rail response.
For the 2021 Cross, we’ve increased the tail curve and smooth progressive rocker, as well as reduced the nose and tail width adding control at the top end and creating a better wave-fit for easier, sharper turns. We also added beveled release rails and a new quad concave bottom shape.
For the 2021 Comp, we’ve introduced tail channels for grip, response and landings with less bounce on touchdown. Its increased rocker line has been smoothed into a clean curve nose to tail, allowing the board to stick to your feet during strapless tricks. We’ve refined the outline so that its now pulled in at the nose and tail to add control for increased top-end performance.
Our product team has had a lot of input and feedback from our newest team rider, Camille Delannoy, on this board which has helped fine-tune its performance even further.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ACCESSORIES OR OTHER PRODUCT LINES YOU WOULD LIKE TO BRIEFLY INTRODUCE OR DISCUSS CHANGES/ HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2021?
The Navigator Control System is packed full of technology, and for 2021 Designer Hugh Pinfold has made over 20 strength, functionality and aesthetic improvements. One hundred and thirteen individual parts go into the Navigator Control System complete package, and we have carefully selected the ideal material for the specific function of each. By including only what we think are essential features, we were able to make a lighter control bar from all the best materials we can source. For example, our premium SK99 control lines come as standard. It makes no sense to us to skimp here as this is your direct connection to the kite.
We’ve widened the range with a new smaller bar size (38-43cm), introduced as a result of requests from our team riders and in particular smaller freestyle and freeride kiters. It pairs well with our new Astra twin tip. The ergonomic design of the bar is refined even further for greater durability, increased tactile control and comfort. We’ve introduced a larger, oval-shaped leash attachment ring which has been elongated for easier fastening of the leash carabiner, and spins to help prevent your landing line from twisting. The adjustable cleated trim system has been redesigned with a new circular geometry—in other words, no jamming when you’re doing a bar spin megaloop. Our depower mainline construction has vastly improved long-term abrasion resistance which we constructed our own custom cycle-testing machine to reinforce. Lastly, we strengthened our bar end internal parts and bar width adjuster cassettes, improving both ease of use and functionality.
We also have some exciting foil innovations coming in March which we believe will lead the industry.