Airush has been quietly leading the charge in both user-friendly freeride gear and high-performance no-holds-barred equipment for the purist. As the company that pushed the single-strut concept to where it stands today, this year, Airush and its related accessory brand are introducing materials and constructions that establish new standards in production kiteboarding equipment. We caught up with engineer and Airush insider Dave “DK” Kay to find out more about the latest products to come out of the South African development office.
There is always something happening in the little surf town of Muizenberg where our HQ is based. We have expanded our workshop and prototyping center and brought on a few extra team members into the office. We introduced a new material called Ho’okipa which has been developed in conjunction with Challenge Sailcloth. This unique woven composite is the result of exhaustive development and testing to find the optimum balance between responsiveness, lightweight and long-term performance. This is a really exciting addition to the offering.
On an athlete level, we have focused on nurturing our team, working with each individual on the gear they ride, getting quality feedback and then refining the process between designer and rider so that we can make the right changes where necessary.
The Ultra single strut kite has proven to be a very versatile performer in your lineup in recent years, and this year, the Ultra is available in a Team Edition with the groundbreaking new material called ‘Ho’okipa.’ What are the strengths of the new material and how does it change the performance of the Ultra Team edition?
Ho’okipa is a new material and proving to be the most high-performance fabric we have ever developed. It comes with a reduced environmental impact as Ho’okipa Ultra PE is made up of 48% recycled content by weight. Traditional Ultra PE materials relied on a high percentage of films, coatings or glues to stabilize the material. The outcome of this was that these other materials were strong, but either needed complicated seam constructions, had a limited amount of structural fiber (for their given weight), or had inconsistent strength and distribution throughout the fabric. Ultra PE Fiber is a super-strong ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMwPE) fiber that offers maximum strength with minimum weight. Ultra PE has extremely long molecular chains that transfer load more effectively. It’s stronger at the same weight and lighter at the same strength than alternatives. In a direct comparison to polyester, it is up to 32 times stronger.
Ho’okipa Ultra PE takes a reliable woven structure and supercharges the material through the use of Ultra PE instead of traditional polyester fabric. The high amount of material in the composite that is structural, has allowed us to optimize all areas of the construction resulting in a beautiful blend of responsiveness, light weight and durability.
On the Ultra Team, because of this strength, the combination of our proven Single Strut Geometry with key new components like the narrow diameter high pressure leading edge and high-tension canopy are what allows the Ultra Team to fly further forward in the window, creating the perfect balance for lightwind performance.
In its 13th year in production, the Lithium is back as the standard in freeride kiteboarding along with Airush’s other classic freeride crossovers like the Lift and Union. How do you steer kiters through the lineup and what are the key changes for 2022?
The Lithium is a favorite amongst our freeriders; it’s versatile, stable and most importantly fun. These qualities make it a really nice kite to fly. The biggest, and most noticeable changes on the Lithium is that we used to use D4 canopy cloth, which is a tiny bit heavier, and it no longer features the load frame technology. The shape has more sweep which gives it better relaunch, and it has a slightly higher aspect ratio giving it more of a performance feel rather than a beginners only kite. When you go further down the line, the Lift and Union’s are geared more to riders that are really pushing their limits and chasing big air because they are a lot more performance-oriented. The Union is designed for those who want to do some big air jumping and looping, are a bit more performance freeride and even want to try out some freestyle. The Union is as versatile as the Lithium, but on a higher performance level. The Lift is the kite you choose when you are chasing crazy hangtime. It’s incredibly stable in high winds and the testing we have done with the Cape Town South Easter has been a key contributing factor to the Lift’s evolution.
The heart of the freeride twintip program straddles the iconic Switch and Apex boards. Each board comes in a regular and Team construction. How should riders choose between the Switch and Apex and what are the benefits of each construction method to the rider?
So the ‘chassis’ design of both the Switch and Apex are aimed at riders in different times in their progression. For new riders, the Switch is designed to be easy to get up and riding and is very good at tracking upwind. To this end, the Switch’s design features include a flatter rocker, a progressive single concave and a straighter outline. The Apex is aimed at more experienced riders riding in higher wind speeds with more power. It features more rocker, more outline curve and double concave/center spine bottom shape for softer landings.
All four models; Switch/Switch Team and Apex/Apex Team all feature unique constructions designed to match the performance requirements of each rider segment. The Switch has a 100% biax fiberglass lamination which gives the board a smooth and predictable ride over a range of conditions. The Switch Team starts with a biax fiberglass and adds a uni-directional basalt I-bend between the feet for more stiffness and faster reflex. The combo of a straighter outline and this basalt I-beam make the Switch Team an excellent alternative to the Apex or Livewire for flatwater freestyle in straps.
The Apex has a double layer of biax basalt fiber. Basalt is both stronger and stiffer than fiberglass while also being tougher than carbon. This gives the Apex a reactive ride with amazing pop for big air and smooth landings. The Apex Team is a combo of basalt and wide tow carbon fiber. Lighter and even more reactive than the Apex, the Apex Team is best suited to high performance riders looking to push their limits.
The surfboard collection is composed of the Cypher, Amp and Comp shapes, with two construction methods available in each line. How should riders choose between the two construction options and what conditions and styles of riding best suit these models?
The two constructions are Reflex wood and Reflex Carbon Innegra. The Reflex Wood combines progressive flex in a durable sandwich construction. Our lightweight fused EPS core utilizes a unique molding process to create an extremely light center with dense outer skin. This is reinforced with high memory cork in the standing area and a full wood sandwich top and bottom. The Reflex wood shapes all have footstrap inserts with the option of a straight or angled front center strap.
The Reflex Carbon Innegra is the lightest performance construction on the market, with optimum flex and response. Our lightweight fused EPS core utilizes a unique molding process to create an extremely light center with dense outer skin. This is then sandwiched with a recycled high-density PET sandwich and durable Carbon Innegra top deck, with a biaxially oriented Carbon on the bottom. This configuration optimizes strength, minimizes weight and maintains maximum flex. The Reflex Carbon Innegra models all ship without footstrap inserts or pads and we have worked with our partner accessory brand AK Durable Supply Co. to offer a range of traction from ultra-thin full deck pads to glue on footstrap inserts.
Essentially our directional range starts with the Comp as your performance down-the-line shape which focuses on maneuverability and high-speed control. We developed this board with Oswald Smith in Cape Town and Charlie Wise in Australia; this gives you an idea of the conditions the board was developed around. In the final testing phase, they went to Indo and Mauritius to really put it through its paces. The AMP is a favorite board within the range as it is super versatile. Working with Reider Decker (US Wave Champion) from Cape Hatteras we aimed to create a board that does everything from strapless flatwater riding to onshore and perfect surf conditions, so it is really the ultimate all-rounder. We developed the Cypher with Kiko Roig Torres, who epitomizes the ‘new school’ of strapless riding. He wanted a board that was super stable at speed, compact for aerial maneuvers and still versatile enough for European wave conditions. He seems pretty happy!
The AK foil system has evolved as a modular system that crosses all the disciplines of hydrofoiling. What are the main wing packages you recommend for kite foiling and what would a rider need to add to flirt with some wing foiling or swap into SUP foiling surfing on no wind days?
For kite foiling the go-to setups are the Trek 1300 or 1000 (depending on rider weight) for new riders looking for the easiest to use setup available. The Tracer 850 is for experienced riders looking for a step up in speed and performance. Both of the above are available in complete packages with front/rear wings, fuselage and an 80cm mast. To convert either setup for use with SUP/surf foil/winging would only require a front wing swap to the 1600 Trek (easy rider) or 1600 Tracer (all round performance) and perhaps a larger rear wing for extra stability if needed.
Do you have any accessories or other product lines you would like to briefly introduce or discuss changes/highlights for 2022?
An interesting new addition to the AK binding range this season is the AK Ether Binding – the lightest, most minimalist twintip binding available. In a world where twintip binding systems seem to have more and more adjustment added every year, the Ether binding is step completely in the opposite direction. It features a chassis-less pad that mounts directly to the board via peel and stick base, and a strap that is only adjustable via its mounting screws. It’s a flash back to the most common style of twin tip binding of the mid 2000’s brought up to date with modern materials and manufacturing. Now, to be honest, the Ether Binding is not for every rider, it has a very particular rider in mind. This is aimed at the experienced kiter who knows their stance and never changes it – the upshot being that with other bindings these experienced riders are buying the weight and complexity of adjustable bindings, but never using that adjustment. The Ether Binding gives these riders the option to do away with the unnecessary and mount a binding to their exact needs only. The Ether Binding has proven to be a favorite with our team riders, in particular Victor Hayes from France is raving about its fit and performance.
Want more gear info? Get the latest product intel from all the top brands all in one convenient place with Tkb’s 2022 Buyer’s Guide.