A kiteboard's performance can be accurately described by its design attributes. Every board design will perform differently and familiarization with design terminology will help you to understand how different design attributes can provide optimum performance for your skill level and riding style. By gaining an understanding of the terminology you are much more likely to make the right choice when deciding on your next kiteboard purchase.
The Liquid Force MLF Twin Tip Kite Board with quad channels, double concave hull, continuous aggressive rocker... Eh? Confused? Read on...!
Kite Board Types...
Kite boards are available in three distinct styles although the market is dominated by bi-directional boards...
Twin tips are by far the most popular style of kite board and are the only choice for 95% of riders from beginners to experts alike. They are user friendly, great for all conditions and excel at freestyle riding, providing excellent handling and control of the board during aerial manoeuvres.
Twin Tip boards are symmetrical in shape so the board will ride exactly the same way no matter what direction it is travelling in. The rider is located in a central stance on the board and uses footstraps or bindings to attach their feet to the board.
Foot position does not change during riding; to reverse the direction of travel the rider simply points the board in the other direction (similar to wakeboarding). Twin tips rely very heavily on edging to provide grip and improve upwind performance. Additionally, these boards normally have a total of four fins (two fins on each end) to help provide the board with grip whilst turning or when riding in lighter winds.
Directional boards look similar to surfboards and are used as wave riding specific kite boards. As the name suggests, directionals are designed to be ridden in one direction only and the rider must switch foot position to change direction. The construction is much more heavy duty than standard surfboards and the edge shape and fin position take the use of a kite into consideration. Footstraps are optional and modern directionals are specifically aimed at utilising wave power over kite power for down the line kite surfing.
Mutant kite boards aim to combine the best features of twin tips and directionals boards. They use directional rocker like a directional board but can still be ridden backwards or forwards like a twin tip. The stance is slightly off centre (around 60/40) with the stance position being biased towards the back of the board, so although the board favours one direction, it can be ridden backwards. Fin setup is similar to a directional board, but with the addition of nose fins to allow for 'backwards' riding. The concept produces a board with an enormous power range and incredible upwind drive and allows the rider to mix freestyle and wave riding without having to change boards.
The performance of a kite board is largely determined by the planing area (surface area) of the base (but also the shape: more later so read on...). Planing area is influenced predominantly by board length, but changing the board width also affects the overall ride and feel of a board.
Longer boards with more planing area are better suited to beginners and lighter winds. The use of a larger board with increased buoyancy allows a beginner / intermediate rider to use a smaller kite for improved safety and confidence. Shorter boards with less planing area offer a more comfortable ride in powered conditions, making them more suitable for advanced riders and higher wind conditions.
The planing area of a board can also be increased by increasing the width of board, allowing rider to use a shorter board that offers good powered performance, yet still retain good light wind performance. Note that boards with increased width are less suited to choppy conditions since they feel more buoyant and are more likely to bounce around over rough water.
Riders choosing a board need to consider the style of riding they wish to pursue and the type of conditions they are likely to ride in.
Planing area is also influenced by board shape. A rectangular shape with wide tips will plane earlier and will offer improved 'pop' for freestyle riding. Boards with narrow tips (and a more diamond shape) offer enhanced control in powered conditions with smoother transitions from edge to edge during carve turns. Narrower boards excel in powered conditions since they give a smoother and faster ride through choppy water conditions.
Rocker describes the curvature of the base of the board from end to end - the best way to view a board's rocker line is by viewing the rail side on. Kiteboard performance is affected both by degree of rocker and the distribution of rocker along the board's length.
A board with a large degree of rocker will give a smoother ride since the nose is less likely to catch the water when riding the board flat after landing a jump or when turning. These characteristics enable much better performance in chop and give the board more grip and control in powered conditions. However, increasing the rocker demands more kite power to enable the board to plane, so the light wind ability of the board is compromised. Flatter boards with less rocker offer a faster ride in flat water (since they plane more easily) and improved 'pop' since there is more rail in the water to load and release.
Rocker is normally distributed in two way: continuous or in 3 stages. Boards with continuous rocker have a smooth curve along the entire length of the board, creating a smooth and fast ride. Boards with 3-stage rocker have a relatively flat surface overall to aid planing, but with increased rocker at both ends to give a smooth ride and prevent the tips diving when riding chop. 3-stage rocker creates a slower ride but with improved 'pop'.
The flex of a board creates a smoother ride by absorbing energy as the board cuts through the water - this is not necessarily a desirable trait since flex can creates a soggy feeling with limited 'pop'. Increasing the flex also affects the performance by changing the rocker of the board during the application of pressure, when edging hard for example. Practically, this can facilitate early planing whilst offering increasing grip as more pressure (and hence rocker) is applied during edging. Flex clearly plays a crucial role in determining the board's characteristics. Stiff boards favour heavy riders, freestyle riders and powered conditions. A more flexible board will benefit lighter riders and less powered conditions.
A stiff board with flexible tips creates a dynamic ride that can respond accordingly to different riding environments. During powered conditions, the tips will flex as edge pressure is applied enabling the board to ride through chop well, whilst still maintaining a low degree of rocker over the main base of the board to facilitate 'pop'. In lower wind conditions, the board base remains flatter to facilitate planing.
Kiteboards now feature many different base designs from channels, concave formations, combinations of the two, or simply a flat base. Concave describes the curvature of the base of the board from side to side - the best way to view a board's concave is by viewing the board end on.
Concave increases the stability of the board, making it easy to edge and thus promoting upwind performance. Although concave designs have more drag, the smoother ride can actually increase board speed since it is easier for the rider to maintain consistent edge control.
Double concave comes into play when riding the board flat rather than when edging. It helps prevent the rails from catching, so those powered blind landings that we all do suddenly become easier! The smooth edge to edge transitions also add fluidity to wave riding. A well designed double concave board base can provide the increased grip associated with a singe concave feature, whilst allowing a nice skatey ride when riding the board flat.
Channels on the board base are rare but simply act like fins, promoting grip and allowing the board to be edged harder.
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