How Big Does My Kiteboarding Kite Ride?
Since MACkiteboarding has been selling and riding kites since 1999, we have a pretty good idea on how big kites really are from the huge amount of time we have spent kiteboarding in Lake Michigan and around the country.
The most common and probably one of the best questions we get is, "how big a kite should I ride?" This is a great way to get educated, but also a very confusing issue. So here we go to help you wrap your head around which kitesurfing kite to buy.
I think the first thing for people to grasp is that one size does not fit all. Here in Michigan, we try to buy kites in this order:
- Bread and butter kite – gives you a wind range for 70% of the days that you can kite.
- Light wind kite – sub-15mph, and really happy around 13-16mph.
- High wind kite – winds over 25-30mph. The Great Lakes kiteboarding scene has fewest high wind days, so that's the last investment.
We are not going to get into kiteboards in this question, but figure that we are riding a basic 140cm, fairly flat rocker beginner/ intermediate board. Add a light wind board (Aggression Super Phatty) to most kites and you can pick up 5mph on the bottom end.
So what decides the wind range of a kite, anyway? There are really about 4 factors:
- Kiteboarder's riding skill. This is actually the number 1 factor that most people do not consider. A new kiteboarder will watch a seasoned veteran ripping it up with a 12 meter Switchblade in 25-30mph and go out and get seriously worked. Our own Marc Hoeksema rides a 10 meter Switchblade – in 12mph and in 30mph! Why? Because he has 2 Aggression kiteboards and is an amazingly efficient rider in light winds. Keep in mind that when you are learning, your kite has a smaller wind range, and your kite's wind range will increase as you improve.
- Shape and design. This is a huge factor we deal with on a regular basis when working with students and new kiteboarders getting into the water. A "C" kite generally has a much smaller wind range and does not drive upwind as well as a hybrid kite (Liquid Force Envy) or a bow kite (Cabrinha Crossbow or Switchblade). What you often get in exchange is a faster turning kite with better pop off the water. Below will be a list of kites with their relative power to one another and the design.
- Water conditions. Another vastly overlooked area in the kiteboarding world. I always laugh when I go to the Outer Banks for our spring kiteboarding trip and feel like a rock star on the butter smooth water of the Pamlico Sound. We are blessed in Grand Haven and Muskegon to have excellent piers ("jetties" to those of you on the ocean) that give us butter smooth water on the downwind side, but get about 300 yards downwind and you are riding chop on a regular basis. Add chop, lose 2-3mph; add wavy chop and lose another 2-3mph of your kite's power. As you lose board speed from adjusting to the waves and chop, you lose power and upwind ability. We hear it all the time – it was super windy and I couldn't stay upwind. Not your imagination.
- Rider Weight. Remember laughing at the skinny guy at school? Now he's ripping and you're sitting on the sidelines or flying a Mack truck while he's lit up on a 12 meter. Lose 20 pounds and pick up 2-3mph on the bottom end with ease. In high winds, weight plays less of a factor since wind increases in power exponentially (do your own research on that one.)
So now you have some basics to help you decide if the guy at the shop really is knowledgeable. The final breakdown is a quick kite comparison. Everything below is a generality. Kitesurfing kite designers are getting better every year, but these are general rules of thumb.
Here we go:
C kites – least amount of wind range and don't drive upwind as well. Fantastic for powered trick riding and being on flat water. Fast turning. Naish Torch, North Vegas, Best New Thing.
Hybrids / deltas – Fast turning, good wind range and fair upwind drive. A lot of people like the overall performance of these kites since they give you a faster turning kite without giving up wind range. We feel they are great for people already riding upwind, but will slow the progress of new riders staying upwind and working on their first jumps with rolls. Liquid Force Envy, Cabrinha Vector, Naish Park.
Bow / SLE kites – best wind range, best upwind drive, and a bit slower turning. If you are a new kiteboarder and want to advance in the fastest possible manner, these kites are for you. They will give you the most water time and get you going upwind and landing your rolls faster and easier than anything else. Cabrinha Switchblade, Cabrinha Crossbow, North Rebel and the New Liquid Force NRG.
Kite Size Breakdown – this is a rough breakdown of power by kite. I focus on the kites I know, but the chart gives you an idea that a 12 meter kiteboarding kite is not always a 12 meter in power.
Light wind to heavy wind based on a 170lb rider.
Crossbow 16 meter – Mack truck – amazing light wind but really only good for people over 200lbs.
Matrixx 15 meter foil – This is a great light wind kite for the 10-20mph wind range.
Crossbow 13 meter / Switchblade 14 meter – If you don't want to do the Matrixx, these 2 kites do the trick. Yes, the 13m Crossbow has as much low end power as the 14m Switchblade.
Envy 15m – rides a bit larger than a 12m Switchblade, but not by much.
Switchblade 12m / Rebel 12m – In Michigan where the wind is lighter, these are really good go-to kites.
Switchblade 10m / Envy 12m / Park 12m - Yes, these 3 kites really do ride about the same size.
As you can see by this short graph – size doesn't always matter.
We hope this helps you as you are making your kite buying decisions. Find a knowledgeable shop nearby or give us a call at 800-622-4655 and we can walk you through the process.
Steve Negen – Age 50, riding 12 years
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