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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 2006 kite board with quad channels, double concave hull, continous aggresive rocker... Eh? Confused? Read on...!
1. Dimensions (length and width)...
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.
Larger boards with more planing area are better for beginners, heavier riders and lighter winds. Planing area decreases with length so smaller boards are better for advanced or lighter riders and higher winds.
Long and narrow boards excel in powered conditions since they give a smoother and faster ride through choppy water conditions and offer improved grip due to the increased rail length. Shorter boards with increased width are less suited to choppy conditons since they feel more buoyant and are more likely to bounce off chop. However, the increased width offers improved 'pop' for freestyle manoeuvres and provides additional control when landing tricks.
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. Since small boards sacrifice light wind performance and large boards sacrifice high wind performance, many riders choose to have more than one board for riding in different conditions.
2. Board Shape...
Planing area is also influenced by board shape. A rectangular shape with wide tips will plane earlier and will offer improved 'pop'. 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.
A typical freestyle dedicated board, the Brunotti Pro-X 134cm is 40cm wide with the extra width maintained across the length of the board.
By contrast, the freeride specific F-One Sk8 134cm is narrower at 38cm and features a significant taper towards the ends of the board.
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 severely impeded. 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'.
A brief explanation of rocker type...
Freeride boards designed for wave use, jumping and medium to high wind speeds will have more rocker. Choose a board with less rocker if freestyle riding is your thing.
4. Flip Tips...
Flips tips are an exaggerated example of 3-stage rocker and offer enhanced freestyle performance. The base of the board remains flat (or with limited rocker) along the entire length to facilitate 'pop' but the tips are slightly upturned to prevent the nose diving during fast landings and when riding chop.
The freestyle orientate Brunotti Pro-X has a very flat rocker line with stepped flip tips.
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.
6. Flex Tips...
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, allowing the board to be edged harder.
Tuning your board...
Twin tips rely very heavily on edging to provide grip and improve upwind performance.
The fins are present to provide grip during the edge to edge transition when making a turn and to aid upwind performance in underpowered conditions. During a transition, the board will momentarily become flat; the moment at which fin grip comes into play. In lower winds, the board is ridden with far less bank (there is less weight over the rail) so fin grip is needed to increase the point of sail (the direction of travel in relation to the wind).
Larger fins increase grip and allow better upwind performance. Many of the 2006 freestyle specific boards are fitted with 2" fins to increase the grip during fast flat landings. However, they can cause unnecessary drag (especially in underpowered conditions) so can actually slow the board and negate any upwind gain. In overpowered conditions, large fins can result in the board edge skipping out underneath the rider due to the fin breaking free under pressure - with the board banked up (with a lot of weight over the rail) the fins generate lift.
As a rule of thumb, use the smallest fins possible for a comfortable ride. Small fins may feel a little skatey underfoot, but the loose feeling gives a fast ride and smaller fins are far more forgiving of mistakes during fast landings.
The stance width on a kiteboard has a huge impact on the ride characteristics of the board. It is possible to dramatically adjust the 'feel' of your kiteboard merely by tuning the stance width to your preferred riding conditions.
Stance width is measured centre to centre between the foot placements:
Stance width = A + B
A: the distance across the footstrap screws
B: the distance across the board between the inner foostrap screws
A wide stance width favours powered conditions since the rider is able to apply their weight along a greater edge length. This allows increased leverage for improved 'pop' and provides increased stability during fast landings. The board will feel more responsive since the rider has better control over the tips. However, too wide and it is possible to trip over the tips! Reducing the stance width will give improved performance in light wind conditions since this makes the point of sail less sensitive to foot pressure.
3. Using a leash...
Leashes on kite boards are the most dangerous things in the world. Your kite is pulling you one way, your board is submarining itself nice and deep under the water, either the leash snaps or your board comes flying back at you ready to take your head off....
Although it is really nice not to have to worry about your board floating away after crashing, there are a significant number of board leash related deaths every year. Modern kite surfers abandon board leashes altogether since it is very easy to "body drag upwind" to retrieve the board instead.
*Post made sticky - Tony