FAQ about kitesurfing VOL. 5: It’s all about boards (and boots).

Wanted: Kiteboard!

A little guide to find the right board – and the decision for straps or boots.

After harness, kite & bar, the kite etiquette and tips how to find the right equipment the last article of the FAQ series is about kiteboards.  As all other kind of equipment also the board is always a hotly debated topic with thousands of different opinions – not only about the size of the board but also concerning the question “Boots or straps?” as well as “Should I leave the grab handle on the board or not?” The content of this article is a combination of a) a lot of research work and b) experience of friends, a lot of kitesurfers I know and my humble self.

FYI: I don’t want to stretch the extent of the article to infinity – so I will put the focus on twintips (surfboards will come later on then.) Also I will not go into detail about the difference of materials, carbon/non carbon and so on. There will be an own article about this special topic.

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What fits me? Different boards for all application areas and skill levels

Just to define it: Twintip is a generic term for boards that are symmetric and can be ridden in both directions. Sounds simple. But it could get complicated, cause there are many different types of twintips for various application areas, conditions and kite levels.  Especially those factors (besides the look of the board and brand preferences) are decisive to find the right one that fits each rider’s  special needs:

  • weight of the rider 
  • major use (light wind/strong wind, chop/flat water, freeride/freestyle/wakestyle)
  • skill level (beginner/advanced/pro)

Size does matter!

Those who attented a kite course may remember: For the first waterstart trials as a kite student you don’t get a cool, compact freestyle board. You get a big board instead which is forgiving and easy to ride. Especially in the beginning size matters, according to the motto: More is more. So to speak: A bigger board makes beginners smile. More surface area means easier water starts and due to the higher buoyancy the board forgives incorrect weight shifts.

Some schools use “doors”, huge rectangular boards which look like … yes, a door. There are also kitesurfers which swear by doors as a light wind board. But most kiters sooner or later switch over to smaller, more agile boards as doors are not the best choice for jumps etc.

Größere, fehlerverzeihende Boards erleichtern das Lernen. (c) H. Fuchs
Bigger boards wich are more forgiving are mostly used for kite students. (c) H. Fuchs

 

As a reference what’s “big” or “small” in the matter of twintip sizes you may have a look at this size guide (no liability assumed). However it’s important to know that the right size of a kiteboard also depends on the shape, the riding style it is built for and its application areas.

Basic factors about boards

Length & width

The length of a board matters as the longer it is the more stable it feels on the water. But: Although the width of a board is not a defining feature for a lot of people it is a significant factor concerning the board size! Why? If you multiplicate length with width, which number has the bigger impact to the surface area? One centimeter more width makes much more surface than adding one centimeter to the tips.

Narrow boards are lighter in weight and usually faster through the water. But in lighter winds they don’t work so well and their upwind abilities are worse (compared to wider ones). The wider the board the better it works in light wind conditions. Furthermore wider boards seem to have a better pop. On the other hand in powered conditions narrower boards are more controllable than wide ones.  Just to give you examples: A 28 cm board is considered to be very narrow, a 48 cm board as very wide.

14742450436_0528877d46_o
In this pic you see Tanja riding quite a small board (128 x 38,5 cm). (c) H. Fuchs

 

A basic rule to orientate if you can choose between different board- and kite sizes: Big kite, small board – small kite, big board. These combinations make sense as big kites tend to have more lateral power than small ones and then it’s nice to have a small board for more control of the rail. If the wind gets stronger and you don’t have a smaller kite, but a smaller board, switch over to the smaller board as it’s easier to handle it if you are overpowered.

A bigger board is very valuable for kiting in lighter winds – it’s actually more important than a big kite. The reason: The bigger board offers more surface on the water, and this works perfect combined with a smaller kite which evolves its power out of its faster turning speed.

My very own experience with board sizes: I switched over to a quite small (130 x 38) board although I was not able to ride in both directions at this time.
boards at airridersBut: With the small board I was forced to learn the technique for riding upwind, play with the rail of the board and find a good body posture – so to say right from the start. I would claim this was a benefit! If you rely on the comfort of a very big board for too long it might be hard to deal with a small board then, e. g. in the matter of riding upwind. Well, that’s just my opinion. But this can be super frustrating! Imagine: You already know how to ride and you also know how to go upwind – and suddenly when you should do the same with a smaller board nothing works anymore. Not so funny!
Well, of course the small-big definition is also a question of weight. For a rider with 100 kg a 142 cm board may not be big – but for me with my something like 50 kilos it is huge!

Shape & application areas

Freeride boards

Most freeride twintips are super versatile, which means that they work well in many different conditions. A soft to medium flex (the hardness of the board) allows the board to carve very smoothly and prevents the board from getting to fast.

For comparison: A board mit more narrow, rounded tips …

Also the rounder outline of freeriders provides better carving abilities.  The tips are not so wide and mostly they are also slightly rounded which is nice for choppy conditions and reduces splash water while riding. Usually freeride boards tend to have a flat rocker (rocker means the curvature of the board) and no channels on the tips and underside. As freeride boards are easy to ride, forgiving and use to have good upwind abilities they are the best choice for beginners or those who just want to have a super stressless ride.

Freestyle boards

These kind of boards tend to be more stiff than the freeriders, which makes them faster and offers more pop for jumps.

... und eines mit breiteren, geraden Tips.
… and a freestyle board  mit wider, square Tips.

The better pop comes also from the wider and more square shaped tips, which on the other side reduce the carving abilities of the board. Freestyle boards usually have a straighter outline and a medium to high rocker. The underside tends to have channels for more grip and better upwind abilities. A lot of freestyle boards are designed as perfect allrounders for advanced kitesurfers which want to have a comfortable, but more aggressive board which does it all – all the oldschool jumps but also all the newschool tricks (to a certain extent ;)).

railey anja

Wakestyle boards

These boards resemble classic wakeboards, have a robust design and are especially built for unhooked tricks and obstacles. The rocker of wakestyle boards is usually high which allows a more aggressive pop. The inserts of wakestylers are stronger to fit boots on the board. Very often they are ridden with small fins or no fins at all which makes them very agile and “loose”. Concaves and channels provide more grip – but for light winds and riding upwind these boards may not be the best choice. They work best in flat water – so to speak perfect wakestyle conditions.

Wakestyle-Boards haben mehr Rocker und werden für Obstacles und Slider ohne Finnen gefahren. (c) H. Fuchs
Wakestyle boards have a large rocker and are ridden with boots and without fins for obstacles and sliders.  (c) H. Fuchs

Don’t forget about the fins!

Bigger fins (or let’s say standard size, about 5 cm) provide a stable riding feeling, more grip and good upwind abilities. Usually freeride boards are delivered with these fin type. Smaller fins (about 3,5 or 4 cm height, but with a longer shape) are often used on freestyle boards. They require higher riding skills and better board control to avoid the rail from sliding away. One advantage of smaller fins is that the board can be turned easier on the water, which is pleasant for tricks with surface passes. Furthermore it reduces the risk of the nose fins to catch and crash when landing.

In the matter of upwind abilities fins are significant. If you have a board with e. g. 3,5 cm fins and have problems riding upwind with it maybe you should not immediately sell it – but instead try bigger fins and see what comes out.

waterdrops6
Board with standard sized fins. (c) H. Fuchs

 

If you are not sure which board fits your personal needs best, you should as far as possible test different boards. Just cause a board was designed for certain conditions or riding styles it doesn’t mean that it has to work for you in this conditions or for this kind of riding. Also features like soft or hard flex may be perceived very individually. The freeride board of one brand may feel totally different for you than the one from another producer. There are wakestyle boards with good upwind abilities and also freestyle boards which by other riders might be classified as super soft freeride stuff. One jumps double S-bends with a “beginner board”, the other one has just learned to ride both directions and is totally happy with his wakestyle banana altough the others shake their head about him. It doesn’t matter!

Essentially, it’s a matter of habit which board you ride and like. The only thing that’s important is that you feel comfortable with it and that after your sessions you leave the water with a big grin on your face. It’s all about the fun!


Straps or boots?

I know kiters who ride boots although they do no Raileys, Blind Judges or Handlepasses – nevertheless they just love the ride feeling in bindings. I also know some who do all the above mentioned tricks – but with straps, cause they don’t like it to feel strapped down with boots.

Es gibt Fahrer, die unhooked so einiges draufhaben – aber trotzdem lieber mit Schlaufen fahren. (c) H. Fuchs
There are riders who do a lot of difficult tricks but still prefer riding with straps. (c) H. Fuchs

 

No question – boots look super cool, and a lot of kitesurfers who just started can’t wait to finally get them on their feet. Besides the optical component: Boots have been developed for special kite disciplines, unhooked tricks and wakestyle. The advantage of bindings: Due to the boots more power can be transferred to the board, it can be better loaded for tricks and it’s more controllable.  

So, can everybody ride boots? What’s generally recommended:

  • If you do mainly hooked tricks you better go for straps (especially for huge kiteloops!). Also for oldschool boardoff tricks you need straps, of course 😉
  • If you mainly go unhooked, boots can add a lot of power and style to your tricks.
Was man nicht abstreiten kann: Boots bringen jede Menge Style mit sich. (c) H. Fuchs
It can’t be denied: Boots add a lot of style to most tricks.  (c) H. Fuchs

 

However, you should not switch over to bindings only cause riding with boots looks so cool.  Why not? Cause boots require a lot of experience and quite high level riding skills.

show the bootsIt doesn’t matter what you plan to do with them – even if you just want to go left and right without any jumps, you have to  meet one condition: 100 percent control over your kite.  With bindings it’s not possible to get quickly rid of the board and fully concentrate on the kite in critical situations. If one is too inexperienced, this can easily lead to fear and panic.

From my own personal experience (and also others confirmed this to me) I would say: If you don’t feel 100 percent confident while launching and landing or get nervous when other kiters on the water come close to you – then you are not ready for boots.
Switching over too early and without having mastered some fundamental basic maneuvres cause “anyway I want to ride mainly unhooked” doesn’t really make sense (also see what prorider Malin Amle says about the topic in this interview).

Broll
Liquid Force team rider Malin Amle: “I think if you start directly with unhooked moves you might get a bit discouraged.” (c) Broll

 

Unfortunately you can’t deny one fact: Crashing with boots hits harder than crashing in straps. So if you’re kind of squeamish you should think twice about it.  With bindings your board is firmly fixed to your body. In contrast to crashes with straps  – when your feet usually slip out of them if the kite pulls forward – the board (usually) remains connected to you.  So if you crash this means an immediate stop on the water, and the board may work as an anchor. Sometimes you get properly “stretched” too! Even if your board just gets caught by a small wave cause you’ve been inattentive, the slam will be hard. It’s also said that the risk of injuries with bindings is higher compared to straps.

Aua!
Oh nooo … ouch! But at least he got rid of his board cause he was using straps.


What’s also important:
 Not every twintip is suitable for riding it with boots. The power transmission to the board is different with boots and there’s a high leverage effect which both board and inserts must endure. Also the landings tend to be harder if you ride with bindings. Beginner- or pure freeride boards are usually not designed for boots as their flex is quite soft and the inserts are not massive enough. Freestyle boards are often ridden with bindings – but in this case it also depends on the weight of the rider and the tricks he does. Wakestyle-Boards are especially made for bindings and withstand a lot of impacts. But they also require a higher skill level and it’s more difficult to to ride upwind with them.
If you want do do a test concerning the question “Am I ready for boots?” check out  this one on Kitesista.

Grab handle – yes or no? 

Finally there’s one point remaining which affects kiteboards with straps (as you don’t see boards with bindings and a handle very often, do you? ;)).

Ob man
If you screw off the handle of your board or leave it where it is doesn’t presume anything about your riding skills. (c) H. Fuchs
hurryup
With or without handle … as you like it! But during the learning stage it’s quite useful to have one.  (c) H. Fuchs

I will keep this topic short – or does anyone want to discuss the (supposed) coolness of boards without a handle? Opinions tend to differ sharply on this point … 😉

If you ask me I would say: As a beginner I would leave the handle where it is or mount one if the board has none – for following reasons: Slipping into the straps on the water for most people is far easier if you can use the handle. It’s also useful if you can grab the board at the handle to go towards the water with the kite in the air. One more advantage: Especially in the beginning when one tends to lose the board more often (and may not be able to get back to it quickly or if its far away) he may be lucky when a nice kiter brings his board back. If your board has no handle the chance that someone takes it back to you is far smaller cause then it’s harder to carry – and a lot of kiters will not even think about trying to transport it.


So guys, I hope my article provides a beneficial overview on the issue of boards and bindings. As always I am open for questions, suggests and ideas of improvement!

And as always I am also super curious! Tell me: What about your thoughts and experiences with boards and boots? 

Aloha, Anja

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