FAQ about kitesurfing VOL. 2: Four line or five line kite?

How many lines … still a controversial issue.

This 5th line! In my experience it’s a topic which splits the kitecommunity into to camps. You either love or hate it. I always compare it with the question: How to eat Nutella on a bread – with or without butter? Do you know anyone who doesn’t care about this choice? Not me. There is no either/or. (Well, it’s only possible without butter. No question.)

Ist der Unterschied zwischen Vier- und Fünfleinerkites vergleichbar mit dem zwischen Waveboard und Twintip? (c) H. Fuchs
Is the difference between four line and five line kites comparable to the difference between a directional and a twintip? (c) H. Fuchs


So, four line or five line kite – what to prefer? A good friend of us is a prime example for this article: He has bot kites with a fifth line – but he is cursing them every time when he has to walk home from his session due to the additional line. If his kites would work without a fifth line (what they don’t), he would have already long bought a four line bar. Well, his relationship with the fifth line is, lets say complicated. It’s questionable for how much longer they will be a couple.

Eieiei ... ein Kite beim Durchschlagen. Jeder wünscht sich, dass das nicht passiert – aber keiner ist davor gefeit ;)
Oh no, this kite is rolling over! Sh.. happens.

However – for this article (and of course also for the Vol. 1 about harnesses) I had to grapple with both line systems very intensive and conscientious because want to offer an overview which is as fully as possible. I have made every effort not to forget one of the advantages and disadvantages of the both systems (but I am sure that there are more as I mentioned here, cause every kiter makes his very own experiences with equipment in different situations).

But let’s come to the theory and the fundamental question of the discussion: Why are there different line setups and how do they work?

Four line or five line kite:
The purpose of the fifth line

Additionally to the back- and frontlines a five line system has (as the name suggests) a fifth line which is fixed in the middle of the fronttube. There are kites which obligatory need the additional line – otherwise they would’t work properly. One can recognize them by a tensioned fifth line. These kites also have the fifth to stabilize their profile. Usually these are kites with an intensive C-shape, made for free- and wakestyle. They must be very durable, e. g. while loading the edge for tricks. Furthermore the relaunch with a pure C-shaped kite is tricky – the fifth line solves this problem as it turns the kite into the relaunch position (if the pilot pulls it in the right way ;)). erleichtert wird.
There are also other types of five line kites which don’t have the fifth line for stability but for safety reasons. Their fifth line is slightly slack. These kites also work with a four line bar.

The four line setup

Two backlines, two frontlines – that’s it. Easy peasy. Four line kites can be differentiated by their safety system:

  • Double frontline safety: After pulling the quick release the kite will flag out on two lines and may be still flying, depending on the strength of the wind. When it falls onto the water it is floating on the fronttube. As it’s not fully depowered with this system the kite is still slightly pulling which can be frightening, especially for beginners.  The advantage of this system: Usually after releasing the kite can be relaunched quite quickly again.
  • Single frontline safety: When you pull the quick release the kite flags out on one frontline, goes down and lies on the water without pulling – face-to-face position.
  • Virtual fifth line: With this system the two frontlines split further up – due to this the bar can slide up further. So after pulling the quick release the kite flags out with less pressure.
Bei reinen C-Kites für Wakestyle- und Freestyletricks macht eine fünfte Leine Sinn – sie stabilisiert den Kite und sorgt für mehr Depower. (c) H. Fuchs
Pure C-kites for freestyle and wakestyle need a fifth line for stabilization.  (c) H. Fuchs


FOUR LINE or FIVE LINE KITE:
PROs & CONs


ADVANTAGES of the 5th

  • The keyword for five line kites is very often safety. After pulling the quick release the kite flags out on the fifth line without any pressure or pull. Furthermore the fifth shall also provide more depower (which is especially useful for C-kites which do not offer a lot of depower with a four line setup).
  • Also the fifth line makes it quite easy to put the kite into relaunch position even in very light winds.
  • Some use the fifth line also to land their kite on their own (which is easier with it).

DISADVANTAGES of the 5th 

  • Setting up everything needs a little more time.
  • In some cases (e. g. several loops) the fifth can be twisted around the centerline, which negatively affects safety and performance.
  • If the kite inverts (that means if it is rolling into its own lines) the fifth line wraps over the kite. On the one hand this can destroy the kite, on the other hand relaunching after this case is not a simple affair. Even if you know can manage it (you need knowledge!), this takes time and space and the right conditions. If you can’t manage it, your session is over.
Vier- oder Fünfleiner? Viele sagen: reine Geschmacksache. Voula ist hier mit einer 5-Leiner-Bar unterwegs aufs Wasser. (c) H. Fuchs
Four or five lines? Some say: It’s just a matter of taste. I totally agree. Here Voula is going for a session with a five line bar. (c) H. Fuchs


ADVANTAGES of 4 LINES

  • Usually the new 4 line kites are very easy to relaunch (Auto-Relaunch) – so when theres enough wind, you don’t need a lot of training and knowledge to get your kite out of the water. Also you can “park” a four line kite on the edge of the wind window where it bravely waits for the relaunch.
  • If a four line kite is inverted normally it’s no problem to relaunch it and steer it even with crossed lines. So you can easily go to the beach and sort out the lines again – what you should do to avoid abrasion of the lines at the contact points. If you know how to do it you can even set up everything on the water (needs a little bit experience and depends on the conditions – not recommended in strong wind and waves).
  • One line less means reduced risk of spaghetti lines and saves a little time while sorting out and setting up.

DISADVANTAGES of 4 LINES 

  • After pulling the quick release especially older four line kites need longer to come down and lay in the face-to-face position (especially in light winds). So it lasts longer till there’s no pull anymore (particularly with double-frontline-safety). But this problem has been solved with single frontline systems – if you release, the force transmission gets interrupted very quickly and the powerless face-to-face position is reached faster.
  • Relaunch in light winds could be tricky with four line kites – cause it’s not so easy to move the kite into the starting position. Experience is needed.
  • Pure C-Kites with four lines don’t offer much depower and are difficult to relaunch (not  und sind schwer zu relaunchen (-> unsuitable for beginners!).
Nach Missgeschicken mit der fünften Leine mussten schon viele mit dem Jetski aus dem Wasser gefischt werden. Allerdings: Es gibt Schlimmeres ;) (c) H. Fuchs
After mishaps with the fifth line it happens quite often that a jetski rescue is needed. But of course this can happen with four lines too 😉 (c) H. Fuchs


Why I love four lines

One of my reasons to rely on four line kites is, that four lines make less mess than five (ok, this may be a mini-reason, yet important for me). Keep it simple 😉
My main argument for four lines: If it happens that my kite goes down for any reason (crash …) and flips over, with four lines usually this is not a big drama cause even with crossed lines a relaunch should be possible. So I can go to the beach, sort the lines and go back on the water. If there’s not too much wind I can also place the kite at the edge of the wind window, unhook and fix the bar so that the lines are in right position again. (Which does not mean that I recommend to do it like this, cause if you’re unlucky, you can loose your kite ;)).

Flipping over?
One may think that it happens only to beginners or unexperienced kiters that a kite rolls over its own lines. Far from it! Ask guys who are kiting in waves – maybe additionally on a spot with sideoff conditions, where the kite could suddenly stall and come down, flip over in the waves, it’s not possible to release in time cause you get washed … no, this is not funny. With a kite wrapped in its fifth line you are quite fucked up (to say it kind). Such action needs downwind space, no rough conditions like waves and a lot of experience.
I would say that only a mere fraction of kiters have this amount of experience to get a wrapped five line kite relaunched again – not even in perfect conditions. So mostly it means: Game over, self rescue, get out of the water. If one is totally unlucky the fifth line ripped the kite.

In solchen Fällen ist es wiederum völlig wurscht, ob man mit vier oder fünf Leinen fährt ... (c) H. Fuchs
Ok, in this case it doesn’t matter if you have a four line or five line kite … 😉 (c) H. Fuchs


For me four wins

To be honest: I have no problem to accept all disadvantages of four lines. If you familiarize with the system and how it works (and what to expect when you e. g. pull the quick release) then you learn how to deal with it. (But naturally this applies for five lines too.)
Apart from kites with a deep C-shape which need the fifth line für stabilization and easier relaunch for me four lines are enough – relaunching a four line kite in light winds is a matter of practice. A lot of four line kites can be relaunched by pulling both backlines and hold them till the kite rises (its rising wrong way first but then it turns, you let go the lines and voilá).

So in general I would say four or five depends not only on riding style but is a matter of taste too – and tastes can change quickly. Who knows, maybe in half a year I am an absolute advocate of the fifth line?
What is your opinion about this topic? With which system did you gain better experiences? Or are you part of the “I don’t care” section? I would be happy to hear your opinion! If you have further questions on this subject, let me know 🙂

In Vol. 3 of the series “FAQ about kitesurfing” I will deal with etiquette for kitesurfers, no-goes and rules of behaviour on a kitebeach.

All the best and a lot of wind,

Anja

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