Kiteboarding is similar to most equipment based sports in that there is a lot of gear out there with flashy titles and fancy advertising which claims to make you perform better. Whilst some of these products may help, most wont make any difference at all unless you're an accomplished rider.
For the newcomer, this makes buying your first kite a mine field of information. HOWEVER if you have a basic understanding of what works for you and why, then you can negotiate all this jargon and get the right gear for you.
Choosing the right kite. The first question we usually get asked is ''what size kite should I buy?'' Unfortunately there isnt one magic size for all conditions which is why most riders have a quiver of two or three kites. There is some degree of crossover in the wind ranges of the different sizes of kite and with the power trim feature of modern kites, will allow you to ride a larger kite than others simply by depowering the kite, and conversley ride a smaller kite in lighter winds by having good kite control and the right board.
Picking the size of your first kite depends on a number of factors. Your weight and anticipated wind conditions the first ones to consider. Check what the locals are riding is always a good tip. Another large factor which is covered more in the ''Board buying guide'' is the board size and type of board you'll be riding. If all the twin tip riders are riding 12m and you are planning on riding a foil board, you wont need the same size kite at all.
If you're purchasing your first kite, you should look at its wind range, compare with your weight, check local conditions and then see if you will need to compliment it with a lighter or stronger wind kite if conditions change. If you are looking to buy a second kite, you will want to think about how this new kite will fit in to the wind range your current kite covers. Some examples of popular two-kite quivers are a 9 and a 12. Or a three kite quiver could be for example a 7, 9 and a 12.
Above is a wind range chart for an Airush Lithium. As you can see it is based for a rider who is 75kg and riding a twin tip. You can see between the 8,9 and 10 the minimum wind range is pretty similar so for a two kite quiver you might want to choose a 9 and a 12 for example.
Types Of Kites
There are a tonnes of different designs of kites that are designed for different riding styles. As mentioned earlier this is where all the jargon comes in. There are three basic kite designs: C-kites, bow kites, and hybrids. For a first time buyer we would recommend looking at its ease of relaunch, depower and wind range.
C-kites get their name from their shape when inflated, a pronounced C shape. The design of a C kite means it has less surface area to catch wind and conversely they tend not to have as much power. They also tend to have slightly smaller wind ranges. The original c-kites had four lines, which meant that they lack an adequate safety/depower system and are rather difficult to relaunch. In more recent they added a fifth line which solved both of these issues. So if a C kite is what you want, make sure it has a fifth line.
C-kites have quick steering and deliver consistent power through turns. Advanced kiters may want to consider a c-kite if they looking for something that is great for riding unhooked, kitelooping, or providing pop for wakestyle tricks.
Bow kites are four-line kites with swept wingtips and a concave trailing edge. Because they have a much flatter shape than the C kite it gives them a greater surface area to catch wind and therefore tend to have more power.
Bow kites were designed to give maximum depower when the bar is pushed out by adding a bridle to the kite. A bridle is a series of lines that connect from the front lines to the leading edge of a kite giving it support and stability. This stability and depower makes bow kites attractive for beginners and for those wanting to do big air!
Most of the kites on the market today are hybrids. Hybrid kites are halfway between a C kite and a bow kite in an attempt to give the est of both worlds. They can come with either four or five lines and they are typically easy to relaunch, lots of good depower, a wide wind range and good stability. Many hybrids are designed for many different styles of riding from freestyle to wave riding. A bit of a jack of all trades kite.
As mentioned there are a enormous variety of different kite styles and designs and even the three main types listed above have sub sections like delta kites, open C kites which again aim to fill different niches.
Four or five lines?
Another frequently asked question is ''what is the benefit of kites with five lines?'' As mentioned above five lines are important for C kites and they have some benefits and drawbacks for hybrid kites as well.
The main benefit of the 5th line is safety. Once you pull your quick release the kite will only be attached by one line so the kite is more or less guaranteed to flag out and all lose all power and should lie on its back on the water. The fifth line is also useful for relaunching in light winds but it takes some practice.
The main drawback of the fifth line is that if you roll your kite in waves for example, this fifth line will wrap around the kite and could possibly tear it in half if not dealt with quickly. Another drawback is that it is more complicated to set up as you have that extra line to deal with. Doesnt seem like a big deal on the face but it can be a pain.
Kites are constantly evolving and four line kites are very close behind the fifth line kite in terms of safety with the introducyion of the virtual fifth line which is a short line that isnt load bearing until you pull the quick release and then that one line tension which kills the kite power comes into play.
This argument is an ongoing one in the kiteboarding community and it is really a matter of preference.