Constant product innovation and newly invented riding disciplines are feeding off each other as kiteboarding continues its upward tack in popularity. Hardly surprising, considering it was the same outside of the box thinking that gave birth to kiteboarding in the first place. By Rocio Enriquez.
Editor’s note: At the time brands were interviewed for this article, the pandemic had not been declared yet and global social distancing measures were not in place.
And at the heart of the sport’s growth are the kite brands themselves. By making sure their product offering lures experienced kiteboarders and newcomers equally, they are the makers of their own good fortune. Solid proof of this growth is the sales increase reported in school segments. Growing numbers of young people and inexperienced riders are approaching schools, eager to learn kiteboarding. Each of them is securing the long-term, steady, overall growth of the sport. Eleveight and Goodboards celebrate the steady increase in this category as a great indication of the health of the sport. Brands have responded with a careful look at safety and ease of use in their product designs, helping to consolidate the market.
Key to the rising popularity of the sport is the fact that you can now spend many more hours in the water. Knowing that you won’t have to accumulate lay days looking at the forecast on your screen, waiting to get out, is a great motivator. Brands have now made it possible to practice in any conditions with their product innovations. This means that kiters of all sorts visit the beach – and the shops – way more often and use their gear much more. The fastest growing segment of kiteboarding at the moment is foiling, precisely for this reason. “Foiling is conquering new territories and gathering new fans. It simply allows the rider to enjoy riding in new previously unavailable wind conditions,” affirms Jan Korycki, in charge of marketing at Nobile. Cherée Thomson, from Airush, says: “There are loads of products that allow for those lighter wind days, allowing you to ride as much as possible.” The revolutionary Wing is claiming its slot in most kiters’ quivers. “Wing Foiling is definitely creating a new sensation of freedom and a new way of having fun both on flat water and in the waves,” explains Alex Fox, Kite Brand Manager at Slingshot. Robert Bratz from Eleveight says: “Foils and wings are great alternatives in low wind conditions and great additions to the quiver of any kite surfer”.
The constant generation of new riding disciplines seems to benefit stores with a multi-sport reach. Thanks to the ongoing R&D efforts by brands, they are able to offer the perfect gear for every sort of wind sport fan. Some brands opt for versatility and others for specificness, but they are all committed to developing the perfect product for every sort of riding. “The scope of kiteboarding is broadening constantly, with different riding styles as well as different conditions. We are working diligently as a brand to create more products to appease the consumers of the world”, says Alex Fox. Nobile and Naish focus on the versatility of key products. Jan Korycki explains: “The NHP family is our top of the line. They are easy to ride boards in all conditions and a fun tool for all levels of riding. Plus, the Split version allows for friendly travel”. Naish Brand Manager, Scott Trudon, states: “The sport has gone in so many directions that gear that works for different disciplines, like our Hover Wake or the Pivot, is the most popular”. It is indeed a sweet moment for designers and product developers, who are engaging in innovation processes according to their own perspectives. North, who have redesigned its entire kite range, reveals: “We had the opportunity to look at everything from another angle, a new perspective and a new approach”.
Another riding discipline driving the rising popularity of kiteboarding is Big Air. Eleveight’s Robert Bratz says: “Riders enjoy again flying high and doing some crazy tricks. This discipline brings back a lot of old elements and reflects the initial fascination for kiteboarding”. All brands interviewed report good sales in this category. “A lot of storms came across the Atlantic this winter, and experienced and advanced riders went out in these rough conditions to chase their personal height record. So, our kites for this kind of conditions were well requested”, reports Gaastra. Airush states: “There’s a lot of hype for a big air and freeride blend of riding, where riders are able to jump higher and be in the air longer”.
Kites represent the biggest growth within kiteboarding product categories. This is probably due to the ongoing research for new materials, that generates a lot of innovation in design and construction. Every season, kites are getting lighter, stronger, longer lasting and with a significantly improved tear resistance. Liquid Force explains: “What lighter materials do is allow for new kite designs to be developed. New shapes ultimately lead to better performance in light wind.” Cabrinha reports that the non-stop R&D of new materials has been a success. “The new nano ripstop canopy material has worked very well. In design, we applied some changes to the bridles that were well-received”, says EU Sales Manager, Christian May. Airush found a way to provide lighter kites without compromising durability by incorporating the new Airush Load Frame onto all of its premium kites. “This allows the kite to be lighter and retain its shape under serious load”, describes Cherée Thomson. Liquid Force opted for a reduced bladder thickness combined with Teijin ripstop and Dacron to achieve a strong, lighter kite.
The rise in foil has generated this demand for lighter, easier to handle kites with a big wind range. Naish’s Scott Trudon explains: “The one-strut category is seeing growth because it works well for all ability levels, as well as foiling, waves and all-round riding”. Liquid Force’s Brand Manager, Rich Sabo, informs: “With the rise of foiling, our Solo 2020 has been one of our top sellers. A lighter, refined, single-strut weapon that is dedicated to making kiteboarding easy.”
The trending simplified designs can only help attract new fans to the sport. The easier the kite is to handle, the faster you learn, making your time in the water much more rewarding. Naish highlights its new single-point inflation system and its easier to use new flush valve on the leading edge as well-received innovations in its 2020 collection. North has engaged in a whole redesign of its kite range, with simplicity as a key feature. “We have completely simplified our kites ensuring they perform their purpose perfectly. We found that the more bells and whistles you have, the more there is to go wrong. Backed by North Sails, we utilised our own tech and cut away everything we felt the kites didn’t need. All of our kites use fixed cascade bridles with no pulleys. What we are left with is a range of kites with less drag, more accuracy and a more direct feeling”, announces Ollie Murray, UK distributor for North. For Airush, one of the most exciting releases in its 2020 collection is the IQR, a completely redesigned single hand activation and quick release safety mechanism.
The steady popularity of the Big Air category demands stronger kites that offer powerful hang time. Crazy Fly and Gaastra introduced reinforcements in the construction of their 2020 range that were very well-received. “Definitely, the stronger leading edge on the Hyper has helped on the smaller sizes. It gives extra performance and confidence in strong wind conditions”, says Juraj Bukovcak, Head of Sales and Marketing at Crazy Fly. Konstantin Weier, Marketing Director at Gaastra, states: “We focused on including exactly the right reinforcements at the correct positions to keep our kites light, but also extend their lifespan”. Cabrinha and Liquid Force also report significant growth on the sales of their 2020 Big Air specific kites.
Sustainability is still a challenge for makers of such performance-oriented products as kiteboarding equipment. Variables such as lightness, strength, flexibility or resistance must remain reliable ones when you are out there facing the elements. But it is a challenge all brands have accepted and continuously work on to improve.
In general, longevity is the key. Making durable products means that each kite and board will have a second life, therefore reducing waste. It is also a selling point for customers happy to invest in gear that will have a good resale value. Cabrinha reported a good response to its new nano ripstop canopy and ultraviolet high tenacity Dacron introduced in his 2020 kites.
Another common practice with most brands is eliminating plastic from their packaging. Slingshot obtained a very good response to their Hex packaging introduced last Summer. Goodboards is working on a new paper packaging for its 2021 range. Airush uses recycled PET for its kite bags, which are also vacuum packed to ship less air. Naish uses recycled materials in kites and bags. Eleveight is moving towards a decrease in plastic packaging too. Liquid Force is aiming for zero plastic in 2021, by repurposing materials and creating plastic replacements. They also repurpose fabric waste into new kites.
Production processes and factory practices are also seeing great sustainability efforts. Naish is shifting towards more environmental printing techniques for kites. It also claims to be implementing some sustainable processes in board construction that will revolutionise the industry. Wood used in the construction of Slingshot’s and Liquid Force’s boards is sustainably sourced. Eleveight is moving towards production mainly in the EU and the resin used in their surfboards is registered with Sustainable Surf.
The constant launch of new products for all the riding disciplines requires great support for retailers in the form of education and testing. Brands are well aware of this and have developed many tools and programmes to help stores reap the benefits of having a much wider product offering. Eleveight reports grass root support as its most successful method. Goodboards offers test boards to all retailers for customers to try, plus it carries out test tours throughout Europe. Liquid Force implemented its “stoke sessions” and North organises beach demos all over the world. Educational videos and in-depth animations are also available from brands such as Liquid Force and North. Gaastra has redesigned its whole B2B system for its retailers.
In the kite category, Crazy Fly and Cabrinha will launch foil specific kites. Naish will offer lighter and more durable kites. Liquid Force saw its lead kite designer of thirteen years leave. The new one has carried out a total redesign of the range with new shapes along with lighter materials.
Regarding boards, Naish will launch a new one, the Traverse, that is fun, smooth and easy to ride. Nobile will offer larger split boards, a new pocket skim foil board and a new wake style machine for bindings and obstacle riding. Goodboards will add its ACT tech to its popular Amnesia board and offer a Pro variant. This will be a robust strapless board, durable but light, with sandwich construction and ABS edge.
We will also see sustainability practices and materials increase in the 2021 collections. At the time brands were interviewed for this article, the pandemic had not been declared yet and global social distancing measures were not in place. The incidence of this will surely alter the positive growth forecast expected for this year, but not for the long term. When the situation goes back to normal, the pull for some ocean time will still be there. With a wide range of products to suit any riding style and conditions, any weather can be perfect weather, and we will be able to enjoy our ocean time without wait. Customers will very likely invest in the new toys that will make this happen.