Note: this was written in 2004 and could be wildly out of date now. I haven't flown kites in years.
As the main piece of kit in kiteATB, the correct kite choice is vital. Here I’m just jotting down a few thoughts about kite selection for mountainboarding that apply to me, as much for myself as anything else. I should point out that I’m a fully hooked Blade 3 flyer and it might be unfair of me not to say that I’m sponsored by Flexifoil and am pretty comfortable riding with powered up kites. Hopefully this isn’t biased, but make your own mind up. I haven’t done enough kitesnowboarding to make any comparisons with that but I actually think kiteATB is closer to kitesurfing anyway. I don't know much about kite design, aerodynamics or anything like that, but I have done lots of landboarding. Chris Calthrop has an article about why he chooses Blades over inflatables but he might be as biased as me! Although you can use inflatable kites on land with a lot of success, for most people this isn’t a great option and most landboarders go for foils so that’s really what I’m talking about here.
At first glance de-powerable kites seem to provide a better solution – namely by helping to absorb gusty wind and giving more windrange for each kite. Why then have I never enjoyed kiteATB as much when I’ve used a de-powerable kite? Although I use my Blades on the water sometimes, I prefer four line, depowerable inflatable kites for kitesurfing. It’s not a case of enjoyment, I love surfing with the Blades from time to time, but it’s actually easier with an LEI, particularly in gusty Scottish conditions (different in nice smooth trade winds). Yet for some reason the same does not apply when I go mountainboarding.
The difference lies at the other end, the board and surface you’re riding on. When kitesurfing you need power just to keep yourself planing and the resistance is much greater than that of a mountainboard on sand or grass. There isn’t the same ‘stop-go-stop-go’ feeling when you’re on land as the board just keeps on rolling. Also kitesurfing feels quite ‘edgey’ – you are either holding an edge or not. This isn’t really the case on land as the board does not skip downwind in the same way as on the water, but can hold varying amounts of power. I think this is why I find it much easier to mountainboard with a Blade in gusty winds than I do to kitesurf with one. This isn’t to say flying a Blade in gusty winds is easy – it is a gutsy, high performance kite and extra concentration and pilot input is required in these conditions.
Jumping can be easier with a de-powerable kite – pulling the bar towards you will increase the power of kite and when properly powered up can pull you off the ground. This is especially noticable for me in transitions where it is useful to have the ‘pop’ of when you pull the bar in. This, again, is down to the board feeling less ‘edgey’ than kitesurfing (on the water you can push against the water and pop little jumps without using the kite). Hmmm, de-powerable kites still sound great, don’t they?
De-powerability, however, inevitably comes at a price, and it’s a big one – for whatever technical reason de-powerable foils do not have the lift of a Blade. I like jumping so this is a major disadvantage to me. Riding on two lines is as simple as it gets, distilling kite boarding to it’s simplest form – steer left or right – so that launching, landing and even flying is very basic. Low wind performance is much better, tangles are drastically reduced and there is very little tweaking to be done to your equipment.
The real clincher for me, and I hope this doesn’t sound trivial, is how Blades feel. Riding a fixed power Blade feels solid at the bar, I like having a direct connection to the wind – I find it really helps me feel when I’m powered enough to time jumps and the like. The solid feeling means you can happily take your hands off the bar for grabs or whatever (holding the bar anywhere, not just the middle) knowing that the kite will be well behaved and that your flightpath won’t change. You can unhook and the kite feels and behaves just the same making it predictable and confidence inspiring. This may be especially beneficial as the sport progresses and new technical unhooked moves come along. Of course with a de-powerable kite you can hook into your fixed loop or fly unhooked, but it doesn’t feel the same to me.
While I fully acknowledge that for most people wanting to ride on the water to a decent standard LEIs provide the best solution, you need only look at the results of any pro-level competition for proof, I’m not so convinced that de-powerable kites are as advantageous for mountain boarding. I’m not saying everyone should fly Blades, for some people de-powerable foils are almost certainly better, and I’m not saying I’ll be flying fixed power kites forever, far from it, just that I don’t think de-powerable foils are good enough just now for what I want them to do. If someone can make a lifty de-powerable kite that feels like a Blade 3 they could be onto a real winner...