Do you really use the right kite shape for your riding style?


Kitesurf has a lot to do with aerodynamics and kite shape behavior, let’s find how.



Being kitesurfing one of the fastest-growing sports, kitesurf producers have been challenging each other on the market with more and more innovation and possible product choices. The result is that there are so many types of kites out there that for beginners it can be really difficult to choose a suitable one to start with.

Even more advanced riders might end up using the wrong type of kite for the discipline they want to practice or their riding style.

Let’s try to simplify how different shapes influence the power kite behavior, to have a smart and reasoned way to choose our kitesurfing gear.

The three main parameters about a kite shape, which influence its performance are:

  • the arch shape;

  • the bridle system;

  • the aspect ratio.

 

ARCH SHAPE / BRIDLE SYSTEM

There are different arch shapes, from steep arch, also called C-kites, to flat arch. Flat arched kites sometimes were called Bow kites, especially at the beginning of their introduction, because of the curved shape of the leading edge and the trailing edge, which made them appear as bow-shaped from the perspective of the rider.

 

Kite shapes

 

Nowadays we also have Delta shaped kites, where the trailing edge has been made straight giving a Greek Delta letter resemblance.

The main point we need to pay attention to here is that the arch shape determines how much of the canopy in the kite generates the uplift and how much of it keeps the stability in the lateral directions:

powerkites shapes

As we see in the flatter the kite shapes, the bigger component of the wind action goes to the uplift, while in steeper arch shapes the component of forces that pushes sideways gets important, playing a more influential role in the lateral stability.

It is easy to imagine that this can lead to bigger power capabilities in flat kites on one hand, and better side stability, steering responsiveness and drifting control in more C-shape kites on the other hand.

The other aspect related to the arch shape is the bridle system. Its structure depends on the shape of the kite, the more the kite gets flatter, the more it needs better support on the leading edge, to prevent it to deform in the middle of its section.

On the opposite side, a C-shape kite can function even without a bridle system, just with the lines attached to its tips. Said so, modern C kites use some form of minor bridle system or a 5th line not only as an emergency system or relaunch aid (purple elements in the image below) but as a real structural element.

Kite bridles

Apart from shape stability, bridle systems have another important effect on the kite’s behavior: the capability of broadening the excursion of the angle of attack on the wind.

 Below is represented the difference between a C-shape kite and a flat kite. Pivoting on the bridle system a flatter kite has a bigger leverage arm (B’), therefore its capability of changing the angle of attack (A’) on the wind is way bigger.

 

Kitesurf bridels

 

This effect is the key of the higher depower capabilities that flat kites have in comparison to C-shape kites, which have a limited possibility of changing their angle of attack.

Now we can understand how the combination of the shape and the bridle system leads to such different behaviors between the two arch shapes:

 

Flat kite

More Uplift and Power
Bigger Wind Range
Longer Hang time in Jumps
Bigger Depower (therefore, more safety)

C shape kite

Better lateral stability
Better behavior even with slack lines and in drifting (important for wake style)
More reactive and smoother steering

 

Of course, on the market, as every kiter knows, there are a lot of different models with different arch shapes, from almost pure C-shape to very flat ones:

Kite shapes

 

ASPECT RATIO

The other important parameter to predict the power kite behavior is the aspect ratio. This characteristic of the kite shape is, as the name says, the proportion between different dimensions of the kite. There are different ways to calculate it, a good one is to divide the square of the kite span by its surface area.

We can see that in the next picture:

 

Kite aspect ratio

 

Put it more simplistically, the longer and thinner the kite is the more it has a high aspect ratio. On the contrary the wider section it has in comparison to its length, the lower aspect ratio.

Without deepening in a long theoretical explanation of the why, it is safe to say that high aspect ratio kites tend to be closer in shape to the ‘ideal aerodynamic wing’, with better performance in terms of lift and low drag in advancing due to minor turbulence creation. These better performances come with the price of an inferior turning speed, nervous behavior in gusty winds, and easier stall tendency in low wind conditions. The opposite of the low aspect ratio kites.

Main effects of the Aspect Ratio:

 

High Aspect Ratio

High efficiency: more power per square meter when moving. Fly faster, great upwind performance, more lift, glide and float in the air.
Can be very nervous in gusty winds.
Slower in turning and less depower at the bar when powered up.
Harder to relaunch.
Pretty easy to back stall in low winds (for a digression on kite stall check here)
Overall technical and demanding kite
 

Low Aspect Ratio

Turn quickly, though have less lift and float than high aspect kites.
More depower at the bar.
More stable in gusty winds and drift downwind well.
Easier to relaunch.
Unlikely to reach a back stall.
Overall forgiving kite

In sum, a high aspect ratio kite is more suitable for advanced riders competing in kite race or seeking big airs due to its high performances, while a low aspect ratio kite is more suitable for beginners or wave kiters due to its easy and forgiving behavior in turning, relaunching and gusts handling.

Once again, on the market, we can find any different nuance of aspect ratio between all the kite producers.

 

How do we choose at this point a kite, considering all the different parameters we have been talking about so far? Maybe a graph, combining these aspects, can help us make the choice clearer:

 

 

how to choos a kite

 

All Around/Hybrid: being in the center of the graph, they are a mid-way in between the main shape features and they are probably the market’s best sellers since they address the majority of riders, who want to try different disciplines and like to mix up a bit their riding style.

Beginners: in our opinion, they should head for a mid or low aspect ratio kite, with bigger ease of use, easier relaunch, and forgivingness. Maybe they should also lean to flatter shape kites for better power control and depower capabilities.

Wave: to ride the waves we want to almost forget about the kite at some point, so stability, easy gusts absorption, fast relaunch, and stable drifting are the main characteristic we would want. A low aspect ratio kite with a steeper arch shape seems to better provide this type of behavior.

Big Air: Want to jump high? You need a high-performance wing. That means a high aspect ratio. You might also want it to keep a bit of reactivity and smooth steering. For these characteristics, we would go for a middle arch shape.

Race: it is all about pure performance and power here. High aspect ratio and flat arch it the best combination.

Unhooked/Wake Style: Power, stability, slack behavior and drift control are the requirement here. A steep arch shape (C-shape) is a must. A tendency to high aspect ratio is the ideal, but not as dramatic as for race or big air kites, to avoid back stall in unhooked full-powered tricks.

 

Wow! That was a pretty long blog post. Let’s hope this can help anyone who had the patience to arrive at the end of this reading to be able to choose his/her next kite with more ease and confidence.

UPDATE: After Jame's request in the comments, we added a new graph where we included some of the best brands of kite and models. For sure this is not exhaustive on all what's on the market, it will be a bit provocative and it will raise a lot of comments on what is what, let's see how it will go:
 

kite aspect ratio and arch shapes by brand

 

Since many requested a higher resolution of the previous image, I recently created a pdf downloadable document: click here to download it

Another very important quality of the kite is the drift capability, which is drammatically influenced by the shape, as explained in this post.

 

What do you think about this topic, do you agree with it? Do you have any interesting remarks?

What are your kite’s characteristics?

Please let us know in the comments below.

 


May 08, 2020 by Gabriele Fabrizio Sbalbi ( edited on Jul 07, 2021 )

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Comments
Kiteusurf Culture Blog Comments
40


kitesurf blog user

Stu

Your blog posts are super helpful! Thanks for all the good information.


2 months ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Gaetano

the kites are positioned randomly inside the group of the graph right? I mean, they are correctly positioned inside their group, but randomly positioned between them in the group, because I see the Ozone Edge near to the central part of the graph when should be one of the most high aspect LEI kites existent and more toward the race


6 months ago

Answers :


kitesurf blog user

Gabriele

You are absolutely right, Gaetano. The graph, as explained, is more of a general assessment of the characteristics of the kites but, inside the groups, specifics of the kite were not considered in relation to each other. But, if you have other suggestions as to the one below, feel free to let me know, so I can refine the graph. I will update it with what you just suggested.


6 months ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Duckduck

Interesting! too bad you didn't include any ozone kites in the graph...


7 months ago

Answers :


kitesurf blog user

Gabriele

Hey Duckduck, as you asked, I included Ozone kites in the graph. I am curious to hear from you if you have any comments or remarks on it. I also added a downloadable PDF at a higher resolution for anyone interested in it.


7 months ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Evan

Best post I’ve seen on this topic, thank you!


8 months ago

Answers :


kitesurf blog user

Gabriele

Thank you Evan, it is a pleasure to hear it is appreciated. Please feel free to share it with your friends.


8 months ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Johan N

Where would you put the North kites (Orbit, Pulse, Reach and Carve) on that chart? :)


9 months ago

Answers :


kitesurf blog user

Johan N

Excellent blog post by the way! Perfect to share with students that wants more insight on how the type of kite affects them. And a little help in knowing what to look for and avoid on the used market.


9 months ago

kitesurf blog user

Gabriele

Thank you Johan for the appreciation and sorry for the late reply. I have added to the graph the North kite line. Give it a look and let me know if you agree with my opinion. And please, share this post as much as you like :)


8 months ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Jon

where would naish lineup fit? pivot, triad, slash.. etc?


one year ago

Answers :


kitesurf blog user

Gabriele

Hello Jon! Thanks for the reminder. Leaving out of the table Naish was not right :-) I added Pivot, Triad, Slash, and Boxer to the graph. Please let me know what you think and if you agree with their positions. Share my post with your friends and see also what they have to say!


one year ago

kitesurf blog user

Jon Doe

thanks for input, Gabriele... i'm a beginner.. so pretty sure u know much more than me :-) i was thinking of pivot or slash.. was leaning more towards pivot, but now i'm thinking slash will be more forgiving for me as a first kite.. easier to relaunch, more stable.. maybe even less power. all good for a noob like me :) what do you think?


one year ago

kitesurf blog user

Gabriele

My Pleasure Jon, I think you got it right, Slash it will be more forgiving and easier to relaunch. Pivot is more oriented to big airs and for that needs a much higher aspect ratio to deliver lift performance. These days though the ease of use and relaunch capabilities are more homogenous through the different types of kites than several years ago and you might also consider the Pivot because the other variable is how long you plan to use the kite and what discipline you think you want to practice. Also how often you have sessions: if for example, you can kite regularly every week you can think you can adjust faster to more tricky kites, on the contrary, if you can practice with less regularity it is better to consider an easier one.


one year ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Martin

Hi! This is a great article! I would like to know, where in the spectrum a slingshot RPM or a Slingshot Rally GT would fall, compared to the other kites


one year ago

Answers :


kitesurf blog user

Gabriele

Hey Martin, I have not tried them lately, but, from what I see, Slingshot has a very interesting concept for the RPM of a flat C shape kite, probably to provide more power, maybe losing a bit in stability in gusts. On the opposite, the Rally, which used to be a pretty flat bow kite is changing towards a higher aspect ratio and a steeper arch shape, probably to match the market requests for high performance and hangtime. Anyway, I added them in the graph. Let me know what you think about it.


one year ago

kitesurf blog user

Martin

Hi Gabriele, thank you for your quick response. It's interesting to see where those two kites are. Especially as the RPM is marketed as a kite for unhooked tricks, yet the geometry seems to put it more to the allround/beginner section. For the Rally GT, I would think that's the spot that I also had in mind.


one year ago

kitesurf blog user

Gabriele

I agree with you Martin, I would definitely try the RPM, I am very curious about its behavior and performance.


one year ago

kitesurf blog user

Casey Murray

Thank you for this, I’m new to the sport and this is a very helpful breakdown. Any chance you could add ozone kites into the graph?


9 months ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Alexandre Guignot

Amazing article Gabriele thank you so much for that! I’m particular your graph with the different brands and kites is so useful to understand what you should buy. Would you have the data that went into this graph available?


one year ago

Answers :


kitesurf blog user

Gabriele

Thank you Alexandre for your appreciation. The info for the graph was gathered thanks to friends and instructors who have experience with different brands. I myself used a lot of Duotone, Crazyfly, and Cabrinha. At the moment I haven't an organic document, but I was considering to assemble it. I will let you know for sure when it will be done :-)


one year ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Peter Gilmer

Hi Gabriel.. A brilliant article ! I am 95kg and have a 2018 11m Switchblade which is brilliant for jumps but n ow learning loops and its so slow in turning. I didnt realise how bad it was until i started loops ! I dont go into the waves, ever...I love the stability and power range of the SB. I was looking at a CORE XR6 but this charts suggests a middle arch for better turning...so maybe a NEO What options would you suggest ?


one year ago

Answers :


kitesurf blog user

Gabriel

Hello Peter, I have to say that I like a lot the Cabrinha switchblade, but yes, when it comes to kite looping isn't for sure the fastest animal out there. For your choice for a good looping kite, but still not a full C shape, I would go more on the Core GTS5 if you want to stick with the Core family. I myself used the Duotone Dice and it was quite fun. The Core XR6 seems to me to still have a bit of open arch for looping, but I actually never tried it. Best advice is often the same: if you have the chance, try these kites before purchasing any.


one year ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Bill

Just read this, awesome info just getting into kiting, really helpful looking at new kites


one year ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Christian Bulota

Hi Gabriele, this is an excellent article. I am sharing with my students and customers


one year ago

Answers :


kitesurf blog user

Gabriele

Thank you, Christian! My pleasure to hear your appreciation, please do :-)


one year ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Gordon Cassar

Thanks for the info very interesting


2 years ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Phil

Excellent summary. Good job.


2 years ago

Answers :


kitesurf blog user

Gabriel

Thank you Phil, I really appreciate when the content is useful and interesting for fellow kiters!


2 years ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Michael Wilson

Very informative , thank you


2 years ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Michael Wilson

What is the highest that a kite surfer has flown?


2 years ago

Answers :


kitesurf blog user

Gabriel

Hi Michael, what exactly do you mean? Jumping or longest line length? Nick Jacobsen achieved the world record for the highest kite jump measured by WOO Sports on February 19, 2017 in Cape Town with 28.6 meters


2 years ago

kitesurf blog user

Marcel

just search youtube, there's a guy that flies approx 150 meter high.


11 months ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Al

Fantastic blog. I’m getting back into kitesurfing and this was exactly what I needed to read about the new designs


2 years ago

Answers :


kitesurf blog user

Gabriel

Thanks Al, consider subscribing to our Newsletter to get our new blog posts as we publish them!


2 years ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

James

Nice roundup but not so useful without catagorising kite makes/models in the types you highlight. Is this kite a that, or a this? What's the baseline and extremes? If you don't know what the extremes are, you can't know if you have a middle of the road or an extreme.


2 years ago

Answers :


kitesurf blog user

Gabriel

This could be a good point James, maybe I will add another similar table with some kite model. what's your for example?


2 years ago

kitesurf blog user

Baran

Hi Gabriel Woww!! These are extremely useful data. Thank you. Great job. Is it possible to add a chart with aspect ratio info of the kite and models and add some other brands like North and Naish? Thank you


2 years ago

kitesurf blog user

Gabriel

Hi Baran, Thank you for the appreciation, on your request we will add soon the brands you asked. The graph is basically qualitative more than quantitative, for the precise info for aspect ratio chart we need to maybe add them separately because it would make the last chart probably unreadable. I will let you know when those brands will be added.


2 years ago

Reply
kitesurf blog user

Hans

Well done. explaining the intricate balance


2 years ago

Reply

Gabriel riding blind stance


Hey Kiters! I'm Gabriel!


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