There are several factors to consider when buying a kite. These factors include your weight, skill level, wind speed and type of kiting you’ll be doing. Beginners should look for stable kites that don’t turn or move too quickly and are easy to relaunch and depower.
When discussing kites you’ll hear numbers thrown around: “I was riding a 10” or “she was on a 12”. That number is the total size of the kite (minus lines) measured in square meters. And today’s kites are much safer than older ones. They have excellent depower capabilities and if you crash one in the water it’s easy to relaunch.
Beginners might also hear the term “high aspect ratio” when considering a kite. A high aspect ratio means the kite is wider from wingtip to wingtip and shorter from the leading edge to trailing edge (see the Anatomy of an Inflatable Kite image below for the main parts of a kite). Most high aspect ratio kites are for more experienced kiters so beginners should look for kites with a low aspect ratio. These kites will be more stable and less impacted by wind gusts.
Anatomy of an Inflatable Kite (note the number 12 on the leading edge, this is a 12 meter kite)
Anatomy of a Kite’s Lines (note the number 11 on the wing tip, this is an 11 meter kite)
Regarding wind speed, when the wind is strong you’ll be using a smaller kite and when there’s light wind you’ll be using a bigger kite (but how much you weigh is also a crucial factor here). So if you know you’ll be kiting at the same beach most of the time find out what the average wind speed is at that location.
Modern kites have excellent wind ranges, letting you use the same kite in different wind speeds. I weigh about 155 pounds so if the wind is blowing from about 16-17 mph in the lulls to 22-24 mph in the gusts I can have a blast on a 12 meter kite (and could even have plenty of fun on a 10 to 11.5 meter kite in these conditions). If I was riding a surfboard, race board or hydrofoil board I could use the smaller kite (see more on this in Boards).
If the wind picks up I can depower the kite to prevent myself from getting overpowered and if the wind drops I can power up the kite again (see more on this in Bars/Lines).
Keep in mind though conditions change and if the wind picks up too much or drops off you’ll need to go back to the beach and get the appropriate-sized kite. There will always be strong wind days and lighter ones so you should have at least two to three different-sized kites to handle different wind speeds.
Kite Shapes: Bow, Hybrid and C-Kite
Bow kites have a huge wind range and with their flat arc shape give you big, lofty jumps and smooth landings. These kites feature a more concave-shaped trailing edge than Hybrids and C-Kites. They have excellent depower capabilities, a high aspect ratio and excellent upwind capabilities.
A bow kite
Another view of a bow kite
Hybrids are a cross between Bow and C-Kites. They depower better than a C-Kite but not as good as Bow kites. They’re great all-around kites, have a stable arc design, turn fast and provide big jumps.
A hybrid kite
C-Kites are great for unhooking and powerful kite looping. They’re also more round than Bow kites so they provide more upward lift, making them jump fast while launching you off the water with a lot of power. One disadvantage with these kites is that they have a narrower wind range than Bow and Hybrids.
If you’re just starting out it’s also a good idea to fly a trainer kite. You’ll learn crucial kite flying skills and they’re safe to use. A trainer kite will also teach you about the wind window (hold your arms straight out to your sides and the 180 degree area in front of you from one arm to the other is the wind window) and where the kite generates the most power and least power in the wind window.
A 2.5 Meter Trainer Kite
Foil vs. Inflatable Kites
Once you’ve got the feel for a trainer kite your next step (along with lessons, see Get Started) should be an inflatable kite. Also called an LEI (leading edge inflatable) kite, the leading edge on these kites have an inflatable bladder. These kites also have inflatable struts. The bladder and struts help to give the kite its shape and aerodynamics. Inflatable kites are highly recommended for beginners for several reasons: they’re the easiest type to learn how to launch and land, the steering and bridle lines are easy to figure out and inflatable kites are easier to relaunch than foils if they hit the water.
Foil kites (also sometimes called Ram-Air kites) do not have an inflatable bladder but instead use cells that fill up with air to help give the kite its shape and aerodynamics. Air is allowed into the kite but can’t escape thanks to a flap preventing the air from getting out. Because of their design foil kites are very light and suited for light wind days. If they crash in the water you should be able to relaunch it but if water does get into the cells you’ll have serious problems trying to relaunch them. All the lines are also permanently attached to foil kites and if they get tangled they can be very difficult to untangle.
That said, foil kites are still incredibly fun and are great for light wind, jumping and going upwind. But you should learn how to fly a kite using an inflatable one and become an intermediate to advanced kiter before moving on to a foil kite.
A 10 meter foil kite. Note the openings on the front that allow the cells to fill up with air.
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