Lightwind kiting Pt2 … Riding the “Red Arrows”! (Hydrofoil edition)

In following on from Toddy’s wise words in his updated Lightwind blog Version 2, I’ve been asked to contribute to the blog with the “foil version” of light wind.

This is fair dinkum light wind stuff.  In this Blog, we will be discussing Lightwind range of 4-10 knots … Yes, not only is it possible, but it’s AMAZING!

The thing that makes hydrofoils so adept at light wind, is their inherent lack of drag or lack of resistance as they fly through the water beneath the surface.  The lack of drag slowing them down means it doesn’t take a lot of power to propel them and keep them going.  This means that once on the wing, you need a much smaller kite than a twin tip or surfboard.  Riding a foil in 20 knots can be done on a 5m kite quite easily where normally you would be on a 10m Leading Edge Inflatable kite (LEI).  You just need a good power stroke to break free of the hold of the water and get the wing lifting you, then the 5m will provide ample power to maintain your speed.  Now what would happen if you added a really big LEI kite to lighter winds?

Large or Light Wind version LEI’s and foiling (>12m)

The biggest limitation of LEI (Leading Edge Inflatable) kites in sub 10 knot winds are their weight and ability to relaunch off the water in light winds.  Large specialty LEI kites like 3, 2, 1 or even “no strut” kites are best as they weigh the least.  LW, or Light Wind versions have lighter materials and lighter bladders making them fly in as little as 8 knots, but below this, few will relaunch when dropped in the water.  They certainly have their place, and the less struts and lighter weight the better.  They tend to be nimble and ideal for surfing and freeriding whilst carving turns.  The biggest drama is what happens when they fall in the water.  Imagine the shape of the LEI kite on it’s side at the edge of the wind window, it’s canopy is wet and less than half the wing producing lift to get it out of the water.  It’s not likely to happen in less than 8 knots.  So how to kite in less than 8 knots?

Is there much advantage using a Ram-Air kite over an LEI?

Apart from the obvious advantage of the kite flying in far less wind and relaunching is less wind, yes, there is.  The twin skin of a performance foil kite allows much less drag and more lift per square meter.  With the added efficiencies of the low drag high lift wing, both upwind and downwind riding angles are dramatically improved without sacrificing stability or feeling like the kite is going to stall.  It’s easy to get used to the foil kites angles upwind and you forget what it’s like on an LEI until you go back to an LEI and feel the struggle to go upwind.  The upwind on a foil kite is effortless and fast.

Ram Air kites and Hydrofoiling

Ram Air kites, also known as Foil Kites (not so named due to their relationship with hydrofoiling), are all power, very light, and extremely efficient when comparing them to their inflatable cousins.  Light wind versions of these kites will fly in 3-4 knots of wind on the beach and providing you can get water started, they will provide an abundance of power and speed on an efficient hydrofoil.  This now gets us into realms of dark magic known as apparent wind and lift to drag ratio’s.  A foil kite is to LEI’s what a hydrofoil is to twin tips.  Super efficient, low drag, very low mass and very light weight.  When you team this kite up with an efficient hydrofoil, kite foiling is possible in as little as 4 or 5 knots of wind.

We are speaking about extreme ends of light wind kitefoiling which of course requires very specific and light wind dedicated equipment.  An ultralight version of the Ozone R1, Chrono 3 or Flysurfer Sonic VMG or Soul is what you need.  These massive 15-21 sqm beasts weigh as little as 3kg (less than the same weight as a light, 3 strut, 9m inflatable.) Using the Flysurfer 21 Sonic VMG as an example, it’s stated wind range is 3-15 knots for a 75kg rider.  The same rider on an inflatable kite would expect 15-30+ knots for the inflatable kite.  As a 93kg rider, I can attest that the 21 VMG is maxxed out in ~14 knots on a race foil.  The amount of power in extreme light wind is something that needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated.  A simple power dive in 6 knots of wind produces insane power and pops you out of the water and onto the foil in one fell swoop.  Once you break free of the hold of the water, the foil does it’s work in removing drag and instantly, you are accelerating upwind and sheeting out to dump the excess power you now, no longer need.

So what is extreme Light wind foiling like? 

In a word …. extraordinary!  I love going to the beach when the trees aren’t even displaying wind movement, when the water has an almost glassy appearance and there isn’t a kiter for miles.  When the wind is so light you don’t even need to weight or sand your kite on the grass or sand, and it’s often warm and sunny.  Light winds are often very steady and have much smaller gust variances between average and gust/lull.  If the kite will launch and fly, it can be ridden.  I’m the first to admit that this extreme light wind stuff is very specialized and requires very well honed skill sets, but the feeling of screaching across the bay or river and feeling massively powered in almost no wind is a spiritual experience.  You don’t even know how light the wind is until it’s time to tack or gybe.  As you slow you realise how little wind there really is as the kite can barely fly and often you need to employ special light wind skills to avert a long swim in.

Is it worth it? and is it realistic for the average kiter?

Anything is possible if you want it enough, but the short answer is, no, this extreme Light wind, is not going to be realistically acheivable for everyone. It’s expensive, very gear dependent, and you need many hours practice at low wind kite handling and advanced foiling skills.  However, there is a version of light wind that is very acheivable for the average kiter.  Looking at a Flysurfer Soul 15 or 18m kite with a Moses carbon foil, you could easily expect a wind range of 6-15 knots.  The Soul is a very particular foil kite.  It is built solid, has incredible stability, enormous power and can be used just as well with a twin tip board in a stiff breeze for mega jumping, or with a nice foil board for light wind foiling.  The Soul has become so user friendly and durable it has made it a lot less scary for the average kiter to really get unrealized performance out of their current rig.  An even easier option is the Ozone Hyoerlink if you aren’t quite ready to go to a full ram air kite, but still want the light weight ability of a twin skin kite.

What’s the first step in getting into light wind foilboarding? 

There are a few options when looking at taking your foilboarding into the sub 12 knot range.  Looking at either Ozone or Flysurfer, the choices are many, but as an entry into the foil kite world, the Hyperlink from Ozone is an excellent choice with it’s inflatable kite like feel and user friendliness.  The Flysurfer Soul is more of a ram air style kite and as such has better performance upwind and downwind and a bit more power.  Both kites are excellent and you should consider a 12m as a minimum in the Flysurfer.  The larger sizes (15, 18 or 21) will take you into more and more extreme light winds.  The best way if you are interested would be to come along to a demo clinic where we can explain and show you the intricacies of flying the ram air kites.  Once explained and you understand how they fly, launch, land and relaunch, they are not near as scary as they come across.  A demo fly will change your perspective and will honestly change the way you view light wind foiling. Watch our FB page for FREE clinic dates.  Let us help you into performance light wind foiling!  Performance hydrofoils, … now there’s a topic for another day … 😉