The Rise of Ram Air Kites

You could be forgiven for thinking that Ram Air kites are difficult and complex beasts used by the small minority of techy minded or advanced riders.  However, with the enormous interest in Foil boards, the sight of Ram air kites (funnily enough, also referred to as foil kites) in the skies is becoming less and less of a novelty and in some parts of Perth, they are starting to be the dominant kite type.

Foil kites have been around since the birth of kitesurfing and some would argue, long before kiteboarding.  In fact, foil kites (back in the day, also referred to as “Sleds” or “traction” kites) were used in beach jumping and buggying long before kitesurfing was even thought of.  These were generally “Open celled”, non-water-relaunchable kites whom shared their DNA with paragliders and trainer kites.

Today, Companies like Ozone, Flysurfer, Elf, Advance and F-One are building incredible performance kites which will often relaunch faster than a leading edge inflatable (LEI) kite, and will run rings around them in terms of performance.  Speed, power, light weight and upwind/downwind angles are all the domain of foil kites especially when teamed up with an efficient foil board.

So why are they making a resurgence, and should I get interested in a Foil Kite?  Foil kites are making a comeback due to the spark created by the uptake of foilboarding. Foilboarding is different to normal kitesurfing/kiteboarding in that it requires very little power to propel a foil board when they are up on the wing, they are extremely efficient in low wind conditions due to their lack of drag and lightweight.  With little leeway, and drag, the efficiencies of performance foil kites can be easily exploited to maximum effect with upwind and downwind angles which will never be attained on an LEI kite and TT.  This makes “Upwinders” really fun, quick and easy.  The ultimate open playground, no need to do the car shuttle associated with the “Downwinders.  The low wind foiling possibilities defy belief with fast foiling being done in as little as 4 knots of wind.  You tube it!

Should you get interested in foil kites?  That depends on your ambitions.  If you want the maximum out of your foilboard or twin tip, then a foil kite will be a mind blowing addition to your quiver.  You just can’t imagine the performance of these kites with a foil board.

The power of a foil kite is impressive.  A 12m Soul for example will get you completely powered up on a twin tip in just 15 knots.  The 12m would give an equivalent power to a 14m LEI but is much lighter and more efficient.  The power tends to be smoother and gusts don’t have the same punchiness as on an LEI.

Are they the same to fly as an LEI kite?  The short answer, yes and no.  The wind window works the same, as do the controls, however, when you get your first close-up look at a performance foil kite, you may be a little afraid of the seemingly complex bridles and soft form until inflated and flying.

Foil kites can be launched directly downwind (preferably in light winds), or can be launched from the edge of the wind window a little like an LEI kite.  Landing is a little different, but is far from scary or complex.  They can be landed downwind or at the edge of the wind window similar to an LEI, and yes, they can be solo landed and launched.  They do turn a little differently and stalling them at times is necessary, but not in the way you do with an LEI.

Once the kite is lifted into the airflow, the vents open to allow air to fill the kite.  Once it is full and has taken shape, the vents close to prevent air escaping.  Throw away your pump, you won’t be needing that anymore!  Herein lies another great benefit of the foil kite.  They weigh very little, in fact, the FlySurfer VMG 21 sqm kite, weighs just over 3 kilo’s which is impressive when you look at it’s stated wind range of 3-15 knots!  Also eliminate the weight of a pump and you travel bag is suddenly 3-4 kilo’s lighter per equivalent kite size in LEI.

They do command a bit more respect than an LEI kite as their tremendous lift can be dangerous if using them in the top part of their wind range.  Unlike an LEI kite, you are asking for big trouble trying to fly one of these wings above their stated wind range.  They can easily loft you, even fully depowered.  We strongly recommend learning to fly these kites cautiously in the bottom of their stated wind range.  You will learn much more about them and how they fly in the very low wind, rather than the upper part of their range.

Even if you don’t foilboard, a kite like the FlySurfer Soul is fast enough to boost you to the moon and will easily mega loop you for the ultimate scare. The Soul is a cross over foil kite for both freestyle twin tips as well as Foil boards.

So, what is the best way to become acquainted with a foil kite?  Action Sports WA will be running foil kite clinics where we can teach you the “ins-and-outs” of rigging, flying, landing and rescuing on a foil kite this season.  It’s easy, will be free and will be held in conjunction with a demo foil day.  What have you got to lose?  You may even start craving those sub 10 knot days when no one else can go, when you can be jumping and flying back and forth across the ocean at speed. Kitesurf almost every day.

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