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How to Choose the Best Kite for Big Air

best kite for big air

You might say there are two types of kiteboarders: those who primarily want to fly, and those who just want to ride waves…  If you’re in the first category, perfecting the art of getting big air is likely your goal.  For a kitesurfer, big air is a way to fulfill the ongoing dream of flying.  To achieve such a goal, you need great technique and of course, the right gear.

The best big air kites are kites that travel faster through the window, allow the rider to edge harder, travel up higher with the least effort, have the most hang time, and float down the smoothest.  Hybrid kites with high aspect ratio are typically good big air candidates for an average skilled rider.

The following kites are considered some of the best for big air:

  • Cabrinha Switchblade: highest jumping kite recorded by Woo at one point even though it’s relatively low aspect.  Very stable kite with incredible hang time.  Great high-end wind range. 
  • Ozone Edge: high aspect, one of the best for big airs with a focus on height and hangtime.  One of the best boosting and edging kites.
  • Duotone Rebel: low aspect, stable and tough canopy + stiff structure allow it to behave well when overpowered, no fluttering e.g. on a 9m in 30-5 knots.  Good boost and soft landings.

Let’s look at exactly what “big air” means, what kind of skills and techniques are involved, and what makes a good boosting kite (and kiteboard).

What exactly does big air mean?

“Big air” typically refers to an “old school” freestyle riding style which involves jumping as high and staying in the air as long as possible (aka hang time).  This is in contrast to “new school” tricks which are more about flying over the largest distance possible horizontally while performing tricks.

Big airs involve boosting your kite to send it up high, which requires a combination of strong technique, appropriate kite shape and size, and appropriate kiteboard.  Big air performance is also influenced by factors such as:

  • Amount of riding time and experience the rider has
  • Wind speed in relation to kite size (and rider weight)
  • Water conditions: flatwater helps edging but waves are used as “kickers” for boosting

The big air style is materialized by WooSports’ popular leaderboard statistics.  The Woo is a popular device along kiteboarders (and other extreme sports lovers) that detects jumps by tracking and analyzing motion, acceleration and rotations through a motion sensor placed on the kiteboard.

The Woo and other similar devices connect to a smartphone application and syncs the rider’s jump data.  Anyone can install the app and view the leaderboard.  The record holder at the time of this writing, Erikk Blokker, recorded a 28m-high big air in the Netherlands!

In general, riders in the top 10 of the leaderboard are sponsored riders with tons of practice time and access to all sorts of kites and boards.

How to get big air in kitesurfing?

Although jumping can be picked up quite fast, the technique for actually doing big airs is not easy to learn and requires a lot of practice.

Performing high jumps is easier when you’re a bit overpowered, so enough wind and/or a bigger kite will be a good start (see next section about the kite).

Here’s a quick breakdown of the steps involved in setting up, boosting, and landing a big air:

  1. To set up for your boost, you first need to get as much speed as you can.  Head slightly downwind with your kite at 45º until you pick up enough speed.  As you’re moving, visually spot a target zone ahead where you’ll be boosting your kite and taking off.
  2. Once you get near that take-off spot, tilt your control bar hard with your back hand to send your kite back to the opposite half-window past 12:00.  Don’t send it too far, though.
    Simultaneously, edge your board upwind as hard as you can, anchoring your rail in the water by pressing hard with your bent back leg.  Keep your front leg fully extended and push the nose of your board upwind, creating great tension in your lines.
  3. As the tension builds up and you’re almost no longer able to hold your edge, sheet in fully and push on your legs to pop the board up while your kite is lifting you off.
  4. As you start going up, tilt the bar with your front hand to bring your kite from behind back over your head (12:00) to stabilize it and avoid impeding the upward pull.  If your kite is too far behind you it will not have enough lift. Neither should it be too far in front.  As you’re going up, you can take a quick look at your kite to see its position.
  5. While you’re in the air, bring your knees to your chest to bring up your center of gravity, and sheet in to ensure enough power to continue floating downward smoothly – depending on your kite you may want to briefly sheet out to let your kite breathe.
  6. Advanced step for flying higher/further: while in the air, throw a kiteloop to boost yourself up a second time.  Or, you can do a megaloop, which is a kiteloop on steroids done horizontally (vs above your head) which will boost you on a horizontal plane.
  7. Before going back down, visually spot your landing area.  Then, before landing, send your kite forward by pressing the bar with your front hand, so the kite has enough forward momentum on landing to keep you from falling vertically.
  8. Land in your chosen landing area with your board headed fully downwind and flat on the water – do not edge right away, first take the time to recover your balance and speed.

What makes a good boost kite?

Now let’s turn our attention to which kite you need for big air.  An experienced rider can get big air with pretty much any kite, but some kites are easier to boost high with, as they have a sweet spot where advanced skills aren’t as critical.

Meanwhile, some kites may be great for hang time or for kiteloops while others can really rip you off the water, but it takes a skilled rider to leverage these advantages.  The better you get, the more you’re able to extract the most out of these kites.

Let’s look at the characteristics of a good big air kite.

1. Flying behavior

For big air, you first want a kite that can travel fast through the window.  As mentioned earlier, the first step in getting big air is to build up speed and throw the kite in the opposite (back) half-window.  You need your kite to pivot and zoom past the 12:00 position.

The second thing you need is for your boosting kite to let you hold your edge really hard before the boost, creating that strong tension in your lines by opposing kite and board directions.  A boosting kite will give you that tension without pulling you out of your edge.

Third, when you pull the trigger and sheet in/pop your board, you want the kite to give you the biggest lift up for that pop.

Lastly, when you’re high in the air and ready for descent, you want your kite to float really well, allowing for a soft landing.  You also want the kite to be responsive enough to easily resend the kite forward in the power zone right before landing.

2. Kite type: C-kite vs bow

A common question is, which of C kites and bow kites are better for big air?  The short answer is, a C-kite will usually pop stronger but won’t glide as much, whereas a bow kite will generally not pop as much but will glide longer.

C-kites are fast, really boost you off the water and give you a great initial lift.  However, they don’t have as much projected area to naturally keep you floating – projected area is best seen as the surface of your kite’s shadow when held parallel to the ground at noon, eliminating the curvature factor.

So a C-kite will generally go down faster, which is NOT what you want for big airs.  On the other hand, a C-kite is easier/faster to redirect and more predictable to kiteloop, which is an asset for a skilled rider to perform a soft landing.

Hybrid kites are a good middle ground choice for an average rider, giving you the best of both worlds – good pop while maximizing airtime.  A hybrid will also have less bar pressure than a C-kite.  Most big air riders with top 10 scores ride hybrid type kites vs pure C or bow kites (see last section below)

3. Kite shape: aspect ratio

This is where the debate gets hotter as many riders have different views depending on their preferences and skill level.

Quick reminder of the what the aspect ratio is: it refers to the overall shape of the kite.  High aspect = a long and thin kite, low aspect = a short and “fat” kite.  Here are the main takeaways for each with regards to big air capabilities:

High aspect ratio kites (e.g. Ozone Edge, Flysurfer):

  • Glide very well like wings => travel further and longer in the air.  Great hang time
  • Boost very high but require more speed (board and kite).  More technical
  • Fast moving across the window => easy to redirect and kiteloop
  •  Don’t float as well => harder landings unless rider re-sends kite in the window

Low aspect kites (e.g. Naish Park, North Evo, RRD Obsession)

  • Good float => slower descent like a parachute, softer landings
  • Turn faster => you can use that speed to redirect into the power zone and get more height
  • Can boost with less speed
  • Less lift and less glide (travel)

High aspect kites give you more lift and glide and are faster moving through the window, while low aspect kites give you softer landings. 

Wave kites are generally low aspect since fast turning is essential, while big air kites and race kites are more often high aspect. Wave-only kites designed for high pivotal turns (e.g. Airush Lithium) are great for surfing but harder to boost very high e.g. for 20m jumps.

4. Wind range

Getting big air requires riding overpowered.  Therefore, you need a bigger kite with good high end.  That is, you want to be able to ride your kite with 2 or 3m more than required for the current wind without being overwhelmed and without the kite getting out of control.

Foil kites, for example, are able to get air very easily and lift you almost straight up without much forward pull.  However, they’re primarily good for lighter winds and are not suitable for kiteloops, which is an important aspect of doing big air.

Ultimately though, wind range is a matter of preference and wind conditions at your local spot.  For example, in strong gusty winds, Cabrinha Switchblades work great even with extra m2 – they have extremely good depower and are very stable when boosted in strong winds.

5. Angle of attack

This one isn’t really a kite feature but it’s worth mentioning here.  Perhaps even more important that the kite’s shape for big air is the angle of attack, which refers to how deep in the window you send the kite just before and after take off.  This is also related the kite’s ability to move fast through the window.

The deeper the kite is in the window (e.g. 10:00 / 2:00) the lower the upward boost you get.   Likewise, once you start going upward the further the kite is from 12:00 in the window, the more forward pull vs lift you’ll get.

So as you’re edging at high speed before the jump, you want to send the kite back only slightly past the 12:00 position, and while going up, avoid moving it lower as this will result in less lift.

What are some well-regarded boosting kites?

Let’s look at a selection of kites that are particularly well-regarded for their big air performance.  Here again are 3 top choices among freestylers:

  • Cabrinha Switchblade: Very stable kite with incredible hang time.  Great high-end. 
  • Ozone Edge: high aspect, one of the best for big airs with focus on height and hangtime. 
  • Duotone Rebel: low aspect, behaves well when overpowered.  Good boost, soft landings.

Other popular kites for big air jumping:

  • Core XR: high aspect.  Jumps really high and easy, great control in the air, very fast moving even in 15m2, easy to do soft landing with.  Keeps you well-powered even in wind drops (you can ride a smaller board), yet you can upsize and still have control.
  • Switchkites Nitro: high aspect, great kite for boosting.  Requires a lot of pull in the bar so not great for waves and strapless.

The following table shows some past examples of big air heights attained by riders on older kites and boards.  Older data but still informative:

Kite detailsBoard detailsRider weightBest boostNormal boostKiting experienceKite feedback
Slingshot Turbine 9m, Rally 11m, Rally 7mSpleene RIP 37 (137x42cm)200 lbsOver 12m9m +Since 2009Love them. Turbine jumps the easiest
10m Epic Screamer 2012
Cabrinha Tronic11.5m10m15 yearsLike the kite. Its really hard to boost over 10m on it. It starts ripping you off the edge. Not enough depower (compared to a vegas)
Cabrinha switch blade 2016 10m and 2017 7mLieuwe shotgun 136/14088kg8.6m7m +Since september 2016, jumping for 8 monthsI like them. Tried the Harlems few weeks back and while underpowered I jumped 8m so i liked them a lot too
North Rebel 10m136 Straps15.5m flatwater take off (32 knots)12m+Since 2015 Love the kite.
I have recently tried the new Ozone Edge. That thing takes you to stratosphere. Favorite boosting kites: Ozone Edge,
North Rebel,
Slingshot Turbine
Zian Hantu 9m138 Best Armada, Strapped92kg11.1m9-10m +Since 2015I really like the kite but I´m keen to get to know other similar 3-strut allrounders like e.g. the Enduro.
Best GP 9m, star sirius 12mFone trax 135 carbon, Nobile Fifty/5012m10m: my good day is 25 knots on 9m so super powered but fun for kiteloop.Late 2014For boosting big, I think the best GP 9m really need more that 35 knots, in 30 knots I don't really get yanked up, it's still pretty smooth.
Liquid Force wow V2 (6, 8, 10, 12, 14m)Liquidforce Echo 137 boots14.8m on my 8m wow12m6 years Love the kite. Boosts and loops sooo good.

What kind of kiteboard should you use for big air?

High boosting jumps require both actual wind speed and apparent wind speed, which is the wind generated through board speed.  Thus, in addition to the right kite, you need a kiteboard that can really build up speed before taking off.

A smaller, stiffer board with little rocker will generate the most speed in flatwater conditions and let you jump much higher.

Also, a narrower board will allow you to edge harder while holding your kite down for longer when loading up before you pop.  Loading up hard is easier on a 38-40cm wide board than on a 42-44cm one.

Be aware that such boards are harder on your knees though – one of the reasons why I slowed down on doing jumps for a while.

While boosting big airs in smooth water is great, jumping really high in choppy water is harder as the chop gets in the way of speed and edging.  You need a board that can build up speed despite the crests – otherwise, you’ll be relying solely on real wind and will not be able to boost as high.

In choppy conditions with high wind, you ideally want a larger board that cuts across the crests of small waves.  Although a larger board will make it harder to hold down your kite for as long while edging, it won’t get slowed down by the chop as much and can build up speed and pop.

If you’re not sure what to choose, take a look at the Cabrinha Ace. While it’s a good all-around board, it’s often praised by riders for its solid jumping performance.

Photo credits:
Featured image “100B7590” (CC BY 2.0) by Andre Charland
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