In Rob’s last part of the choosing a strapless surfboard for kite surfing he finishes off talking about types of construction and fins and sums everything up. We hope you enjoy the last part of this article and the whole article together. Please feel free to rate it at the bottom if you have found it useful and post any questions or your views at the bottom.
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EPOXY OR FIBREGLASS?
If you’re going to ride with straps, there’s only one answer to this question: Epoxy. If you go to a shop looking for a surfboard designed for kiting virtually ALL of them are going to be epoxy; and for good reason. Epoxy is tough. It minimises warranty returns. But it’s not necessarily the best material for a kiteboard, especially if you’re planning to ride strapless.
I’ve ridden lots of epoxy boards as well as bamboo boards and of course, fibreglass boards.
My experience suggests that most of the commercially-available epoxy boards are for the most part too thick and too floaty. They sit ON the water. I’ve owned and ridden quite a few and at the time I really liked them until I rode other boards later. Thick also means it’s less likely to break; again, good reason for this from a commercial perspective.
The other option is the standard fibreglass surfboard construction. Fibreglass boards are great. They have flex, they’re light, they just feel “alive”. Epoxy boards on the other hand (for the most part) feel like a cork bobbing around in the water. Bouncy, too light. They don’t seem to want to plane well and they have no inertia. I’ve never paddle surfed an epoxy board that I liked, with the exception of SLX epoxy, which is meant to feel a lot like fiberglass.
At one stage I had two different kite surfboards that were almost identical measurements; one Surf-Tech epoxy, the other standard fibreglass. The fibreglass board was awesome, the Surftech one was terrible. Nothing to do with the shape. The fundamental difference was the bounce. Because the epoxy board was light, it sat on the top of the water and just bounced around everywhere. The fibreglass board sat IN the water.
Unfortunately the main problem with fibreglass surfboards for kiting is that the break and damage easily, which is why the commercial folks don’t make them out of fibreglass. I much prefer the ride of a fibreglass board for both kiting and surfing. But you’ll find that unless you make some modifications to a fibreglass board you’re going to damage it straight away when you kite on it. I’ve seen folks snap a brand new fibreglass surfboard on the first go in a kite session. At a minimum, you’re going to put heel marks and create deck compression on a fibreglass board from the very first time you ride it. There’ virtually no way to avoid it.
So, if you want to go down the fibreglass road there are a couple of ways that you can avoid or at least minimise the damage potential of fibreglass boards:
Making your fiberglass board last longer. There are several approaches here. The first and most obvious one is to just put a few extra layers of glass on the board to make it stronger. But the deck underneath with the foam is still going to compress and there’s not much you can do about that. A bit of extra weight on a kiteboard isn’t necessarily a bad thing – as long as it’s in the right places. The other approach is to use a sheet of carbon fibre over the top or around the rails for extra strength, but that can be costly, especially if you’re just learning how to do this.
My favourite technique involves taking a router and making a couple of channels about 25cm long either side of the stringer halfway to the rails from the centre. Cut the channels nearly the thickness of the board. (Say 80% of the thickness). Drop a couple of pieces of Jarra into the channels about 25cm in length and 5-10mm wide at about the centre of balance of the board along where your front foot sits, then fill the channels with resin and glass over the entire deck with a couple of layers of 4oz fibreglass – but only over the CENTRE of the board – not the entire deck. The reason this works is that the extra glass in the centre along with those extra stringers gives you extra strength, but if you glass the entire board, all you are doing is adding additional weight – nothing more. All that extra weight makes the board harder to control and harder to turn. If you have the funds and the skills, you could probably use carbon fibre instead of fibreglass.
However, unless you kite like a grandmother, you’re going to find that eventually you’ll compress the deck under your feet on a fibreglass board and eventually even on an epoxy board. There’s just no way around it. So, another trick I use to minimise this is to put a bit of padding on the deck that cushions the impact of your foot on the board. It doesn’t eliminate the problem, but it does reduce it. You can get some SUP deck grip and spread it around the area where your front foot hits the board or easier, I usually just buy a heel deck pad and put it on backwards with the heel pad just slightly forward of where you think the furthest point forward that your front foot will go, so that when you’re going out over some largish waves you can press your front foot a bit further forward against the heel pad and avoid losing the board. It looks a bit odd but it does help a lot.
Take-away idea #5: Get a fibreglass board, but just expect that It’s going to get damaged pretty quickly, but don’t worry about it.
Fins are tricky. I’ll be the first to admit, I still find the whole fin thing a bit like black magic. I have mates who surf who swear they can tell the difference between a fin with 1 mm extra rake or 1mm more splay, etc. I’m not so sure. Everyone has different preferences. And skill levels can change perceptions. I’m still experimenting and I’m still learning.
One thing I can say though is that dimensions and characteristics of fins on a kiteboard are less critical than fins on a board for paddle surfing, so don’t worry too much about. Try different things and see what works for you.
Several things to consider. Remember: More fin area = more drag — so if you start putting bigger fins on your board you’re going to notice that it starts to feel sluggish as you start picking up speed on the board. To get an idea of just how much drag that comes from fins, take them off for about 10 minutes and have a go… It’ll feel silly at first but you’ll learn a lot.
Configuration. Slightly less radical, one thing you can try, especially in smaller surf, is to put some largish side fins on your board and take the centre fin out altogether. You’ll have a lot of fun when you realise how easy it becomes to throw that board around across the top of the lip without that centre fin. Just a note here: as the surf gets bigger you’ll find it doesn’t work so well and you’ll spin out a lot.
Quad-fins? I guess some people like these and swear by them and there are lots of boards these days with quad-fin setups but I just can’t seem get them to work. The board just doesn’t want to turn when and how I’d like it to. I’m sure it’s a learning thing – many people obviously make them work and a lot of pro surfers are now riding them. If you can tell me how you do it, I’d love to hear how you did it!
In fact, Kelly Slater is now riding a FIVE-fin setup.
Haven’t tried it for kiting but looks like it would be pretty easy to duplicate. That centre fin seems to be nothing more than a standard kiteboard fin with FCS plugs on it! Somebody try it and let me know.
Another thing to try is to just reduce the size of the centre fin significantly, while increasing the relative size of the side fins. Experiment. Big centre fin, smaller side fins; small fins all around, big fins all around. You’ll quickly discover what you like and what works for you and what doesn’t.
Toe-in. On a board for kiting, one pet peeve is fins with too much toe-in. (Toe-in is how much the front of the fins point toward the centre of the board.) Toe-in can be great for surfing because it makes the board turn easier; but for kiting, too much of it makes for a really squirrelly ride – the board just doesn’t want to go in a straight line. Avoid. Even fins set straight with no toe-in at all seem to work well for kiting and most of the commercially-made boards for kiting use zero toe-in.
Splay. This is the degree to which the fins are tilted away from being perpendicular to the board—how much they tend to angle outward from the board. In my experience, it should be zero. Sometimes helps with paddle surfing to make the board turn easier, but it will wreck a kiteboard’s performance. The board will want to just try and constantly flick out from under you and feel horrible.
Take-away idea #6: Fins. Minimum toe-in; zero splay; everything else is personal preference.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER.
So, with all this in mind, what’s the optimum board for kiting?
Simple answer: It depends.
My suggestion is to experiment as much as you can. Try going to the tip and see if you can find a couple of old boards that have been tossed out and try and repurpose them. I’ve done this several times with good results. Also, you can always find someone with an old beaten up board on Gumtree or eBay who’ll sell it to you for less than $100.
Get some cheap fins, buy some glass and resin and just play. You’ll discover the dimensions and the setup that works for you. Alternately, you can always go to a good shaper and get them to make you something to your specifications – but this is obviously going to cost a bit more.
Years ago, I started off riding an old surfboard that I’d retired from surfing: a 6’6” X 2 5/8” X 19 ½”. At the time, I thought it was great – primarily because I hadn’t ridden anything else. I loved it. But then, after riding a host of others, fibreglass, epoxy, wide, thin, narrow, fat, I’m now riding a board that I wouldn’t even have considered a few years back, but after trying lots of other boards this one finally feels like the “Goldilocks” board. JUUUUUST right.
As they say “Your Mileage May Vary” – but here’s what I like:
It’s a fibreglass board that I bought from a neighbour who was selling off a stack of boards she’d had made for her kids over the years. The kids grew out of the boards and got new ones and they just tossed the old ones under the house. One of them turned out to be the perfect kiteboard for me. I paid $100 for it.
This one is 5’11 X 2 1/16” X 17 ¾”.
My previous board was 6’2” X 2 1/8th” X 18 1/18th”. I thought this one was awesome til I rode the new one. Before that I had a commercial Slingshot SST that was 6’2” X 2 ½ by about 19”. Loved it then but now the newer ones work even better for me. If I revisit this article in a year, I’ll probably have another view.
I’ve yet to reinforce the new one and after having only ridden it a handful of times, it’s already got some deck compression and a few other dings and things but hey, it works.
One of the main things I’ve noticed about the shorter board that makes it work so much better is that now I’m able to ride it with my back foot much closer to the tail all the time, which makes it loads easier to turn when I want to smack the lip or to carve a wide bottom turn, whereas with the longer boards, you have make that extra effort to pause for a moment and step back, which can interfere with your concentration and slow you down as you go into a turn or a more critical move. With the smaller board you just plough headlong into the move without having to shift your concentration or your weight.
I’m going to throw this last paragraph out there to all the manufacturers who’re game to capitalise on a gap in the market at the moment. There are lots of surfboards out there you can buy that are designed for kiting. But my feeling is that right now, there’s no commercially-available board that captures all those attributes above that make for an ideal board for kiting.
So, let’s see if there are any shapers or companies who’re up for a challenge for a strapless kiteboard.
Someone design a fibreglass board with size specs as I’ve indicated above but with a difference from what’s out there now. I’ll happily test if and review if for you! Yes, there are some boards around with those kind of specs, but the ones I’ve seen are all heavily-glassed from tip to tail — and that doesn’t work. Yes, you do need extra protection in the centre of the board where your feet make contact with the board but there’s no need for all that extra glass on the front in back. It just adds weight and that ruins the way the board rides.
Put the glass under the front foot and then treat the deck with some cushioning of some sort so the deck won’t collapse with all that heavy riding. Keep the nose and the tail light and put some reinforcements around the fin inserts so they won’t get blasted out. The speeds and the pressure that kiting creates is a lot greater than surfing and if the plugs aren’t reinforced, there’s a good chance they’ll get pulled out.
Let’s see what happens!
Thanks for reading and happy kiting!