Since the first Wave 9 was let loose in 2013 I knew that Mark and the test team had found a new technical edge in de-power kites. We needed to run with this technology, but through the 2014 and 2015 VX the team really stuttered (in my opinion) to capitalise on what they had started. I think they came to the same conclusion last year, and so they re-doubled their efforts and committed heavily to an all new project, pouring over all the kit that had become 'more than the sum of their parts' to find the common keys. The result is a kite range called the UNION and I’m not kidding you - it’s a radically different approach to design, and a masterpiece of a kite range.
Personally I think that it will reverberate through the industry for next few years. It’s been described by many as a category killer. But what category is it? Well that is also one of the best bits of this kite - it doesn't really have one - though restarting pretty well, it’s not really a lawnmower, it’s a kite that loves to be moved. Why? because it’s stupidly efficient, quick, light, fast to turn and develops the same amount of power around a corner than it does in a straight line. So far, this is a characteristic you’ll find in good wave kites and dedicated C kites.
For me at 80kg it also moves forward and back in the window a lot - and I’m not talking about instability - with light line pressure it falls back in the window and drives - conversely with more speed and tension it flies a long way forward, much more so than I have seen so far, which is fantastic for reducing high power riding load, building groundbreaking sustainable and controllable cruising speeds, leading to much more vertical height and pop slack for freestyle, all without touching the de-power throw. It's there if you need it, but the way it rides really reminds me of the best bits of the Razor and the Wave with MASSES of natural range..
The handling, like the wave, is like an extension of your arm. Within 2 mins of using you are focussing 100% on what you are doing and not the kite - in that respect you could claim disappointment were it not for the fact that it's blisteringly fast (so quick that you'd normally have your eyes rooted to it) - but the fact is - like all the best kites over the years it's part of you - you don't need to look at it, you don't need to keep an eye on it - you just ride. It's so easy to dial in. Part of that comes from the feedback, part from it's neutral nature (no constant asymmetric bar pressure to keep it tracking straight -thus loss of feel through high levels of constant bar pressure on one side of the bar) - but also from high levels of power through corners and progressive speed of turn. Small inputs bring small and precise course changes, but large inputs will hook it round a wingtip like the wave is capable of. It's a super efficient, reactive, and precise weapon that delivers linear power everywhere it goes.
The 2014 VX was nearly as efficient in some sizes, but prone to back-stalling in the hands of the inexperienced and lacked all grunt (one of the reasons that the 2015 became meaty) - the Union has no back-stall at all (which to my knowledge is against the laws of nature for a kite this efficient), and way more power than 2014 (sits back at low load and powers round corners), with a better top end, and far, far superior handling and power round corners.
I have riders who loved the wave moving to it. I have freestyle riders who ride the Razor moving to it as it’s slack pop is very good, but for those who like both, not to mention general twin tip charging, it’s simply awesome. Such a direct, involving, light kite with massive natural wind range make it an absolute joy to ride.
Now to the other bit of the Union kite that is different.
If you can show me another kite in the world who’s different sizes all look like significantly different kites to each other I’ll be impressed, but you will see the Union’s plan shape change between different sizes. There is a specific reason for this, each size is a different kite. That’s an odd thing to say, but the fact is that designers normally develop one size to optimum, then scale, with a bit more fine tuning. After all, smaller kites are different to bigger kites due to size, and also - developing each kite as an individual project is a hugely expensive thing to do. If there are 8 sizes in the range, that’s a lot more work and a lot more prototypes.. but if you want a 9 and a 12 to feel the same, the physics of the size difference have to be overcome and this can only be overcome by significantly changing the design, and so it is with the Union.
The very name the project was given - union - started with the condition specific idea that in lightwinds people wanted a fast kite, in medium winds people wanted an agile multi-discilpine kite and in storm winds people wanted a more stable, trusting kite. The only way to achieve this was by designing each size differently. As the project continued the kites all started to feel the same, irrelevant of their size - something that brought a series of different kites together in feel (more so here than ever) if not in appearance.
The literature will only show you a 9m, but in real life, look at the 14, its tips are much bigger than the 9, much more aggressive and upright, yet it honestly feels the same as the 9 in the hands. I have never flown a range that was so integrated - and there is an even more important aspect to this: the bigger kites are sensational - they have to be to keep up with the small ones.. The 14m I have is utterly groundbreaking. I’m yet to try the 16, but I have very high hopes - and I'm a harsh critic. From a handling viewpoint I’ve hated all kites bigger than 12 for the last 15 years!
The fact is that the Union has been subject to a huge amount of testing and work. It is 8 of the finest individual bits of engineering the team have ever come up with, and they met with huge critical acclaim when tested by the importers (who bankroll the world's stock of airush) earlier this year.
In time you’ll see reviews from those who have bought into these quivers already (first kites are posted out today), as well as from the (I might argue - 'politically correct') magazine tests. There are 3-4 9m’s kicking about in the UK already (mags and opinion leaders). the feedback has been sensational.
We had a 9m at the last event in Essex. While the fleet were struggling on 12 and 14’s - John B was charging around on the 9 - maybe not full power but his board speed was the highest by far... quite something to see, which went to show what the range and efficiency of these things is like… It’s a huge step forward…
Secondly: Build Quality.
Airush build the strongest and best engineered kites in the industry. There is a controversial statement for you!
There may be points of view regarding fittings that differ from brand to brand, but at the core of it, lets look at the structural strength of the kite that takes ALL the structural load you put on it; the canopy. How do you improve the resistance to stretch and the crash strength? Use the best material. Sure it’s expensive - but this technoforce D2 stuff, as any brand with an ounce of honesty (and all the designers will tell you in person) is the strongest, most durable, stretch resistant stuff, but it even it has limits.
Airush have been augmenting canopies in their high end kit for a few years but this year it’s time you all knw the reality of it in no uncertain terms. So this year it’s time to start telling everyone without any political correctness. When we talk about canopy stretch, and impact failures, consider the image below. There are two identical strips of D2 stretched with a 40kg load. One contains the structural strand element of the load frame Airush use, and the other does not.
$2000 invested in a kite? Why would you buy a kite that relies on it’s weakest component (canopy material) to hold it’s greatest load? The load frame is unlike anything else in the industry. Throughout all the different platforms, the load frame ensures that your kite will not rip front to back - that any impact tear is restricted to that one segment, and that your kite will handle the same in 3 years time as the day you unrolled it out of the bag. Sure - it adds to the price of the kite - but I prefer to enjoy the same kite that I tested before buying, irrespective of the length of time I own it..
It may also be a phycological thing - but the mag testers have also said the same - this new configuration of frame makes the kite feel tighter, sharper and more precise in the hands - though that is also the case of new kites, - the frame will stop the bagging out and dulling of traditional kites... -
This is the first year we have seen a significant tweak - it’s tips have changed, possibly the tip LE diameter is a bit thinner and maybe size for size the centre of the main tube is conversely bigger. In the hands it’s a bit more responsive to smaller inputs with more feel, but the power band, super constant power delivery, simply by pulling on the bar, is possibly greater it was before.
I had one out last Sunday and it has the most constant supply of easy power you can imagine.. No matter what position you get yourself into, what the wind is doing, or where the kite is, it will get you power when you need it and shed it when you don't - so easy to use. It climbs well, and also produces more power around corners - jumping is much smoother - redirects and kite downloops are more rewarding than ever.
Water relaunch seems unaffected - I grabbed the wrong end of the bar yesterday coming out of a fast landing on a surfboard and put the kite on it’s nose. I actually managed to relaunch it before the board stopped planing, which made me laugh a lot. You’d not be able to do that with a Union…
The new lithium has the new load frame, and it feels tighter. It has the bridle position adjustments, for bar load, which I tried and they do change the feel. It has manners, never a hint of backstall, and you can get away with a very small size. Yesterday on landing (too windy to tip on the nose and no one to catch - nor any spike or anchor) I could take the front lines, let go of the bar and walk towards the kite holding flying lines only in the palm of my hand with only the lightest pull, as the kite sat on a tip at the back of the window just fluttering. Such manners and depower were unthinkable many years ago.
The kite has power and for expert heavy weights it's a more potent weapon this year. More responsive in fine handling, more capable when really thrown, but for anyone of a nervous disposition it has a character that is non aggressive and supremely easy until you really start to grab it by the ears, at which point it's a better kite than last years.
There is also a new size in the 17m. I’ve tried it and it’s quick, powerful and impressively engaging. Less technical than the Union, it’s a very easy way to get going very quickly, and have a feeling that it will do very well against the mainstream lightwind kites such as the Juice and Zephyr... But more on the big kites in a later post.
The DNA - an evolution of our entry level kite.
Year on year we sell more DNA than any other model. It’s partly to do with the huge following the kite has with kite schools. It also helps that they are such good value, but ultimately they are a damn good kite for entry level freeriding. Many advanced riders use them for the top end small sizes, but the fact is that many who learn on the DNA buy into it for their first kite, and their progress is fast. How fast they trade up in kite model is more down to their vanity, but if it’s not a long time, then it’s no fault of the kite - such rapid progression and performance ceiling is the hallmark of these things, and their praise is well deserved. 2016 sees new colours and a new lightwind size - 17m. Sharing the same pattern as the lithium (minus the frame and one pump) I think that as a cheap, high performance lightwind kite it will take some beating.
The new premium kite bar is called the Core bar.
It’s thinner, still adjustable in physical size (4 lengths), and still has a lot of the trusted components of the smart, but it’s looking a lot slicker with new moulded floats. It’s been a fantastic bit of kit for us over many season now. Spare parts hardly ever get sold, (though we keep a broad stock) including the chicken loop lines which seem to just go on and on. Like the Smart bars before it the Core comes with a webbing adjuster, but if you want there is a conversion to a cleat adjuster in stock... It's a really beautiful bit of kit this year, and when I look around at the industry this year it's fantastic value.
The new Progression bar is essentially the same bar as the analogue bar from 2015, with a different colour scheme on the bar grip. It uses the same geometry as the Core, and offers a more price sensitive option over the core bars, but will a lot of the same hardware and the same safety systems in place.
Source: Airush Product Guide Courtesy of Mike B - Airush UK