Back in January, a pair of Eleveight team riders released two of the most impressive big air clips from the same spot in Leucate on the same day. There were plenty of other riders sending it, but in terms of clips, no one else came close. Stijn Koster from Holland actually set a new WOO European record with his jump of 33.3 metres. Was it a coincidence they were both riding the same kite – the final prototype of the Eleveight XS V2, which is to be released in May? Kiteworld editor Jim Gaunt caught up with Arthur and Stijn as well as designer Peter Stiewe
“The wind was just crazy at Barcares, ten minutes from Leucate, but I train there a lot. I actually had ten other big jumps, but this was the biggest. Stijn and I were both riding the new XS V2 8m and the session was exceptional. “At the start of the jump I sent the kite forward to climb as high as possible, which gave me a huge amount of horizontal speed. At this height of jump I had to do lot of kite loops at the back of the window to slow myself before landing. I need to be able to place the kite where I want it and have a lot of visual control before landing. “I used to prefer the FS kite for big air because it turned better than the XS V1 and had a better kite loop, but the new XS V2 also loops really well. I’m only going to be using that for big air this season.”
“I immediately thought that jump must be 30+ metres. I come from Groet in the northwest coast of Holland and I’ve never experienced wind like the Tramontana in Leucate. It’s strong, dense and has so much lift. The flat water allowed for the perfect take-off and the new XS V2 has incredible vertical lift as well as amazing stability, but also with feeling and quick response at the bar. “I’m really pleased the XS V2 now also comes in a new eight metre size because it’s fast, more explosive and very stable.”
INTERVIEW WITH ELEVEIGHT DESIGNER, PETER STIEWE
To have two riders on the same kite outshine anything else that we’ve seen in terms of big air height and distance this year, not only shows the consistency in their riding, but also in the kite. Can you talk us through the changes in the XS V2 this year? The V2 is still the same type of kite, but has significant improvements in the handling when it comes to lift and lower drag for better high wind control. When you look at the standard parameters, we usually have a medium to high aspect-ratio and medium sweep; not too much, but enough. These are normal parameters for a freeride kite, but what makes this a modern big air freeride kite is that we have a very thin leading edge and five thin struts angled perfectly with the air flow. We also worked on the arc; not too flat, but flat enough. When a kite is very flat it offers a lot of hangtime, but because you can’t twist the tips, less air is funnelled through between the wingtips of the kite when you send it back for a jump: that’s why C kites have so much explosive lift. So was your focus more on control? Handling is a very important feature. All parameters in the kite need to work together – it’s what I call harmonic performance.
For all riders in all conditions good handling is very important. For pro riders in strong conditions it means they can make decisions quickly and the kite will follow them.
How important is the consistency in feel of your kites? It’s something that we always comment on when testing an Eleveight. It’s important to be able to control the character of all the parameters in a kite and be on target with the product specification that we set-out. For me, handling is the most important characteristic. For example the XS (Xtreme Series) pulls a lot more than a WS (Wave Series) and has a different turning radius, but you could feel that it’s still a kite I made.
Arthur commented that with the introduction of the new XS V2 he will now use that instead of the FS (Freestyle Series) for big air and kite loops. XS stands for Xtreme Series and now we’ve seen Stijn set the new European WOO record on it at 33.3 metres. How good do you need to be to ride it? I mean it’s not as easy as the RS, but it’s an easy kite to use, and this is important for high level riders. There’s less of a limit to how much power you can get out of it than the RS freeride kite, but there’s actually not much difference in basic accessibility. Only very light weight riders might find the grunt in the XS a bit much. Can you tell me a bit about what you observe in a kite when you watch your riders test? Stijn and Arthur both mentioned how they like to aggressively steer their kite back and forth after take-off. What they are describing is intuition. They feel the line tension and how much the kite is pulling and move it by instinct. From a designer’s perspective, I want to give them the ability to move the kite like that.
Once you’re up there at 30 metres you might reach another level of higher wind speeds, so to stay up there as long as possible and to travel for long distances they move the kite in a certain way to continue being pulled. It’s almost like soaring with a paraglider, but with a higher wind speed.
If there was too much drag the kite would sit too deep and be more stuck in the window. I combine their feedback with what I see; how the kite performed, the different load conditions pre- and post jump, when they steer it in the air, when they loop it and how quickly it comes back up. I usually have a piece of paper with me and also talk into the phone, making notes on five parameters at once that I need to adjust. As I mentioned, all parameters need adjusting to work in harmonic performance.
What do you think was the most important improvement you’ve made in the XS V2? The handling. The first one had the boost, lift, hangtime and power, but it was a bit less accessible. Now we’ve rounded the kite off, improved the handling and that helps the rider with their timing. It’s a big step that comes from tweaking up to 20 parameters in the kite.
What goes through your mind when you see them doing 30 metre jumps like that? Ha ha, that I’m getting older! It’s incredible. I’ve been kiting for over 20 years and in the beginning we went high, but what these guys do now is another level. It’s commitment and a high level of performance. When you think that kites are made with just three kilograms of material that’s being exposed to this amount of force; it’s very impressive where we actually are in the sport. Stiffness must play a big part with the kite being stable in those strong winds. This year there’s been news about new and stiffer materials being used by two other brands, but obviously that comes with extra cost. Do you think you’re kind of at the limits now with the XS in terms of the current materials you’ve used, or do you think you’ve achieved something similar, but with less expense for the customer? Stiffness is achieved in two ways. Of course when you have a stiff material in the air frame you can inflate the kite to a very high pressure, but it’s also about the aerodynamics and geometry of the kite and bridles. You can have an extremely stiff, light air frame, but it can be unstable if you don’t design it well. When I was with Best we designed the 2008 Nemesis HP with a cuben fibre material in the leading edge that was 30% thinner, but in fact stiffer than anything else. So stiffness is good, but you also need a certain twist in the kite in order to make it turn nicely. Well balanced performance not only comes from stiffness, but also the twist and handling. I think it’s exciting to see new materials being introduced, but we’re also not standing still. We think about the price point and from an R&D perspective we don’t want to tweak the product to such a degree that it suddenly doubles in price for the sake of a three or four percent overall performance improvement. We have to be careful not to push the sport and all the products into this niche where we as a whole become a niche.
When I look across the market, I’m always impressed at how competitively priced your products remain. We want to stand for real pricing. We develop a high-performance product using the best Teijin materials that are available. We are building an expensive product, but we don’t want to price a young rider in their first years of work out of the market, or a family who wants to buy a set of kites. I think we offer a realistic price and we don’t over-produce, so we don’t need to over inflate our prices in the beginning to then sell remaining stock at a perceived discount. This is our philosophy. I don’t know if it’s the right one, but we believe in it. What was the most difficult thing for you in terms of work in the last 12 months? Shipping, air freight and logistics. Last year we’d try to sea ship obviously, but sometimes you have to air ship even though the rates are four times the price. You expect therefore to have the goods in four days or so; within a week at least. Suddenly we’d get information that a shipment is stuck in an airport somewhere because there are no more flights, or that medical or perishable goods went as priority instead. It was very difficult to predict and plan for that. Of course we also can’t plan the weather and we couldn’t travel as much last year for testing, but being based here in Cascais, Portugal and Montpellier, France, we have good locations and conditions through the winter. We’re probably more flexible than some bigger companies, so testing wasn’t the big issue. It was logistics!