The North Orbit big air freeride kite has had a short but brightly burning presence in Red Bull King of the Air competition. Making its debut as a final prototype in the hands of Jesse Richman when he placed second at the 2019 event, a year later Jesse went one better to take the win in 2020, followed by his team mate, Nick Jacobsen, in second. As the 2021 event was postponed to hopefully take place in early December, North’s Orbit V3 release in September comes with an extra layer of eager anticipation. Continuing to squeeze yet more high wind handling benefits through reducing the overall weight and increasing the stiffness of kites is a continuing trend from the leading big air kite manufacturers. We asked the North design team how they’ve gone about tackling the future of big air in the Orbit V3
INTERVIEW: Kyle Cabano PHOTOS: Craig Kolesky
How much of a role does weight have on a big air kite? Any weight saving, whether in the bladder or construction of the kite, gives the kite a more responsive feeling, better reactive behaviour and interaction between the rider and the kite. Weight savings allow the kite’s own aerodynamic energy to produce speed into the kite, with less resistance and less inertia required to make it do so. So not only will a lighter kite fly better in light winds, but in stronger winds it will also fly faster. Recovery from kite loops will also improve with less inertia through the turn and less resistance from gravity itself. Does specific strong wind use negate the need for a kite to be lighter in weight? Whenever lighter materials are used, the kite becomes more agile. Where the high-end kite models (under nine metre) are concerned, the wind speed equates to forces that are not quite as noticeable with lighter fabrics. This means that while all kites benefit from weight saving, it is generally more of an advantage for nine metre kites and bigger. There is a limit to how light we can go with the materials currently available. We’re excited to capitalise on our North Sails technology resources to develop new materials that can maintain their shape in stronger winds – without being heavier.
How does structural integrity change between the design of a light wind kite and a big air kite? Every individual material we use in our kites – be it canopy, leading edge or reinforcements – is optimised for the kite’s attributes. We assemble lighter fabrics differently and add reinforcement to strengthen seams in certain areas. By using the strategic placement of materials, we can improve the longevity of the kite and enhance its overall strength at the same time. In both our Reach lightwind and Orbit big air kites, we’ve paid close attention to the distribution of different materials throughout the kite. We use a lighter, high tenacity ripstop performance canopy material in the centre of the kite. For the Orbit, the exoskeleton frame is surrounded by our N-FORCE 75 heavy-duty canopy material, replacing the older heavier Dacron material used in the past. The N-FORCE 75 provides a clean transition between the lighter inner canopy material and the reinforcement material that we use around the perimeter. This means there are no hard edges or breaking points to create canopy wear long-term and we get a robust reinforced construction but with considerable weight savings. Overall, you get a kite with a better continuity between the materials, a more streamlined profile shape and improved longevity.