Alby Rondina

Born in 2005, the Cabrinha Switchblade is still very much a cutting edge kite and is surely the most sold kite model in the history of the sport. We asked designer Pat Goodman about its inception, evolution and staying power, having spawned from the first full depower kite, the infamous Crossbow

INTERVIEW: Jim Gaunt PHOTOS: Lukas Stiller (unless otherwise stated)

The Cabrinha Crossbow, released in 2004, is always hailed as a real line-in-the-sand moment as the first real ‘depower kite’, a bridled design that helped safely open the sport up to more participants. Can you take us through what you remember about the development and challenges of creating that first almost fully depowerable kite at the time? Developing the Crossbow wasn’t as easy. It had a whole new list of challenges, especially with the high sweep design, full profiles, bridles and original 2:1 pulley control system to get the most out of the de-power. We had to modify the software a lot to accommodate the new high sweep planform.

“The design was also initially met with some resistance. The first Crossbow samples were super powerful with heavy bar pressure, especially in comparison to the standard C-kites of the time in 2004. It didn’t take long for people to realize the potential, though.”

Boosting was one of the reasons most of us got into kitesurfing and the Crossbow was the boosting machine of its time. We put a lot of time into the bridle development (all by hand), got the heaviness under control and then it soon took the world by storm. The Crossbow was quickly accompanied by the Switchblade as we chased yet another lighter feeling and simplified version of this new era of ‘power on demand’ bow kites. The once perceived dangerous sport of kitesurfing soon became an activity that, with proper instruction, most people could learn safely and enjoy. This really helped the growth of the sport overall. Was releasing such a groundbreaking kite your most thrilling moment as a designer, in terms of the race for the next big development? There are so many things that have given me motivation and creativity in kite design. The evolution of the design software really opened the door for new, out-of-the-box ideas. Kite materials are also evolving a lot and bring a whole new dimension in the feel and performance of the kites. What motivates me most is seeing so many people worldwide enjoying the kites that I was involved in creating. A few stand out moments for me were when Rob Douglas set a world speed record on a production Switchblade. Then also Nick Jacobson winning the King of the Air on a production Switchblade. These events were super exciting for me knowing that the performance of these products that we sell to end users are capable of such feats Nick’s amazing building jump in Dubai was also a crazy stunt for sure and I was proud to have been a part of it, knowing he trusts his life in the gear that I played my part in the design of. That stunt is not recommended at all (for anyone), but is really cool to watch. It gives me goose bumps every time I see it.

Captions from top to bottom:

Annelous Lammerts

Over the last two decades Pat has been heavily involved in the evolution of design software, too Photo: James Boulding

Dre and Susi, fronting the new Switchblade, 2005

Camdyn Kellett at the mercy of the ‘Blade, Witsands, Cape Town Photo: Unknown

The Switchblade is now one of the longest running kite models in the market. How do you keep it relevant year after year? The Switchblade is for sure the most sold kite model in the history of kitesurfing and is still going strong. It is like the Swiss army knife of kites; does a little of everything and anyone can enjoy riding it. It was a spin-off of the Crossbow, released back in 2005. At the time, there was a need for a simplified, lighter version of the Crossbow with less struts, lighter bar pressure and a pulley-less control system. It didn’t take long before the Switchblade exceeded the Crossbow’s sales volume, simply because it was a better overall kite and more well rounded for everyday riding. The Crossbow, however, still had a strong following and had its own special characteristics and performance. Since inception the Switchblade has undergone constant evolution, with refinement of the profiles, revisions to the outline or upgraded, higher performing materials. The new Switchblade is vastly superior and progressive to what was launched in 2005. How did you get into kite design (20 years ago?)? 20 years ago I was working in the Neil Pryde Design center in Maui after 15 years of windsurf sail design. I first had a custom sail loft in Maui back in the late 80’s and then designed for Gaastra Sails. I worked with a lot of big name players in the industry, including Pete Cabrinha. When Pete and Neil Pryde teamed up to create Cabrinha Kites, Pete had his development and marketing office in the same location as the windsurf design center. It didn’t take long for me to get the itch for kitesurfing and migrating to kite design was a natural progression, especially since Pete and I already had a history of working together. The rest is history. If you hadn’t become a kite designer, what do you think you would have been doing instead? I have thought about this from time to time. It’s hard to say really, but I imagine I’d be involved in some other form of extreme sport. I’ve been heavily into skateboarding, ridden motocross, raced go-karts, surfed and flown hang gliders. I’ve enjoyed pretty much anything fast and dangerous!

“I always made one promise to myself over the years: to make sure the passion for my work shares the same passion for my recreation. I’ve found nothing better in life than looking forward to every day, working at what I do for fun. I feel very fortunate to have been able to make this happen.”

Pin-up model

Thinking back over the years, can you give us some kind of perspective on just how much more advanced the design possibilities that you have now are compared to the early days? How much more finely balanced was the set-up of a kite between it ‘working’ and failing to fly properly in the early days? Modern day kite design is kind of a collaboration of design creativity and highly refined modern design technology. There is much less guess work involved and each and every kite is highly refined before it makes it into the hands of the consumer. After decades of experience I have an extensive library of information accumulated from thousands of kite prototypes over the years. The evolution of kite design software is amazing. I am lucky enough to have been working with the programmer since the beginning and have seen it evolve one step at a time for over 20 years. We now have control over nearly every parameter in the kite, including the ability to analyze aerodynamic profiles and can evaluate and dial in the weighting of each and every bridle line etc. There really should be no such thing as a new kite design that will not fly. In most cases a new kite prototype right out of the sample room will fly quite well, but there are still many hours of benchmark testing, bridle refinements and adjustments to be made to have a truly refined product. Even now there are many prototypes made of each and every size and model of kite that need to be dialled in. Unfortunately, the computer cannot replace that magic feeling we all seek on the water. Kite performance is quite subjective, so there is no replacement for hands-on testing with people of different skill levels, weights, sea conditions etc. Every size kite of one model for instance is tailored to the discipline, wind strengths and riding conditions and needs to feel similar throughout the range. It is not as simple as just scaling a range of sizes. Our challenge and responsibility is to make sure each and every kite that reaches the hands of the consumer will fly safely, feel balanced and trimmed perfectly right out of the bag, continuing to perform well for years to come. It’s a lot of fun and time on the water getting there! What are you most excited about when you look over the new kite range? I think the entire range of Cabrinha kites is very exciting with something for everyone! The Switchblade has a really refreshing new feel, in particular from the changes in the bridle. The FX has been completely re-designed, catering to true freestyle riding and unhooked tricks. It can be switched from a 4-line to a 6-line set-up for more ‘C-kite’ type behaviour and line slack for high end tricks. The stock setting also boosts better which culminates in a really versatile crossover kite packed with performance. In addition to the kite range, new foils, new TTs, bindings and the addition of winging make this an exhilarating time.

Swiss Army knife of kites