TESTED BY: Rob and Jim

WORDS: Jim Gaunt


TEST TEAM NOTES The Ultra Team (officially launching 5th April) is the second Airush Ultra model available this season alongside the existing Ultra V4. The Team version is further tuned to utilise Airush’s new Ho’okipa woven leading edge and strut material that they’ve developed with the Challenge Sail Cloth company. Read more about that here in this issue.

Right at the apex of new lightweight material development, Ho’okipa is woven to withstand huge air pressures. The leading edge on the new Ultra Team can be pumped up literally as hard as you can possibly manage, to create a super stiff airframe that also allows for the use of a thinner, more forward flying, faster leading edge profile. One of Airush’s major benefits that they point out with Ho’okipa, however, is that it offers a build strength and integrity that will deliver consistent, long lasting performance for years to come, even when pumped as hard as possible for every session. As covered in our Ho’okipa feature this issue, the Ultra PE material (essentially a brand name for Dyneema, which is used in flying lines) is a high molecular polyethylene and is 32 times stronger than polyester. To find a 32 times increase in stretch resistance from a base material is off the charts, Airush MD and head of design, Clinton Filen explained to me. Crucially, Airush worked out how to stabilise the Ultra PE with recycled plastics (through a polyester yarn) which makes up 48% of the whole Ho’okipa material. As it is eight times more expensive than standard Dacron, the Ultra Team does come at an increased cost; it’s 50% more expensive than the equivalent sized regular Ultra V4. The Ultra Team takes Airush’s very popular single strut Ultra framework, including the strong Load Frame canopy support, and offers an enormous sheeting range with excellent light wind flying characteristics. Having only a single strut makes the kite lighter and therefore better able to stay well positioned in the sky in lower wind speeds, reacting positively at the edge of the window when three strut kites might start to be pulled down and hampered by their increased weight. The Ultra Team takes that light wind handling performance a step further thanks to the light weight of Ho’okipa compared to Dacron and its stiffer response. This really is a light weight kite. As well as the performance advantages at the edge of the window, it’s also very noticeable when you’re walking with it rolled up, or when inflated and you’re positioning it on the beach. It’s absolutely featherweight.

PERFORMANCE So, how much of a difference does the new Ho’okipa material make? While we have tested regular Airush Ultra kites in depth over the years, we weren’t able to back-to-back test the regular V4 model with the Ultra Team model during our Cape Town tests this year, unfortunately. However, the thinner leading edge and the ability to now inflate the bladder to incredible pressures no doubt increases the stiffness of the Ultra Team, reduces weight and surely adds to its peak working lifespan. So, on that basis to begin with, there is improvement. The Ultra Team is designed as a performance kite for light wind wave riding, foiling and freeriding. Rob had several sessions, from light wind 12-15 knots conditions, more moderate 15-20 knots and also far beyond that on a foil. I rode it exclusively with a surfboard, but again in a range of wind strengths.

WAVES Starting in the waves, this is a sublime kite for lighter wind wave riding; the kind I really enjoy. There are a few performance traits that the Ultra Team combines beautifully – firstly, the stiffness in the leading edge and lack of pulleys in the bridle provides incredible feel for where the kite is, both through your steering hands and through the directional pull you feel in your harness when you’re moving the kite around. The Ultra Team’s performance comes so much from the front flying lines that, even when sheeting out, you can feel where the kite is. Coming off the back of a wave and then swapping feet in rough water I could always feel exactly where the kite was and never had to look at it when adjusting speed or power. Secondly, the response and stability in the sky in light winds (wherever you have the kite in the window) lets you steer the kite as aggressively and as confidently as you would a small kite that’s perfectly powered up. It doesn’t matter if the lines slack a bit because the Ultra Team just drifts back and re-tensions the lines without dropping down in the window at all. It’s incredibly reliable and never feels to wobble or choke, no matter how light the wind. You can always move it to generate power without fear of failure. Thirdly, combined with that stability in the sky, the loop is smooth and fast. More than that though, it’s the way the Ultra Team exits a turn with immense forward drive that’s so good for wave riding. You can reposition the kite in an instant and then get all the power you need as the kite drives forward. Whip it round just before you turn and then go with the drive of the kite, just sheeting easily with one hand. Of course the sheeting range is still massive, so then you really are able to enjoy that sheet and go wave riding performance, mixed with rapid handling. Once the wind picked up much over 20-25 knots though, the increased pull and pressure started to take away from the spritely power-on-tap performance that I was enjoying so much at the bottom end. Everything became a bit harder work, so the Ultra Team does have this very special window for wave riding and if you’re specifically looking for a kite to fill the job that your other, regular three strut wave kites maybe can’t, then it’s perfect. FOILING For foiling, once again the stability in the sky in light winds is where the benefits in performance lie for most riders. The Ultra Team behaves with the familiar, reliable feel that a kite would have in more positive wind speeds. The tight, consistent loops and resulting silky smooth power when the Ultra Team exits a turn make it such a pleasure to throw around the sky like a stunt kite. The massive but incremental sheeting range add a huge amount of confidence to riders who are still very much needing to feather the power on and off. Being able to completely shut the power off when you feel like you’re going too quickly on your foil is a big advantage. The fact that the kite then doesn’t start nose diving towards the water at the edge of the window is a really big positive performance factor here. For carving your foil in waves and for linking gybes back and forth, there are few kites to match the drift stability, but the only place the Ultra Team lacks a bit of easy performance is when it comes to smooth, linear lift overhead. This is more of a turn oriented kite than a lift oriented kite. When learning to tack you may have been taught to sheet out very aggressively with the bar when the kite is overhead as you carve into wind. The Ultra Team has a particularly quick drop in power when you do so as the kite flies so much off the front lines that when you look up you can see there’s very little power left in the canopy at all when you fully sheet out. The canopy flutters almost all the way up to the central strut. While this has lots of advantages elsewhere, for those riders used to being able to jam the bar up against the stopper hard when tacking, there is a bit of adjustment to be made here to find the lift support you want. On a surfboard however, where tacking is a far more rapid affair, and essentially the foot change is done as the kite continually moves beyond 12 o’clock, the Ultra Team is ideal and ready to be moved into power again in an instant. In fact it’s so responsive and clean flying that I often loop it out of a turn and allow my board speed to naturally come from the way the kite exits the turn with such beautiful, smooth power.

FIXTURES AND FITTINGS Airush provide the rear line bridle with three knots and suggest to set the kite up on its factory setting middle knot. We used the Airush Ultra bar which is a super clean set up as it comes without a front line trimming adjustment cleat or tabs. There are simply four pigtail knots to adjust the front lines on which you set before your session but then can’t adjust on the fly. This system does mean though that you have an enormous and very usable throw. This is a bar designed for very functional minimalism and it’s a joy. The Ultra behaves beautifully at max depower sheeting and also when fully sheeting in too. I found the stock bar setting ideal for waves, but Rob spent lots of time extending the front lines to get more and more power from the back lines as he has a particularly powerful foiling style and weighs over 100 kilos. AIRUSH BAR RANGE Airush have developed a very broad range of bars, suited to all requirements and all are extremely robust.

“Sublime light wind turning performance; the Ultra never feels like it doesn’t have enough power to turn beautifully and then drive cleanly forward.”

“Sublime light wind turning performance; the Ultra never feels like it doesn’t have enough power to turn beautifully and then drive cleanly forward.”

SUMMARY: Overall this is a very special kite and if you do mix up wave riding and foiling, but have found that you’ve been missing a very manoeuvrable lighter wind wave kite, this could be an incredible weapon to add to your quiver. While the Ultra Team completes a turn very quickly and then drives forward super cleanly, the travelling air speed is quite moderate. So while the Ultra Team sounds racey, it’s not. It’s just quick in the right zones to help you link manoeuvres with speed and control. KW LIKED: Sublime light wind turning performance; the Ultra never feels like it doesn’t have enough power to turn beautifully and then drive cleanly forward. KW WOULD CHANGE: High level foilers may be used to flying a kite with more back line tension, which can also help increase the forward air speed of a kite, for instance if you do a lot of fast tacking moves, or ride a really fast foil.

ULTRA TEAM BALANCE POINTS: Build quality: 9 Full package: 9 Low end: 8.5 Top end: 7 Steering speed: 6.5 Turning circle: 4 Bar pressure: 5.5 Water relaunch: 8 Drift: 8 Boost: 6.5 Hang-time: 6.5 Unhooked: 5 Crossover: 8 Ease of use: 8

SIZES: 17, 14, 12, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 & 5m

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