Tom Court talks testing the Gambler!
Tom Court is NKB’s wakestyle guru with a passion for freeriding. He may still be young but he is long in the tooth when it comes to riding boots and hitting rails. At just 14 he was shaping some of his own kiteboards on the Isle of Wight which attracted the attention of Channel 4 who made a documentary series on it. Now, with years of experience under his belt and a longterm sponsorship with North Kiteboarding, he has pushed the development of the Gambler and has become the go-too guy for NKB. We caught up with him to find out what he looks for in a board, where he draws his inspiration and how he goes about testing the product.
When did you first notice there was a gap in the North Range for the Gambler?
7 Years ago I started riding boots and i’ve never looked back. Soon after I was hitting rails and features and spending time at the cable park which has been a big influence in my style of riding. This basically opened up what I saw as a gap in the North Kiteboarding range to design a board to be ridden specifically with boots.
Before the Gambler, the existing boards in the range such as the Team Series, the Jaime and other ‘rider’ models were just too flat and very similar. The only real changing factor was the flex pattern. This was all great when riding straps but for my style of riding there needed to be alterations in the rocker and materials used. It was inevitable that progression of wakestyle would grow, which it did and immediately I saw a need for something stronger and more durable.
Once North Kiteboarding hopped on the idea to create the Gambler what was the process and where was inspiration drawn from.
Inspiration was drawn from the existing wakestyle kite scene. There was a desire for a something that you could use as a crossover. Basically, I wanted one board that I could take on a trip, ride cable and kite without too much of a compromise and I knew there were many kiteboarders out there looking for the same thing. We looked at taking the durability from a wakeboard in order to hit rails constantly without damaging the board, and the efficient design and high tech materials from a kiteboard. At the end of the day we still have to go upwind! It has taken about 3 years to get enough rocker on the board, but we are getting there. (laughs)
As a rider, it has been a really interesting process to be involved in developing something specific to my style of riding. Now that Craig Cunningham has joined the NKB Team, it helps in focusing the Gambler down the specific rail riding route. It’s huge in the US so it’s great that he can bring a lot of his knowledge to the table.
Constant development is needed. How do you test the prototypes and what are you looking for?
Testing a board like the Gambler requires a lot of different elements. Riding intensively behind a kite is crucial but also using it at the cable and behind a boat helps to add perspective to the overall functionality. I’m always searching for the ideal flex pattern in order for the board to press correctly under the transfer of weight. This pattern needs to eliminate torsional flex (twisting motion) which you can get a lot of when riding boots as there is a lot more leverage then with footstraps. I evaluate the base material for wear and damage as this happens quicker than you think when hitting the obstacles. How the board is tracking in the water with and without fins. The rocker pattern is key as too much rocker means you can’t go upwind on a kite efficiently, and too little will have you sticking to the features and unable to ride away on the landings. The track system has to be compatible and work with all types of boots and be able to endure hard landings and crashes. The list is endless for testing and then of course there is the graphic design side. It’s amazing to see how much hard work and development goes into just one board!
What’s the best thing about the current Gambler?
It’s weight and efficiency. If you combine the Gambler with Ronix boots it is easily the lightest wakestyle board on the market with little or no compromise to durability. Even though it has a fairly high rocker aspect it still retains maximum efficiency when going upwind.
You’re testing at the moment for next year. Where is the Gambler headed in your opinion?
The next step with the Gambler is to start really experimenting with different materials all over. The materials are the things that have huge influence over the characteristics of the board. The future of the Gambler is to drive it down a more specified route angled towards getting maximum time on the water. Wind, or no wind this board will cater for kiting and riding cable regardless of the conditions or aspect of riding you are trying to refine. It will be the ultimate crossover board that you can have confidence in no matter the task in hand.
The Gambler sounds like a pretty specific and high tech board? Is it a board that can be ridden by anyone or any level?
Fundamentally the Gambler is nothing more than a comfortable board to ride when in boots. If you want to use it with straps, it may have just a bit too much rocker but, if you’re good enough to ride boots confidently behind a kite and you like the cable then the Gambler is the board for you.
Ken Winner and Sky Solbach´s inside view about the new Neo
The 2014 Neo is a full-on dedicated wave kite. It's got all of the key performance characteristics we felt a wave kite really needs to have and also happens to be a really fun and playful free-ride kite.
1. Quick, "round" turning. Everyone knows quick turning is good for waves because allows you to position yourself exactly where you want to be on the wave and allows you to make small corrections in kite positioning at a moment's notice. But the real key to the Neo is not just the quickness of the turning but the WAY in which it turns. It has what we are calling "round" turning, which means that it really tracks through a turn and generates power immediately and equally all the way through the wind window. This means that when you are on a wave you can generate power whenever you need it, no matter where the kite is in the window. This opens up a lot of new possibilities and really helps to link more turns together with flow.
2. Drift. Drift is super important for surfing waves because it allows you to park your kite and focus on surfing the wave rather than constantly needing to steer your kite and follow it through every bottom and top turn. The Neo's amazing drift gives you more room for error when surfing waves and allows you to recover from those mistakes without dropping your kite. We spent a lot of time testing the Neo's tolerance to slacked lines and optimizing the weight in the wingtips to drift straight backwards and not twist and fall nose down.
3. Lots of low-end power. The low-end power of the Neo allows you to ride a kite 1 to 2 square meters smaller than you normally would. This means you have a small, more compact and faster turning kite in all conditions.
4: Quick relaunch. The compact shape of the Neo makes relaunch super easy and allows you to get your kite up quickly before getting munched by the next wave!
The Neo has evolved into a pure wave kite, so Maui is the perfect place for developing it further.
And while the image of Maui involves perfect peeling ground swell and strong, steady sideshore wind, the reality is different. Sure, there are perfect days, but there are also a lot of days days with average waves and gusty wind. And while we test Neo protos at breaks like Lanes and Ho'okipa and Outer Sprecks, we also test at Waiehu, where the waves consist head-high to triple-head-high wind swell, and the onshore wind from 10 to 30 knots.
The 2013 Neo was a great starting point, as it had many great qualities already, so we focused on building its strengths: good power, easy turning and excellent drift.
As everyone knows, one of the most important qualities of a wave kite is its ability to turn quickly and precisely. The easiest and surest way to make any kite design turn quickly is to make it small, so for 2014 we bumped up the power of the Neo. This means riders can ride smaller, faster-turning kites than they may be used to. It's not uncommon for Sky to be riding at a Maui break on a Neo two meters smaller than what other good riders are using.
Quick turning also requires a kite that doesn't luff or flutter a lot on the side that is on the outside of the turn. We kept this luffing and fluttering, which is common on three-strut kites, to a minimum through careful strut placement and profile design. The profiles in the tips are quite flat and even the first profile above the tips struts were carefully tuned to avoid the draggy luffing that can slow turning.The two leech battens on each side help with this also.
Drift is another key quality in a wave kite. This is improved through optimized weight distribution. We had great drift with the zero-strut protos we tried, but surprisingly we had even better drift with the two- and three-strut protos. Something about the lower center of gravity.
Relaunch on the Neo is almost effortless and almost instantaneous, in large part because of the tight cone and increased sweep.
"The process" Episode
Dyno 2013 - What's new? by Ken Winner
Low weight is a key feature of the Dyno and all measures have been taken to strip out materials that do not contribute to on-water performance. For example, there is no single-point inflation system on the Dyno simply because SPI increases weight without improving performance.
The performance benefits of low weight are mainly:
(1) the Dyno will easily fly when quite underpowered. The 17 will readily stay in the air when there is too little wind for an 80-kilo rider to plane on a big race board.
(2) when flying the Dyno up and down for power (as when racing downwind), the Dyno's low weight helps it to make a powerful upstroke.
Aspect ratio remains low enough for quick turning but high enough for good aerodynamic efficiency.
While the Dyno will work as a 4-line kite, it retains 5-line ability for these reasons:
(1) Easy relaunch in light winds. Even riders who like four-line kites often add a fifth line to make relaunch possible in super-light wind.
(2) Safety. When you need to get total, complete and perfect depower in half a second, nothing else works as well as a 5th line.
(3) Easy, safe self-launching and self-landing.
Thin tapered struts with semi-segmented and conical construction
Struts are tapered from a fairly large diameter where they meet the LE to much smaller diameters 25% back. The big joint with the LE gives more rigidity to the structure of the inflated elements. The taper to a smaller diameter provides lower drag.
The semi-segmented construction gives a smooth upper curve to the struts – an aerodynamically superior shape – while taking up excess cloth and preventing unsightly wrinkles in the lower surface of the strut.
The struts go to a conical construction at the 25% point. This eliminates seams and therefore removes a point of potential seam failure in the part of the strut that bends the most on the beach.
The 2012 Dyno has seven struts for extra stability – mainly appreciated by heavier riders taking the Dyno to the limit in powered conditions.
The 2013 Dyno is more narrowly focused on racing, which requires more flexibility and the lowest possible weight, so the new Dyno has only five struts.
The tip strut is closer to the tip to support the thin leading edge and provide stability during hard turning. The quarter strut is a bit closer to the tip strut so as to support the flat section of canopy between tip and quarter struts.
The large span between quarter and center struts provides the bulk of the power of the kite. This area is not heavily controlled with struts because it needs to be free to luff or fill, depending on wind strength.
More and different sizes
The Dyno was originally a light-wind kite but has evolved into a light-wind and race kite and now comes in sizes 7, 9, 11 and 13 in addition to the original 15 and 17.
The new 17 is larger than the 2012 Dyno 17 and has significantly more power. Sizes 15 and 13 are also more powerful than corresponding Dynos from 2012.
Graduated cloth weight
The inflated elements of the 2012 Dyno were entirely built of a light but extremely stable new Dacron. For 2013 we are keeping this lighter Dacron in the small-diameter inflated elements – the struts and the tips of the leading edge – while going with our standard, heavier-duty Dacron in the large-diameter parts of the leading edge. This heavier Dacron permits higher inflation pressures and thus greater stability in the leading edge.
We've added more segments to the geometry of the 2013 Dyno. This helps ensure good fidelity to design shape.
Owing to the fewer struts and lower weight, turning speed has been improved. This is most noticeable when flying the Dyno up and down on a deep downwind point of sail.
Leading edge diameter
Leading edge diameters are basically unchanged in the center of the Dyno but tip diameters are smaller. This change provides a bit less aerodynamic drag.
The new Dyno bridle has no pulleys. This gives a bit less weight and drag but also means that the 2013 Dyno must be flown on either (1) a 5-line bar or (2) a four-line bar with front-line safety leash.
Canopy profiles in the outboard quarters are quite flat for low drag. Canopy profiles at and between center and quarter struts are deeper and more powerful than in 2012.
Power vs. depower
The various changes have led to better power and depower.
The lower weight, deeper profiles and new geometry help the 2013 Dyno to relaunch quickly.
Sky Solbach Dyno:
"The new Dyno is something totally new and is hands down the fastest kite I have flown to date. It constantly shoots to the edge of the wind window while maintaining really consistent power delivery that carries you upwind. Downwind, the new Dyno is equally impressive. I can't wait to see what the North Race Team can do on the race course this year with this tool in their hands!"