Introducing the Freeride Series.
Fusing the collective experience of Airush kite designer Mark Pattison and design engineer Dave Kay, with extensive input from team rider and freeride tester Victor Hays, French all-rounder, Colin Oudot and his partner in crime, Foil guru, Alexia Fancelli, to deliver a comprehensive redesign of the Airush freeride series for the upcoming season.
We caught up with the team, and go behind the design to get the low-down on the all-new Freeride Series.
After creating 12 versions of a kite, that has been so widely loved, where do you even start when making changes to a legacy product like the Lithium?
MP: The Lithium has been around for a good few years, which means that as kiting matures, and more riders are using the kite, it needs to evolve with the rider it has been designed for. The challenge is not always in the redesign, it is foreseeing where Freeride is going and using the advances in the materials we work with to create the kite for the rider, and not the other way around.
The Lithium v13 is designed to suit a much larger variety of conditions, and the rider looking for a kite to do it all. The stability in the air and light bar pressure make it the best version yet for wave riding, while the Delta Hybrid C shape makes it incredibly predictable and responsive through the window, which is ideal for learning to foil or progressing on a twintip.
What were the key changes from a technical side?
MP: The main change we made on the v13 is the material. We introduced the Technoforce D2 canopy cloth which has given the Lithium a fresh feel. It’s lighter in a literal sense, and when in the air it’s noticeable on the bar. The combination of canopy cloth and the updated shorter v3 Pulley bridle enables more precise steering while retaining its predictability, and ensuring that the bridles don’t get caught over the wingtip after taking a tumble in the early days of learning.
Victor, how have you seen the Lithium evolve over the years that you have been involved on the R&D side, and how would you say that the new updates translate into the performance?
VH: I’ve been involved with the development of the Lithium for a few years now, and each year we have tried to maximize the performance to fit our customers’ needs as best as we can. This new version has been completely remade.
We’ve kept the previous benchmark key points of the Lithium and added in some very cool features such as, better relaunch, much better jumping and hangtime, very good high-wind capabilities, less bar pressure and more direct steering. It’s a great evolution. The 8m and 10m are my favorite sizes for their versatility.
You did a lot of work on the bridles with Mark, what were you trying to achieve by changing the bridles on the new Lithium?
VH: A bridle update can change a lot of things on the kite. I’ve been very involved in the R&D of the Lithium, but also working with Su Kay who has very good knowledge of kites and tweaking bridles. This version of the Lithium has got a very new shape, with a bridle that will really help to get that light bar pressure to fit all kinds of customers.
The bar pressure for that kite is a key point, but having it right includes many factors that can also affect other key points.
So far we believe we’ve achieved a very good new Lithium that can match all requests from a Lithium customer.
Freeride – comfort – versatility – performance
It must have been interesting to work with two different people in bridle tuning and setups in two different parts of the world? With Victor on the Lithium and DK on the One?
MP: Both Victor and DK are really good kite testers, with around 30 years of design and testing experience between them. It makes the challenging discussions between multiple time zones and design feedback interesting. It’s great to challenge your thinking, question why a lot more, and then streamline the process.
DK, At Airush your forte is control bars and twintips, but you have also have extensive experience designing kites. How is bridle development so critical, and what do you feel you and Mark achieved with the new One v2?
DK: There is a huge scope to change the feel and performance of any bridled kite through bridle tuning. With Mark very busy with designing the rest of the new range of kites, along with the Starboard x Airush FreeWing program, we are all keen to help out wherever possible, especially with travel being a problem through the entire development season. – I put my hand up to assist with tuning and testing the One v2.
I have recently been developing some software that uses powerful physics-based simulation, combined with goal-based genetic solvers to find just the right alignment of lines and loading for any given kite chassis.
The goal with the One was threefold, we wanted to improve the bar feel and kite handling; shorten the overall length of the bridle to reduce wingtip tangles; and reduce the number of pulleys used.
On the outcome, and the kite that is now in the market, we managed to hit all three goals, which is honestly amazing!
Alexia, stepping off Olympic foil equipment onto the One must be quite a change. What do you feel is the appeal of the One to the everyday foiler and freerider?
AF: I’ve been training for the Olympics since they announced the inclusion of foil racing into the 2024 Olympic Games. When riding the One, it feels like home. It is a really different kite, it is super easy to use and not only for an experienced rider – its perfect for someone wanting to get into foiling as a starting point. The One is a kite that will always have a place in your quiver.
Known for delivering durability and innovation, the Airush has released a new version of each twintip model over the past two years. For the new Freeride series, DK, Take us on a deep dive into what you were out to achieve with the Switch?
DK: The Switch is the longest-running Twin Tip design in kiteboarding history, going right back to the earliest days of the sport. Legendary designers like Jimmy Lewis and Colin McCulloch have in the past worked on this model. With 20 years of history behind the board, it is quite an honor for me to be able to put my own take on this important board in the Airush lineup. The Switch is a Freeride model and for many Airush customers, it will be their first board. To this end, at the forefront, the Switch needs to be EASY, easy to ride, easy to control, and easy to get upwind on. It also needs to not limit a rider’s progression, it can’t be a board that you ‘outgrow’ in a short space of time.
The key design points that lead to this ‘easy rider’ style are a progressive single concave bottom shape, that is deeper in the middle for lift and upwind ability while being flat in the tip to keep this area flexible. Thin Step-down rails for clean water release and low drag. Low rocker for fast planing and easy upwind ability. ‘Mid square’ outline for tracking and stability.
I think the graphics team has killed it this year on the aesthetic and look of the board, the exposed wood and color-coded accessories have made it an amazing package.
How does the Switch Team differ from the Switch?
DK: The Switch Team takes all the design features of the Switch and adds some higher performance elements for more demanding riders. In particular, we have added a Basalt Fiber Unidirectional I-Beam between the rider’s feet. This stiffens the board up, as well as adding extra overall rocker.
With a straighter outline than the Apex or Apex Team, the Switch Team is an excellent alternative in the range for flat water freestyle.
You spend a lot of time riding the Switch and Lithium as a combo, what do you feel these products bring to the market?
VH: Riding the Switch and Lithium is probably one of the easiest plug-and-play combos available on the market. The Switch is extremely easy and comfortable in every kind of condition, especially in choppy conditions.
It’s fast, with extremely easy upwind ability. It’s the perfect combination for riders wanting a good predictable ride.
While the Lithium will give you the best Plug and Play ever. You literally just need to connect your bar and ride.
The relaunch is super easy in every size. This tends to help you work on your jumping, from the first try to a more advanced jump, without being overly stressed about crashing and struggling to relaunch.
The bar pressure allows you to feel the kite, and the hangtime has been reworked a lot so, will now give you some extra air time.
It’s a really fun Freeride kite that matches a huge range of conditions.
The Slayer is a crossover freeride board, that is really hard to place into a specific discipline. With riders wanting gear that does everything, how did this influence your design process?
DK: The Slayer is one of those ‘personal projects’ that the designers at Airush often bring to the market, not because it is demanded, but because it is just what they want to ride. I’ve been building and riding boards like the Slayer for myself for maybe 15 years. It broadly fits the description of a ‘Skimboard with fins’ or ‘Directional Twin Tip’.
The Slayer adds to this concept with the addition of:
- Raised grip rails running tip to tail
- High-density PVC foam with Basalt fiber lamination for low weight and high strength
- 100% EVA deck coverage
- Flush M6 foil mounts in the base
Being built in a twin tip style sidewall construction, the Slayer is very robust compared to a wrapped rail surfboard. It is also thinner, putting the rider closer and more connected to the water. Riders coming from riding only twin tip boards, often find themselves more at home on the Slayer rather than a high volume surfboard.
As for riding styles, it crosses over so many different that as you say, it is hard to put ‘into a box’. There are so many combinations of accessories that will allow you to ride anything and pretty much everything.
- Strapless, with fins in onshore waves – it turns average conditions into a water skate park.
- The grip rails and full EVA make it super easy and fun for strapless freestyle.
- With fins and straps, it can attack bigger waves and stronger wind.
- Finless in shallow water it becomes a skimboard/wakeskate.
- Add an AK Trek or Tracer foil and it’s a killer light wind solution.
- It even crosses over perfectly to wakesurfing/skurfing and wakefoiling.
For travel, it is often the first board I pack as I know it covers so many different possible conditions.
Colin, you spent a bit of time on the One and the Slayer, with and without the foil. What surprised you about the products and the setup?
CO: I recently spent some time using the One for Freeride, and can say that I immediately felt confident with the kite.
The kite is easy to control and the bar feedback is great. I think the one-strut design is a great advantage for light wind conditions!
The Slayer is a super nice versatile board. The full deck pad is so comfortable and easy to grab for freestyle. It is easy to find its balance for foiling. The Slayer is quite perfect for an epic Freeride session!
Moving over to the foil space, you developed the all-new foil range for AK Durable Supply Co. What foil would you pair with the dedicated freeride customer and what can they expect from it?
DK: We have three styles of foil front wings in the new AK range
- Trek, low aspect ratio
- Tracer, mid aspect ratio
- Plasma, high aspect ratio
All three styles come in a wide range of sizes to cover the needs of different rider sizes and different foil sports.
For the freeride kite foiling, my personal ‘go-to’ setup is the 1300 Trek with 70cm mast on a Slayer 142. Though I have access to all the products, for just plain old getting and having as much fun as possible the Trek wings are just amazing. Smooth, easy to ride, and almost too easy to tack and gybe.
For a bit more speed and control in higher winds will switch down to the Trek 1000.
You can find more on the foil range at akdurablesupplyco.com