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Thursday, 11 October 2012

StarKites Taina Review (12m)

For those who don't know, I'm a bit of a kite fanatic.  Having started on sport kites (the little hang-glider shaped things) I moved onto powerkites, then kite landboarding and have been a keen kitesurfer for many years - to the extent that I moved a few hundred miles partly based on kitesurfing opportunities (but mostly to keep the girlfriend happy, honest!)

Recently I was offered the chance to review a new brand to the UK, a company called StarKites.  To be honest, I was a little skeptical to start with, there's a lot of new entries to the kite market each year, and most of them are cheaply manufactured close-copies of the big and established names.  Not the case with StarKites however, I was pleasantly surprised though....full review follows:

StarKites Taina 12m Review

Background

I was sent a Taina 12m and Nex bar and lines which had seen around a years use as demo kit.  I have not received any incentive or gift in exchange for this review other than a loan of the kite for a couple of weeks.  What follows is my honest opinion of the kite without any bias towards or against the manufacturer or distributor - I had never flown any StarKites product before.

I weigh 10st / 65kg and I'm 5'8" / 1.75m tall.  I started kitesurfing with a Flexifoil Strike (C-kite), spent several years on a Peter Lynn Venom and for the last year and a half I've been flying Flexifoil Ions, Mk II and III.  I normally ride in fairly choppy conditions with anything up to head-high waves when there's good swell.  I'm mostly into freeride (back/front loops, carving transitions, jumps with grabs and rotations) and some wave riding which I'm trying to improve at!  I don't really go for wakestyle tricks.

Out Of The Bag

The bag itself is essentially a 50 litre rucksack with a doubled-over liner to allow it to expand and store the kite with the struts still inflated if necessary.  There's a separate outsite pocket for bar and lines, and a second zipped entry at the bottom of the bag which can be used for storing a wetsuit, towel etc.  Reasonably heavy duty cordura and plenty of zips and straps to keep things in place.  No metal components at all, so you're not going to end up with rusted zips.  It's red and black, if that kind of thing bothers you.

First impressions of the build quality on the kite are good.  The stitching is tidy, with white thread on black fabric making any problems or unravelling easy to spot.  Reinforcement patches are used in all of the high-stress areas and there is a lightweight plastic "bumper" on the center of the leading edge to give a little extra protection during ground handling.  Cordura is used on the tips of the struts to protect against wear.  All in all it's not a heavyweight, "indestructable" build, but it's perfectly adequate and results in a nice lightweight kite that should stand up well to everyday use. 

There's a simple and fairly long bridle for the main lines with a pulley on each - both pulleys were already showing signs of getting jammed with sand and salt and the pulley wheels showed wear from the line running over them rather than turning.  This will always be a problem with using pulleys on the beach, but did not seem to affect the flying characteristics in any way, from the looks of it the pulleys will "fail" pretty quickly without regular maintenance, but even then they should continue to function without any problems.



The rear lines attach to one of three different settings on the wingtip allowing you to tweak turning speed and bar pressure, with the middle setting being the ideal all-round setting as far as I'm concerned.

The Look

I'm not all that bothered about graphics and colours, as long as the kite is bright enough to make out against the sky or sea and easy for a search and rescue team to spot!  This particular model comes in brown and yellow with black leading edge and struts and some white detailing - works fine for everyday use, but in an emergency I'd like some reflective panels built into the wingtips.  The girlfriend is more into visual styling, so I'll leave the aesthetic comments to her:  "It's not brown, it's more of a bronze/burgundy.  70s retro, I like it, and the big star logo".  So there you go.

There was a tiny amount of colour bleeding visible on the white panels, but nothing to bother about unless you're planning to enter your kite into the equivalent of a classic car show.  If you want a pretty kite to show off on the wall then buy a Rok, this is for kitesurfing and it's going to get wet and stuffed in a bag at some point!


Bar & Lines

The bar and lines are generally very simple - four generic colour-coded lines (red=left, white=right) which have the power/rear line attachments reversed so you can't get them the wrong way around.  The depower strap is the simplest possible pull-pull strap arrangement and works well.  The line leaders are polyurethene coated to protect against wear - they do, however, make winding/unwinding the lines a little awkward and aren't really necessary.  The bar ends are nicely rounded, enough to safely wrap the lines without them falling off but not enough that it's likely to catch on a harness mid-kiteloop!  The bar itself seems to be carbon with a one-piece aluminium insert in the center (although it's difficult to tell without stripping the coating off!) and the hole in the middle is nicely machined, it's not going to go eating your depower line.  Most components seem to be very bog standard generic items making replacement and/or repair cheap and very easy.

Safety Systems

The primary safety is a departure from the simplicity of this kite.  It's a large plastic and metal construction with a vaguely cone shaped release - unfortunately the cone points away from you, so cold, wet and tired hands tend to slip on it, you need a reasonable grip to activate it in a hurry.  The metal components may well suffer in time - the setup I was using was already showing patches of rust in places, and the plastic has become worn leaving ragged edges where the safety line runs through.  It works, but personally I'd rather go with a simpler pin-and-loop or Flexifoil style top-hat arrangement. 
  Don't get me wrong, it works well enough, but it's a departure from the "Keep It Simple" ethos of the rest of the setup, and an unnecessary one at that.  I can't help but wonder if it's related to various international standards which require a maximum release force of X under a total pull of Y, something which has resulted in companies producing overly complicated safety systems in the past.
  Curiously, the primary safety also has "Total Weight: 35kg-90kg" embossed on it - this is confusing.  In climbing and rope access it's common to quote a safe working load and/or maximum load on equipment (something that could be useful in kitesports), but this is clearly something different.  I'm assuming it's the weight of the rider, and that it's actually rated at forces far higher than 931 Newtons (95kg) because otherwise it would have popped every time I jumped with it.  Nice try, but confusing and potentially misleading.
  The primary releases the kite onto a single front line allowing the kite to flag out and pretty much giving a 100% kill on the power - the kite inverts and falls to the ground. 
  The secondary safety is the pin-tucked-into-a-tube type - it works well enough and let's face it, it's rare to use this anyway.  The leash is fairly standard shock cord with a couple of lightweight stainless steel clips which look like they'll fail under a load of 100kg or so, which is a good thing.


In Flight

The first thing you notice is that this is a pure-bred bow kite, as far removed from a C-kite or hybrid as you can get.  If you try to fly the Taina like a C-kite you'll be very disappointed, the power generation through the window and ability to depower it by driving it to the edge are very minimal, and completely swamped by the depower range on the bar, which has so much throw it's silly.  I'd estimate that the power delivery is 70% on the bar and 30% from the kite's speed through the window, the complete reverse of a C-kite.  You don't get the explosive power and never-ending grunt, but what you do get is a kite that is very, very easy to fly in a wide range of conditions.

Close to a stall this kite still produces a lot of power, meaning the upwind performance in nasty choppy conditions is very good - if you've spent much time on a landboard you'll be familiar with getting upwind by trundling along fairly slowly, well you can do the same on the water with the Taina.  It does love a bit of apparent wind, but you don't have to build up some speed to get upwind - you can if you want, and it's still the preferred method, but you can pootle upwind while avoiding the worst of the chop if you need to.

When properly lit up the Taina performs very nicely indeed.  The power builds comfortably and the depower range means you rarely feel overpowered, although this is a double edged sword for relatively short people like myself - to fully depower the kite you've got to reach forward so far you end up in poo-stance rather than leaning back and edging against it, which isn't the ideal situation - I'd shorten the depower line and sacrifice some of the depower for a little ergonomics if this was my main kite.  People with longer arms will love it though.

I never had the chance to try the kite in flat water, but I suspect it's an absolute beast when lit up - upwind performance at speed should be very good, and low wind performance should be at least respectable - other reviews suggest it's far better.

Jumping

Smooth, easy and very forgiving.  It's not a wrench into the air as you get with some kites, just a nice firm hoist upwards with lots of float.  Again, you don't need to really wang the kite back hard, just give it a reasonably purposeful turn towards the zenith and then pull the bar in and up you go.  The quick turning speed means you don't have to crank the bar over to redirect the kite, just keep the bar pulled in with your leading hand and that's enough to bring the kite around.  I've not tried a kiteloop with it, but I'd imagine it's a fairly pleasant experience.



Stability

I managed to Hindenburg the Taina once, after messing up a jump and landing well downwind of the kite.  In relatively normal situations overflying simply results in the kite sitting back a little and drifting back into the power zone without any drama - great for newbies and wave riders who won't have to worry about catching up with the kite.

It eats gusts for breakfast - you certainly know about them through the bar feedback, but there's rarely enough of the gust transmited through the main lines to put you off balance, and again, the long throw and depower range come into their own.  My first session with the Taina was in fairly gusty conditions (~18mph gusting to the high 20s, maybe touching 30) and I never even adjusted the depower strap after I was up and moving on the first run.  Landboarders flying inland will appreciate this if they like flying LEIs.
 
 

Relaunch

I tried testing the relaunch twice, once on purpose once after wiping out. Both times the kite relaunched itself before I really had to try - very easy.

Marks out of 10

Build quality - 8
Launching - 7
Stability - 9
Safety - 5
Power - 8
Jumping - 9
Waves - 8
Freeride - 8
Freestyle - 6
Wakestyle - 4
Ease of use - 8
Newbies - 9

Overall - a solid 8.5 out of 10, a really nice kite for somebody who wants to do a bit of everything, whether on water, land or snow.  It's not the highest performance kite I've ever flown, but kites designed for pure speed, power or whatever are invariably pigs to fly.  This is aimed at the average rider (which, statistically, most of us are) and does a very good job of it.

1 comment:

  1. I have just downloaded iStripper, so I can have the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.

    ReplyDelete