Blade or Inflatable?

What's it all about?

A Discussion
by Chris Calthrop

The Blade:
Half the cost. Twice the height. Half the hassle.

"Why don't you use an inflatable?" This is the question I get virtually every time I go to the beach.
Most people assume it's simply because I am/was sponsored by Flexifoil to do so but this is not so. Flexifoil produced some of the world's best inflatable kites, as well as probably the most radical kitesurfing kite there is, in my view, The Blade 3. So I can put this objective point of view without being accused of "Your just trying to promote your sponsor!" Having been kitesurfing since before going upwind was thought possible  (initially on 2 line LEIs, battened kites and many foils) and having kitesurfed Jaws and the English Channel before 4 line LEIs were even invented, I am certainly in a position to present an experenced balanced(?) view point. The market is saturated at the moment with 4 line LEIs. But there are other more radical and fun ways to kitesurf. The Blade is one of them. The upwind ability still annihilates the latest Leis, on two lines! The jumping is a rush with upward accelerations that will take your breath away... and with paragliding technology you then  glide far and fast. It's a SICK ride. Read on for more detail on the extreme side of our sport...

"Non-relaunchability can be a bonus.
When a nasty squall comes through I love it. I can go really 
big.. knowing that at any time I can just land it. In contrast 
on an Lei it's a panic to get someone to catch your kite. 
You probably know the feeling only to well."

Points to Note:

Note 1: In the general discussion below I talk about Flexifoil Blades flown on two lines and inflatables flown on 4 lines, unless otherwise stated as they are the dominant options in my view.

Note 2: For top performance comparisons I talk about the kites when used fully maxed out with identical riders and 140 wakeboards, unless otherwise stated. I.e. I compare a 4.9m Blade to a 5m surface area inflatable. (Both cope with about the same wind maximums). (Click here for explanation)

Note 3: The usable power of a kite is the amount of pull felt when you dive it down from above your head into the power zone. The unusable power of a kite is known by how much it pulls you down the beach with the kite stationary above your head. Many people think a kite is powerful because it drags them down the beach... that only means it will drag you downwind. (Always be careful when you dive a Blade into the power zone! It generates a lot of power.)

Note 4: I am discussing the Flexifoil Blade, not just any foil or relaunchable foils. People often see someone on a Blade and then think they can go and use a relaunchable copy. But there is a drawback. All relaunchable foils sooner or later invert and collapse. It's in their structure. This is very dangerous because the kite flies inverted down into the ground, flips the right way up and then relaunches directly downwind of the rider.. IN the power zone. Result: A good dragging. The more stable relaunchable foils have round foil sections to make them stable... or reflex in the trailing edge...but  both of these reduce performance to Lei levels.. so are not comparable to the Blade.

Click here for  Blade Solo Launch/ Landing Technique / Self Rescue.

Pros and cons of the Blade / Inflatable:

The Blade, Pro factors:

1) Safety. It is simple and easy to launch and fly. It is easy to land on your own in any wind. (Emergency option is to put it in the water but open beach is possible. Behind a beach defense/ object is best.)

2) Fun factor. The upward (vertical) acceleration of the Blade in a jump is like no other. This is due to it's high forward speed and stability in high winds. (They become more stable the stronger the wind gets). When you send it back for a jump it pulls you up like a rocket launcher- no time for board twiddling then glide down like a paraglider. An inflatable pulls you up slow in a sleepy fashion....

3) The Blade stays in the sky. Only pilot error or choice will put the Blade in the water. An inflatable can end up in the water unexpectedly and it's not your fault. This is perhaps due to the inflatable's desire to keep turning on it's own and also it's weight. In bad winds on the beach, heavier kites drop first, but also when you look away an LEI can turn without you feeling it. On a powered Blade you can feel everything with your eyes shut.

4) Durability. The Blade can last years, even with  high wind abuse. (I'm still using my fave Blade3 in 2009!) An inflatable lasts until your first bad landing.

5) Stress Free. Travel hassles and repairs are minimal. No pumps, puncture repair kits, spare tubes and half as many lines to deal with which makes a massive difference to time on the water.

6) The Blade has enabled me to push the limits of kitesurfing. This is especially true with regard to riding Jaws. I used a 3.3m Blade there in offshore 25 knot winds. With a wave moving 20knots upwind and a top board speed of 25 knots dropping in the wave, a kite that easily does over 70 knots was essential to the task. Even a 4.9 Blade was not fast enough. Being able to drop in unhooked was also a bonus - essential to safety in such surf. 

7) Total independence launching and landing anywhere in any wind, even those big open sandy beaches.

8) Performance. 
The Blade 3 11.8 tested here is equivalent to a 25m LEI:     
(No, this picture has not been doctored, an 8m jump in 8 knots).

9) If you let it go in a handle pass you don't have a 3 mile biathlon to get your kite back and it is much less of a danger to anyone else.

10) Kite loops are sick. It's like looping windsurfing. Meaning it's real. Once you can kiteloop on a 4 line LEI it becomes mundane. The depowering takes the achievement away as it does with so many moves.

The Blade, cons:

1) Putting the Blade in the water when you don't want to, is a pain in the ass. Advice: Staying close to the beach is essential while learning this kite, this is true for inflatables too though as they don't always re-launch.

2) They generate so much power that in gusty winds you feel too much?. This is the price of high performance. Low efficiency kites are smoother in gusty winds as the increase in pull is less when a gust hits the kite. The Blade 3 is a step forward though and is a smoother ride due to a new bridle that is less affected by gusts.

3) Competitions... are always orientated toward relaunchables. I dream of the day a two line competition appears. In Cape Verde when it was 18 ft face waves and cross offshore, no competition could be run because the inflatable fliers would lose their kites. The only guys out enjoying the surf were myself, Peter Trow and Danny Seales, all on Blades. 1st, 2nd and 3rd? It was supposed to be a wave event! Pete got 2nd anyway, me 9th on a Blade but they didn't run when it counted! Two line is also disadvantaged in comps to some degree because more perfect kite timing is required to land jumps and the power cannot be switched off for tricks. Currently the judging of clean landings from jumps do not take into account that a perfect landing for a two line kitesurfer is more skillful. On 4-line questionable kite skills can be hidden by sheeting in and out.  That said I placed 7th on the world tour in my last full year (2001), and I never once pumped a kite up. I concede I may have placed higher on my Storm (which is fun) as the tricks are easier but 90% of the year I am not competing and the Blade is the fun easy option.

4) Another con of The Blade is it requires a good level of kitesurfing board skills to be appreciated. It is the board that de-powers the kite and it is the board that enables the exceptionally big air that is possible with the Blade. When moving from an LEI to the Blade style, time is required to master the necessary skills. Once you have it you will wonder why you ever bothered with the many hassles of 4 line Leis.

5) Kitelooping is damn scary and handlepasses couldn't be harder as the kite pulls away from you so fast.

Inflatable Cons:

1) Gadgets and hassles. You need a pump, a leash, a puncture repair kit and there are more lines to adjust after they have stretched...

2) Cost. Much higher price for less performance and shortened durability. 

3) Liability. While there are risks to flying any kite, an escaped inflatable is dangerous to the public. The inflatable is the cause for numerous bans on kitesurfing around the world and many accidents. Foil kites had existed on land in public places long before Leis - with little or no liability problems.

4) Launch stress. The 4 line system on inflatables is the cause of many accidents to kitesurfers themselves. The reason is you have to power the kite up just to get out of the loop so you need more gadgets to release. While there are no reports of drownings (that I know of) caused by people having to swim back with a kite there are many events of people being dragged into rocks and breakwaters, sometimes ending fatally, all with 4 line relaunchables. "But we have leashes" I hear people say... try releasing your kite when your board has gone over your head and through your lines. There are many other scenarios too - but a Blade you just dip into the water. Game over and a big sigh of relief. (Two line systems enable an unhooked launch which means, at worst you let go of the kite if it is not flying right at take off.)

5) Less to learn, more ways around the skills. A pure inflatable kitesurfer may not have developed a full range of kite skills. There are many options for kites out there far more effective than 4 line LEIs.. and there is many a world champion who doesn't know how to kitesurf on two lines or launch a wide variety of kites.

6) Independency is not developed.  While it is nice to have someone launch or land your kite, every kitesurfer should be able to launch and land on his own at any time. This is not realistically possible with LEIs and this is at the core of our sport's liability problems. 

7) When inflatables don't relaunch real problem situations can arise. In onshore it can mean upsetting the public or ruining your kite. In an offshore situation this often results in a loss of kite or board or a lifeboat call out.  Even if the wind is only 6 knots and slightly offshore inflatables should be left in the bag unless a backup plan is already in place. If you lose your board on a Blade and cant get back to it... just dip it in, pack up and swim in.  

Inflatables, Pros:

1) A small two line inflatable (6m) with a wrist leash system is perfect for beginners to learn with on an empty safe beach. 

2) The 4 line LEI is very smooth. It lifts smoothly and puts you down slowly so it is great for landing jumps clean and developing trick technique.. If you want to have a kite that will get you to the finals in a competition as they are run now this type will do it.  It is also just great fun for low moves and tricks.

3) Being able to sheet in/out forgives bad kite technique and bad board design while learning.

4) They can be re-launched when put in the water by accident.

5) Help re-launching an inflatable is not hard to find amongst other riders. Not as many  will be able to run up and re-launch your foil, but then you wont need it.

5&1/2) Nobody can jump higher than me when I am on a Blade! he he....;)

This shot is taken from 150ft away with a 600mm lens.
est 45ft -ish. Kite 6.4 Blade II. Wind of 30 knots. Airtime 7 seconds, off flat water. 
(This is  a  production 142 Brunotti, a great board, I am maxed
 but I can land the kite ANY time on my own.) 
Update: The 8.5 Blade III gives 9.5sec jumps of f the flat!

The stability of the Blade inspires confidence.
Costa Rica 2002


Copyright © 2004, Chris Calthrop, Last Updated - 25/07/09