Kite Shapes & Kite aspect Ratio
New to kite sports? This post will help you get a feel for the different types of power kites out there, how they differ from one another, which kite styles/shapes are best for which types of riding, flying characteristics and which kite might be right for you. What is a power kite you might ask? Generally, a power kite is one of two types of kites:
Foil/Ram Air KiteThis kite is called both a ram air or foil kite. I find that ram air is particularly descriptive because this term describes exactly how the kite works. Let me explain. A ram air kite is similar in look to modern direction parachutes or even paragliders.
It is made with two parallel sheets of material with vertical baffles sewn in, forming cells. The front of the kite (leading edge) is open to the wind while the back (trailing edge) is sewn shut. The wind enters through the cell openings along the leading edge and gives the kite shape. Thus, the air is “rammed” in. While the inflated cells help hold the shape of the kite, ram air kites also have a fairly complex bridal structure that also holds the shape of the kite.
Ram air kites are primarily used for snowkiting or land kite sports such as mountain boarding or buggying with a kite. These kites are generally not used for water-based kite sports because, for the most part, they cannot be relaunched from the water if crashed. The once exception is closed cell (sometimes “crossover”) kites where air is ramed in in typical fashion but the cell’s openings are one way and once air is in the cell/kite, it cannot escape. These crossover kites can be crashed on the water for a short period of time and still relaunch.
Why would you want to use a ram air kite on the land instead of an LEI? kites stow away smaller and weigh less, they can absorbe the type of gusty conditions often found in land and snow kite locations better than their LEI counterparts, they are more efficient wings meaning they pull slightly harder for their size than an LEI (a 9m ram air kite is said to pull as hard as a 10m LEI kite), they can be tougher and last longer in harsh snow and land conditions, and they generally do not catch any wind when totally depowered.
LEI KiteThis kite is called the LEI, which stands for Leading Edge Inflatable. This simply means that the leading edge (the front edge of the kite, the edge that faces the wind) as well as struts get inflated with a pump before use. The leading edge and the struts hold the shape of the kite and help create a powerful wing.
LEI kites are primarily used for kiteboarding on the water. One of the reasons LEI kites are so well suited for water-based kite sports is that when crashed into the water they float and can be easily relaunched.
Within the general LEI kite umbrella there are a number of important styles/shapes, each suited to different kiters, conditions, and styles of riding. Although there are a number of general categories, many modern kites blur the lines between shapes/styles. LEI kites can also be either 4 or 5 line kites, although 5 line kites are becoming slightly less popular than they were a few years ago.
Some of the earlier commercially available LEI kites were C kites. These kites are called C kites because they literally look like a sideways c, as in the letter of the alphabet. They also generally do not have a bridal supporting the leading edge like most modern kites.
Instead, all four lines attach relatively close together on chopped wing tips. C kites used to be all there was to use–it’s what I learned on–but their distinct lack of depowerability made them less popular as soon as modern highly depowerable kites came around.
But C kites never died out entirely and are making a small comeback. Advanced kiters enjoy them for their wide, powerful turns that make them ideal for freestyle and wakestyle riding.
C kites are not suitable to beginner or even most intermediate riders because they are far less depowerable than most modern kites. Compared to modern kites, C kites are challenging to relaunch out of the water. Many C kites are 5 line kites because the 5th line is key for getting the kite on its back for relaunch.
Bridaled C Kite
Just a few manufacturers still make a true C kites. Some of these kites include the Slingshot Fuel, Naish Torch, Airush Razor and more. More common these days are a modern incarnation of the C kite––the bridaled C kite.
The bridaled C kite is similar to a C kite in shape and flying characteristics but the front lines attach to a bridal that supports the leading edge. This allows for much more power and ease of water relaunch than true C kites. Examples of bridaled C kites are the Ozone C4, Best GP and others.
Most modern kites you see at the beach today are Supported Leading Edge kites, usually called simply SLE kites. This term refers to the bridal that connects to the kite’s leading edge, usually at a number of different points.
The front lines then attach to this bridal, allowing for a lot of depower and stability in the kite. Instead of being a specific shape, SLE is a general term refering to most modern depowerable kites.
Under the SLE umbrella, there are a number of kite style. These include the bow kite with a concave trailing edge which allows for lots of depower, the hybrid kite which usually has a convex trailing edge and is more performance driven and the delta shape, with its swept back wing tips, performance characteristics and easy relaunch.
There are many other style and manufacturers are continually inventing new terms to describe their latest and greatest invention.
While the above kite style names are still used, understanding a kite’s aspect ratio might be more useful in determining what riding styles it’s going to be suited to. Aspect ratio refers to the lift vs.
the drag of the kite and is a width in relation to the depth of a kite. A high aspect ratio kite is thin through the middle while a low aspect ration kite is thick through the middle.
Looking up at flying kites you will see that a high aspect ratio kite is long and skinny while a low aspect ratio kite is fatter. Kiters usually refer to kites as either high, medium or low aspect ratio. There are pros and cons to all three aspect ratios.
A mid or low aspect ratio will not race toward the edge of the wind window as readily as a high aspect ratio kite making it more stable and slower. Mid to low aspect ratio kites are often easier to relaunch from the water and are best for beginner and intermediate riders.
These kites also tend to drift with you and won’t collapse as readily when you move quickly toward them, making them better suited to wave kiting at all levels. These mid to low aspect ratio kites are less adept at high jumps.
High aspect ratio kites, on the other hand, are faster kites as they constantly want to reach the edge of the wind window. This has the effect of allowing the kiter to ride upwind more effectively.
These kites also generally produce higher and longer jumps. These kites are desirable for racing, jumping high (not necessarily low powered tricks like wakestyle riding) and general cruising.