This past Saturday, my buddy Charlie and I had a chance to borrow and ride our friend Gabe’s Eclipse Thruster 14m and Eclipse Nano 12m kites back to back, with a third session on our respective mainstay kites, which for me is the Best Bularoo ’07 10m. Oh yeah, and made a new friend along the way. But first, the kites.
I started on the Thruster at around 2:25pm in what were relatively low winds for Crissy Field on a flood tide. Here’s what the day’s wind graph looked like:
The 14m Thruster handled these conditions like a champ (note the dip to an average of below 10 kts at around 2:40pm). It felt powered the whole ride, and at times even went into near over-powered situations in the gusts (hard to tell from the graph above, but the other side of the Bay is quite a bit more powered than where the meter readings are coming from). The Thruster stays further ahead of the window and was just pulling me ahead faster rather than off the edge of the directional board as the Bularoo tends to do when over powered. So long as I kept a good streamlined body position and handled the speed it never felt like there would be a need to downwind to slow down. For the Cabrinha Race Series at Crissy Field, this kite is going to be very interesting. The kite also wanted to be moved to avoid allowing it to get into its low-end. Moving the kite created tremendous effective wind and I never felt that it would drop out of the sky on the heavy lulls we experienced. The low-end did feel a bit weaker and less stable than my Bularoo, but I attribute this more to the higher aspect ratio of this kite.
After about 40-45 minutes, Charlie and I switched kites. The Nano is a completely different type of kite. First off, it’s much more medium-to-low aspect, which is quickly noticeable by its profile. The Nano is considered Eclipse’s true wave kite and for good reason. The turning speed on this kite was unreal and the effective wind it generates was significantly more powerful than the Thruster’s. It feels like it’s always ready for a fast turn, to the point that it’s a bit twitchy for my style of riding and in the locations that I frequent. I do enjoy riding waves a lot, but unlike the serious wave riders, I still prefer a more stable kite that I don’t have to move as much. Having said that, it was amazing how a 12m kite was just as powerful as a 14m of a different design. Lest you think this has something to do with the Eclipse riding small, another friend was out on his 14m Ocean Rodeo Rise and he was just as powered as we were on the Thruster.
If I was going to start to do more strapless wave riding and was a regular stance rider, the Nano would probably be the smarter kite to ride, but as a goofy footer who likes to use a seat harness and gets a little lazy, the stability of the Thruster is much more welcomed.
As the winds picked up, Charlie and I moved back to our smaller kites. The big difference I could feel (besides the obvious size differences), was that the Bullie a bit more stable, but would quickly loose ground on an upwind tack compared to the Thruster. Actually, when Charlie, whom I can easily out upwind because of my quad fin board, was leaving me in the dust when he was on the Thruster and I was on the Nano. He had at least a 2 to 5 degree advantage which may not make much of a difference over a few feet, but makes a heck of a difference over a quarter or half mile reach. I’m really looking forward to trying the 10m Thruster and experience the combination of its smaller kite turning speed with its upwindability.
The one significant down side I see with the Eclipse kites is their bar, in two regards. First, the throw is very short relative to the Best bars. What’s nice about the long throw is that you can dump 100% of the power which is very handy in strong gusty conditions which we often have to deal with in the Bay area. Second, the locking device to shorten the throw is very clumsy. Best and Slingshot long ago figured out a very simple stopper system that can be moved with one hand under most circumstances. The Eclipse mechanism requires more steps than should be necessary. While the shorter throw would normally be a big issue to me, with the kite upwinding as it does, I’m confident that it’s just a matter of getting used to this because I shouldn’t get yanked off my edge in the direction the kite pulls.
Now for my new acquaintance. As I was walking to my car after the cold Crissy Field shower, I saw this guy that looked familiar but couldn’t place him. And then it struck me. Several friends (most recently fellow Seesmic co-conspirator, Cathy Brooks) had mentioned to me that the well known international blogger Loic Le Meur of Le Web and Seesmic fame was a kiteboarder at Crissy, but for some reason we had never run into each other. Well, that all changed on Saturday. We had actually been riding near each other for part of our last session, so conversation was easy and pretty much kiting oriented. Put two kiters in the same room and no matter what they do outside of this sport will remain a mystery to by-standers as all they will talk about is the latest session…or the one before that. It was no different between us that day :) As an ol’ hand on the Bay area kiting scene I was able to share some of the webcam links we use to track local conditions. You’ll see these now appearing on his del.icio.us page. Always fun to meet a fellow addict, and it’s clear that Loic fits that bill well.
*** Update 5/28/08, late evening: Forgot to mention that I was so psyched after riding the Thruster that I ordered 10 & 14m kites. Can’t wait to ride’em :)