Modern inflatable 4-line kites used for kitesurfing these days, come in a very wide range of profile designs. With all the different terminology used to describe these kites, it’s easy to get confused as to what the difference is between a C and a Bow kite, a Hybrid and Delta…and what on earth is a Delta Hybrid?
Kite Design: Is it really what they say it is?
Kite design is a hugely complicated field and one I’m not going to attempt to dissect. It is further complicated by marketers who bandy the terms around with little concern for the actual design specifications of each type of kite. Thus they might call a kite a delta kite even though, in the strictest sense of the word, it isn’t, but only something similar to a delta kite or with delta like qualities. This is generally done because the boundaries between the different types of kites are so undefined that it’s easier to put kites with matching flight characteristics in the same bracket even if technically they don’t belong there.
The easiest way to understand the difference is to break things down into basics and then use your own common sense to decide which family a kite belongs to.
C kites are recognizable by their square wing tips and lack of a bridle. If you laid a C kite down un-inflated and looked at it from above it would look like a rectangle. The lines attach at the 4 corners of the rectangle. Their profile when viewed from the front also looks more like the shape of the letter C, when compared to the flatter profiles of most other kite designs.
As a beginner coming into kitesurfing if I could give one word of advice when buying a kite, it would be stay away from C kites. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against C kites, and they are great fun when you know what you’re doing. I just think that for the beginner they offer a difficult learning curve and are unnecessarily dangerous when compared to other types of kites. They have little in the way of de-power, so if the wind picks up or you’ve put the wrong kite up (a common mistake for beginners) you’re in trouble. To my mind this makes their safety questionable for a beginner or someone unfamiliar with how to use one, which is my chief reason for advising you against them. While again the lines are blurring between C and Bow kites and many C kites do now offer a degree of depower, to make things simple for yourself stay away.
Bow kites we will classify simply as any kite with a bridle (a lot of interlinking lines running across the leading edge). Again if you laid a bow kite out un-inflated and looked at it from above it would be more triangular in shape, due to the swept back nature of the wings. The lines do not attach directly to the leading edge but to the bridle which is itself attached to the leading edge.
Bow kites, as a family, offer much more de-power than C kites (principally due to the bridle, and the flatter, more “wing like” profile) so when you let go of the bar the kite loses all, or most of its power and slowly drifts back to earth in a controlled manner. For this reason they are generally considered to be a lot safer than C kites and this is why nearly all schools will now teach on some type of bow kite. Bow kites come in several flavours: pure Bow, Hybrid and Delta style kites. All have the same general characteristics (ie lots of de-power) with a few subtle differences.
Hybrid kites are somewhere in between bow kites and C kites and generally aim to give the feel of a C kite combined with the safety of a bow kite.
Many old school riders complained when bow kites were first released that they did not turn with enough power. Bow kites tend to turn very fast but they sacrifice power in the turn for agility. C kites tend to turn in massive arcs, which gives you a huge pull, which is great if that what you’re after…for kite loops etc, but not so good if you’re taking your first tentative steps towards riding. Hybrid kites were designed to bridge this gap offering kites with de-power (like bows) but that also turn with power (like C kites).
Some hybrid kites will be nearer the C end of the spectrum and others nearer the bow end. Again if you’re going for one of these kites as your first kite my advice would be to aim for something at the bow end. The easiest way to tell which end of the spectrum the kite is…look at the shape.
Delta kites are bow kites with a much more swept back wing profile…think of an F14 with its wings drawn back in Top Gun! The precise angle of sweep is what defines a Delta kite, but most manufacturers now classify any kite with this type of profile as a Delta kite. They will tend to be short and fat in shape. If I had to recommend you to buy any type of kite as a beginner it would be one of these. They are easy to re-launch, offer forgiving piloting and the power tends to ‘turn on’ slowly (meaning you can feel the power rising gradually rather than just appearing out of nowhere and hoisting you over the front of the board!), giving you much more time to react to what the kite’s doing. Please don’t think these are just beginner kites I still enjoy riding them and they are great for improving your skills on and unless you’re heading for the pro circuits I doubt you’d ever outgrow their capabilities. What they will do is cut a lot of the frustration out of learning and the re-launch ability will keep you smiling for years!
Note from editor: If you are still thinking about getting into kitesurfing, we highly recommend reading our Beginners Guide to Kitesurfing: Getting Started, which will introduce you to the sport, and highlight your most important first steps. And if you’d like to know where these modern day kitesurfing kite designs came from, who invented the first inflatable kite, and where the sport is headed in the future, check out at our history of kitesurfing article.
Test, Test, Test…
This is a massive over simplification of kite design and I imagine over the years you’ll learn that a lot of these things are only half truths. By breaking things down like this I hope to help you to start getting a feel for the different types of kites you’ll see down on the beach and the differences in how they perform. As you progress as a kitesurfer the best way to get a feel for these different kites is to try them, so any time your mate buys a new kite ask them if you can have a go. We all have different styles and each will find kites that they like and hate…get out there and experiment.
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