Q&A with Evan Netsch of Cabrinha — Tips for Riding a Strapless Kite Surfboard

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We caught up with Evan Netsch of Cabrinha at this year’s KiteFest event and asked him some questions about strapless riding. If you’re thinking about trying out a surfboard, you’re going to appreciate the information he shared with us!

Evan, what do you like best about kiting with a surfboard?

I am equally passionate about kiting and surfing. I love them both, but I come from a surfing background and am always looking for ways to be in the waves. Since there are usually more good wind days than good wave days where I live, I tend to do more kiting than surfing. That’s why a kite surfboard is so much fun for me. With most modern kites, and even more so with waves like the Cabrinha Drifter, you can really depower your kite in the waves and surf the wave just like on a regular surfboard.

Whether you ride a surfboard with or without straps, you can be challenged in a very different way than when riding on a twintip. For example, it’s a lot harder to do a front roll on a surfboard, and if you feel like you’ve plateaued on a twintip, riding a surfboard is a good way to switch things up.

As I’m getting older, it’s also nice that riding a surfboard, whether in waves or doing tricks in the flats, has far less impact on your body than a twintip. I can ride pretty hard all day long and not feel like my knees are going to give out at the end of the day anymore…

What is the biggest difference between riding a Surfboard and a twintip?

There are a lot of similarities between the two, when is comes to kite skills. But, when it comes to actually riding the surfboard, your stance and technique are very different. On a surfboard, you keep your weight a lot more forward and there’s a lot more pressure on your front foot. The biggest difference between the two is that you can edge off the fins of a surfboard, whereas on a twintip, you’re riding on the rails.

The surfboard also opens up the opportunity to ride lighter winds and still have fun because you have a bigger surface area.

If you are just getting on a surfboard for the first time, you might enjoy some of the new challenges as well. With a twintip, you can stop and go in the other direction without switching your feet. With a surfboard, you have a designated front and have to switch your feet to change directions. Learning how to do a downwind transition–a jibe–or an upwind transition–a tack–can be challenging. On a twintip, you can learn to transition on your first time out, whereas some people spend years learning how to tack on a surfboard.

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Is strapless riding a natural progression or can a new kiter start on a strapless board?

For most people, riding a strapless surfboard is a natural progression as their skills improve and they look to expand on the conditions and locations they ride in. Riding a twintip with footstraps, especially for your first couple sessions, is easier than riding a surfboard. There’s one less thing to think about, and it’s a natural board for people coming from snowboarding or wakeboarding. But for people coming from a surfing background, riding strapless is more natural. They might not even want to bother with a twintip, so just after their first hour or two they’ll transition right to a surfboard.

A lot of people now are looking to start foiling, even people that may not have ever had any interest in riding a surfboard. But it can be tricky to go from a twintip to a foil–many of the foiling basics come from riding a directional, especially jibing or tacking. So, if your end goal is to ride a foilboard, spending some time on a surfboard with or without straps is a nice stepping stone to get there.

How much experience should a kiter have before starting to ride strapless?

You don’t need that much kiting experience, but you should at least have the basics down. You want to be competent staying upwind, doing transitions, and riding toeside on a twintip before trying strapless because your first turns on a surfboard require toeside riding skills.

Being able to body drag upwind is also important for strapless riding. You’re going to lose your board a lot more at the beginning, so you need to make sure you can get back to it.

Should a kiter start on a strapped board for strapless training purposes?

You definitely don’t have to start on a strapped board. Starting on a strapless board is better because you can put your feet wherever you want and be in the perfect place all the time. When you’re in straps, your feet are often too far back while riding straight. And when you’re turning, your feet are often a little too far forward.

You may want straps if you want to ride with more power on a really small surfboard, or you’re planning to boost with your surfboard. Straps also give you additional control if you’re riding really big waves on a bumpy surface. Other than that, a strapless board is easier to learn and much nicer feeling in the majority of conditions. There are some challenges at the beginning, but most people can power through that pretty quickly.

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Equipment recommendations for beginner strapless riders?

First of all, don’t think you need to get a “beginner” board. The equipment you want really depends on where you ride and what you’re trying to do with it. You will want to scale the gear to your size, but in general I recommend going a bit wider and shorter on the boards. Width will give you nice stability and efficiency in light wind, whereas length beyond a certain point will not help at all. For most people in the 150-200 lb range I would stay in the 5’4’-5’7” range for boards. There are a lot of other variables such as the board outline and volume, but for a more typical full shortboard shape like the Cabrinha Spade this is about where you want to be. If you choose something with a much more square shape like the Squid Launcher or new Xbreed you want to go even smaller. If you are looking for more of a bigger wave board that is narrower, you may want those longer rails to drive your turns off of.

In my opinion, kites can make a bigger difference than boards. It’s easy to adapt your riding to make whatever board work, but having a good wave kite is key if you are in the waves. For just general flat water riding, having a kite with really nice depower range is best but it doesn’t need to be a wave kite.

Once in the waves you will feel a huge difference in kites. The main thing I look for in a wave kite is good stability and “drift.” On the wave, you will often be riding straight at the kite and want it to stay in the power zone. The kite has good control in the power zone, even if the wave is pushing you instead of the kite pulling. This is called drift–when the kite falls back in the wind window, instead of racing to the side of the window where the lines will loose tension and may fall into the water. A freestyle kite like the Cabrinha FX, for example, is the opposite of this. It wants to sit far forward and edge out in the window for unhooking or kiteloops, etc. A wave kite like the Drifter will not only sit deeper in the window but will stay deeper when you ride toward it. Also, it turns quick to help match your turns on the wave, has a lot of depower so you can spill power when you need to, and does not overfly easily. This makes it work well in gusty winds or when you are focusing more on the wave than your kite. A beginner in the waves will subconsciously appreciate all of these attributes, just as much as an advanced rider. In flat water, the drift and speed of the kite is nice for doing transitions but isn’t as necessary as riding in the waves.

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Recommendations for kite size adjustments for surfboard riding vs. twintip? For example, if I ride a 9m in 20 knots with a 135 twintip. What size kite should I be riding with a 5’6” surfboard in those same conditions?

This is a loaded question… It’s all depends on where you’re riding and what you’re trying to do. In general, I ride about the same size kite.

That said, you definitely get more low end out of your kite on a surfboard. So if you’re just riding back and forth or working on your footwork, you can use a smaller kite than you would on a twintip in the same conditions. This makes a surfboard a good lighter wind alternative to a big door style board. However, if you want to jump strapped or strapless, you’re going to need about same size kite that you would for a twintip.

When I’m on a twintip, I generally like to be either properly powered for unhooking or just absolutely lit for doing big jumps and loops. That middle ground of “being too overpowered to unhook but not lit up enough to really go massive” is where I like to be for general flat water strapless freestyle riding. Once in the waves, it depends on the wind direction. If the wind is onshore, I like to be very powered as the wave quality is lower. In those conditions, I want to do more airs and also I’ll be getting pushed toward my kite by the waves. If the wind is offshore, I will ride about 2 meters smaller of a kite. The waves will be clean, and I may just focus on riding the waves and not do a single air the entire session. Also the wave will be pulling you upwind a bit, making you more powered once on the waves, so it is nice to have less power to start with.

Kristin Vincenzo

A long time windsurfer, Kristin now spends her time agonizing over whether to kite with a twintip, kite surfboard or foilboard. So many places to kite, so little time!