Light wind weapons and war paint
It's windy season in the Northern Hemisphere, and as such you probably aren't thinking about light wind kites and boards. At BEST are always thinking about what the future holds and for Board Shaper, Franz Schitzhofer, course racing expert Sami Galli and Graphic Designer Samuel Flotat that means putting the finishing touches to the second boards in our light wind series, due for release mid season 2012 the Breeze and Kiaola.
The Breeze will sit alongside the Kiaola Free-race board in the light wind line line-up. The Kiaola is a 170 x 60cm high volume directional board that blends the best of freeride directional and race board performance into one do-it-all package that can be ridden in all wind conditions and still used to tackle moderate sized waves. The Kiaola was developed The Breeze is a high surface area twintip, with 2 sizes 145 x 44cm and 158 x 45.5cm offering optimal solutions to riders of different weights. Both board designs offer an open door to the world of light wind riding appealing to riders of all styles and skill levels.
Q: How do you start work on a new design?
Franz: BEST have a well regimented design development process. 12-18 months before a product is launched they come to me with a tightly worked product brief. This details the product specification, the price point, the target market and a detailed explanation of the performance criteria. We will work to refine the product brief until we have a concept that fulfills all of their goals and that I feel is achievable. From that newly refined brief I will then start creating outlines and rail shapes until I have a shape that I think is worthy of cutting. Once we have the first board roughly shaped then the hard work begins. I will work on each product project for about 6 months in total.
Sami G: I'm lucky in that I only worked on the Kiaola, helping to make sure we deliver the best combination of speed and ease of use. Just working on one product at a time helps to keep the project focussed. The Kiaola is a fast board, low drag with a lot of acceleration, so it planes even in light winds, but can still be held down on strong wind and heavy chop. We were also very conscious of making it easy to ride, it's not a full spec race board so it doesn't require lots of experience to unlock its potential. The trick was ensuring that the production boards delivered exactly the same performance as the hand shaped prototypes.
Sam: Once a product brief is finalized I know how much graphics real estate I have to play with. I make designs based on the available graphic area of a product, for boards this is easy to work out. I also have to work within the price constraints of a product. There's no point designing a graphic that will only work in a four colour print process with transparent cutaways and different gloss and matte finishes if it is intended for an entry level board. I have to be realistic. The graphic design process starts at the first stages of product development; as soon as we have a name I can get started.
Q: The Breeze and the Kiaola are two very different designs of board, though intended for broadly similar use, how does the development process differ between a directional board like the Kiaola and the Breeze?
Franz: The process should not alter even for different boards, design is a reiterative process. What does alter is the choice of materials and construction techniques that are available for each design. I wouldn't consider using the same core material in a twintip as I would use if I was making a directional and I wouldn't expect to use the same parts for fin or strap inserts. The process of sequential refinement, constant revision, logging all the rider feedback and tweaking individual parameters of a design is the same for both types of board, Sami will attest to that with his experience from the Kiaola.
Sami G: Shaping a directional is a different physical process to a twintip, there is a lot more human interaction. You can adjust the curvature of a twintip in the mold, allowing you to change scoop, and rocker and flex patterns. When shaping a directional this all has to be done to the blank itself prior to layup. I think it's a little more old-school, as much art as science.
The finished products are very different, the Kiaola is a board that crosses over between the freeride and race categories, it's not a purebred board it's a real multipurpose design, that is applicable to a wide range of riding styles. The Breeze is a very different approach to achieving some of the same light wind goals. It's a true light wind twintip, something easier to ride than the monster door boards which aren't great for beginner due to the lack of rocker.
Sam: There is a little difference between the two boards for me. Whatever design I create for the Kiaola I have to consider how it will look 'around' the board, this is different to a twintip where the graphic is just 'on' the board. It's more complex to match up graphics around a directional board than it is on a twintip, as Franz mentions the production process is very different and so are the processes available to me to apply graphics. I might not use a 3D model for every twintip board I make graphics for, but I have to use one for a directional. You simply have to see every angle to know how the finished product will look.
Q: How do you come up with your designs?
Sam: Design for me is a constant process of evolution. I always carry a notebook with me and I am always looking for new ideas, trends, ideas and concepts that might spark of a visual train of thought. Ideas an inspiration can come from anywhere, from my personal experiences, people I meet, places I go, where I kite, what I read. Anything and everything can inspire me. I've always been into board sports, not just kiting; I take inspiration from trends in surfing, skate and snowboarding. A designer has to absorb ideas from all around him. If something turns me on I make a note of it, take a picture of it, write it down it all goes into the melting pot.
Franz: I am engineering lead, materials science and an understanding of fluid dynamics play a huge role in how I shape my boards. You cannot escape the physics of board design, no matter how skilled a shaper you are, but at the same time you must have the knowledge and experience gained by shaping many boards. The trick is blending the science with the art of shaping and then being able to produce hundreds of identical boards, on time and on price.
For the Breeze the target was an easy to use Lightwind board that should work as a school board but still offer ultimate performance. It should be an easy riding board and it should be solid underfoot. A light wind board should plane as soon as possible and have great upwind ability. The flatter squarer style board is one approach to this but the lack of rocker means they aren't suitable for new riders so we quickly ruled that out. Experience with a rail-step and a subtle concave shows they provide great upwind ability and tracking. We managed to create a rail-step on the Breeze without the complexity of 3D milling but still giving high end performance. I'm very pleased with the finished board, it certainly meets all points of the product spec.
Sami G: The Kiaola shape was developed over two seasons, refined with feedback from other riders, course racers and freeriders. The early stage development was trial and error with a bit of intuition thrown in. Once I had a basic platform that worked the fine tuning began. Building boards does give you a new found respect for custom board shapers who can turn a blank into pure magic.
Q: Do you design on paper or with the computer?
Sam: I do both. There is a fluid transition for me between the real and digital design spaces. Everything starts in my notepad and eventually makes its way to the computer. All our production processes are automated so ultimately I have to provide digital files that contain the artwork for everything we do.
Franz: I do both, ultimately all the boards are made by machine so at some point there has to be a working 3D model. I tend to start new designs on computer, working to a basic machine outline, refining it and improving it. Most of my boards have some hand shaping in them, but the primary process in CAD driven.
Q: At what point does the physical design and graphics come together?
Franz: As soon as Sam sends in the files. We make our print foils in house so we can integrate graphics onto prototypes immediately.
Sam: We'll usually put graphics onto a board from the first prototypes. So the first Breeze graphic samples have been around since mid-summer. As soon as we had a core shape and outline made Franz was able to apply to the graphic foils. You can see the finished graphics for the Kiaola below, that's a completely different process that allows the graphics to follow the 3D contours of the board.
Q: How long does it take to do the graphics for one product?
Sam: Ideas are constantly evolving. I could probably sit down and create one finished design a day if I had to, but it doesn't work like that. Designs develop over weeks and months. The R&D cycle at BEST is constant and the graphic development follows that. The designs for the Breeze board started back in June and were finished eight weeks later, so June to August.
Q: Where did the idea for the Breeze graphics come from?
Sam: There is a strong geometric theme running through this year's boards. The Breeze design is really an extension of the Armada 131 graphic line. The color palette reflects the intended use of the board and the intended audience. It's not a board for rippers or hardcore wakestyle riders, it's a light wind board and the softer colors and contrasts reflect that. It's a not a male/female specific board either so I kept away from any colors with strong gender associations. The hardest thing about creating the graphics for such a large and wide board as the Breeze is that you have such a big canvas you have to make sure that the detail in the graphics work at all levels. Close up to the board there has to be highly resolved fine details, while at the same time people have to recognize it as a BEST board from 50 feet away. The Breeze graphic is really a combination of typography and cubist graphic, I've had my head in the Neville Brody Typography book lately, it's full of awesome stuff.
Q: How did you hook up with BEST?
Franz: I started working with BEST 3-4 seasons ago. BEST were looking for a new high quality board production facility in Europe and I was in charge of board design at the company they came to. Since then I've moved to another European manufacturer, who have a larger board sports dept and BEST came with me.
Sam: I've been designing for ten years, running my little agency for the last 4 years mainly designing for the board sports market, there's some corporate work in my portfolio as well. A few years back I entered one of those 'design a board/kite' graphics competitions that BEST runs. I won, they used my design for the original Armada board and I've been working with them ever since.
Sami G: I work in the finance dept of BEST in the Barcelona office. I windsurfed from 10 years, I was already a kiter, I knew a few guys in the BEST crew it was a natural progression. Who wouldn't want to work for a kitesurf company?
Q: What's the best thing about designing for a kite company?
Sam: Apart from all the sample products and time testing new designs? It has to be seeing people use the equipment. I get a real kick out of seeing people enjoy something I've had a hand in designing. There's nothing better than looking through Facebook and seeing pictures of happy people holding something you've designed- that rocks.
Franz: It's the perfect excuse for product testing and that can mean only one thing, more kiting.
Sami G: It takes me away from spreadsheets and number crunching.
Q: What would you be doing if you weren't designing?
Franz: I'd be kiting, more kiting for sure.
Sami G: Probably working too hard somewhere else.
Sam: I'd still be kiting, surfing and skating in my free time. What would I do for work? I'm not sure, maybe I'd open a quiche shop, or a mobile quiche van that came to the beach and sold great quiche to the kiters.
Sam: Yeh, you know, pastry, eggs, cheese, some vegetable filling, maybe a nice broccoli quiche or a sweet red onion quiche. Maybe add some Gruyere and some bacon... Quiche, it's the best food ever, Quiche is the way...