I recently picked up a quiver of Element 2 kites (9, 11, 13). I've been a long time Best rider (past 5 years) but was looking for a change. The Best Kahoonas are excellent kites for what they are, lots of low end grunt and steady pull, but don't particularly turn very fast and sit deep in the window. The Taboos (and early model TS) flew fast but didn't have as much low end as I would have liked. Best switched factories in the past few years and have been producing higher quality gear but prices have also risen correspondingly.
My general opinion is that there are a lot of companies out there with good kites. Safety systems have improved dramatically since the early years and for the most part the rider is the limiting factor, not the gear. I first heard of Switch Kites over a year ago and the model of selling direct to consumer sounded a lot like Best's early years when they had the same approach. After finding out that Bill Hansen was the lead designer (on contract) for Switch, I decided to take the plunge and get some kites.
Buying kites that are anywhere from 20-40% lower than the rest of the field sounds great until you start worrying about how they fly, what if the build quality sucks, or what if the customer support is non-existent. These were my concerns and the main things I would like to address.
First, the build quality is just as good if not better than what's out on the beach right now. Aramid patches cover the wing tips and certain parts of the leading edge. All the standard reinforcing with double stitching and gluing along the leading and trailing edges, along with the struts.
I absolutely love the one pump system on these kites. They have the single inflate and deflate valve system, similar to what Cabrinha has had for years. I think there are a few brands which have moved over to a similar setup as well; Best and Ozone to my knowledge. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, instead of a "traditional" inflate and deflate rubber valve you push in and pull out, it has a screw in deflate plug with a one way inflate valve that screws into the deflate plug. You get to use the largest pump adapter and it really does make inflating half the effort compared to before. If the inflate nozzle pops off, there's no rushing of air coming out and scrambling to get the hose back on (I'm looking at you shitty ball sealing inflate valves). The hose connecting the struts to the leading edge are also easy to use. It uses a covered click type hose pinch that has two settings, open and closed. Compared with some other systems I've seen which have multiple teeth for open, pretty closed, closed, even more closed.
The canopy fabric itself seems to be of high quality. There's no visible creases in the dyed areas as you crinkle or fold (some of you will know what I'm talking about). They use Technoforce T9600 which seems to be quite popular with a number of kite manufacturers. It's not the double ripstop fabric that BEST, Cabrinha, and a few others are using right now but certainly not a no-name fabric.
The controller bar is pretty simple and it flat out works. It has above bar cleat depower for trimming. There's a mini 5th line that runs down the depower lines and you can leash to it by the chicken loop (nothing out of the ordinary there). The lines feel semi-waxed. They're smooth and don't catch very easily on one another. They're nowhere near as waxed as the new cabrinha lines which feel absolutely awesome as they're fully coated. The stock configuration has loops on the steering lines an knots on the power lines. On previous kites, there have been multiple knots on the steering pig tail to adjust back line length. On the Switch kites, there's only one knot on the steering bridle and instead you modify the back to front line ratio with knots on the power lines, NOT the kite bridle.
I've put several days on the 9m, 11m and 13m Element 2s. I think they fill the jack of all trades segment quite well, which is what I believe Switch was going for. It's 3 strut, has a moderate aspect ratio, and has large wing tips. It actually looks a lot like the Slingshot RPM to me (not a bad thing). Flying with the standard knots, there's a good amount of pull and pretty direct bar feel. Rigged with the lower knot on the power lines (effectively shortening them and depowering the kite more), there was a bit too much slack on the steering lines. Steering input was mushy and I was having a hard time getting the right powered feeling for jumping or looping. This particular anecdote is from the 11m in 25-30mph winds. Moving back to the end knots fixed this immediately.
Turning speed is good and the kites fly directly across the middle of the window with no mess or fuss. Diving the kite into a window with a lot of wind will cause the wing tips to buckle inwards a little bit on the 11m and 13m. I don't know of any kite which is immune to this but it's noticeable on these as well. As I mentioned earlier, using the lower knots (shortening the center lines) really made the kite fly funky; I wouldn't recommend it.
I wrecked it a few times with a loop and me flying on my back. It relaunched with no fuss. I had the 13m hindenburg from noon after a longer than usual lull. It spiraled down and crashed on the water. I let the kite drift out and then relaunched in 12 mph. I did happen to have several inversions happen while flying the 11m during a 7 mile downwinder. Both were caused by having too much slack in the lines.
The kite seems to be a good all arounder. No glaring deficiencies that I found. It's not a glowing 5 star review that you'd find in a magazine where every kite is great at everything, but honestly that's a win when you consider the price. The kite isn't the limiting factor here, I am. A good kite at a price that's more competitive than the rest of the market is a winning combo. I'll be steering friends to Switch as they end up changing out their quiver.