18m2 - Rhino 04
Received mine end December 2003. I'm not sponsored and paid for it with hard earned cash saved over the last year. The only other kites I've flown are my Wipika 8.4 Airblast (2001 & 2002 models) and 2000 Free-Air 16 (19.5). So I'm not the best person to write reviews, but here's my unbiased opinion anyway:
Rider: 94kg, 2.5 years riding, about twice a week in season, jumps and wave-riding only (I get nauseous when I spin )
Initial impression was that this is a high quality bag, with padding, nice straps and strong material. Then one of the tightening straps broke off the first time I pulled it in. There's a pull-string to open the bag when storing with the ribs inflated, but you have to dive into the bag to get to it. Why it's not on the outside, I don't know. Verdict: Ja, Well, No, Fine.
Again, initial impression was that it's a nice large pump. I like the gauge. While pumping up the kite the first time on a paved area, I used it a weight to hold one end of the kite down. Discovered later that the sharp bottom edge on the pump cut hole in the canopy. F#CK! I de-burred the sharp edge, so it shouldn't happen again. Note: even if I didn't stuff around on hard ground, the pump was bound to damage the kite as I normally stuff the pump into the bag with the kite.
Bar & Lines:
Initial impression was: Far too many things on the bar that can snag lines: the mini-hook, chicken-release, floats, tie-down bungies, etc. all add up to a frustrating un-roll of lines. The grey power/chicken line going through the bar center has already started to wear significantly - after just 2 sessions! This is my lifeline - I ride out quite far in sharky waters and don't want that line to fail. The Naish lines have the same problem, saw a "new" one broken just the other day. Any suggestions?(Wax will catch more sand. Maybe drilling the center hole bigger and sleaving the line into a PU tube?). I do like the re-ride system, although I'm worried about the stopper ball tangling flying lines when self-launching.
I was looking forward to the stiffer flying lines. They're supposed to tangle less. Maybe, but I found they are more prone to braiding while un-rolling the last few meters than what my old soft Dyneema lines are. They're also VERY slippery when wet, which is a problem for me. I usually land solo to the leash, and then walk the line towards the kite, so slippery lines are dangerous to my hands.
I do like the push-release chicken loop (simple and solid), although the stitching on the chicken line will wear off when used often - I will stick to my Whichard and use the chicken release as a backup.
It's red and it smelled nice when I took it out the bag
I don't buy kites often, so they have to last. This was one of the reasons I went for a North - supposedly good materials and construction...
The kite feels heavy (compared to my 16 FA - which by the way is still in excellent condition after 3 years and many flying hours). I thick the weight is due to the heavier snakeskin TE? Why don't they use leach-lines anymore to strengthen the trailing edge? The rest of the canopy looks solid, stitching is OK (a few loose threads). There's not a lot of protection on the leading edge. I would have preferred they remove gimmicks like pig-tail pockets, rescue handles, hollow tips, etc, and add some extra Dacron on the leading edge. I don't crash my kites often, but I do put it down on the LE on the beach, and this is where most damage occur.
Checked the battens and they are sleaved in some plastic material with large end caps - so I guess the wear-through problem is sorted, but they also feel heavy (I had thin light carbon battons on my 2001 Airblast for 6 months without problems).
One last thing that may be a problem is the glued seems where leading edge attach to canopy. There's a thin glue line exposed on the ripstop. This has gathered sand and cannot be cleaned. Might have some wear problems here.
I really like the extra valves on the ends of the LE - why didn't they have this earlier?
The pig tails are the same loose-weave dyneema type line as the chicken line, only a lot thinner. Sleaved pigtails wear out from sand and salt crystals. How long will these last? Major brownie points to the first manufacturer that comes out with unbreakable line-to-kite connectors. How difficult is it sleave solid line or wire cable into a low friction plastic?
Only time will tell...
SO HOW DOES IT FLY?:
I've only had 2 underpowered and 1 gusty overpowered sessions on it, so it's far too early to say. (7 to 12m weather for last 2 months). Initial impression is that it has the same bottom end as my 16 FA (19.5), obviously turns a lot quicker, is stable in the air, and it may not have the high top end I was hoping for. Only had 1 good jump so far, the rest being long-and-low, but I think that's all to do with the rider/timing and not with the kite.
On the light wind days I tried it with both an old 175X43 and a 120X33. Only got going when it picked up to about 9-10.
The last session was average 13 (min 8 gusting to 18-20). The kite made it feel less gusty. I was well powered on the 120X33. I was just hanging on in the gusts, keeping the speed down. Had one scary high-speed-run-from-hell when I took it out of the kite-low position. I'm sure once I've dialed into this beast, I'll be able to improve top-end. Go slow, then give it some speed and boost high. I can't wait to take it out in steady 14 knots...
(Will update when I've had more time on the kite)
After a few hours on the kite in everything from 5 knots to 18+, I can now conclude this "review":
This kite is fast (compared to my 16FA anything is, but still...). It flies fast and turns fast (for it's size). I sometimes found it too fast - I'm used to just cruising and jumping and sometimes found the board speed with this kite a bit scary.
Low end is good. No white caps and cruising upwind comfortably on a small board. Yes please! In 11 to 12 knots jumps are good (not high, but long).
Top end is OK at around 17 knots, so there's a good overlap with my 8.4AB, but I was hoping for more (considering my fat ass, small board and being used to fighting the 16FA tractor). I'm slightly disappointed that I'm not able to jump higher in these winds, but this may be due to timing rather than kite. The kite's fast enough and there's lots of power (maybe too much too early) and I should be able to go higher, but somehow most of my jumps have been long and low. Had a few nice soft landings though
In the end, I'm happy with my decision to got for the 18: The 16 may have jumped higher, but then I would have to sacrifice cruising with the kite parked in sub-12 knots. The 20 would have been too big for our gusty winds and I have the luxury of building bigger(wider) boards to cover the low-end. It compliments my 8.4 well - enough overlap and similar handling (fast, slack back lines, etc.) Just a little concerned about the durability - nothing's gone wrong on the kite yet, but the bar's showing dangerous wear after only a few sessions.