My boyfriend and I have been taking lessons and learning to kiteboard, however we have recently wised up and decided to get impact float vests. Problem is that women's gear is hard to find, and when I do find it, I cant find any reviews or even detailed descriptions. I found two ladies vests, but want to know if anyone has tried them and can recommend one. I know I could get a men's vest, but I don't like the masculine padding that is typically on the chest, and even at the small sizes the gear is either too long, or too tight in the chest (I am 5'3 and 125 lbs, so I am an XS in men's gear).
Some background - I have a Dakine Chameleon convertible harness. However, the seat part rubs my legs bloody from the straps, so I have to wear it as a waist harness when I wear my bikini cut shorty wetsuit. The waist part crushes my ribs so badly I have trouble breathing, so I would like the impact vest to help prevent riding up (the NP Spark looks better for this). However, on top of all that, kiteboarding has been a pretty scary, difficult experience for me so I want a lot of float and protection (The NP Serene looks floatier but looks like it will fit weird with the harness or ride up). I am naturally not very coordinated and swim OK (grew up by the ocean but I am not a strong swimmer in heavy currents). Although I am fit, and it took me nearly a decade to become even an OK snowboarder; fear of injury or being out of control has held me back for years in all these pursuits so I want to feel safe with my gear. I am really determined to learn though because this looks so fun and my boyfriend refuses to snowboard because he hates the cold (ugh 10 years learning wasted, I'll probably never get to go again haha). Any advice on these vests or other options would be so appreciated.
I like the spreader bar strap, my boyfriend might like this one, but the only review says " if you have a waist harness that rides up sometimes, well if you buckle the vest to your spreader bar bad, your vest will ride up too, causing it to bunch up on your chest". Also, the sizing is very vague as it comes in only s/m and lrg/xl, someone who is 170 pounds like my boyfriend is vastly different in size than someone 125 like me. Have you worn this one? Is it relatively buoyant?
I had the same exact problems when I started riding. I don't know if I can help, but I would go with the Spark out of those two. The Serene is very much like the Dakine vest that I first wore that was USCG approved and will eventually wind up around your ears, especially when you learn to jump. The length and design of the Spark will keep it and your harness from riding up better. Neither will give you the flotation that a USCG approved vest would but they are far less bulky. I used to wear a men's XS vest that was more like the Spark and it worked good.
Also, another trick to keeping the harness from riding up and crushing your ribs is to fly the kite lower, but it took me a while to get used to that. When you are starting out, it is much more comforting and probably better to keep the kite high.
The vest comes in XS and up and fits both a seat or waist harness. It has two layers of pads which I removed one layer and a whole roll at the bottom through a small cut. I am just an average swimmer so I tested the float and it seems to work fine at 115 lb. The other two look way bulky - I like a little more freedom. Plus the Dakine is reasonably priced.
If buoyancy is your reason for an Impact vest then its worth bearing in mind that very few impact vests are rated as buoyancy aids (50N bouyancy minimum). This in part is because the tests are quite expensive but in the main because kite specific impact vests simply don't have enough flotation to qualify.
In terms of the harness riding up, its something that sort of goes away. Basically the harness mostly rides up as a beginner when you are stationary with the kite above you. As you progress you spend less time stationary so the harness rides up less and you get used to sort of shucking it back down as you are riding.
The girls I kite with use a Gul Garda buoyancy aid. Really good for body dragging back to your board as it keeps your head above the water. Has a useful pocket that drains (good for sunglasses etc). Makes you look like a beginner so people stay out of your way. Available in pink if you like that sort of thing.
Thanks for the input everyone, I do know that very few if any kite vests are coast guard approved and that's ok, I just want to feel a little safer on the water and have a little extra buoyancy if I have to self rescue (which I am sure as I am continuing to learn will happen) or when the waves are rough. The beaches in VA beach are a bit rough and the water is deep even though we have sandy bottoms and wide beaches. I try and kite on the bay which is calmer, shallower, warmer, and a bit safer. All of your advice has been helpful thanks!
It looks less padded than your preferred ones, but it works fine for me to keep my head out of the water while I sort out anything else I need to - I don't need to give any conscious effort to stay floating and can focus on whatever other problem I have - which I think is all the buoyancy you need, unless you are planning to cross the Atlantic or something like that.
While it was great when I bought it and I felt it also helped to keep the harness in place (it has a special surface at the waist), it has stretched now after a year (not more than 30 days on the water) and it does slide up a bit. So go for the smallest size you can fit I would say.
Looking at your choices, I think the front strap on the Serene will be totally in the way, I would stay clear of that one. The Spark looks like a good fit to me - it looks similar to mine, just more women-shaped. I would only be worried about the zip in the front - if the vest slides up, the zip might irritate your neck - mine has the zip on the side which does not cause any problem. Now after a few days of kiting, I have an irritation on my neck just from the hem of the lycra - I would not want the zip to be rubbing against my neck...