Impressions of a Leading Edge Inflatable (LEI)

I came in to the world of kiting with 'open foils' and worked my way through the usual suspects to where I am now, with a Peter Lynn Venom 16m and a Peter Lynn Guerilla II 9m, which I'm very very happy with. Along the way I've had Flexifoil Bullet 2.5, Flexifoil Blade III 4.9, Peter Lynn Guerilla I 13, Ozone Frenzy '04 9.5, Flysurfer Psycho II 13 and a Peter Lynn Bomba 17m - all of which, except the latter, I've reviewed on this site (see all my reviews here...). I mostly landboard at the moment but my favourite aspect of kiting is kitesurfing; especially when there's some decent waves.

It began to intriuge me as to why 99% of all kitesurfers (or kiteboarders, whichever you prefer) use Leading Edge Inflatable (LEI) kites. I wondered if I was missing out on something and decided it was time to find out.

After posting a couple of wanted ads on a few forums I started to get some offers of second hand kites. I couldn't believe how cheap they were! After a bit of research I plumped for a Takoon Skoop 14.3m (10.5m projected area) for just over 100 (GBP) including P&P.

Click on the images for an enlargement

I've now flown this kite in a range of wind conditions - both static, and with my landboard. I've also let a few other people have a play with it and have asked them their opinions. Whenever the wind has been good for getting on the water I've not yet been able to overcome my urge to go have fun with a peter Lynn Arc of some form or other, so I can't comment on its water relaunchability or its water performance, but I think I know enough to give some insight in the world of LEI from the point-of-view of a foil flyer.

First the good points

For the size, this is a super fast kite! Sheet out and fire it across the power zone and it's like a ROCKET! It's also quite fast in the turn. De-power is OK, but is a bit on-off compared to the Peter Lynn Arcs and a mile away from the Flysurfer Psycho2.

Now the bad points

So you arrive at your favourite spot and the wind is perfect! Everyone else is having a blast and you can't wait to get going. You quickly get your LEI out of its bag and begin the process of setting it up. The inflatable struts are the first to be pumped. No problem here. You have them pumped up in no time and when you remove the nozzle of the pump, a little valve keeps them nice and tight while you plug in the stopper and secure the velcro. Now there's the 3 centre struts. You pump them up, pull out the nozzle and fzzzzzt, they're empty again - and then you realise there's no valve in these ones! You have to either squeeze the hole while you swap pump nozzle for stopper, or do a lightning nozzle-thumb-stopper swap. This can take a few goes. By this point you've pumped a lot of air and you're starting to get frustrated. Only one more bladder to go now, but it's the BIG one! it's helpful to have a newbie around at this point, get them to pump up the main bladder till it goes 'ting' when you flick it. Now repeat the thumb-nozzle swap maneuvre. Phew! The kite is now pumped up. I guess with practice this procedure will get quicker, but for now it takes me a good 15 or 20 minutes to get to this stage. Not good. Everyone else is now whooping with delight as the session is rocking.

All you have to do now is attach the lines and launch the thing. This isn't too bad really, especially if you have someone handy to assist you with the launch.

Great, we're ready to rock!! Let's fly!!!

I'll just look down a moment to make sure my... BANG the kite is on the ground, leading edge first. No problem, helper is nearby to help me relaunch it... off we go again.

I'll just pop the kite at zenith a moment while I tighten my helmet strap... weird, why have the lines gone completely slack?... what's that strange whooshing sound I wonder... run away!!!! The kite has rolled forwards and is literally plummeting straigt towards me!!! No worries. I run back up wind and get my helper to launch again. I'm all set now.

OK, let's take her through some aerobatics. Whoosh. Whoosh. Loop. Zigzaggin all over the window, great, no problem. I'll just hover it at the left edge of the window... noooooo... whoosh... BANG. You know the next bit!

Right - we're in the air again and I've learned the hard way that this kite likes to move or it will fall out of the sky. If you lose concentration on the kite for just a moment, the kite will be on the deck before you know what's happening! Either because it's flown itself off to one side or other, or because it's rolled forwards and plummeted out of the sky. To quote Woody, who flew it very briefly, "I don't like it. It just doesn't feel right flying something that blatantly doesn't like staying in the air."

Oh and another thing. If the wind isn't clean it has a tendancy to do the "forward roll to swan dive" quite regularly, without warning.

Oh, another thing. It's now time to pack the thing away again. This is actually quite fun and I toyed with adding this to the list of good points, cos when you take out the main bladder nozzle you get a really good shwooshing sound... I would have done so if deflation didn't take so flippin long to do. OK so it's not as bad as blowing it up, but it's WAY longer than the time required to fold up a foil! And I think the novelty of the shwooshing sound might wear off after a time.

Oh, and did I mention that if you crash it a little too hard into the ground, you can burst one of the internal bladders? And they're a ball-ache to replace!!!

OK so I sort of got the knack of keeping it in the air by keeping it moving all the time, and I have had a couple of half-decent moments with it, so it aint ALL bad, but I really can't understand why so many people fly these things routinely when there's such brilliant alternatives available... I can only guess that either I haven't experienced the thing's full potential yet (ie it needs a bit more wind and needs to be a bit more powered up to really start performing) or everyone's just going with what they were shown when they had their first lessons. Having said all that, this is only a late 2002 early 2003 kite. Maybe the newer models have solved the above problems? I'd be interested to hear from anyone who thinks so.

I'd hang on to this kite and try it on the water in more of a blow... but I just don't want to!

Jeff Snoxell (aka kitefan/jeffsnox), March 2005

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