Behind the scenes at the 2010 F-One Importer Meeting Mauritius
words: Matt Aiken /SBC Kiteboarding
“I am the head designer and the boss, I own 100% of the company, no shareholders or partners, so decisions are quick and easy for me! I make a decision and go fully into it.”—Raphael Salles
So I’m standing on the beach waiting for wind and I get this email on my blackberry from John Bryja, reads something like this “Hey Matt, F-One just invited me on an all expenses paid trip to Mauritius for their distributor meeting, I can’t go, you want to?”. Two and a half seconds later I was confirmed on what would go on to become one of my best kite trips ever.
Mauritius is a little slice of tropical heaven located about 1000km east of Madagascar. For years I’d seen the incredible kiting pictures from this place. Strong trade winds, incredible waves, green lush countryside, crystal-clear waters, massive flat-water lagoons, all of this half the world away in the Indian Ocean. So two weeks later after long back-to-back overnight flights and a relatively short cross-island bus ride I find myself on the beach at the Hotel Indian overlooking the Le Morne kite spot and pinching myself. What followed was a near perfect kiteboard trip.
F-One founder and owner Raphael Salles had assembled his team riders for two weeks in Mauritius this past July and had a few things he was looking to do. First, like most kite brands that time of year, he was working with his R&D guys to put the finishing touches on the Bandit III’s. Second, he was completing the filming of their team video Addict II, due to be finished Sept. ’09. And third he wanted to entertain and become better acquainted with his top distributors and their local kiteboard magazines as well as personally introducing them to the new 2010 product. With John out of the picture, I was representing SBC Kiteboard Magazine and I accompanied F-One Canada distributor Michel Montminy and F-One USA distributor Nico Ostermann. In addition to Nico and Michel, the F-One UK and Dutch distributors were there and editors from Kiteworld, the Kiteboarder, and Ikitesurf mag.
Look for a full Mauritius Ride Guide in a future issue of SBC Kiteboard, but suffice it to say Le Morne, Mauritius is one of the best kiteboard spots in the world. Steady trade winds that blow most of the year, amazing waves breaking on a series of reefs, and huge expanses of flat water make this an idyllic spot for riders of any level. For testing new kites and boards, this spot is truly amazing. Riding from the Hotel Indian, we’d launch in some relatively flat water, then hit some small waves (sometimes big enough to ride), then we’d either head way upwind to a massive flat water lagoon, or downwind and out to the reef in front of Club Mistral where we could mix it up with the windsurfers in some great waves, or head way out about 3km to Manawa and catch rides on the massive waves breaking on this offshore reef. In one short session we could experience everything from perfect flat water to way overhead madness. It’s a tester’s dream come true and an amazing place to ride.
I’m not sure I can imagine a much better trip. The hotel was awesome, food, drinks, service were great. The F-One guys were awesome and took really good care of us. The riding was amazing, and I as totally stoked on the boards and really impressed with their kites. We totally scored with the conditions. Wind every day, great waves, and a really fun group of riders to hang out with. F-One founder Raphael Salles was a gracious host and I must thank him for his generosity (hint, hint, can I come back next year?).
F-One Bandit III
Three years of Delta refinement
As one of the original brands in kiteboarding (F-One entered the sport after only Naish and Wipika) F-One has traditionally offered one of the broadest ranges of kites in the industry. Two years ago F-One made a radical move, rather than offering a full range of kites, they’d have one, the F-One Bandit, kiteboarding’s first Delta kite design. F-One kite designer Sylvain Peretti has been with F-One since ‘97/98 and along with a background in sail design, windsurfing sails (he founded Storm Windsurfing), he comes from a long history in paragliding. Based on his paragliding design experience he felt that just like a wing, the more sweep he added to the leading edge the more control he could build into the kite. So the first prototypes were made and testing began. Sylvain explains it like this,” We wanted to build one kite that could be used by advanced riders, beginners, and even pro riders. I had thought about this design for some time, with a hang-glider when we wanted stability we put more angle on the leading edge. We made some trial kites, we had to redesign the lines, but we found with this design we could have the stability we wanted but at the same time we had good re-launch. After one year of development we had the first Bandit.”
Raphael Salles, owner of the company and head R&D guy, was so impressed with the new Delta design that he bailed on all their other kites and put everything into the new delta shapes. F-One never produced a bow style kite, they went straight from C Kites to the Delta design and have never looked back. Now, with their Bandit 3 about to enter production F-One has a very polished Delta kite design. Prototyping of the new Bandit III began in Sept ’08 and involved over 50 versions of the 9m. They tested year around in Montepellier, in the south of France and added a couple trips to Cape Verde and Mauritius. Once the 9m was finished they then scaled the kite up and down for the other sizes. Since kite shapes need to change as they get bigger and smaller, each individual size was further tweaked with five or six prototypes. Countless more hours were spent tweaking the bridle set up for each individual kite. The new Bandit III is the culmination of a lot of R&D hours. As the only kite in their line (they also make the Revolt, but it is essentially the same kite, with a few less features, and targeted at schools and beginners) it benefits from 100% of their kite R&D focus and the results speak for themselves. It’s an extremely refined kite that works in any condition for any type of rider.
Partnership with brand and factory
Raphael Salles describes his board R&D process as a partnership between F-One and their factories. Raphael acts as head designer and works with his shaper on the prototypes and they build at least one prototype a week all year around. In the case of the twin tips once the shapes are finalized, they are sent to the Nidecker snowboard factory in Switzerland where all the twin tips are manufactured. According to Raphael, once finished with the shape, it’s working with the manufacturer to finalize the type of wood used for the cores, the glass and carbon lay-ups, and top-sheet details, where the real magic comes from. Raphael describes the process of working with the snowboard factory like this, “We experiment with the wood we use, the fiberglass, the flex, and now we are using a lot of carbon twist control as you can see on the new Trax. We have learned how to control the flex and twist to control the board, it’s amazing what a little strip of carbon can effect”. For 2010 F-One has a really dialed looking line of four different twin tips, all with different rocker lines and flex patterns designed to suit the needs of different riders.”
Raphael gets really excited when speaking about their Bamboo line of surfboards. F-One works with surfboard manufacturer Firewire and has an agreement to be the exclusive kite brand manufactured by Firewire in the factory in Thailand. On his choice of materials on the surfboard line Raphael says “Bamboo is nice looking, super strong, not too expensive, fast growing and renewable. We like the wood feeling from our twin tips and we know full wood is really nice. It absorbs shock, and there’s no vibrations. As soon as we put bamboo in the surfboards they felt really smooth and are really strong.” For 2010 F-One has a full range of bamboo surfboards from 5’2 Fish to 6’9” Gun.
The most expensive kiteboard film ever
While in Mauritius the F-One team was busy filming the follow up to Addict. With a budget expected to top $100,000 Euros, the new film is shot exclusively with the new Red 1 camera. Developed by an original Oakley founder, Red 1 delivers an incredible 120 frames per second and delivers 2X HD 4000 X 2000px imagery. The surf industry is starting to use Red 1, but with the new camera, F-One will deliver a film with better image quality than any kiteboard or snowboard film ever made. Two filmers and two technicians worked tirelessly with the F-One team. Check it out this Fall.