Source: The Kiteboarder Magazine
F-One has a long history as a company focused on simple and clean product lines with excellent feel and performance. The Bandit has been the milestone of the F-One product family and has always been designed with the intention of putting it in the center of freeride category, maximizing its balance between multiple disciplines and attempting to create one of the largest spectrums of use with a single kite. Straddling the needs of surfing, generalist freeride and big air/mega looping freeride with one quiver of kites works for most people, but for other more niche focused kiteboarders the ‘one kite does it all’ approach forces implicit compromises between performance values.
While competitors were developing very specific targeted products that offered the advantage of specialization and hyper focus, last year, the F-One team decided they had pushed the single kite concept as far as it could go, and instead, the F-One R&D department built two different versions of the Bandit (the Bandit-S and the Bandit 2020) to cover the full range of surf/freeride kiteboarding. This means that historical Bandit fans will have to make a choice between two different kites, but it also means that the Bandit feel now has a discipline-specific fine-tuned option for every style of riding.
As I sat with F-One owner and head of the R&D program, Raphael Salles, he explained how the team conceptualizes the kiteboarding landscape with a series of Venn diagrams that logically order discipline with performance and feel. With a pen and paper, Raphael penned three concentric circles that represent performance freeride/hang time/mega loop on the left, in the center, freeride/comfort, and on the right, surfing/strapless/foiling. This diagram then describes turning style, turning speed, depower style, stability and lateral pull. This visualized schematic of user style and kite performance led the F-One team to offer two Bandit model options. The Bandit-S for surf/foil and the Bandit 2020 for hang time/mega loop, and for those freeriders that crossover or fall between, they can move in either direction.
F-One’s new dual kite strategy comes from a diversification strategy that was already built into the Bandit. Last year the smaller sizes were surf oriented, middle sizes freeride oriented and larger sizes hang time oriented. Coming from this targeted single line approach, F-One didn’t want to produce a wave kite with a different name, and it’s probably for two reasons. First, because true surfing kites only hold true in smaller kite sizes – once you get to 10m or larger, the lower wind threshold makes a surf specific kite less discipline specific (now you’re talking about light wind specific) and the other implicit motivation might be that the Bandit was already a highly-recognized surf and freeride kite – so to rebrand a new model as a surf or freeride kite would leave longtime Bandit fans out in the cold.
The end result is two new kites, the same legendary name, but each with sub-labels to indicate a slight lean towards discipline with a hybrid concept based on overlapping kite size offerings. It might be a bit confusing, but to help break it down, we lined up with the F-One team and tested new against old, with back-to-back test runs on last year’s 2019 Bandit, and this year’s new kites: the Bandit-S and Bandit 2020.
Before getting into specific product attributes, what we found was that the 2019 Bandit and 2020 versions are all very different models, evidenced when ridden back to back. When you put the kites on the beach, you find visual differences in leading edge arc, wingtip length, wingtip angle and bridle arrangement. On the whole, we found the differences between testing the Bandit 2020 and the Bandit-S back to back are very clear; while the differences between the 2019 and the newer versions don’t scream out at you quite so much, yet the discipline-specific improvements are discernable over last year.