Behind the DESIGN: NEO D/LAB with Ken Winner

Welcome to Behind the Design! Today we catch up with Ken Winner to talk about one of the most anticipated kites of 2023, the NEO D/LAB. The Neo D/LAB is the ultimate wave kite, we find out more about the performance and design process that went into the new model.

Hear the full review

Hear the full review

What was the design goal with the Neo D/LAB?
Our design goal for the Neo D/LAB was to make the best possible wave kite. When we first started working with Aluula, we thought we could just take the same patterns that we used for our previous Neo and use Aluula in the leading edge and struts and we would have a fantastic kite. In some ways that worked, but in other ways it didn't. Aluula is a stiffer material in general and also torsionally stiffer. These two facts alone made it hard for us to get the performance we wanted in an Aluula kite, especially with the Neo as it traditionally has a larger leading edge.

We need to have a fairly large leading edge so the kite drifts well. If it doesn't have some drag, then it doesn't hang back in the window and doesn't drift well. With the Aluula having a large leading edge means it's even stiffer and has that much more torsional stiffness, so that was the biggest challenge we had to overcome. Another challenge with Aluula is that although it's extremely light and stiff, it stretches when you pump it up when compared to Penta TX in the new SLS, which doesn't stretch. Once you've hit your seven PSI it stops expanding and at that point, it's very stiff. But we still had to make adjustments to the canopy to allow for the stretch from the Aluula leading edge.

How was the process and what challenges did you have working with the Aluula material and what things did you do to overcome the natural stiffness of Aluula?
So the two things that we did on the Neo D/LAB to counter the stiffness and the torsional stiffness of the Aluula was we changed the bridle, we made the bridle less constraining, so the kite was freer to flex without the bridle holding it in a particular shape. We also reduced the leading edge diameter down near the tip struts, where we wanted some flex to happen in order to make the kite steer.

Those two changes helped a lot to free up the kite and improve the steering. The final change we had to make was to make the tip struts quite a bit stiffer. We had gone to pretty soft flex struts in the recent past and that worked great, but with the stiffer Aluula we needed more powerful tip struts. The stiffer tip struts have improved a lot of things about the turning speed, the de-power and the reduction in luffing and fluttering in the tips of the kite during turns.

"even a wave rider using the smaller sizes in a lot of wind will find that the kite performs amazingly compared to anything else we've ever had before"

This kite has now been years in development. The feedback from the Maui test team is that it is really impressive and a total game changer in terms of performance, how has the feedback from the team riders?
Well, we sent some approval samples to Cape Verde, and Matchu, James and Airton hated them. But the interesting thing is that those approval samples didn't have the right leach tension on the canopy below the tip struts.

So just the smallest tweaks have a huge effect on kite performance. I was actually able to tweak all those kites and fix them. But from the people and riders who have tried the final product, everybody is really happy with it. The de-power is better, the power is better, the turning is better, the drift is better. In every important metric, the Neo D/LAB is better.

Thanks Ken for talking us through the design process of the Neo D/LAB, to finish off, who is the Neo D/LAB for?
I would say anybody who could afford it, because it's a little bit more expensive. Anybody on a hydrofoil is going to love the lower weight. But of course, the most important constituent in our campaign is the hardcore wave rider, anybody who really wants to perform well in the waves is going to perform better with a Neo D/LAB.