Neo D/LAB rider review

Welcome to a special rider review on the NEO D/LAB. Today we chat with Sky Solbach who is an instrumental part of the design team of the Neo range, working closely alongside designer Ken Winner throughout the prototype and development process.

Hear the full review

Hear the full review

Welcome Sky, you’ve been heavily involved in the R&D phases with the Neo D/LAB, can you tell us what we can expect with the new model
Yeah, so the Neo D/LAB is basically a further development of the Neo SLS. Starting from the SLS design as a base and then changing the leading edge and strut material to the new Aluula D/LAB material. That was the starting point of the design. Working with the Aluula, it has such different stretch and flex characteristics than the Penta TX. We had to make a lot of pretty significant changes to make the kite feel similar to the SLS, but with a huge added benefit of the lightweight material of the Aluula, which brings a whole new level of performance to the D/LAB model.

Let's touch on a little bit of that performance, the riders were seriously impressed with the performance of the Neo SLS kites. What kind of further gains are there to be had with the new Neo D/LAB?
Starting with the SLS, I think the thing that makes that kite so intuitive and so much fun to ride is that the Penta TX material has a really nice characteristic where it feels really direct and really solid, it has this really dynamic feel where you have a direct connection to the kite, and really smooth turning and just amazing handling.

So whether you're riding it in lighter wind all the way up to the top end of its range, the feel of the kite doesn't really change throughout that huge wind range. You have a really solid bar feel and really direct steering, even in light wind. Then as the wind gets stronger and increases and you get really overpowered, you still have that same direct feel. So it doesn't change the feeling of the kite, through the huge wind range. So I think that's something that's magic to the Neo SLS, the fact it has this really intuitive feel in all types of wind, throughout its entire range.

With the D/LAB, it’s a different beast. The main advantage of the Aluula material is of course that it's super lightweight. Having a really lightweight wave kite is as you can imagine has a lot of benefits, the main one being that it has incredible drift. It has really good light wind performance because it'll just hang in the air, you can ride in very light wind and still have a really direct feel to the kite and really quick turning, you don't have that lag in the turning, especially on the upstroke. So that has huge benefits for Wave riding. 

Both in light wind and strong you get this benefit with the D/LAB and that’s a big feature we found out through the development. In the beginning of the D/LAB development with the Aluula material, we found some huge benefits in light wind, because the kite would hang in the air and had amazing performance and power in the upstrokes. When the kite is down just over the water, to be able to steer a 12 meter from down near the water up to above your head so quickly is amazing. It has such a quicker response than a heavier material would have. So we started seeing these huge benefits in light wind but as we got through the development and started testing smaller and smaller sizes, we found that that translated really well even into the smaller sizes, especially when riding waves. If you can imagine doing your top turn, if you're riding in side shore or onshore winds, when you do your top turn and then drop back down to load up for your next bottom turn, you don't have a lot of tension in your lines, traditionally, you have to run out in front of the wave a little bit and get some pressure onto your heel edge to be able to get some tension in the lines to be able to turn your kite for the next bottom turn.

Well, with the Aluula material, that transition is so much easier, we can actually fit extra turns in on the wave where you can't with a traditional kite. So what I mean by that is with an Aluula kite you can do a top turn and as you're coming down out of your top turn, you can immediately go into your next bottom turn without having to load up your lines to get that tension to fly the kite. So having that in a wave kite is huge. I feel like we're using this term game changing a lot, but it’s quite a game changer for riding waves, in all conditions really, but especially in light wind conditions. If you're on an eight meter kite, moderately powered, not super overpowered, you'll feel such a huge difference riding the D/LAB just in terms of being able to link turns together. The kites drifting and ability to follow you down the wave and not having the need to run out in front of the wave and load up your lines before each turn is huge. You can just seamlessly go from top turn to bottom turn, without that delay and that lag you have on a traditional kite.

"for the dedicated high-performance riders the D/LAB is unbeatable."

Okay, let's talk about a quiver. How many kites would you say are needed to cover you in a quiver?
I usually have a six eight and ten, that's pretty much my quiver. I never really rode a kite bigger than 10 in the waves. You can ride waves on a 12 but it's not really the same as riding waves on eight, you have a bit more lag and delay on the larger kites. So when it's wind for a 12 I’m a bit of a snob and would usually just do something else or wait for it to get windier.

About a month ago we were developing the 10,11 and 12 meter sizes for the Neo D/Lab and So then I was like; Okay, I have to have a 12 meter D/LAB in my in my quiver and I have to have a 10 meter D/LAB in my quiver, because those two sizes are key for when I’m wave riding. Everything smaller than that, I thought I'd probably just go SLS because those are great. But then as we developed further we had these amazing eight meter and nine meter D/LABs and I  realized what a difference it makes even in strong wind, that now I would have to say, personally, I would only choose to ride D/LABs for all my kites, from 8 meter to 12 meter sizes, because it just gives you such a huge benefit for not only light wind wave riding, but just drift in general. Even when you're riding in a strong wind, it makes such a huge difference on the wave. So 8,10 and 12 would be my quiver. After writing the D/LAB and seeing the benefits, it would be hard for me to go back to an SLS, just for pure wave riding.

I think the SLS is an incredible all around kite. And I think for people, especially those riding in really strong wind, the handling characteristics of the SLS are pretty hard to beat. Throughout its entire wind range, the SLS feels the same, from light wind all the way to strong wind. With the D/LAB, it's definitely geared a little bit more towards the lighter to medium strength winds, when you start getting really overpowered on the D/LAB, it starts to feel a little more aggressive than when compared to the SLS. So the handling is not quite as smooth in the really, really strong wind. But I think for most people riding in light to medium strength wind that are really focused and really dedicated wave riders, they're going to find some huge benefits to the D/LAB range.

Sounds like a lot of these benefits of these kites would also benefit riders across all levels. Would you say there is an entry point to be able to ride the Neo D/LAB.
I mean, I think for sure, the really dedicated rider who demands the very highest level of performance will want to go with the D/LAB. But as you said, there's a lot of benefits to riding a really lightweight kite like the D/LAB even if you're not going for that highest level of performance. For example, you know having a kite that you can go on a foil in really light wind the D/LAB is unbeatable.

As long as you can keep the kite in the air you can get going on a foil. You can ride on a 10 meter D/LAB in six knots easily, so you can be out cruising around on a foil in five or six knots on a 10 meter that's a pretty huge benefit. In terms of keeping the kite in the air in really light wind, this kite is going to fly much easier in light wind than an SLS will, so there's benefits for everyone, but I think for the dedicated high-performance riders the D/LAB is unbeatable.