THIS AIRWAVE KOALA REVIEW CAN BE READ IN KITEWORLD #112, OUR NEW FREE DIGITAL PLATFORM, PUBLISHED IN OCTOBER 2021
AIRWAVE KOALA REVIEW – 10M
“Amazing stability which adds confidence to your riding. Also the effortless riding speed and upwind angles that are possible”
TESTED BY JIM GAUNT, CHRIS BULL & ROB CLAISSE
TEST TEAM NOTES
Airwave are a new name in the kitesurfing market, but over three decades have proven manufacturing heritage in paragliding, led by iconic pilot, Bruce Goldsmith. It seems the Airwave design family are well into kitesurfing, so now here we have the Koala!
Foil kites need a different approach when you’re rigging up compared to an inflatable leading edge kite because the network of bridling is far more complex. However with just a little understanding it becomes easy to recognise and organise the bridling into the correct layers, but nevertheless at first it is still more complicated than simply finding the knots on the end of the four short bridle extensions on your LEI kite.
This is a review, not a how-to-launch feature, but we can say that the Koala’s bridling is relatively simple to layout and rig up when it comes to foil kites. You just need to familiarise yourself with the set-up technique and, once you’re all clear on it then the Koala is straight forward, particularly if you leave your lines attached and pack your kite away neatly at the end of a session.
We have to mention the colours. Wow! Tutti Frutti! The Koala is extremely summery and good looking.
Here’s a video to show you how easy it is to rig up the lines:
PACKAGE, BUILD AND BAR
The retail price of the Koala, complete with 50cm bar, bags, straps, leash, T-shirt and repair kit is £1,849 in the UK. That’s a competitive chunk under the Flysurfer Soul, which for the equivalent ten metre kite package is usually around the £2,100 mark.
Airwave provide a very good overall product for your financial outlay. The kite itself is manufactured to great detail throughout (detailed evidence of which is described at length on their website). Also, the bar pouch and kite bag are well thought out, housing the kite easily, but also nice and tightly. There’s no billowing extra bag material with the kite rucksack shaped more like a helipack for snowboarding.
The bar hints at being the more budget end of the overall package. Exposed centre-line rope runs through the middle of the bar rather than being housed behind smooth plastic, but be in no doubt that this bar is very comfortable and super smooth to operate. It features everything you need, including a good average standard of chicken-loop quick release, a very neat rope and trimming cleat system and we had no issues using this bar whatsoever.
The Koala stands up to inspection admirably and the impression we have is that it will last well.
Airwave have designed the Koala with the intermediate-advanced twin-tip freerider in mind as well as the kite foiler. You can’t have failed to notice the increase in popularity of board-off tricks ravaging their way through your social media feeds, and this kite can really help you up your board-off game – the hangtime performance on tap is excellent.
Bully, Rob and I have tested the Koala on a twin-tip in winds over 20 knots as well as lighter speeds of 14 – 18. On a foil we’ve tested the low end in just over 12 knots and also taken it up to 18. Over multiple hours we have gained a good understanding of the performance detail in this kite.
The Koala is higher aspect than the Soul – more like a strip of streaky bacon, but rather than drive to the front of the window with serious intent, when you launch the kite it gives you this over riding sense of calm. The wing tips will flap in and out like a seagull with broken wings for a moment, as all foil kites do as they climb through the window, but the Koala doesn’t pulse or pull at the bar. The kite sorted itself out very swiftly and, by the time it reaches 12, will just sit there, rock solid.
Over on Hayling Island, Bully took the Koala out in the most wind, over and beyond 20 knots. His initial reaction after launching the kite was that he needed to put it down to ensure his harness was as tightly done up as possible. There is very generous depower through sheeting, but it’s very evident in winds around 25 knots that you have a huge amount of lift available.
On a modern ten metre LEI in 20 – 25 knots you can usually control the kite with fingertip inputs at the bar and dive the kite with a more casual approach while you’re riding along. Instead, you need to let the Koala drift gently down through the window. Bully was calling on his old school hard edging skills to ride the Koala as it wanted to be ridden – fast and fluidly. It also needs twice as much input to steer the kite than the latest ten metre LEI freeride kite, but this isn’t a kite for mega loops.
You don’t buy a foil kite for its finger tip steering and super simple set-up. You’re investing in unmatched upwind performance with superb riding speeds, not to mention the incredible hangtime. You can do two board-offs each jump instead of one and the angle you can point into wind will see you leave your mates behind time and again.
When it comes to jumping technique you won’t get much performance from the kite if you fling it back over your head like you would an LEI. Instead, keep the kite higher in the window and concentrate on building your board speed. Focus on more of a cut with your board’s rail while you move the kite a little more to place it at 12 and then sheet in hard for the last moment of your cut into wind. Once you get that edging control and put the kite into the lift zone you’ll get really good, floaty jumps. Really good ones!
However, although the Koala may be billed as a ‘big air’ kite, it’s actually a ‘big hangtime kite’, so quite different to Duotone Rebel, Core XR7, or something more ‘flickable’ like that. However, we have no doubt that in good conditions with bigger kickers (being careful to check there’s no one downwind of you), you’ll score massive height as well as incredible hangtime with the Koala.
Bully also didn’t need to use any trim, even though the kite had loads of power on tap. It is possible to manage this kite in strong winds if you have good edging and fast riding skills. In strong winds however, this isn’t a kite for intermediates; it’s for experienced twin-tip riders; unlike in lighter winds when its character is much different…
LIGHTER WIND TWIN-TIPPING AND FOILING
In lighter winds the Koala once again inflates swiftly as it climbs through the window after launch and quickly reaches a super steady position overhead. I mean rock steady – something that’s immediately noticeable. It put a smile right across my face. There was only one other rider on the water on a 12 metre tube kite and a hydrofoil at the time and I already knew I had enough power to ride a twin tip.
Diving the kite into power the Koala moves very smoothly but, like a foil kite, doesn’t create much pull until you redirect it in a forward direction. The drive then pulls you up on your board with one clean movement and this is right on-par with what’s widely credited as being the smoothest freeride performance foil kite, the Flysurfer Soul.
Here on the south coast of England, southeast winds are always far more gutless than their prevailing southwesterly counterparts. Hence, so few kiters had bothered to turn up to the beach, but I had plenty of gas to hold my ground upwind on a standard 138 twin-tip, popping air transitions and was confident of enough steering response to bring the kite easily through a downloop to propel me in my new riding direction. Everything happens fluidly and calmly.
I swapped the twin-tip for the foil and, once again, there was beautiful drive to bring me up on the foil and then acres of depower through sheeting. I eventually had to pull a bit of trim on because the Koala was building up a lot of air speed as the wind pinched towards 17 or 18 knots, to the point that I could easily have been on a size or two smaller. Nevertheless the ten metre remained very manageable because the kite’s stability is an absolute highlight. I could be as rough as I liked at the bar with my sheeting and the Koala remained nicely rooted in the air, never drifting back or surging forward.
For a technically able kite, it’s really not that difficult to fly in wind speeds below 20 knots. It develops a good amount of power, downloops nicely and handles really well from gybes through to floaty hangtime jumps and general riding.
Bully mentioned that the lift in the kite was strong in his harness, but he was riding a more punchy southwesterly wind that was consistently over 20 knots, averaging more like 25 knots at times; a very different experience.
For me, the pull was never too much, I would have just preferred to have been on a smaller, faster foil to take advantage of the natural speed that the kite wanted to go at. I was riding the Slingshot Phantasm 633 (which is 1270cm surface area) – a stunning freeride foil, but I could have taken advantage of the Koala’s natural hunger for smooth forward air speed on something smaller and higher aspect. In fact it’s a very exciting thought to consider that match-up; blasting huge distances along the coast.
The only real comment in terms of where the Koala could improve in its handling is far overhead when fully sheeted out during some technical tacking manoeuvres on the foil. A lot of line tension and feel disappears when you drive the kite overhead into wind, and as a really advanced kite foiler, Rob would have liked more of a sense of direction from the kite when fully sheeted out to be able to pinpoint its exact location to then quickly bring the kite into power again. Rather than continuing to drive forward on its trajectory overhead when you sheet out, helping you arc higher into wind, the Koala tends to pause its movement when you sheet out, which for most riding situations will feel good, but specifically for the more technical tacking foil moves, a more automatic drive overhead is a nice asset.
GETTING IT WET…
Of importance to most freeriders will be the exhaust flaps in two cells on the trailing edge that can be pulled out to quickly release the air stored in the kite when you pack it away, while the well sealed leading edge means if you do touch the tips down in the water, the Koala won’t try to bury itself in the sea. As with many modern foil kites, the reliable relaunch off the water will also come as a pleasant surprise to most LEI riders and the Koala also expels water excellently, too. It delivers a great relaunch.
Get an idea for the relaunch in this video:
Much above 20 knots and the power you feel in the ten metre seems to exponentially rise with every knot of wind – offering great potential for experienced twin-tip boosters, but too much power management is needed for intermediates. If you want to go twin-tip boosting in strong winds, you can’t match this size for size with an LEI, you need to size down a bit to be comfortable.
This Koala is a superb kite for intermediates and above in 12 – 18 knots on a twin-tip or for foiling. Sweetly positioned to perform with the benefits of higher-aspect performance than your freeride LEI, but without the difficult, technical handling traits of a performance race kite.
The Airwave Koala is for a rider with specific desires to ride fast and efficiently, but could be enjoyed by a great many more riders looking for incredible stability, easy handling and smooth power in lighter winds. Don’t forget those extra seconds of flight time for board-off glory on the twin-tip!
Amazing stability which adds confidence to your riding. Also the effortless riding speed and upwind angles that are possible.
KW WOULD CHANGE
For top end performance, a little more bar feedback with the kite far overhead when sheeted out during tacks.
KOALA BALANCE POINTS:
Build quality: 8.5
Full package: 7.5
Low end: 9
Top end: 6.5
Steering speed: 3.5
Turning circle: 7.5
Bar pressure: 6.5
Water relaunch: 7
SIZES: 15, 12, 10, 8 & 5m
Watch the Airwave Koala product video here:
THIS Airwave Koala 10m Kite TEST REVIEW IS PUBLISHED HERE IN ISSUE #112
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