This is just a preliminary review of the HQ Zeekai race kite. As you can see we don't have snow yet so we haven't had an opportunity to fully test them but this is our impression of it so far.
So as much as we feel confident in this assessment, take it with a grain of salt. :-)
About the Zeekai: A few weeks ago HQ contacted us and offered us the opportunity to try out the new 2016 Zeekai, their offering for the new and fast growing high performance high AR (aspect ratio) wing category. Although we don't have snow or ice now we still have places that are ideal for testing kites. And even without riding you can learn a lot about a kite's nature static flying it in places that are unfriendly to kites or poking around on a board or skates. If it flies well in those places it will be awesome out and on the move. The Zeekai is a kite that has been out and about for a little while this year but there has been little info available on it. Needless to say we were pretty stoked when the kites arrived. We love flying new kites!
Zeekai is positioned as an advanced kite in the category we like to refer to as "Free-Race". Some people are using it for racing which in the HQ lineup it is clearly the most capable kite for that sort of duty. But it is also being promoted as a freeride option for those looking for big floaty boosts, speed and that sort of "V-8 Engine" unlimited power feel. Something common in a lot of these new race wings. Without a doubt the Zeekai will be a crowd pleaser for those looking for a kite like this. And let's not forget, it is also an excellent option as a light wind kite as they are all made of the same 20d UL material that the Matrixx 2 is made of.
As with many of HQ's offerings, the Zeekai is a kite option that offers similar performance to other higher priced brands and models but for literally hundreds less. Light wind flying is the most expensive flying out there and the Zeekai makes it a bit less painful to purchase a kite that could potentially double your days in a season.
Handling : The 2016 Zeekai is a surprisingly zippy kite in each of their given sizes. Even the 19m, in about 8-10kts is nimble. The turn rate on the 19m is excellent in all but the lightest wind conditions. We flew the 19m in 3kts (which is below its recommended bottom end) and as with most kites of this type, once it built apparent wind it pulled like a truck. But also as with most kites of this type, as soon as you needed to turn it becomes a struggle to keep airborne due to the slow turn rate in nearly no wind. If you actually moving and riding however, this would be much less of an issue. And based on how the kite flew in 3-4kts our feeling is it will be awesome for super light wind days on firm surfaces or ice. And a total riot on average wind days in deep stuff. Handling seems to be pretty consistent throughout the size range. Performance seems to scale well in all sizes though the 10 and 13m sizes seem to be the most fun as even in their "smaller" sizes the high AR and UL fabric make them extremely efficient and surprisingly useful even in sub-10kts. A skilled rider will be able to get significant performance out of the smaller sizes.
Think HQ Montana 8 on steroids.
The kite depowers well though it gets harder to fly when fully depowed and bar all the way out. This isn't uncommon with many kites but it's noteworthy. Sheeting out depowers the kite considerably and allows you to dump a lot of power even when crossing directly in the wind window.
Unlike similar kites in this category (Chrono V.2, Sonic etc…) the Zeekai is open cell. We were surprised by this as there are people racing them on the water. We asked HQ about this and the feeling is that it's an extremely stable kite and if racing on water, open cell or closed, if the kite ends up in the water you are out of the race. There's some logic there and for our needs in the winter it's a non-issue. Being open cell means that in general it will go from launch to riding faster than the open cell counterparts. And when you land it, it lays flat whereas closed cell kites full of air can get pushed around and be less well behaved.
While flying the Zeekai, after a season of flying the Matrixx 2 and other closed cell kites I found myself having to dig deep into the muscle memory to find my open cell skills again. Unlike other kites like the Ozone Chrono, when the winds shift drastically the Zeekai doesn't have internal pressure to maintain it's shape unless it's moving. So you either have to have a good sense of wind and be able to anticipate when things are going to change or be able to react and offset the changes. Both of which are much less of a problem while moving.
The HQ Zeekai is a powerhouse. It has a lot of grunt for and a lot of speed. It sits a bit forward in the window and you can tell it wants to run. The bar pressure is direct and nice and not too heavy, even on the 19m. Sheet in and the power builds smoothly but quickly, not the "yank you feet out of your boots" type power build. Combine the speed, turn rate and AR and you have a hucking machine.
Gust handling is very good. Not "great" but for a kite of this type and performance it's on par with others and better than some. It isn't as automatic as in the Matrixx, you have to actively sheet in and out to offset the gusts and if you fail to, you notice it. Part of flying an advance kite is being able to fly and in gusty conditions the Zeekai will be fine but you will have to know what you're doing. This is not a kite that we would recommend sitting still with at 12:00 over head in gusty conditions. It will loft you. On the other hand if you’re looking for speed, this thing will hook into gusts and give you turbo boost.
Safety Systems : The 2016 Zeekai's safety is a little different than other offerings out there in that it comes with a "Top Hat" safety system. Those of you who have been flying a long time will recognize it for sure. Most "modern" kites are being produced with some flavor of FLS (front line safety) which when activated enables the kite to "flag out" on a single line and completely depower. The red "Top Hat" may seem a little dated and in truth it is. It's been used by HQ and other brands since at least 2004 however the opinion at HQ is that using FLS systems on these types of kites can be a messy thing. (And it's true, sometimes when using the FLS you end up with line nightmare.) and the top hat safety, which eliminates the load from your flying lines to the steering lines therefore inducing stall, is generally quite effective and a suitable option for this kite.
And to be fair in practice it does work very well on the Zeekai. Better than most kites we've seen using this system. The only concern one might have with this type of safety system is that in high winds it can pose a problem if the kite flips leading edge down. Therefore enabling it to reverse launch and to some point generate some power. This is only in very rare and usually exceptional situations and if things get too out of hand there is always the chicken loop release option.
One of the side benefits is that it is a leash-less system. So bar spins don't get messy.
Build Quality: Like the Matrixx 2 from last season, HQ seems to have stepped up and built a really well made wing. It has the same super thin low drag bridles that we saw on the Matrixx 2 and combined with the 20d UL water repellent fabric the Zeekai is a very nice well made snow kiting option. The bridles are long compared to some kites but not unusual in this type of kite. Careful packing, especially being mindful to keep the pulleys on the outside of the kite when packing, will save you time later.
The Zeekai bar system is similar to other bars in the HQ lineup. Its comfortable to use with or without gloves and neat and tidy. It's not as pretty as some bars but it's functional, durable and comfortable. One thing you will notice are the insanely long leaders. At HARDWATER KITING we like long leader as they are less expensive and fragile than your kite lines. This is important when crashing with skis or a board that has sharp edges. The long leaders keep your lines out of harm's way.
The Zeekai has a long bar throw to accommodate the kite's wide depower range. And uses a clam cleat trim system with a substantial amount of adjustment. The trim handle is soft, large and easy to actuate even under load.
Above the bar is a "mouse ear" line spinner to reduce line twists if you loop the kite a lot. It's a lighter weight option than the spinner found on the Matrixx 2. This is the same assembly that is being used on other HQ offerings that use a FLS safety.
Bottom Line: The Zeekai might be a bit of a "dark horse" in terms of what people are riding and racing on and in the right hands we suspect the HQ Zeekai can hang with other, much higher priced brands. If you want a kite with substantial raw performance the Zeekai may be a good option. Especially if you are flying in areas with winds that tend to be more on the smooth side of things. In less smooth winds you're going to have to work a little bit just like most kites. For some of us that's part of the fun. If you want a kite to race on weekends and/or just rip around on when time allows and not have different kites for each discipline at $1999 RTF for the 10m the HQ Zeekai is a great option compared to similar kites on the market. Without a doubt it's an advanced kite for advance kiters looking for advanced performance. We're really looking forward to riding theses kites in the future.
If you'd like to come demo the new 2016 Zeekai or purchase one HARDWATER KITING (www.hardwaterkiter.com) will have them available for this winter. Come visit and check them out!
Hardwater Kiting: You will not find many reviewers with more depower foil experience anywhere. These reviews are non-brand biased and based on our first hand experiences and those of our customers. The reviews are intended to educate and help kiters make the often hard decision of which kite to spend their hard earned dollars on.