The Duotone Neo has been the weapon of choice for many these last few years, especially when it comes to surf style kiting. For 2021 we’re seeing some huge improvements. But what’s this new SLS is all about? We’ll take you through the new Neo SLS and our feedback so far below.
On the Beach:
First up, the difference is immediately obvious looking at the kite. The new Penta TX material is quite different to Dacron in feel and appearance and you can spot it covering the leading edge and frame of the kite straight away. The Penta TX is a significantly lighter fabric (reducing overall weight of the kite by 15%) as well as being up to 5 times stronger in terms of tear resistance. It’s also a lot stiffer, with 50% less elongation than Dacron.
SLS stands for “Superior, Lighter, Stronger”, a little gimmicky but hey it looks like it does what it says on the box! The new SLS range kites are the ones that feature this Penta TX fabric on the LE which is exactly that (Superior, Lighter and Stronger). It’s also more expensive, which unsurprisingly they left out of the acronym, (SLSME didn’t have the same ring to it).
If you don’t want to shell out an extra 15-20% more for your new kite this year you don’t have to, because the regular (non SLS) range of kites are still available and it looks like they’re aiming to run two ranges with the “premium” SLS range being akin to the “top end” models we see with cars and the like, specced out with all the latest features.
Looking over the shape of the kite you can see there are a few differences in the outline. Using a material with 50% less stretch is going to have a major impact on how a kite flies, so design adaptations have been made to take this into account. The wingtip outline appears a little more squared off rather than swept, but the rest of the leading edge appears to follow the same shape as the 2020 Neo.
Aside from the small tweaks to the shape, the SLS Neo 2021 also features the “flex strut” design that we’ve seen on the Juice. The struts are designed to be stiffer at the front of the canopy near the LE to hold their shape and respond quickly to user input, but they deform and flex more towards the back of the kite allowing it to twist and turn more dynamically in the air. This is how you get that super fast and snappy response, the front of the kite can start turning without having to wait for the back of the kite to follow, it catches up through the turn rather than delaying it.
Additionally, we’ve seen a major update to the Duotone bag for the first time in many years. The new bag is a smaller and more compact bag with a “duffle style” zip that runs the full length across the top of the bag. This can be clipped down and tightened up/compressed using quite a few different straps on the bag, and so far it hasn’t been too difficult to get the kite in and out of. Overall, it can be compressed to a much smaller bag which will make a huge difference to those of us who travel a lot or are restricted on storage space. It is a bit harder to get your kite into, but not enough to cause a major problem with the sizes/models we tested, definitely not sleeping bag level!
In the Air:
The new SLS material comes to life the second you get it in the air. The differences are pretty much what you’d expect from a kite that is both lighter and stiffer than its predecessor… it’s basically better in every way.
This is to be expected really, reducing the weight on something that flies is nearly always going to have a positive impact all around in terms of aerodynamics. It accelerates and turns quicker. It drifts better. It stalls out less in light wind and has a better bottom end. We didn’t really notice any setbacks at all, it’s an overall improvement, the only real downside of the new Penta TX frame is the increased cost.
The 10m still has the power of a 10 from last year, but in the sky feels as agile as an 8-9m Neo from 2020.
It’s worth noting that we’re also flying this on the new 2021 Duotone bar featuring a few upgrades including new lines, which will provide some level of performance increase too. We’ll do a separate review on the new bars soon but one of the big upgrades is new lines with 15% less elongation, so this is bound to have some impact on our experience with the new kite.
Where it really seems to excel is lighter wind and marginal conditions. Due to the lighter weight and increased agility you’ll get a lot better performance out of the kite on the lower end of it’s wind range. It’s not really much more powerful than the previous model so you probably don’t want to go down a size, but due to the better speed, performance and handling you can get away with a few less knots on the bottom end compared to where you would normally get going.
In terms of high wind performance we saw a significant increase here too. We only got one day of decent wind, but that increase in stiffness of the frame definitely seemed to make a difference when it comes to holding shape and maintaining control in strong conditions.
It is a shame they didn’t bring this out in anything larger than a 12m, as the light wind potential is huge. We’re under the impression that an SLS Juice is coming though so they likely didn’t want to have too much overlap between the two kites there.
On a whole, the SLS Neo is a clear winner. The performance increase is significant and while it might cost you a bit more up front, it seems like it’s a worthwhile investment especially if the durability claims hold true with testing. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this SLS option present in all kites next year, if not replacing the regular dacron construction for good.