Catching Up with the Slingshot Crew – Fred Hope on the UFO Strutless Foil Kite
The all-new strutless UFO is our Unlimited Foiling Object
Who better to test out the kite’s capabilities than Fred Hope, one of our athletes and an absolute master of foiling. After countless days kiting with the UFO here in the Gorge and down in La Ventana, Mexico, Fred now calls it his favorite kite and one that will help him continue to expand what is possible on a foil. We sat down with Fred to get his take on all things UFO.
When you first heard Slingshot was developing a strutless kite what were your initial thoughts?
To be honest, I thought that I would never use it because I’ve seen no-strut kites flying around in the Gorge and it seemed like they would constantly buckle and flap in the wind. I always thought that having more struts would make the kite go through the window faster. But then I got one to test and was immediately surprised at how fast it was; it really just shot through the window, which is something that the SST does really well. The UFO, however, is a lot more reactive and quicker through the window.
” I was very surprised by how quiet and structured the whole frame is.” – Fred Hope
And what about the buckling you mentioned seeing on other strutless kites? How does the UFO perform here?
That was another thing I was surprised about! I didn’t see any buckling at all. And the flapping is pretty minimal as well when you compared it to other no-strut kites. It’s very quiet. It does flap a bit when you’re sheeted all the way out and you’re going straight upwind, but usually you’re not doing that at the same time.
It has incredible relaunch, too. You can just hit it on the water and then immediately turn it back up and have it flying again. You don’t even slow down on a foil. It produces so much room for error.
Our SST has in the past been a popular kite for foilers, including yourself. How does the UFO stack up to the SST, specifically for foiling performance?
The SST was definitely my go-to kite for foiling because it was so easy to fly and super responsive and you could fly it sheeted while still steering. I definitely think that the UFO is something completely different that’s super cool. It’s like an SST on steroids—it does everything an SST does but much, much faster.
Not only does it steer faster and goes through the window quicker, it’s also so light and never falls out of the sky—it just drifts with you. You can sheet out the bar, have it above you and it’ll just follow you down the swell without ever having to worry about it. And then when you do have to maneuver the UFO again while riding down the swell, you can loop it and not really get too much of a pull from it.
The other day, I went back to the SST to try and compare. And I realized that I was constantly waiting for the SST to get to where I wanted it to be. It was always kind of slowing me down in my maneuvers. The UFO is in another ballpark because it’s so lightweight for going downwind. And then upwind it really does lock in and the canopy fills really nicely and you get a very consistent power even throughout lulls.
The UFO is a really incredible kite. I’ve been really surprised by it. I definitely think that a lot of people are going to be transferred over to the UFO due to the ease of use. The SST is a great kite, but, for foiling, the UFO is perfect. I’m pretty blown away by it, honestly.
How would you describe the UFO’s drifting capabilities?
It’s never fallen out of the sky. You can park it anywhere in the window and almost run straight at it. Not quite straight, but pretty directly at it. And it won’t fall out of the sky. It’ll just keep going backwards, which is pretty cool to see because it gives you a lot more time to work on foot switches or any tricks you want to do on the board.
So the UFO has allowed you to push the limits of your foiling tricks even more?
Absolutely. I was talking to Fox about it the other day that with the UFO I’m able to do every trick I was doing with the SST, but at a faster speed and higher level. And then I’m doing these other things where I just almost forget about the kite and do some trick and then come around and realize that the kite is ready for me to grab the bar again, loop it and go the other way. So that’s been really cool because I can kind of focus more on myself and the board and not really keep the kite in mind too much. It’s just sits there, drifting along.
You’ve spent a ton of time on the water with the UFO, including traveling to Mexico with a full quiver…
And here’s another thing: they pack down so small. It’s crazy. The UFO kite bags are like these little things you’d see in a purse store. It’s pretty amazing how small the UFOs pack down. When I went to Mexico, I fit four UFOs—the 3m, the 5m, the 7m, and the 9m—into a 10-meter RPM bag.
What like one or two sizes of the UFO do you find yourself kiting on the most?
My favorites, if I had to pick, are the 5m and the 7m. Here in the Gorge, the 5m and the 7m have been really nice for me because they offer a level of lift that I wasn’t getting from the SST, so I can do these tricks that require a little bit more weightlessness on the board.
It really depends on wind speed. If you’re foiling in the Gorge, I’d say the 3m and 5m, and maybe the 7m. And then if you were in La Ventana, Mexico, where the average is 20 knots every day I would go 5m and 7m. And then if you’re foiling somewhere that it gets a little bit lighter, like 15 knots or less, then the 7m and 9m.
The 9m is pretty nice because it’s super stable. Sometimes you can get overpowered while foiling with it because it’s such a big kite. Here in the Gorge the wind isn’t usually light—it’s always coming up. And then the 3m for me is a little quick for the tricks that I like to do, but a lot of people around here really enjoy the smaller size because you can sheet out, forget about the kite and just ride the swell. I think the 3m is for someone that is more into carving in the swell and doing foot switches and things like that.