The self-launching Solo Strap® began its life in 2012 as a simple solution to what was a local problem. What do you do when you turn up at the beach, the wind is pumping, you are totally psyched for a session yet there’s no kite buddy there to help you out with a launch.
Specifically, this was my daily problem at our summer home spot of Pigeon Point, Tobago (West Indies). My wife and I often spend the European summers in Tobago as my in-laws live there. Annoyingly the European summer is out of season for the winds in Tobago and the local water sports guru Brett Kenny, who owns and runs Radical Sports Tobago (right on the spot), and his crew are mostly off on holidays or tending to other out of season tasks. When he was at the spot I had seen Brett using a Hobie Cat that lay on the beach as a ‘sand anchor’ to do a self-launch by attaching his chicken loop to the tensioning wires on its mast. Even though it did seem a little sketchy, and I didn’t really want to risk it in more than about 15 knots of wind, I did replicate that same practice for a while. That was until the day I turned up and someone had moved the Hobie Cat. Darn, I’d have to learn how people self-launch and self-land their kites straight onto the beach.
It wasn’t until the next summer I got Brett to teach me the steps on how to self-launch & self-land a kite on the beach with nothing but the kite and its lines. In the gusty conditions it was a little tricky and, although I managed it, I associated each self-launch with the worry of beach debris causing a pinhole bladder puncture or canopy tear. Sure enough, it wasn’t long until I was searching for and repairing pinprick holes in all my kites. At the time I was flying Cabrinha Switchblades and eventually, to avoid more punctures, I ended up using their self-landing feature by releasing my chicken loop at the water’s edge. Kind of annoying to then reset my lines each time but it did work and to this day is a nice feature of their kites and bars.
I’ve also been a long-time fan of attaching a GoPro to my kite lines but having to witness the regular dragging of its lens through the sand during a self-launch was killing me. That problem for me was probably the final straw. So, from that time on I began to use a tethered method to provide a sand anchor to self-launch the kite, initially using a long climbers prusik loop of rope and a good quality carabiner. To this day it still works really well but I thought why not make the solution even better.
I’d seen people self-launch their kites using their safety leashes to anchor around an object and then clip on to but that didn’t really sit well with me. Firstly, you were using the primary safety item that is meant to be the first thing you clip yourself to for ‘safety’ when launching. I thought it was not good practice to take that safety element away and risk losing the kite if something goes wrong. Secondly, if you did use your safety leash to launch you then needed to disconnect it after the launch and reconnect it to both your harness & kite lines, all while you are attached to a launched kite. It seemed a temporary, emergency solution at best.
On one downwinder from Paje in Zanzibar to Coral Rock, Jambiani I remember feeling a little hesitant that the route we were taking along the outer reef break, jumping and surfing our way along, had no rescue options if something went wrong. There are no motorized boats in that area as there are no mechanics to service or repair them. Carrying a ‘tow rope’ of some kind seemed like a sensible idea but not one which meant someone sacrificing their safety leash. Also, I needed to ensure that a strap that could also act as a kite buddy on the water remained light and simple. Something that could be clipped around the waist during those epic downwinders. I’m really happy to say that the ‘Hands Solo‘ self-launch strap weighs in at only 165g (so you don’t even notice it’s there).
As the summers went by I noted that the ideal length of a beach anchor needed to be long enough to go around the local palm trees but also not so long that you couldn’t clip it around your waist and take it with you on the water. So began the testing of different lengths of webbing, anchoring to different sized objects including palm trees; beach signposts; car bull bars; rock formations; sandbags and more. The good old notion that length matters held true and that you needed to maintain some of that length with increasing girths of anchor points. We think we currently have a length that works well for most situations.
Two other things we observed in early testing were that in gusty conditions the kite liked to move around a bit when placed at the edge of the wind window, sometimes taking-off a little and then returning to the beach. All those movements cause variable tension on the anchor point. Not such a problem in light marginal winds but not so great when the wind hits 30+ knots and you’d not totally sure of the stability of your anchor point. So taking inspiration from of the climbing tools I’d used mountaineering I thought about adding a bungee component into the strap. This would help in two ways: Firstly, it would provide a dampening effect between the pull of the kite and the resultant tension on the anchor point; and Secondly, it would reduce the resting length of the strap, therefore, keeping it neater when clipped around the waist when taking it with me on the water.
Getting the length of the strap right and adding in the bungee section became a game changer. It was that evolution in development that had friends asking me if they could now buy one. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about turning the strap into an actual saleable product but then I began to think, why not? It was never going to be about making money, more about making a simple, useful tool that helps improve safety on and off the beach. To me, it’s just great to see someone using one of our straps on the beach. And we have people already using them regularly in Brazil, Western Sahara, Australia, the Caribbean, Egypt, Holland, Portugal and more coming soon. If you have a kite camp, online business or kite school check out our Resellers section on the FAQ’s page.
So that’s what we did, we spent several years testing different strap lengths and materials, different resistances of bungee in all types of wind range (we’ve still only used it up to 35 knots). The result of this was our original ‘Hands Solo‘ strap. The official tension loading tests suggest that in fact, the anchor point will be more likely to pulled away before the strap fails – see our FAQs page for test results on that).
In the last 3 years, we’ve also responded to feedback that some peeps would love it if the strap was also able to provide a connection to the safety ring on the kite lines. That would allow them to release their chicken loop if something went wrong without losing the kite. So we went back to prototyping again, initially having a second fixed tether, and later preferring a strong stainless steel ring where you can attach or remove the optional ‘Leia leash‘. We use exactly the same stainless steel clip on most safety leashes so it remains a familiar additional safety procedure.
That’s it really, I can now hit my local spot at any time, self-launch and self-land without assistance. I don’t need to use my harnesses safety leash, I don’t need to self-launch by dragging my kite (and camera) through beach debris and I also have a useful tool on-board if I need to help out a fellow kiter in difficulty or even tow my board behind me in the event of my own self-rescue.
Oh, and as several of my friends have told me (and sent me photos) the straps also make excellent leads for walking their dogs. Bonus!