I’ll always have a soft spot for Level One Kites. Back in the day, my first proper kite was a Level One Easy Light on which I learned to Axel and avoid those frequent walks of shame which plague the novice pilot. There was a pocket of Level One devotees there in Dallas, TX and between us we had most designs from the Easy Light all the way up to the mighty Thor’s Hammer. We loved ’em for their good value, solid construction (lots of heavy landings in those days) and forgiving flight.
So, I was keen to try out the new(ish) design from Level One Kites, The Black Pearl, designed by Thorsten Mikus. Its a whole lot more kite that those first L1’s of mine, but retains those beloved traits on of the kites, it even has the “Made In Heaven” logo on the kite bag :biggrin_wp:
When I first put the kite together it felt more like a SUL, such is the flex in the frame and the light weight. It is framed with SkyShark 2PT (hence the flex) & SkyShark 3PT leading edges and SkyShark 3PT spreaders. With a SkyShark P1X spine this adds up to 230g which is not a lot for 2.4m kite.
The most interesting feature of the kite is the position of the standoffs. They are positioned such that the connectors on the lower spreaders lie adjacent to one another, literally touching. It does look a little odd at first, the only design I’ve seen with anything resembling it would be the Aerostar Sport Kites “Sano” which achieves a similar configuration with its ShapeShifter™ standoffs.
The sail is Icarex and the leading edge tunnels are of some light weight material which gave me some concerns initially about wear and how long it might last. I’ve been assured by Thorsten though that the leading edges hold up just fine and Kitehouse designs feature similar materials and I’ve had no issue with them, despite flying regularly on shell strewn beaches. The sewing and finishing perhaps isn’t on par with the very best boutique manufacturers but its appears perfectly acceptable/adequate and I found no mistakes or areas of concern. The sail reinforcements at the trailing edge, the upper spreader rub spot and around the centre T are well done and look like they offer plenty of protection.
As stated, this is a large kite and it moves slowly and deliberately but it doesn’t feel that big on the end of the lines. The pull is pleasantly light even as the wind picks up and it doesn’t require large or firm inputs. In fact, the Black Pearl is very tolerant of sloppy inputs and delivers pleasing results despite the technique limitations of the pilot. Now, of course, this is a good thing because it makes the kite easy to pick up and trick but on the other hand it does nothing to improve the slop in your technique.
Tricks wise the Black Pearl turns out to be a very rounded design, equally capable of graceful old skool tricks or modern pitch based freestyle moves. Lets cover the old skool first. This kite excels are flatspins, 540’s are quite amazing for a design of this French shape/pedigree lovely and flat. Slot Machines likewise and multi-slots are really stoopid easy to pull off. Flic flacs are textbook with none of the dreaded deadspot which blights some other, overly pitchy, modern designs. Backspins are proper Backspins and not barrel rolls. In smooth winds they remain flat and don’t drift across the window. Whats more, cascading them is pretty straightforward and given the Black Pearl’s solid Flic Flacs the Duplex should be very attainable too. I’ll be sure to try this trick next time out.
The new skool, pitched based stuff, you’ll be pleased to hear that’s all there too. It rolls up and unwraps very gracefully, not blindingly quickly but smoothly and naturally such that I found myself pulling Lewis after Lewis just to watch it again and again. You can see what I mean in this video, to my eyes at least, this kite moves and transitions much more pleasingly that many a newer design.
Jacob’s Ladders are really very easy, the size/speed of the kite allow for slower rungs and in the good winds I had I could keep them going until I tired of them. Wap Do Waps are nice on this kite too, slower again due to the size and UL framing but slow Waps turn out to be more pleasing than the blindingly fast ones I haphazardly hit on smaller design. Multi-lazies had a tendancy to fall out so some care is needed there, and chaining tricks together into combinations is effortless and the BP transitions from one trick into the next very cleanly.
Precision ? Well that really isn’t a strong point of my flying, along with cometes and all manner of other stuff, but the Black Pearl cuts more that acceptable corners and figures with clean lines and pretty constant speed across the window. I’m informed that in much better hands the precisions is really rather good, which reinforces my belief that the Black Pearl would make a very capable competition platform. Wether it be Tricks Party or ballet, the tricks, clean lines and size/presence/speed you’d have no excuses, it wouldn’t be the kite letting you down.
In conclusion then, well, despite having made a promise to myself I’d be buying no more new kites this year I rather think I’ll be making some room in my bag for a couple more. Its just that compelling. It’d be the perfect kite for a novice, being so neutral and forgiving which makes it very easy to achieve good results. That statement does the kite a disservice though, because its much more that an entry/novice level platform, its worthy of serious consideration for all levels of fliers.
The only really fault I can find with the kite is the printed graphic on the wingtip. I realize this is a feature common to many Level One kites, but I’m not a fan of it. The sail layout, though simple is very effective but the graphic does detract a little from the aesthetic.
Nobody in the US currently stocks this design, which is a pity because its simply too good to ignore. It Europe though it is carried by a number of stores including Kite Ireland (duh), Cerf Volante Service (France), Volango (Germany) and Giochi Volanti (Italy)
I’d like to thank the people who have made this review possible by providing the demo kite. First of all, a big thank you to Thorsten Mikus, the designer, who has provided three different kites for US demo. Thanks also to Paul Debakker of Goodwinds & Focus Kites who brought the kites back with him from a trip to Europe and who mailed them out to me. Finally to Jürgen Denzinger of Kites Ireland who put me in touch with Thorsten and got the ball rolling.