Lam’s’ builds have always been top of class. I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the familiar triangle-box delivered by the USPS man. The first thing you notice is the kite bag – it’s very well done being both practical and professional looking. The kite fits perfectly into the bag and also has a Velcro clasp to keep it closed. After the bag, your next good impression will come from inspecting the kite itself. Clean seams, solid reinforcement, connector securing vinyl segments rather than clunky-looking c-clips, solid standoff connectors, and unique elements such as Sky Claws all add up to an impressive looking and well made kite. Everything is clean and well done with no hanging threads, uneven seams, or other unpleasant surprises. The nose is reminiscent of Lam’s custom made kites, but somewhat smaller with less stitching. It looks neat and is snag free. The ATM also has a leading edge tensioning system that is new for Sky Sport. You now tension the LE by pulling a loop and then hooking a knot on the nock. It’s foolproof and much easier to decipher than how his kites have been done in the past, although I still needed to view the assembly video in order to see precisely how to do it. The leech line system is adjusted with bungie cord adjustments at the back spine of the kite. Finally, the internal brass tail weight is at the base of the spine – it’s setup as delivered, works great, and is not meant for on the field adjustments. There is room and support to include a barrel weight at the bottom of the spine if you want to add a little extra, but it’s not necessary.
There are several items to mention that are unique to the ATM’s build. First, it has some custom components – the sky claw yoyo stoppers, the stand off connectors, and the APA connectors all appear to have been manufactured for this kite. I have noticed few problems with the connectors used by other manufacturers, but the sky claws on this kite will definitely improve your multi yoyo and wrapped flying game – they work just that well. The sky claws on the ATM differ from those on Lams custom kites as well – they share basically the same concept, but are a bit more rounded and the secondary catches are more knub-like. No matter, all variants work like a dream at catching and holding the lines when you want them to.
Materials appear to be top-notch – its dacron, Icarex, and high quality bridle line, no short-cuts there that I noticed. I do wish that the trailing edge material was a bit more heavy-duty, but what’s there seems adequate and is reinforced with a mylar backing near the standoffs. Also, the APA stand off connector (at the lower spreader) is custom made for this kite and a clean minimal design. I did find that mine tended to move a bit when pushed hard with a finger, so I applied a bit of tape to either side in order to hold them fast. This is certainly not required and I’ve owned many kites where they move in this way, I just prefer to lock them down – it may well be that others want to experiment in moving them somewhat away from the 90 degree position.
The frame is Dynamic D8. I’ve had little experience with these spars in the past, but I’ve flown both this kite, the SUL, and the UL pretty hard now and have noticed no spar issues. If anything, I think that the framing could be an advantage with the SUL. The D8 spars seem (to me) stiffer than SkyShark 2PT which is what Lam generally uses in his SULs. For the ATM SUL, this works really well as the kite, while light, also has significant stiffness to it which holds up well when slapping it around.
Do be careful with the nocks – they are extremely pointed. If push came to shove in a dark alley, you could certainly use them for self defense. I mentioned this to Lam and he just laughed and said that they help tip stabs. I don’t know if that is the reason or not, but the kite is certainly very stable in a stab! Anyhow, just be aware that they are shockingly sharp.
Sky Sport is well-known for its kites having a face which some like and some just don’t. Fearless, Transformer, Sea Devil – they all have clear faces that watch you closely while you fly them. The ATM, however, breaks with this and features a panel design and 3 color (if you count both black and white as colors) palette. It’s a clean, stark, contrasting design that looks great and should appeal to those that don’t care for a face on their kite.
The standard colors feature a mostly white and black-trimmed sail with a single color in the main section of the kite. The color choice is red, blue, yellow, or grey. You can also get those same color choices for the main sail color, but, at least to my eye, those choices do not look as good. Sticking with the less-colorful choice however, any main color choice results in a sharp looking kite. You can also custom order your colors at additional cost if you are willing to wait for the kite to be sewn.
In the air, the kite looks great, both in general flight and also while tricking. To my eye, the ATM with a more intense color (red versus dark grey for example) creates a excellent contrast that works well and looks great from a few feet to a hundred feet. In many ways, this SUL has a smooth tricking style that reminds me of the Fearless – with clean ‘about its center’ horizontal and verticle rotations and a very solid turtle.
How does it fly?
The feel of the kite was familiar to me right away with no need to acclimate or radically adjust my inputs – I picked up the lines and was off. You can fly this one just like a standard – it loves being treated that way and will not complain at all despite its lighter frameset.
Trick-wise, its all there, certainly everything that I can do that is – endless jacobs ladders, cometes, yoyos (yeah!), 540s, slots, tip stabs, backspins, cascades, flick-flacks (care free with no dead spot), multi-lazys, and taz – it’s easy (if not quite ‘automatic’) and reliable time after time. Combos are also very sweet – this kite has a somewhat slower flight and trick speed that gives you extra time and opportunity to string things together to your hearts content. You always feel in total control and can radically change direction or redirect momentum instantly and it looks very natural.
Aside from tricks, it’s also got great general flight characteristics with a solid pressure on the lines (but not too much), and sharp effortless corners with no exit wobble – it is very precise. One thing to mention is the solid half axel on this kite. Many kites that I’ve flown that have an easy taz suffer somewhat in the half-axel. I can’t explain why, but I’ve seen this correlation enough to think that it is apparently easy to design a kite that can taz well, but half-axels badly without extra care. Sounds like not such a big deal, but it really wreaks havoc with the kite since a sharp half-axel is key to doing clean cometes, cascades, and half-axel-to-fade. Thankfully, thats not the case here. The half and taz are both strong and reliable. Tricks execute with a nice pace and are neither too fast or too slow, but seem just about right and you can speed it up or slow it down as well.
So, how low does it go? I’m going to go ahead and say low enough, but folks don’t seem to like that answer. For sure, I can fly a 3oz kite like the 4D (a kite that is for sure characterized as an SUL and can even be flown indoors) in lower winds, but you’re going to do nothing but fly – as in no-real-tricks. The ATM SUL gives the full-on trick repertoire experience in winds from 3 to 12 MPH. You can fly lower with a bit more effort and go higher than 12 if pressed (Lam rates it up to 16). I’ve flown it in yank-it-around low winds and also in gusty strong stuff and had fun with no worries and a big smile the whole time. It’s very solid and remains trickable in higher winds with controlled speed.
If you want to see the SUL in action, this video will give you a little taste.
A final point is that, in most reasonable wind up to 10-12 mph, I preferred the flight characteristics of the SUL to the UL. It’s a combination of the lower wind range and overall balance and feel of the kite. To me, I just clicked better with the SUL version. Above 12, however, the extra mass of the UL is desirable. In particular, the taz on the UL remains super easy even in higher winds, but requires more forward movement with the SUL. This wide wind range works well for those days when you only want to take one kite to the field – you can fly this one comfortably in most standard winds worry-free.
There are several things that this kite does VERY well which include the yoyo, comete, taz machine, and cynique. While these tricks are not fully automatic, they are easily within grasp. A surprise for me was the side-slide. It’s not been a trick that I have ever done that much, but this one does them so well, that I find myself regularly sliding the kite across the window – just beautiful! It’s unusual in my experience for modern kites to do that trick very well, but this one does.
Like the Transformer SUL, the yoyo on the ATM will simply blow your mind. It’s easy to get it to rotate again, and again, and again – I’ve never done so many triple yoyos one after the other. You can do them any way you like as well – one pop, two pop, from a fade, up the window, down the window, its just a little flick and around it goes with a nice tight rotation. The stiff frameset helps here – as it tends to hold up and not deform which allows you to continue to fly around or add more yoyo rotations, and also reliably unroll when you want as the kite remains controllable. It’s great, but I’ll warn you that it is also very additive. You may have trouble going back to a standard that requires a setup, big input, and lots of slack to get it done – thinking, who has time for all that!
The Comete is built-in and works in both high and low wind. Many SULs have trouble doing more than a single rotation and tend to lose their comete once you hit the turtle position. This one does first class cometes – easy top of the window to the deck with no modification in your timing or rythmn – just let it rip and the kite does what it is supposed to do (easy-peasy). It is well balanced, so you can also stop the comete rotation sequence and pull out instantly into a fade or other move with confidence.
Lke the ATM UL, the taz works really well with the kite, but with a bit more float rather than spanking it around. The nose comes up easily in either a half-axel or when doing a cascade and you have a decent window timing-wise to pop for the rotation. This kite likes you to pop late which I actually find quite refreshing as you can literally do the half, wait for the nose to come well up, and then pop for the rotation. The slower-pace seems to make sense and feels very intentional compared to kites where you pop 2 times fairly quickly and hope for the best. I like it, for sure!
The Cynique, like the yoyo, just seems unreal. I’ve never really worked on this trick much before now, mainly due to how painful it made the kite look – some kites make this trick look something like a beating! This one does them easily and naturally – the kite in no way appears to have been jarred or assaulted, it’s just a smooth reversal in direction and that’s it. Watch the video above, it seriously is as easy as it looks and I’ve yet to break anything! I can’t wait to get to the point where doing this trick seems as natural and safe to me as any other that I enjoy. Lazys and multi-lazys are also very strong – as expected. In general, you can lots of fun with all sorts of turtle play with this kite as it will hang out in a turtle and relax – riser, yoyo, cynique, unroll, riser, rinse repeat. It’s a lot of fun just experimenting with this to see what’s possible – I think it is an area where I will find many unexpected surprises as I continue flying the ATM.
So, what did I not like about the kite? Not much actually – I really have to nit-pick here, but there are a few things that I would mention.
First, while the kite tricks and combos like a dream, it does not have what I would call an easy steady fade. You can easily pop it into a fade in any one of the standard ways, but unless you are in smooth winds, it will not want to stay there long without some careful tending. To me and the way I fly, its other strengths far outweigh this tendency, so I am not concerned. It’s not like it doesn’t fade well enough to easily do backspins, backspin cascades, wap-do-wap, combos, etc, its just not a stable fade to sit there untended indefinitely. If this is something you gotta-do with your kite, then be prepared to learn how to tend a fade as the kite requires some management before it settles into a fade. It tricks so well, however, that you will want to happily move on to the next combo.
Also, some might consider the Dynamic spars a weakness, but I would not agree performance-wise as this kite has the goods. A legitimate concern would be in getting new spars when you do break something as they are just harder to find than SkyShark. Still, I’ve got to think that these spars account for much of the reduction in price compared to Sky Sport’s custom made kites, so it is just part of the package to my mind.
Is 2-3 mph low enough for a SUL? For me, I’ll always take the trade of having a fully capable SUL and have to work a little harder at the lower end, so I’d say yes because I think maintaining tricks is the right compromise. However, if you are expecting to float this puppy around without sweating a bit in 1 mph of wind, you may be disappointed. The upside is the higher wind range, but keep in mind that it does need a bit of wind.
Finally, I would like to see a bit more reinforcement on the trailing edge near the standoffs. It appears adequate, but I can’t help but be a little concerned especially considering how tricky this kite is which all but ensures near-constant trailing edge contact there with the bridle, but time will tell.
The ATM SUL is just one of those kites that I know I will keep in the A bag due to its solid abilities and trick reliability. It has that rare all-around balance that just feels right when tricking and flying. The only room for improvement that I’ve found is the fade stability which is not a big issue for me personally. The sweet spot wind range of the kite also naturally overlaps with that for excellent tricking, it never feels too heavy or too light in any reasonable wind.
For less than $300, you can have a kite that tricks and flys better than kites costing much more and it’s also well designed and constructed. I don’t think that you will find a better overall kite at this price point. Sky Sport has managed to make this kite available at a much lower cost while meeting performance and quality expectations. The ATM SUL is so versatile, that you may find it becomes the one kite that you consistently take with you to the field.