HELP ME! I don't know what to buy.
OK, so you aren't the first person not to know which harness is right for you, and surely wont be the last. This is why we have this page for you, it will give you a few of the "ins and outs" and things to look for in a harness.
Before we go any further, if you are miles away and can't come and see us, bear in mind we will gladly exchange or refund any monies (except freight) for product that hasn't been used, without question. Having said that, lets get on with what you need to know.
Waist Harness or Seat Harness or a bit of both?
Harnesses come in three types; Waist harnesses which go strangely enough, around your waist, Seat harnesses which go around your seat (see bum), and Combo harnesses which are a combination of waist harness with a half seat and leg loops.
At AKS, we almost exclusively recommend good waist harnesses, versus the use of seat harnesses. We do this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, seat harnesses create bad riding posture leading to poor riding performance and also bad physical alignment which can lead to soreness. Secondly, a higher hook position makes upwind body dragging much easier and facilitates easier water start and water start position.
Different harnesses have different properties and depending upon what you want them to do, can either work for you or against you.
What you should consider is:
A harness must support you comfortably and keep your body aligned straight. It should also spread the load of the kite evenly across all contact points against your body. Point loading can abrade skin away or bruise badly to the point where you can't kite any more. This is a bad thing! A nice high backed harness with lumbar support offers best support but if you have a short torso, they can come up under your shoulder blades. A low side panel allows easier twisting and bending as well as more comfort.
The spreader Bar is the stainless steel bar that attaches to either side of the harness and also to the hook which the kite connects to. It stops the harness pulling together at a single point where the hook is and crushing your waist. A good spreader shouldn't be too narrow or crushing will result, and shouldn't be too wide as a loose fit will result and make it hard to get tight enough.
Spreader Bar Padding
This one is easy, a spreader bar is pulled upward by the kite because of the spreaders curved shape and geometry of the position of the hook. It [spreader] rotates upward and inward at the top, towards your ribs causing pain and discomfort from concentrated contact area. A thick and well supported spreader bar pad will reduce/eliminate the pressure and spread the load without causing pain or discomfort. A good bar pad coupled with good harness design and hold down straps should eliminate the pain entirely making for a comfortable wear.
On this note, there are some pads that look really cushy, but when you try them on, they are too soft and allow the hook to push through the padding.
Type of Spreader Hook
The hook itself on the spreader bar can be either parallel or "hammerhead". The parallel hook can be less expensive but can accidentally release when riding with your body twisted against the direction of the kite. Hammerheads or narrowed hooks that let the loop sit in a "hollow" which prevents the loop from slipping off. Most modern harnesses use Hammerhead hooks nowadays. We can advice you on hook suitability and also how to rectify hook problems by adding an Ozone "Chicken finger" if you are having issues.
Safety releases and Hook Knife
Safety releases on the sides of handle pass leashes can be a nice feature if you ever need to ditch the kite in the event of an out of control or runaway kite when you have lost control in a crash and cannot reach the bar to release the safety systems. Although this is a very rare occurance, and is usually exclusively the domain of the very advanced rider, but it's nice to have peace of mind. A hook knife is something that should be on all harnesses, especially if you ride surf. Being able to "Cut away" at tangled lines is definately a good idea when in the surf. Although not essential, it's a nice to have.They can be purchased seperately if your fave harness doesn't have tham as standard.
Sliding or fixed spreader bar
Most harnesses these days are fixed spreader bars ie, they attach the ends of the spreader to either side of the harness through various buckles or clips. Fixed harnesses can be great if you freeride or freestyle, but if you like to change the angle of pull from the kite to the angle of the harness quickly and often, then you ideally would like the whole harness to slide around easily. Neoprene inner is good for this. Moulded inners tend to "grip" and not slide so easily. Horses for courses and in general this is a small consideration for beginners.
The other side of the coin is the harnesses that have sliding spreader bars. They have a 2-2.5in tape webbing which connects the sides of the harness and allows a spreader to slide back and forth across it. These can be good, but if the spreader is too short it can create pinching/crushing of the rib cage and also can and generally does, wear out the webbing in the tape and must be replaced a couple of times per season.
Sliding or constrictive harness.
Some harnesses slide easily back and forth (rotate around your body) for ease of aligning with the pull of the kite. This can make riding toeside (switch) or blind easier. It also makes wave riding in and out of the surf easier if you don't change stance (Gybe). Sliding harnesses can slide upwards as well as rotate which can be annoying or even painful for beginners. This won't worry a more experienced rider as they ride with the kite lower and at a greater lean when riding, keeping the pull of the kite at 90 degrees to their body. So even a beginner will enjoy a sliding harness in time.
A Grippy of constrictive style harness grips to your body and resists sliding which helps prevent the harness riding up over your ribs. This also gives you the most "connected" feel to the kite and is probably the most common nowadays.
At the end of the day, the harness MUST be comfortable. It is the piece of gear which transfers all of the kites load to your body. Considering the kite can generate more than three times your body weight in force, it must be comfy otherwise .... it's gonna hurt!
How much should I spend?
The most expensive harness is not necessarily going to be the most comfortable, and the cheapest harness is not necessarily going to be crappy or painful. The determining factor for purchasing one harness over another should always be comfort and fit. You do this by coming in to see us and trying on several harnesses and attaching them to a fixed loop and loading them up whilst feeling for comfort. If you are lucky, the right harness for you won't be expensive, but if it is, be happy you've found the right one and don't compromise for the sake of cost as you'll regret it every time you ride. The cost between the cheapest harness and the most expensive is about $120 which is a small price to pay for comfort during every ride you have over the next few years. If you get out for 120 sessions a year that is only a dollar per sesh, and only 33 cents per ride over three years! Now what was that about scrimping and saving $50? If you're really lucky, the best fitting harness will be moderately priced or could even be a cheapy. A good harness should last you minimum 2-3 years, so choose wisely!
Hopefully this gives you some things to consider when looking at harnesses. If you are unsure at all what would suit you, please feel free to tell us what you are looking for and we will be happy to throw some advice your way and make recommendations based on our experience.
Hope this helps!