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TKM 56 The Creators Hugh Pinfold 8 1200x800 - The Creators: Hugh Pinfold

The Creators: Hugh Pinfold

As well as being a bonafide ninja on a snowboard, skateboard and mountain bike, Hugh Pinfold from New Zealand is an accomplished kitesurfer and foiler, having been on the scene for over 20 years, and working in the industry on product design for a number of brands. Now firmly entrenched in the North family, we caught up with him about his latest baby, the Navigator Pro.
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Hi Hugh, thanks for chatting to us! How did you first get into kiting?

I had been following the winters between New Zealand and USA snowboarding when a mate from engineering school came back from a trip to New Caledonia where he’d got into kiting. His sales pitch to me was how would you like to jump six times higher than you ever have in snowboarding big air, then land softly in the water. Before long we were planning a trip to Aitutaki in the Cook Islands for him to teach me to kite. Upon return, I bought my own Naish Aero 10m kite but didn’t have the finances to buy a board. My local kite store told me that we had an innovative kiteboard manufacturing company here in Christchurch, New Zealand called Underground Kiteboarding, so I approached them to work for free for a couple of weeks to learn how to make my own board. 

You ended up staying with them for quite a while! What kept you in Christchurch?

The Christchurch scene was going off in 2003, with so much stoke for the sport on and off the water. We had great role models in international kiter Kane Hartell and then women’s world champion, Cindy Mosey. The innovation in Underground board manufacturing was spurred along by local legends Steve Palmer and Aaron Smith. Two weeks turned into two years, and working in each stage of kiteboard manufacturing was super cool. The factory was situated right on the estuary with butter-flat water, and once the wind monitors in the lunchroom hit 18 knots, we were all out on the water, of course making up for work later that evening.   

After leaving Christchurch, how did your path into the wind sports industry continue? 

Before Christchurch I’d completed a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering in 2002. After the practical work experience making kite boards, I traveled the world kiting, in Maui, South America, Europe, and down to Cape Town for a season working in retail and doing kite lessons. I then got an Accessories Designer job with Ozone which turned into a Product Management role for five years. Then I designed control systems and hardware for Cabrinha and harness components for Neil Pryde for another five years, which led to co-founding the new North Kiteboarding and North Foils brands five years ago.  

What is your official role at North and which products are you focused on?

My official title is the Director of Design and Engineering at North. I wear two hats at North, one overseeing the look, feel and direction of all North products with the senior management team, and another working as more of an industrial design engineer, mainly on hardware projects. I am one of the industry’s most experienced kite control bar designers, having designed five control systems from scratch, and many iterations in between over the past 15 years. I also enjoy designing twintip bindings, boots, foil board straps, kite inflation systems and various other molded products.

What would you say has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

The new Navigator Pro is the product I am most proud of because it pulls together so many features I dreamed of implementing in a control bar. However, the proudest moment would have to be when we first showed off the new North product range to our International Sales Team in Dakhla, in 2019. I have never worked so hard as we did to get that first range to market in just over a year. By the time we came out of the sales presentation and looked out on the water, over 100 North kites were racing around the harbor. Wow, now that was a sight etched firmly in my memory.

We remember that well too! So, tell us about your new baby, the Navigator Pro, and why you’re so proud of it.

I’ve been working on the Navigator Pro for about three years now. Our design brief was to incorporate an exceptionally reliable auto-unwinding front-line system, whilst creating the safest, most intuitive control system on the market. The Navigator Pro has been made 20% stronger whilst weighing 20% lighter than our existing Navigator. The Quick Release (QR) has been redesigned to be even safer, with special attention to reduce both accidental QR release or accidental harness loop unhooking. However, the feature I’m most proud of is the super comfortable feeling bar grip. We’ve invented a new compound grip formula that is softer for ultimate comfort, with micro texture that provides fantastic grip when dry, wet, hot or cold. This grip is also three times more wear resistant and utilizes a premium internally stitched construction.

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And what technology is hidden under the grip?

Under the grip is our one-piece composite over-molded truss bar. This construction was the breakthrough that allowed us to both increase strength and reduce overall weight.
The centerpiece, through which the two high-quality individual PU tubes run, is injection molded from stainless steel for ultimate strength and dimensional stability. A Titanium PVD coating aids the smooth sheeting in and out and is super hardwearing. This simplifies the bar design with no need for replaceable central inserts.

You’ve also incorporated ceramic bearings. What makes them more suitable for a marine application?

Ceramic bearings have excellent corrosion resistance in marine environments. Ceramic bearings are rounder, smoother and harder than steel. Ceramic also has a lower density which makes them lighter weight.

The Navigator Pro should work universally across many different brands. What features have you implemented to enable this?

As with the current Navigator, we use line connectors on the ends of our flying lines that are all the same length. Therefore, if you have a non-North kite that has the kook-proof knotted connectors on the tips of the kite (rather than the inner bridles) you can easily exchange them from the front to rear lines to seamlessly work on either configuration. Navigator bars are designed to work with any low-V kites, including all North kites from 2020 onwards. However, we also offer an easily retrofittable high-V split connector accessory kit should your non-North kite be set up to fly best with a high-V split in your front lines.

Our test team really liked the original Navigator so are excited to get their hands on the new Pro version! Will the original continue to run as a product? If so, who should choose the Navigator Pro over the standard Navigator?

For sure. The classic Navigator bar will continue to run for those who prefer the joy of simplicity and don’t mind manual control of their front lines. The Navigator will also remain at a lower cost price. The Navigator Pro is for those that love having the highest performance control bar as their cockpit. A couple of notes – you do have to connect the correct front left and right lines to the kite with an auto unwinding bar – this connection is highlighted by the red power ball on the left when running your lines out. With more moving parts on the auto-unwinding Navigator Pro, you do also need to be more vigilant with cleaning the bar in fresh water after each use.

So now the Navigator Pro has hit the market, what will you be working on next?

All I can say is that it sure would be a pity to not use some of these great new Navigator Pro technologies in the next generation of the Navigator…

For sure! Now, these photos show Marc Jacobs putting the Nav Pro through its paces. Marc hails from Auckland, and you’re a bit further south in Raglan, which has one of the world’s premier left-hand surfing waves. What is it like there for kiting and testing?

Kiting, winging and prone foiling are a dream in Raglan. With a rocketing outgoing current, you can add six knots to the wind strength. So even with just a breath of wind, when you jump in the outgoing current, you’re well-powered. The harbor is great for testing foils, and doing freestyle or Big Air twintipping you tend to jump just to stay downwind. Catch the current out towards the bar and you can choose either left or right-hand waves. Oh, I mean nah Raglan’s crap, always requires a wetsuit, far too cold… haha!

You also make the most of Raglan’s skate park… Can you tell us the secret to eternal youth?!

Whatever you do, don’t stop or you won’t start again. Oh, and try to keep up with your kids…

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