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Mary Poppins On Speed

By stuaart in Technology
Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 12:21:01 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Mary Poppins got it right when she sang the famous song Let's Go Fly a Kite, but she made a mistake in getting more airtime with her umbrella than with the kite. Bad move. Now you can make amends by recreating famous scenes from the Disney classic with the aid of giant kites!

Flying Kites

Traction kiting is exciting, sometimes dangerous and often unpredictable. All the hallmarks of an 'extreme sport.'

Kites come in all shapes and sizes, from small single-line kites to large kites that are metres across. Most people have used a single-line kite at some point in their life, and perhaps have used dual-line kites that are steerable. These controllable stunt kites are often popular; they are small, portable, quick to setup and have a relatively low physical requirement (i.e., the pull generated on the pilot is small). Traction kites, on the other hand, are often much larger than stunt kites, being in the order of square metres in size rather than the single metre that many stunt kites are. Traction kites also have a very different design which is intended to produce high pull on the pilot, and as such are less maneuverable than stunt kites. Whilst the average traction kite is around three to six square metres in size, larger traction kites up to 16m2 or more, again of a different construction and design, are used for activities such as kiteboarding (i.e., surfing using kite power).

This article will specifically be addressing traction kiting, and in particular: what kit you need to get started, and what kit will suit you; getting airs, scudding and other fun things; the weather; and finally what other exciting and even more dangerous activities you can try once you have attained a basic skill level.

So You Want to Fly?

First you need to determine how much power you want in your kite, and how much you want to handle. This is mostly related to the material area of the kite, however different kite designs can affect the behaviour of the kite, and thus the level of power that can be developed. As can be seen from pictures of the different styles of kite, traction kites are typically rectangular in shape and often have a relatively shallow arc of the foil when flying, as opposed to kites intended for kiteboarding, in which the foil is a highly curved arc. The aspect ratio of traction kites can vary, and will influence the kind of force and manoeuverability that you can develop. For example, I have a 5m2 HQ Beamer, which provides a high amount of horizontal power (thus pulling you along the ground), but less vertical power (i.e., lift) than, say, equivalent (albeit more expensive) Flexifoil kites. The beamer's different aspect ratio, structure and size also makes it less manoeuverable than a smaller kite or -- returning to the Flexifoils Bullets with their more curved design -- those of a different design.

HQ and Flexifoil are two manufacturers amongst a host of others each promoting their different tweaks to the basic kite design and structure, and as such the only real solution to the problem of choosing a kite is to try some different types out. If this is not possible, then it's perhaps best to buy a budget, mid-range size kite like a 3m2 PKD Buster, that won't set you back too much and at the same time provide a good, solid beginner's kite. In my experience, Busters are user-friendly and provide a long flying lifetime for the kiter.

Some basic vital equipment (IMHO) to take kiting is as follows, then:

  • Yourself and the kite (obviously).
  • A drink. You will need it.
  • A groundstake to harness the kite with. This is useful even if you are not going alone because in high winds the kite will decide to fly off when you're not looking.
  • A pair of kite-killers. These simple devices attach to the kite's brake lines, between the handle control and the line itself. If you let go of the kite when kite-killers are attached, the kite will automatically have its brakes applied, typically as you get dragged along the ground behind it. This way the kite will come to a halt, and as a result, so will you, as opposed to you being dragged endlessly and painfully along the sand/grass/gravel surface.

There are many online shops that sell a good range of kites and associated kiting equipment. If you are in the UK, you can start with Wind Things and the Kite Shop (recommended -- it's where I bought my Beamer kite). Whilst most of the terminology is pretty simple, sometimes you might want help. In either case, Google is your friend.

Getting Big Airs, Scudding, and Generally Putting Your Life at Risk

Why do people bother kiting? Why not get a small kite, or a stunt kite to just to satisfy the desire to fly and feel the air? One of the exciting things about traction kites is the sheer power of the wind you can harness with your sail, and the feeling of the experience, battling against, and working with an amazingly strong and unpredictable force in the sky. The power provided by a good wind can pull you along the ground indefinitely, or lift you into the sky for a few seconds of flight. Once you have spent an afternoon being dragged around by strong gusts of wind, you will probably want to know how to control that strength rather that it controlling you.

There are some simple ways to manage the force of the wind. The first problem of traction kiting is the unruly wind. Since being dragged around is no fun, scudding (sliding along sand or grass, for example) enables you to control the power somewhat and feel like you're doing something `extreme' at the same time. The energy required to pull you along is obviously larger than if you try to run along with the kite to compensate for its pull. Once you are happy with scudding, it's often immense fun to develop enough power in the kite to get some airtime by doing `kite jumping.' Again, making the sail pick you off the ground requires even more force, and so kite jumping is another method for controlling the power of the wind at the same time as doing something that is perhaps even more `extreme' and vastly increasing the possibility of injury.

Radical, man.

There are many illustrated guides covering both scudding and kite jumping, so the technique will not be discussed here.

Finding Spots, Checking the Weather and Wind Character

If you're flying a kite, especially one that is in the order of metres square, you need a lot of space. Fields, parks, beaches and so forth provide this in abundance, and the chances are, even if you are living in a city, there will probably be a large enough park or playing field in which you can fly. A simple guideline for the ideal amount of space you need is about half a football pitch, however the more the better. Soft surfaces like sand or grass are required if you want to be scudding and jumping at the very least. It is worth noting that some public spaces have restrictions on kite flying (for example, there is UK-related information here) and associated activities like all-terrain mountain boarding, so it is worth checking with the administrators of the space you will fly in before you unfurl your sail and go wild. There are plenty of resources on the web for recommended locations (e.g., places in Scotland). Again, Google is your ally here.

Obviously, the weather is a crucial factor in kite flying. As a pilot, you are looking for particular conditions: consistent and non-gusty wind in the right direction, ideally accompanied by warm sun and no threat of rain. The weather report for your country and location within that country is the first port of call. If you are kiting at a beach, tide times will also be an essential thing to check, to ensure the maximum length of beach at your disposal. For UKians in particular, there are several web-based resources available to you:

The combination of place and weather is a complex one. Beaches are great for constant, smoothly flowing wind that's generally less gusty (as you may have realised, gusts are often a bad thing since they reduce control), and at the coast it's also always windy, even when the wind inland is still. But beaches are often miles away and inaccessible to a great many people, and so parks, playing field, and other less wind-friendly places will end up being your local. In my experience, kite flying in my local park (I have the good fortune to live a few minutes away from a large one) has increasingly sensitised me to good and bad winds. You begin to notice the behaviour of treetops, paying attention to wind direction and working out what the `wind character' of the place familiar to you will be like that day. This appreciation of `wind character' is something the kite flyer develops as they visit a spot again and again on different days. In my local park, for example, there is a large 16th century house that sits atop a hill. I have found that winds blowing in certain directions (typically easterly) become far more baffled by trees even though on inspection the surrounding trees appear to be equally distributed. Within the park, there are special hotspots where, on good days, the best, least gusty and strongest wind will flow; in this case, there is a location in front of the house along which wind is channeled, it seems, across the flat expanse directly beneath the rear of the building.

The point of telling such anecdotes is to help readers appreciate the benefits in really getting to know the character of a kiting spot in different weather. It helps you learn when to fly, when to stay at home, and where to go once you get to the flying spot.

Stop Wasting Your Life in the Gym

Traction kiting is hard work; you run around, keep your arms tensed against the kite's handles, hold yourself in the air, and (on good days) generally get out-of-breath and sweaty. You can build upper body strength and all-round fitness with frequent kiting sessions. Many people, however, prefer to go to the gym for their weekly workout, a practice that typically involves finding more and more ludicrous ways to excuse yourself from actually going. Kiting is a far superior physical activity for several reasons:

  • Kiting takes you outside to beautiful places: parks, beaches, hills, downs, plains, fields, and so forth. In gyms, on the other hand, you are forced to hang around people who are either uncredibly unfit or psychofitnessfreaks.
  • Kiting is limitlessly extendible (see next section), whereas in a gym, there are only so many ways you can push and pull heavy things.
  • The unpredictability of the wind means that good windy days must be grabbed with both hands (or handles). The routine availability of the gym means that it is more possible to make excuses such as "I'll go tomorrow, tonight I'm going to drink beer instead of exercising." A strong wind demands that you fly your kite in it, since tomorrow it may be gone, replaced by a feeble breeze.

  • Kites don't cost as much as a gym membership. Gyms can cost up to 80 quid a month, whereas a reasonable kite will only set you back 100 or 150, and you've got it for life.

Beyond Kite and Pilot Symbiosis

Once you get bored of pilot-and-kite-only action, there are many other sports kiting can be combined with. For example, kite aficionados can try out kite-powered all-terrain mountain boarding, kite-powered surfing (kiteboarding), kite-powered buggying (parakiting) and even kite-powered roller blading. Novel and bizzare ways of using kites are being invented, discovered and attempted all the time...


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
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Related Links
o Google
o Mary Poppins
o Let's Go Fly a Kite
o single-lin e kite
o dual-line kites
o Traction kites
o larger traction kites
o aspect ratio
o Beamer
o Flexifoil kites
o 3m2 PKD Buster
o Wind Things
o Kite Shop
o might want help
o a few seconds of flight
o scudding
o airtime
o illustrate d guides
o UK-related information here
o places in Scotland
o UK wind map
o meteorolog ical office
o Six day tide prediction service
o Also by stuaart

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Mary Poppins On Speed | 42 comments (25 topical, 17 editorial, 0 hidden)
+1 FP (1.33 / 3) (#1)
by More Whine on Thu Jul 21, 2005 at 10:09:27 PM EST

Not perfect, but great overall.  Interesting topic, nice length, informative, will provoke a unique discussion.

Has anybody here tried kitesurfing? (none / 0) (#2)
by Farting in Elevators on Thu Jul 21, 2005 at 10:20:01 PM EST

I'm not sure if that's the proper term for it, but there have been several times when I've been driving along causeways and seen people on surfboards with large kites pulling them along instead of sails. Is it more of a rush than windsurfing? I would think you would get more air, but it seems less controllable.

I've never tried it (none / 0) (#14)
by stuaart on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 06:23:15 AM EST

But I have been kite all-terrain boarding, which was great fun. Getting propelled along a beach on a giant skateboard by the wind is a good rush.

Linkwhore: [Hidden stories.] Baldrtainment: Corporate concubines and Baldrson: An Introspective

[ Parent ]
Get some lessons (none / 0) (#40)
by slackhaus on Mon Jul 25, 2005 at 11:28:58 AM EST

And wear a helmet if your new to it. Kites for Kitesurfing are large, 10 - 14 meters^2. they can pull you into some pretty horrible situations even if you know what your doing. I'll even recommend a good learning setup, A Cabrinha Access with the Recon system, which will allow you to de-power the kite if you get in trouble (and even better relaunch the kite without having to swim out to it. Just so you know I have been selling kite equipment for the past 3 years (well not som much recently as the community I live is has all but banned the sport as it can be dangerous to the non-kiters nearby). I hav seen and done some exciting things with kites, and the amount of air you can get is truly awe inspiring (try jumping over a sailboat, mast and all with anything else). but please be careful, I have heard of more then few injuries and deaths do to the sport.

[ Parent ]
Kitesurfing must be hard (none / 0) (#41)
by stuaart on Mon Jul 25, 2005 at 11:45:49 AM EST

It seems an order of difficulty higher than many other kite activities, since you have to get the kite in the air, control it, balance on a board, balance on a board on water, make sure you don't get injured by flying into a sailboat. :)

Linkwhore: [Hidden stories.] Baldrtainment: Corporate concubines and Baldrson: An Introspective

[ Parent ]
You know you can say it backwards, (1.25 / 4) (#5)
by Eight Star on Thu Jul 21, 2005 at 10:31:28 PM EST

which is dociousaliexpi-isticfragicalirupus but that's going a bit too far, don't you think?

Yes I can say it, yes I'm single, why do you ask?

To quote a famous person (3.00 / 2) (#13)
by stuaart on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 06:21:44 AM EST

``Yes I can say it, yes I'm single, why do you ask?''

No, I will not sleep with you.

Linkwhore: [Hidden stories.] Baldrtainment: Corporate concubines and Baldrson: An Introspective

[ Parent ]
You fluffed the line! (none / 1) (#38)
by HollyHopDrive on Sun Jul 24, 2005 at 04:08:18 PM EST

It's "No, I won't sleep with you. Stop asking."

I make too much sense to be on the Internet.
[ Parent ]

Except... (none / 1) (#28)
by sab39 on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 03:28:48 PM EST

That dociousaliexpiisticfragicalirupus backwards would be supurilacigarfcitsiipxeilasuoicod, and that's not very pronouncable.

I'm very surprised to see a single person know dociousaliexpiisticfragicalirupus, though, because I thought it was only parents of three year olds that demand to watch it every day that learned that...

"Forty-two" -- Deep Thought
"Quinze" -- Amélie

[ Parent ]

If you're into kites, (3.00 / 4) (#20)
by Tragedy of the Kurons on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 10:33:18 AM EST

you've got to see the kite festival in the state of Gujarat, India. It's a sight quite unlike any other. Absolutely everyone gets out on the streets, parks and rooftops and flies kites on this one special day. Normal life is put on hold. It's not just for recreation, people actively fight each other, trying to cut kite strings with skillful maneuvering. Some badass kiters specialize in cutting down the larger box kites with small nimble ones. Entrepreneurs set up shops offering to coat kite strings with a special mixture made of glue and glass powder. Street urchins hang around and race to steal fallen kites. But the most awesome kites get flown during the night: box kites with lanterns attached at regular intervals along the kite string. You can't see the kites themselves, just this ghostly stream of lanterns billowing in the air.

"That is a mean website. Some people are just mean and rude."

One of my friends (none / 0) (#34)
by stuaart on Sat Jul 23, 2005 at 12:03:17 PM EST

recently went to India on a medical placement. She mentioned seeing all the kids flying little kites like that, battling it out. She said it was quite a sight to see so many little kites flying in the air.

Linkwhore: [Hidden stories.] Baldrtainment: Corporate concubines and Baldrson: An Introspective

[ Parent ]
fun (2.50 / 2) (#23)
by mindz0f1 on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 12:14:01 PM EST

Nice post. It sounds like a very intruiging sport. I think I just may try it.
"You ever suck dick for marijuana?"
This is just fun (3.00 / 2) (#25)
by dr zeus on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 12:23:29 PM EST

I recently bought a cheap kite to show my 3 year old how to fly a kite... it took so long that she eventually lost interest and played on the playground.  

Still, it was fun when I finally got it in the air.  At least I didn't get the Barbie kite, then I would have felt really stupid, flying that thing by myself.

I have a kite (2.50 / 1) (#26)
by Have A Nice Day on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 12:57:55 PM EST

It's only a couple of metres in area. It was a parting gift from my last job.

It scares me, I've flown it once and nearly killed a dog (or at least nearly crashed my kite into a dog at high speed).

Have A Nice Day may have reentered the building.
You need to get over the fear (none / 0) (#27)
by stuaart on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 01:42:28 PM EST

Fly it, keep flying it, and you'll get better at controlling it. Crashing isn't a problem if you go somewhere with few people there.

Linkwhore: [Hidden stories.] Baldrtainment: Corporate concubines and Baldrson: An Introspective

[ Parent ]
kites? yawn /nt (1.25 / 8) (#29)
by uptownpimp on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 03:50:08 PM EST

My name is actmodern and I approve of this message.
Kiteboarding vs. Wakeboarding (none / 0) (#30)
by projectpaperclip on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 05:18:26 PM EST

A friend of mine mentioned interest in this, passingly, so I don't know how much he wants to invest in it... but I was wondering how different the boards are from wakeboards? I already have a wakeboard, wondering if it would be possible to try this assuming I could find the sail & harness. Wakeboards obviously have much larger bindings than it looks like Kiteboarders are using, and I'm assuming weigh quite a bit more, but how much of a drawback would that be? Just curious

I have no idea what wakeboarding is (none / 0) (#31)
by stuaart on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 09:10:20 PM EST

You'll have to explain more. My boarding experience is very limited.

Linkwhore: [Hidden stories.] Baldrtainment: Corporate concubines and Baldrson: An Introspective

[ Parent ]
You can kiteboard w/ a wakeboard (none / 0) (#33)
by der on Sat Jul 23, 2005 at 03:45:29 AM EST

In fact, many people do, because the boards are so much more maneuverable than a big clunky surfboard (not to mention bidirectional).

[ Parent ]
One thing (none / 0) (#39)
by Herring on Mon Jul 25, 2005 at 09:59:33 AM EST

I haven't actually tried kiteboarding, bit one thing that seems important: your 1" slider fins aren't going to be much use on choppy water. Stick deep fins on - unless you can edge really, really hard heelside for ages.

Say lol what again motherfucker, say lol what again, I dare you, no I double dare you
[ Parent ]
You extreme kids these days! (2.50 / 2) (#32)
by epepke on Sat Jul 23, 2005 at 01:27:43 AM EST

We used to do battle kites using kites with tails dipped in St. Elmo's Glue and then ground glass.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

Transhumanism (1.50 / 2) (#35)
by Fen on Sat Jul 23, 2005 at 09:10:48 PM EST

A transhuman doesn't have to deal with winding as much, just switches to "reel mode" and yee hah. Sure he can just blow hiw own wind, but there's something to be said for a pleasant random wind for kiting.
Just one thing you forgot... (none / 1) (#36)
by A synx on Sun Jul 24, 2005 at 12:05:02 AM EST

Yes, that's all well and good, but... how do you get a kite like that up into the air?

Fairly easy (none / 0) (#37)
by stuaart on Sun Jul 24, 2005 at 01:31:14 PM EST

but needs a bit of practice. On reasonably windy days, it is usually just a case of pulling back on the handles and lifting up.

Linkwhore: [Hidden stories.] Baldrtainment: Corporate concubines and Baldrson: An Introspective

[ Parent ]
mary poppins didn't fly a kite (none / 0) (#42)
by jamesplankton on Thu Oct 19, 2006 at 02:23:44 PM EST

i thought she used an umbrella? whatever. i'm going to get to the bottom of this when i use my mary poppins tickets this weekend. i've heard she soars onto the stage using an umbrella. again. an UMBRELLA. not a kite.

Mary Poppins On Speed | 42 comments (25 topical, 17 editorial, 0 hidden)
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