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
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
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
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)
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.
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
- 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,
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.
There are many
guides covering both scudding and kite jumping, so the technique will not be
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
here) and associated activities
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
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:
Beyond Kite and Pilot Symbiosis
- 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.
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...