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The Basics of Sport Kite Flying

Location, Location, Location

One thing that you soon become aware of when flying kites it that if you aren't in the right place everything is that much harder. Find a nice clear playing field, or a beach; free from trees, people and dogs, and definitely with no power lines nearby. We have a rule of thumb, for any building or tree around the location you are flying in, the wind is disturbed for a distance equal to 10 times it's height. So find a big open space, that way you will give yourself the highest chance of success.

Your equipment

Generally speaking, the larger the sport kite, the easier it is to fly. Bigger kites fly slower, so give you more control. They also require less wind to fly. So called 'professional' sports kites are between 6 and 8 ft wingspan (tip to tip), a 3ft kite from the local supermarket is going to be fast in the sky and will probably spend more time on the ground that in the air, before you give up in disgust and chuck it in the back of the cupboard, never to be used again. It is, as all things, an example of "you get what you pay for", but £50 or £60 pounds will get you a kite you can really progress on.

Lines are another thing, cheap kites usually come with lines wound onto halo reels. The line may be fine but a sport kite is VERY sensitive to differences in line length, professional flyers will have no more than 1cm difference in line lengths on lines of 45m. Ideally get rid of the reels for flying, get some wrist straps and work with fixed length lines, always using all of the line to fly with. Remember, slow kites make flying easier, so do long lines, you have more thinking time before the kite hits the ground.

When to fly

Don't think that you have to wait for a gale before you can go out and fly a kite. Strong winds and inexperienced flyers lead to broken kites. Most kites will be happy to fly in 8mph, a gentle breeze with the leaves and twigs on trees moving. It's always better to try to fly in a wind that is too light than fail to fly in one that is too strong. NEVER fly in a thunderstorm of course.

How to setup your kite

Now, I'll assume that there are instructions on how to put the kite together, each one is slightly different. Practice at home, it's easier to put together out of the wind. When you push the rods in to the holes be sure to put your spare hand between the fitting and the sail, it'd be terrible if you slipped and the rod went through the sail.

Now for the lines. Make a large loop in the end of the lines that goes to the kite. Fix the line to the kite bridle (the string on the kite) using a larkshead knot. This is a type of slipknot that pulls tighter as the kite flies but can be removed easily. Check out the internet for details of how to do it, and again practice indoors, in front of the computer, to make sure you have it right.

Nearly ready to fly

When you go to fly take a small screwdriver or tent peg with you. Use this to peg the handles down whilst you set up the kite. So, peg out the handles, unwind the lines fully in the direction the wind is blowing (if you can't tell pick some grass and throw it in the air). Set up the kite and connect it to the lines. Place the kite on it's two wingtips and lean the nose backwards. Drag it so the lines are tight with the kite still leaning back. If you have done it right then the kite will not launch, the wind will push the kite towards the ground and it will be safe. This gives you time to walk back to the handles, and means you can fly on your own. If you have help to launch the kite, always get them to place the kite on the ground, throwing it up in the air does not help.

Here we go...

Pick up the handles and make sure you have them in the correct hands. (This is surprisingly easy to get wrong.) Hold the straps out in front of you with bent elbows, just like you were driving a car. Be careful not to pull them too much before you are ready or the kite will take off. When you are ready we need to launch the kite. To do this the nose of the kite has to be pulled towards you, this is done by pulling your arms sharply down and back, and taking a step backwards, then bring your arms back the the neutral, car driving position. NEVER put your arms over your head, you'll lose all ability to control the kite (and you'll look ridiculous). You should not need to move your feet, and certainly don't need to run. If the wind is a bit light a gentle walk backwards will help, but be aware of what is behind you.

You're flying!

If everything is right, the kite should rise straight up and 'park' at the top. Now experiment with SMALL movements of one hand or the other, see how the kite moves left or right. The longer you hold your hands lopsided the more the kite will loop around, but beware it will also drop down as well. You should be able to put 5 or 6 twists in even the cheapest lines and still be able to fly, just remember to loop back the other way.

Sooner or later the kite will head towards the ground out of control. Don't panic. If you move towards the kite you will reduce the speed of the impact with the ground. Your instinct will be to pull back on the lines and this will make things worse, the kite is accelerated.

A gently landing can be achieved by flying up to the top and pulling slightly on one line to allow the kite to slide down one side or the other until it gently lands on a leading edge.

For now, learn to fly straight lines and big gently curves, these are harder to do than tight loops. Once you have those we can go on to sharp corners and other more difficult things, but that's for next time...

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