Choosing Your First Kite – Where To Begin

The graceful bird of prey lends its name to the man-made kite due to their similar appearance as they soar in the sky. Just as there are more than 10,000 species of birds, each with their individual way of hovering, swooping and diving, there are literally thousands of kites in existence in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Traditional one-line diamond kites, or one-line parafoils, are the easiest kites to manage, with children as young as two or three able to successfully fly them as well as make them! There are kites as small as leaves for those who don’t like carrying equipment, and as big as a small tree for those who like to create a spectacle. You don’t even need wind these days as there are, incredibly, indoor kites.

Unfortunately, the kiting world has almost as many names as there are kites to describe this plethora of kite types, with blurred boundaries on what these names refer to. Each sub-section of the kiting community has its own terminology with its own way of categorizing different kites. As it would take pages to describe all the kite types and their corresponding intricate relationships, this chapter gives only a general guide. Be aware that each kite-crazed community takes its craft very seriously so expect severe reprisal should you choose to take so lightly the distinction between them! Although less than succinct, the various categories of kite types can be defined by both the number of lines on which they fly, and their purpose. Using this system, there are three main categories of the most popular kite types.

Single-line decorative kites

These are mainly flown simply for the spectacle they create when hovering in the air and include:

  • Flat kites (flat when in the air)
  • Bowed (bowed when in the air)
  • Figure (recognizable as objects such as birds or animals)
  • Rokkaku (six-sided, tall and symmetrical)
  • Cellular (rigid 3-D kites)
  • Delta (triangular wing shape after the Greek letter ‘Delta’; a more basic version of a stunt kite)
  • Train (kites attached to one another)
  • Fighter kites (manoeuvrable kites used for ‘fighting’ to bring other kites out of the sky)

Stunt/sport kites

Stunt kites have two lines to control the kite and are designed for maximum manoeuvrability. Most stunt kites fall into the ‘delta’ category as they have two triangular-shaped wings, as well as spas (skeletal poles that give the kite structure) on the leading edges holding their shape.

There are also four-line stunt kites that are shaped like a bow tie, but these are not so common.

Generally, the terms ‘stunt kite’ and ‘sport kite’ are synonymous and almost always refer to these small rigid-framed two-line kites. However, be aware that some people refer to small power kites as ‘stunt’ kites because of the ease with which stunts can be performed when the size of a power kite is reduced.

Multi-line power/traction kites

These are two-, four and five-line kites designed to harness the wind’s power. The terms ‘power kite’ and ‘traction kite’ are usually used interchangeably and both refer to the fact that the kite can be harnessed to create power to pull an object. Just as in the general world of kites, the distinctions between kite types in the power kiting community are as sharp as clay. Power kites can be distinguished according to how many lines they have, or as to whether they are made for land or water flying, or according to which sport they are designed for. The easiest way to understand power kites is by splitting them into two main categories:

Foils/land kites (air filling the cells give the kite shape). These kites are used for flying on land and may have two or four lines.

Inflatable/water-relaunchable (inflatable bladders give the kite shape). These kites are used for flying on water.