Kite flying is a pastime enjoyed by millions the world over, across all cultures and age ranges; from the lnuits to the Irish, the Tibetans to the Turkish, all can appreciate the joy of flying a kite high above them in the sky. Kite flying was invented over 3,000 years ago in Asia. The Chinese military used kites to spy on the enemy, to send messages and to lift themselves out of sticky situations. But it wasn’t all work. With bamboo, rubber and silk, the inventive Chinese were able to create all types of play things, including musical kites which emitted sounds when blowing on the wind.
Once the Chinese artistic flair was applied to their creations, it is not surprising that kites became items to be worshipped and to which great superstition was often attached.
The popularity of kites quickly spread to neighbouring countries. So many people were flying kites instead of working in Japan in the 18th century that the government banned the pastime as there was a detrimental effect on the working day. Children in Afghanistan and Thailand were staging whole-day events flying kites with fiercely sharp lines in order to ruthlessly bring down other kites in the sky.
lndonesians used the leaves from trees to create kites they used for fishing (and still do!).
Some time later the Western world caught the bug for flying. Predictably, kites were used in the late 19th century in warfare, and in World War ll they were used as target practice. However, a greater use for kites was found in the realms of science and transport. Due to their ability to reach places that other instruments cannot reach, kites have helped advance our understanding of the atmosphere. (Were it not for kites we would have taken a long time to understand the effects of altitude on temperature, or the electrical nature of lightning, for example.) Without kites as forerunners and the inventive thinking of the Wright Brothers it is unlikely we would be so adept at air travel. Samuel Franklin Cody almost succeeded in crossing the English Channel in 1903 in a boat powered by two kites.
Kiting has enjoyed a surge of popularity in the last 50 years for two reasons. Firstly, kites have ceased to be of such importance in warfare or transport as more sophisticated methods of research and travel have been developed. This has meant that kites have been redefined as play things once again. Secondly, material and design capabilities have advanced considerably. The development of ripstop nylon, fibreglass and the various compounds of other new materials has allowed the limitless development of kites, and the sports associated with them.
The variety of kites flown today is as broad as the sky is vast. Single-line kites are great fun to watch in the air and are still the main attraction at the numerous kite festivals around the world.
Single line kites can be small and simple like the diamond kites of Mary Poppins fame, or elaborate and enormous air creations, some of which can total 3,050 metres square (10,000 feet square).
The main kite disciplines enjoying a growth in popularity, and two of the most exhilarating sports to explode in recent years, are stunt kiting and power kiting. Stunt kites (also called sport kites) are highly manoeuvrable two-line kites which can perform tricks and intricate dancing sequences in the air. Power kites (also called traction kites) are parachute-like kites which are used to generate lift and forward motion for the flier. Flying these huge powerful kites, on land or water, on foot, in a buggy or on a board, is referred to as power kiting.
These two kite types occupy different spaces in the kiting world. Stunt kites, although not small, are about delicate manoeuvres, purposeful stalling, reversing, looping and swooping. The joy of flying them is in being able to direct them to perform dancing manoeuvres and create patterns in the sky. Although the pleasure in flying power kites also comes from perfecting control, the effect of that control has nothing to do with a pretty dancing kite. The big, slow power kite is used not to create a spectacle in the air, but an exhilarating spectacle at the level of the flier as he or she is pulled forwards and upwards. From its roots in recreational flying, power kiting has fast become an independent and mainstream sport enjoyed by people from all Walks of life.
Whether kites are big or small, home-made or factory-designed, flown for power or beauty, all are a truly inspiring spectacle and never less than fantastic fun to fly.