Recreational Kiting & Other Land-based traction sports

Recreational kiting

Although power kites have been designed with specific sports in mind, there is no reason why you can’t just take your kite up a hill and fly it with no boards, skates or buggies. Scudding (skidding) is generally what happens when you take out your kite in any sort of wind; the kite drags you forward when you fly it through the power zone. It is so easy to get airborne with a power kite if it is the right size, so jumping is an obvious progression from scudding.

Equipment

Check with the manufacturer or retailer for the size of kite you should be using for your weight, ability and the strength of the wind. As a rough guide, a beginner of around 65kg (145lb) Should be comfortable with a 1.5 metre square (5 feet square) kite in force 3 winds (average wind strength). As the kite does not have to power anything but you, it does not need to be as big as for other sports. However, if you intend on getting any air, you will be using the kite’s lift rather than lateral pull to get airborne, meaning that you will use the kite only at the top of the wind window. This means you need a bigger kite than if you were using the maximum power generated from the whole of the window. For recreational flying, it doesn’t matter if you use a two- or four-line kite. As for lines and handles/bars, pretty much anything goes! If you are using your kite recreationally to practice for other sports, it is useful to use the same set-up. For example, use a bar and harness if you are practising for kitesurflng, or handles it you are practising for buggying. Otherwise, it really doesn’t matter what you choose to help you hold on to your kite, as long as you a) do hold on to it, and b) do not attach it to yourself without an emergency release system. Make sure you are wearing protective gear and have checked that the area is safe to fly in.

Basic skills

Once you have mastered figures of eight, and are used to how quickly your kite turns and how much power is generated, try practising harnessing your kite’s power to pick you up off the ground. This is an indispensable skill for all power kite sports as they all need an initial, controlled, burst of power to get you and your chosen method of transport moving. From a sitting position, with your feet on the floor out in front of you and your knees bent, dip the kite hard down to either the left or right, immediately bringing it back up almost to the zenith. Practise this until the power generated by dipping the kite pulls you easily on to your feet. ‘Getting air’ is a possible next progression, where you use the kite’s power to lift you off the ground. Jumping with a kite can lift you to a considerable height and drop you pretty quickly. For this reason, don’t have a go until you are with an instructor and on soft land. The basic idea is to position the kite low down and on the right side of the wind window.

You need to run to the right at the same time as you fly the kite swiftly left, back up to the zenith. Using a slope to jump off will give you extra lift; fly the kite away from the slope as you run in the same direction. Swing the kite back towards the slope as you run away from it and off the edge of the slope. It takes a while to get the timing right for this, but once you have it, you can fly the kite back away from the slope again to prolong your jump.

Kite buggying/parakarting

Buggying is a fitting progression from land-based recreational flying as it is not too tricky for the average simple adrenaline-crazed enthusiast. Buggying takes place anywhere with flat open spaces, and involves a power kite, usually a harness, and a single-seater buggy. The standard kite buggy, developed from Peter Lynn’s design, is three-wheeled with a very low centre of gravity. You steer the buggy with your feet, leaving your hands free to fly the kite.

Equipment

Once accessible only to the truly committed due to their prohibitive cost, buggies are now available for amateurs to use. Design has come on in leaps and bounds, meaning that you have more choices to make when buying equipment; will you be using your buggy on a pebble beach or on sand? Will you be racing your buggy or using it for freestyle? Luckily you can customise most buggies so you don’t have to commit yourself totally when you buy one, changing for example the wheels for larger ones to cope with sand, or the length of the buggy to cope with longer or shorter legs. Start with a basic, small buggy with wheels big enough for the terrain you intend to use it on, making sure that the ground clearance of the seat is high enough if you are using it on rough terrain. Bigger buggies allow you to go faster with bigger kites, but you can always use your smaller buggy for freestyle once you progress so it will never be outgrown!

Once you have customized your buggy, you will need a land-based kite, preferably with four lines. It is true that kites with two lines are easier to learn on, but four lines have the necessary safety features for traction sports, and can lock the kite into position, meaning you can focus more on the buggy rather than the kite. As a rough guide, a 65kg (145lb) beginner should suit a 4 metre square (13 foot square) kite in force 3 winds (average wind speed). If you cannot comfortably hold on to a kite when standing, it is too big.

You will need appropriate safety gear: helmet, pads, sunglasses, gloves, sturdy shoes, long-sleeved clothing, and, once you have the hang of it, a harness will give your arms a rest. You can use a harness with handles as well as a bar, as handles attach to a strap line that hooks under the harness bar. if you do choose to use a harness, make sure it’s not bulky as this is uncomfortable when sitting in a buggy seat.

Basic skills

Kite buggying can be a more natural progression from recreational flying than straight to surfing or boarding if you have not already had some type of boarding experience. At least everyone is pretty good at sitting down, which is all you have to do to start with.

How to set yourself up

The wind direction will determine the direction in which you will travel, as you want to travel back and forth across the wind. So to start, point the nose of your buggy at about a 30° angle from directly downwind. If the wind is stronger you can increase this angle up to 70°. Place your buggy upwind of yourself so you don’t fall on top of it when launching. Launch the kite and sit it either in the zenith or at the edge of the wind window if lofting is a particular threat. Whilst the kite hovers, sit down in your buggy keeping one foot on the ground to stop it rolling.

How to get moving

Always considering the strength of the wind, you need to bring the kite down slowly into the power zone only so far as to start to make you move. If you are facing 30° to the right of the wind direction, fly your kite only on the right-hand side of the window. if you fly it to the left the kite will end up behind you and either rip you out of your buggy or run over your arm backwards. Once you are ready, put both feet on the foot pegs which will allow your buggy to move and will give you the ability to steer.

Once you are moving, steer your buggy slightly further across the direction of the wind, at an angle of around 80°-90°, so that you do not end up going downwind too far. Try to fly the kite in a stable position in the wind window wherever it creates sufficient pull to move your buggy (45° to the ground is a good position). if the wind is very weak you may have to fly the kite in a sinewave to build up power, but make sure you fly it on the side of the wind window that you are facing, rather than crossing the whole window which will result in the kite flying behind you.

How to stop

Slowing down and stopping involve two actions first, fly the kite higher in the wind window; second, steer the buggy upwind. if this is done gradually, the stop will be smooth. if you are too aggressive, however, the stop will be quick and will involve you flying out of the buggy backwards. As you progress, you can synchronize flying your kite upwards with a faster turn upwind of your buggy, creating a skidded stop like that in skiing or ice hockey.

Manoeuvres

How to turn

It may help you to choose two reference points at 90° to the wind direction at which you can aim when turning, as the ‘apparent wind’ when you are moving in your buggy can confuse you and you may lose the feel for the wind direction. Turning across the wind is a pretty simple exercise compared to everything else you have achieved by this point. Your aim is to both turn your buggy around, as well as start flying your kite on the other side of your body.

First, slow down by flying the kite higher in the window. Do not stop, but when travelling slowly and in control, steer the buggy downwind quite aggressively so as not to come to a complete standstill until you are facing your opposite reference point. Dip your kite into the power zone on the other side of your body to build up some speed again, and then either lock your kite into position as before, or fly a few sinewaves until you

build up speed. Essentially you are turning the kite just before the buggy, and turning the buggy as tightly as you can.

How to get upwind

You may not have the best time trying to get upwind in a buggy. One problem is that you still have to turn downwind to change direction (until your skills are honed enough for an upwind turn) often resulting in you losing any ground you have just managed to claw back from riding slightly upwind before the turn. This means you will frequently take two steps forward and one step back. On the more positive side, it does get easier the more you do it. You will need to keep your kite higher in the window than the standard 45° and your buggy pointing as far upwind as you can manage without losing momentum or being dragged/pulled over sideways. Do not fly your kite too high as it may wander behind you and pull you out of your buggy. A slightly lower kite will also maintain the power you need to keep you upwind.

How to ride on two wheels

To add a bit of style and get a feel for how the buggy moves, try riding on two wheels. This is achieved by turning the buggy slightly upwind whilst travelling at speed. As the buggy is pulled sideways, turn the wheel sharply away from the kite whilst leaning towards the kite. The buggy should lift on to two wheels and you should be able to maintain this position with practise and good kite control.

Kite landboarding

Kite landboarding is not too tricky a progression from recreational flying if you have some experience of riding a board, whether it be a skate, surf or snowboard. It is handy that you can jump off at any point and regain control should you feel wobbly.

Equipment

Most landboards these days are twin-directional, meaning that they are built symmetrically for riding both ways. This means that you will not have to set up your foot straps for a right- or left-footed riding preference, if you have one (although they may have a bias, with one foot strap set up with more forward angle than the other). When choosing a landboard you need to decide whether you intend to ride on a smooth or rugged surface, and whether you are aiming to perfect airborne tricks or remain stuck to the ground.

If air time is what you are looking for, choose a light and concave board (a board with camber) that will flex to soften your landings. Choose relatively loose trucks so that your wheels are not fastened on to your board too rigidly, and set your stance just within your shoulder width. If you are looking to ride fast, choose a longer deck and use a wider stance, combining this with stiff trucks so that you do not wobble at speed.

As for the wheels, choose bigger tyres with extra grip for rugged ground and sand. Don’t forget your safety equipment and a harness once you are confident (either a seat harness which is easier for intermediates, or waist for the advanced).

The kite you choose should be designed for land use and, as for buggying, you should be able to fly it comfortably whilst standing statically. As a very rough guide, a 65kg (145Ib) beginner could use a 4.5m (15ft) kite in force 3 winds.

Basic skills

Have a practise on the landboard on a slight hill before you fly with it to get a feel for how it responds to your weight shifting and pressuring your toes and heels. If you do not know whether you are goofy (right foot forward) or regular (left foot forward), work out from this practise which foot feels more comfortable leading. If you really don’t know, get someone to push you from behind when you are not expecting it, and whichever foot you fall on to first is generally the best foot for you to put forward. If you still don’t know, don’t worry as you will probably end up riding with both feet leading eventually.

How to set yourself up

As for all kite sports, the wind direction Will determine the direction in which you will travel. You want to travel back and forth across the wind, with your back upwind and your front facing downwind where the kite will be. To start, place your board at about a 60° angle from downwind, with the toe-side more downwind and the heel-side upwind. Launch the kite and sit it either in the zenith or at the edge of the wind window if lofting is a particular threat. Whilst the kite hovers, place your feet into the straps. Sort out your basic stance – flex your knees, put your weight slightly over your back foot and keep your arms low. Try not to bend at the waist so that your burn is sticking out, as you can’t balance so well in that position. You are now ready to go.

How to get moving

Always considering the strength of the wind, bring the kite down slowly into the power zone, to the right-hand side if you are goofy, or left if regular. Once the board starts moving, lean back to brace against the pull of the kite.

You may have to fly a few sine waves to generate power, but then you should be able to ‘lock’ the kite into position at 45° from the ground. You now need to steer the board so that you ride across the wind rather than too far downwind (to save big walks back upwind to get back to where you started). To turn the board away from the kite, pressure your heels and lean back.

How to stop

Stopping is achieved in much the same way as for buggying: steer the kite upwards towards the zenith whilst steering the board upwind. Like buggying, do not be too aggressive to start with as you Will be thrown off your board. As you progress, the kite’s upward flight and the board’s upwrnd turn can be timed to produce a skidded stop (flex even more at your knees and really push down your heels to produce the skid).

Note that on rugged terrain you are unlikely to produce a skid however hard you dig your heels in.

Manoeuvres

How to turn

The good news is you don”t have to turn the board if you are riding a twin-directional board. To ride in the opposite direction all you have to do is lift the kite to the zenith until your board comes to a stop, then lower the kite into the other side of the power zone. The board will then start moving in the opposite direction. Again, fly some sine waves (keeping the kite in the half of the power zone on the side you are travelling) or point the board slightly downwind to build up some power if the board is a bit reluctant to get moving.

Turning in the opposite direction means that you will have your back to your kite and will be riding with pressure on your toes rather than heels. Before you try a complete toe-side turn, first practise riding on your toe-side on a hill, without the kite. Once confident enough to try a turn, start pointing the kite upwards towards the zenith whilst pressuring your toes. You are aiming to make a wide, sweeping arc with your board. By maintaining pressure on your toes you will bring the board all the way round to facing the opposite direction, when you need to dip the kite back into the power zone on the side of the direction you are now facing. You should be able to lock the kite into position in your new direction. Try to keep the board moving steadily throughout the turn as stopping midway will give you problems.

To turn back again so that you are riding on your heel-side, apply the same rules as above but pressure your heels rather than your toes.

How to get air

It is not recommended for anyone to try to jump with a board on certainly not without having had the benefit of some instruction. If you do attempt it, wear protective gear.

Concerning the movements of the kite alone, jumping with a board is achieved in much the same way as jumping without a board; having built up resistance, fly the kite in the opposite direction or simply upwards towards the zenith. You now need to consider the taking off and the landing of your board. If you can, practice jumping with your board on minus the kite (it looks a bit silly as you will only get a little bit of air but it will help you when you are trying to deal with so many new skills at once on your first few jumps). You need to be very flexed at the knees leading up to the jump and keep your weight centred over both of your feet. At the moment you wish to jump, push up and slightly backwards, pulling your knees up towards your chest as you do so. When you come to land, flex at the knees and ankles to absorb the pressure of the landing.

For more air time, send the kite back in the opposite direction the moment you are airborne. This also ensures your kite does not stall or luff when you are in the air.

Snowkiting/kite skiing/snowboarding

Kite skiing is used as a generic term referring to both snowboarding and skiing with a kite, but, confusingly, it is occasionally also used to refer to kite water skiing. A simple description of snowkiting is adding a kite to snow skiing or boarding, enabling you to ski/board on flat terrain as well as up and down hills. This sport has gained popularity in cold climates: for one thing, it is a fantastic alternative to paying exorbitant lift prices to get up mountains, and for another, it eliminates the necessity for skins or snowshoes to get across flat areas.

Equipment

The tricky thing about snowkiting is finding appropriate terrain, rather than finding the right kite to use. As snow is in fact just frozen water, many kiters use water-relaunchable kites on snow, but it makes more sense to use a land kite. Land kites are easier to set up and pack away, they become lifeless pieces of material when depowered so they are arguably less of a threat in a tricky situation, and they do not have inflatable bladders that may split if the kite crashes to the ground. If you choose to use a land kite, it should be of similar size to that you would use for landboarding; if anything, slightly smaller. If you choose to use an inflatable kite, you would use a slightly bigger kite than if it was a foil because ‘tubes’ do not generate as much power as foils but not as big as you would use for kitesurfing as you need less power to pull you on snow than in water. As a rough guide, a 65kg (145lb) beginner in force 3 should be happy with around an 8m (25ft) inflatable kite. Foils tend to offer more power for their size, whereas inflatable kites tend to generate more upward lift.

It is a matter of personal preference whether you choose to use a bar or handles to control your kite, but for beginners a bar is generally less of a problem as you can fly it with one hand whilst you deal with putting on/taking off your board. You are also able to ‘lock’ it into position whilst riding, which you are unable to do with handles.

Kite skiing and kite snowboarding are pretty similar but both have their idiosyncrasies. Boards (assuming they are bi-directional or ‘twin-tips’) allow for easy tacking as you do not have to turn around to go in the opposite direction, you simply go backwards (‘fakie’ or ‘switch’). However, once you do turn around, riding on your toe edge isn’t as comfortable as your heel edge as the kite is flying almost behind you. On skis you have the advantage of increased mobility when the need arises to walk, but the disadvantage of having to turn fully each time you tack.

Whether you choose a board or skis, for snowkiting they should be relatively short (about up to your chin when placed upright) and flexible so that you can cope with varied terrain. Asking for a freeride ski/board – a board designed for varied terrain – will get you the right set-up. The average ski with its quick-release bindings is more suited to snowkiting than the average board which has strapped bindings, making it impossible to release the board from your feet in any hurry. if possible. choose a board with ‘step-in’ bindings if you are boarding. There is also the possibility of using blades – very short ‘trick’ skis – if the terrain is pretty smooth. Whatever you choose to ride on, make sure the edges are razor-sharp to grip the snow so that you can create good resistance to the pull of your kite.

You may also want to use a seat or waist harness if you are experienced, as well as all the appropriate safety gear.

Basic skills

Many people find snowkiting a less daunting alternative to kitesurfing. Firstly, a kite pulling you on snow does not need to be as large as one to lift you out of water. Secondly, you won’t sink as you would do in water if you have teething troubles with your kite (as long as you are not riding in powder). This makes life a lot easier when you are getting everything ready for take-off.

As for all kite sports, make sure you are proficient in all the relevant parts before you start. This means either skiing or boarding, as well as kite flying. Those that partake in ‘skijoring’ in the ldaho outback (being pulled, on skis, employing the bare minimum of control, behind a galloping horse) should be able to jump straight in.

How to set yourself up

If you have a friend to help you, ideally launch the kite and have them hold it whilst you put on your board/skis. Otherwise, put the kite into position on the ground, then get your skis/board on and face at an angle of about 60° from downwind. If you are on a board, sit down with the heel edge digging into the snow and your knees bent up by your chest. Launch the kite, digging in the edges of your skis/board which are furthest away from the kite, to prevent yourself from being dragged downwind.

How to get moving

When you are ready, dip the kite into the power zone in the direction you want to travel. Once you decrease the edge angle of your skis/board you will start to slide. You may have to fly some sine waves to build up power, but ultimately you want to maintain a steady position of the kite in the air, at about 45° from the ground. it is important to fully utilize the edges of your board/skis. if you do not lean away from the kite, dropping your knees towards the ground on skis, or digging your heels in and leaning back if you are on a board, you will not be able to prevent the kite from pulling you downwind. You are also likely to ‘catch an edge’ if you let your skis/board lie flat, which will result in a fall.

How to stop

Slow your momentum by flying the kite gently upwards towards the zenith, whilst turning your skis/board upwind away from the kite. Stopping suddenly requires fine-tuning the synchrony of these two skills, with a more assertive turn away from the kite (a ‘parallel’ or ‘skidded’ stop on your skis/board).

Manoeuvres

How to turn

For boarders, the idea is exactly the same as that of landboarding in the section above. You can choose either not to turn the board but ride ‘fakie/switch’, or to turn the nose of the board 180° and change from riding on your heel edge to your toe edge. To ride switch, lift the kite to the zenith until your board comes to a stop, then lower the kite into the other side of the power zone.

The board will then start moving in the opposite direction. To turn the board to face it in the opposite direction, again fly the kite upwards towards the zenith, but this time slowly rock your weight forwards over your knees, as well as forward towards the nose of the board. Your kite should be nearing the zenith but do not hover it there or it will stop your momentum. You are aiming to keep the board moving all the way through your wide, sweeping arc-shape turn. By applying pressure to your toes halfway through the turn, you will bring the board all the way round to facing the opposite direction, when you need to dip the kite back in to the power zone on the side of the direction you are now facing.

As for turning on skis, you do not really have two options (you could ride switch for novelty value but it’s slightly on the pointless side of productive – unless you are about to take off and spin some big air trick). So, fly the kite upwards towards the zenith. As the line tension begins to ease slightly, allow the edge angle of your skis to decrease and bring your weight over both your skis. Start pointing your skis downwind, beginning to pressure the opposite ski to bring you round into a sweeping arc-shape turn. As you complete the second part of your ‘C’-shaped turn, lower the kite into the power zone in the new direction you are travelling.

Riding on steep terrain

Like snow to a puppy, it’s all a bit confusing when you sprinkle in some variable gradient to the flying-riding equation. For example, often the zenith will be far behind your head rather than above you where it is usually, or you may find yourself battling against the kite to move forwards, whilst trying to ride downhill. The trick is not to look down. Be aware ot the imminent changes in the tall line (the hill may slope off to the side, rather than straight down) and be ready to adjust your edge pressure to compensate, but do not keep looking down. Keep an eye on your kite when you can, and certainly keep your vision up at head height, letting your feet feel what is going on below you. More often than not you will try to look down and apply what your conscious mind thinks your body should be doing. Your balance is much better off when controlled by your sense of feel, along with your ‘muscle memory’, leaving your sight to control your direction.

Once you are confident on varied terrain, you will have little trouble in pulling off some small tricks using the fall line and the kite, and eventually getting big air (if that’s what you are looking for) by using the kite in the same way as you would for kite landboarding, buggying or surfing.

Getting air

This is achieved in the same way as for all other sports in terms of the kite’s positioning. When the terrain offers you something to jump off – a lip or a kicker, you will need to fly the kite upwards to prevent it pulling you too laterally rather than vertically. Make sure that you put your skis or board flat when taking off and landing to prevent throwing yourself off balance, and flex your knees on landing.