Issue 6: Cheat for Fun and Profit

Unplanned Landings At Improper Angles

cheati6Before we hit the ground (sorry, couldn’t resist saying that) running, let me add an addendum to last issue’s discussion of wind rules. The new International Rule Book changes the timeframe for calling for windchecks. In league style precision, you can only request a windcheck up to the 1 minute mark of your performance. That’s 30 seconds less than before. All you cheaters out there, know the new numbers!

Now, what about crashes? I don’t know who it was (Charlie Sotich, maybe?) who said that there are no crashes, just unplanned landings at improper angles, but that person was wrong. I have CRASHED a kite, no doubt about it. If you’ve ever had a spar not just snap, but burst into multiple pieces, many of which you never find, you’ve crashed. If you’ve ever watched a sail shred into pieces that even duct tape couldn’t mend, you’ve crashed. Team flyers, if you’ve ever had two kites entwined in a position that you’ve seen only in the “Kama Sutra”, you’ve crashed. But what happens if you crash during competition?

First and foremost, learn to count to 45. With one exception, if you crash and do not re-launch within 45 seconds, you’re done. The exception is if your music – and thus your routine – ends before the 45 seconds have passed; then you only receive an improper ending penalty. Also, the 45 second rule applies only to crashes; you can land your kite in mid-routine and keep it on the ground for as long as you want, as long as it’s apparent to the judges that it’s intentional.

During those 45 seconds, though, you’ve got some options. The best one is an unassisted relaunch. With no help from the ground crew, right the kite and keep on flying. Penalties should be minimal if this is done quickly. The next step is to rely on your crew. Make sure you have a clear hand or vocal signal that means, “I need immediate assistance.” For psychological reasons, shouting, “HELP!!!!” is probably not a good thing to do. The ground crew fixes the kite, and you’re off and flying again.

When should you ask for ground crew help? It depends on your abilities and the kite. In some cases you can roll the kite over quickly. In others you may have a wing wrap or the kite is in the “dead kite” position, and recovery is at best very difficult. I generally give it about a ten to fifteen second recovery effort, then go to the ground crew. My feeling is that if I can’t relaunch quickly on my own, I suffer more by getting out of synch with my routine than by having someone fix the kite. It’s purely a personal decision; know your own skills and decide what to do.

Even with the clock ticking and a major disaster in front of you, keep your head. At Silverwings SKC a couple months ago, a major wind shift caused a Masters class flyer to crash. She decided to just give up and called out. Big mistake! Why? The crash happened at only 1:20 into her ballet. She called out at 1:30, and because she didn’t reach the 2 minute minimum time, she was disqualified! Even at 1:20, if 45 seconds had elapsed that would have gotten her past the 2 minute mark, her routine would have ended, and should would have received a score (albeit a poor one) instead of a DQ. So, know when you crash. Ask the field director for a time check if you need to. The new International Rulebook changes this situation. If a crash occurs before the minimum time and there is no relaunch, it’s a zero. Still, don’t panic.

Another great example of not panicking was from Kalamazoo a few years ago.’s own commander-in-chief, Mike Gillard, crashed hard during a Captain Eddie’s Flying Circus ballet, taking another kite with his. The 45 second rule applies still, from the time the first kite hits the ground. The other kite was able to get clear and relaunch quickly, but Mike’s lines were hopelessly cut. So, intrepid guy that he is, he ran out to the kite, picked it up by the ends of the bridles, and “flew” it for the remainder of the routine, as the rest of the Circus completed their performance overhead. Cheesy? Definitely. Legal? Absolutely! There’s nothing in the rulebook that specifies a minimum line length, or even that you have to use lines at all. Mike got his kite back in the air in less than 45 seconds, and the Circus was able to fly their full routine and get a better score than if they had ended in a crash.

What else should you do in your 45 second window to help yourself? If you were thinking ahead, you can turn to your spare gear. Your ground crew can carry spare parts. This is useful, but not terribly realistic. The only repairs you could do in 45 seconds are replacing a top or bottom spreader, and in some kites a standoff. So if your crew has those parts at the ready (make sure that spare bottom spreader has the proper standoff fittings already on it!), they can fix your busted kite. Replacing a full leading edge in 45 seconds would probably require Jeff Gordon’s pit crew. The other option, and maybe the easier one, is your spare kite. Yes, you’re allowed to replace your entire kite! You’re only allowed to use what you’ve brought into the field with you, but you are absolutely allowed to have a replacement kite positioned safely inside the boundaries. And, it can have lines on it, already wound out with handles attached (again, positioned safely!). So if you snap a leading edge, or your line breaks, or something else happens that is not typically repairable within the time limit, drop everything and grab your spare. You’ll probably want to make prior arrangements with your ground crew, so that someone grabs the broken kite and pulls the lines out of the way. Meanwhile, you’re running over to the sideline, picking up the handles, and launching again. If the kite is in the air within 45 seconds of the crash, and you keep it inbounds, there’s no DQ, no end of routine, and life is good. The key, again, is to have all your spare gear on the field with you before you begin.

Does a crash mean you can’t win? Usually, but not always. My friend Abel Ortega proved that, to his own embarassment, in Chicago in 1994. Flying a league-style precision routine, Abel dropped one of his handles during a transitional move. The kite came down hard. As Abel ran to retrieve the dropped line, he slipped and fell. Now both kite and flyer were on the ground! Abel stood up, picked up his line, calmly relaunched the kite without assistance, and kept flying. But how to score it? Besides bonus style points for his beautiful back dive, the judges correctly scored it as a 1/10th deduction from his transition score, which counted for only 20% of the total. With rock-solid figures making up the other 80%, the crash actually counted for very little, and Abel won the event. Abel, though, always the gentleman, was mad because he felt the crash detracted enough from his overall performance that someone else should have won. In today’s scoring systems that might be what would happen, but my advice to all you other poor winners out there is to take the trophy and shut your mouth.

Speaking of shutting your mouth, never telegraph a crash by your own actions. It’ll probably be obvious to everyone else that you’ve crashed. There’s no need to swear, groan, slump over in pain, or otherwise indicate that you’ve messed up. Square your shoulders, smile, say, “I meant to do that!” and relaunch your kite.

It’s also possible to use a crash as an element of your performance. Lots of music has dramatic drumbeats, cymbal crashes, or other sounds that fit well with crashes. Make your flying match the music. The key is to make it look intentional. A nose-first dive into the ground needs to be right on the beat with the music, or it’ll look unplanned. The judges aren’t psychic, and have nothing to look at beside the kite to figure out if you meant to crash. Once upon a time in Kalamazoo, on a typical no-wind day, Ken Blain flew an ultralight kite to the annoyingly overplayed “Circle of Life” from “Lion King.” After hearing the song a million times, you know that it ends with a big solid BOOM! on a drum. So, as the song ended, Ken was flying from the top of the window straight down. At the last second he tugged on the lines, the kite accelerated, and did a perfect lawn dart into the ground smack dab on the beat with the drum. The kite exploded. Literally. From the sidelines, you could see bits of spar go flying skyward. Ken nonchalantly called out, and later on collected the 1st place trophy. If you can afford to reframe your kite on a regular basis, this sort of move looks brilliant.

So go forth and blunder. Slam your kite into the ground. If you’re not already crashing, you’re not trying hard enough, nor are you having enough fun. And all you cheaters, if you can’t count to 45, you’ll never prosper.

Next issue: tapes, CDs, headsets, and other things electronic.