Issue 3: Novice Class

Welcome to Novice Class for June, 1998. I have had the pleasure of attending the Maryland International Kite Exposition and the Wildwood International Kite Festival since submitting my last column to the editor. If you have recently become interested in kiting, you owe it to yourself to attend a large festival, take in the sites, and fly the kites. PLEASE – be more than just a spectator, walk up to the folks attending to the kites and ask questions. You’ll find out that many (if not most) have made the kite they are flying and they would love to answer your questions about it or discuss kites in general.

It is these shared experiences with others in this activity/sport/hobby that I find most rewarding. As a general rule, you will find kiters to be open and willing to share. If you are not an AKA member, visit the AKA Website at and become a member… Tell them that I sent you. There are many benefits to becoming a member, but with membership you can be a better informed kite flier.

I had the pleasure of meeting several of the top Eastern League novices at MIKE and Wildwood. I am in the process of contacting a few of them to include brief interviews with each in my column. Hey, this column is called Novice Class, so it might be a good idea to spend some time talking about the Sport Kite Novice Competitors in the AKA. I do not want my column to be limited to novices on the East Coast of the U.S. It just so happens that I attend most east coast events and know many of the novices that are competing this year. SO… Here’s where I ask you for some assistance. Send me the name(s) of one or more  novice competitors you know about, along with their email address and I’ll conduct an “interview” for inclusion in this column. There is plenty of press on the top teams and top individuals competing… I feel there are many interesting stories behind the novice competitors and we can all benefit from knowing the novices a little better.

As I said earlier, I recently attended the MIKE and Wildwood events. I noticed a few novices ONLY competing in Novice Ballet. Now, I encourage anyone to compete in whatever events they enjoy most – but remember that Precision is still important and you should practice it even if you choose never to compete in any precision event. Please be aware that I still don’t like precision… I know it will make me a better flier so I have really been practicing it lately and it has paid off in my competitions in the Intermediate Class this year. 

Kite Making Tip for June

I have not been doing too much sewing recently. My only projects since April have been a 40-foot tube tail and a 3-foot soccer ball for line laundry. I have discovered something that can be very beneficial in the sewing together of ripstop. Spraying a light coat of water on the surface of ripstop can really help when sewing two pieces together when they are placed one on top of the other before sewing the seam or when doing applique. I have only tried this technique on a couple of projects but it has worked well each time so I am passing on the tip to you. Let me know what you think.

Competition tips

If you have not read Bert Tanaka’s column on ballet in May’s Kitelife… then you should. This month I was going to spend talking about Ballet. However, Bert had such a wonderful column in last month’s issue… I will not try to re-invent the wheel… I’ll just add some stuff that I wish folks had told me before I started competing in novice class.

First, remember that this is for fun… you are paying your registration fees to compete but if you don’t win… Don’t go home in a funk and sell all of your kites. Talk to the judges afterwards – you’ll be surprised but most will be quite frank with you and offer suggestions that can improve your routine. Remember that it takes a lot of work to develop a ballet routine, both on and off the kite field.

I feel that there are several key components to building a good novice routine. They are: Music Selection, Precision Skills, Field Management, and Kite Selection.

Music Selection

Select a piece of music that you enjoy. You will be listening to this music hundreds of times so it should be something that you enjoy. I have noticed that soundtrack music is popular at competitions but it just doesn’t do anything for me… HOWEVER, soundtracks do offer the competitor a music selection with variety as well as a “beginning” “middle” and ” end” of the song. A GOOD movie SOUNDTRACK selection is certainly an option to consider on the competition field. Generally speaking, soundtracks are slow enough to build a routine for varied wind conditions and this is definitely something you should consider when selecting music. One common them that keeps being mentioned in the ballet seminars I have attended is opportunity. Does the music provide the competitor with opportunities? Flying to a music selection that is VERY SLOW AND SMOOTH is difficult to judge. Pick music that has opportunities for big circles as well as sharp corners. Match the music.

I feel that a great routine is one where I feel like I’m watching a dance performance or something. The music enhances what is going on. I feel drawn toward the kite, wondering what is going to happen next.

The bottom line is to pick music you enjoy, but remember that there must be obvious places where your kite is “with” the music or the music is “with” the kite. This type of music is easier for the judge to understand. My friend and TC Ultra flier – Dennis Smith – who placed second in Masters Ballet at Wildwood this year flew a magnificent routine to some old sci fi TV themes which included the twilight zone. The routine included side slides, wiggles and shakes of the kite, as well as a couple of axles. Everything…and I do mean EVERYTHING matched the music. It was magnificent. This was quite a contrast from some routines where I saw a lot of tricks and was left wondering what had happened. All of the winning routines at Wildwood in masters ballet had GREAT MUSIC.

Music DON’TS!!!

-Avoid music that is too fast. What will undoubtedly happen is you’ll have to fly the routine in 4mph when you really need a steady 9 to match the music. You can always slow things down by making figures and maneuvers larger… but if you’re in light winds, your kite will only go so fast on 80 – 120 foot lines. A sluggish kite can translate to a poorly executed routine.

-Don’t select offensive music. Remember that not everyone’s tastes are the same as yours. I know that good judges do not judge the music… but try to pick something that everyone will enjoy. Also… please note that there is a rule in the AKA rule book about offensive language in a routine… if your music has “dirty words” in it … it could be deemed offensive by the head judge and you would be disqualified.

-Don’t choose music that is too repetitive. A little repetition is OK as long as your kite is not being repetitive with each segment of the music that repeats. Too much repetition translates into bored judges, and a routine that could be viewed as repeating itself.  Does this sound a bit repetitive?  Not something I’d want judges to be scoring!

Precision Skills

Include some precision figures in your routine. It tells the judges that you are serious in learning about the sport and shows that you are attempting to put together different elements in a routine. Also, it gives the judges something they can recognize and allows them to see that you are flying more than big circles, figure eights, and infinity downs…

Field Management

Know where you are at on the competition field… This can only come with practice. Be aware that if you are flying in light winds, there is a good chance you’ll need to back up during your routine so your kite can have speed when you need it. Start out your routine with plenty of room to back up. Also, when you do have good winds during your routine… try to gain ground when you can so you have more room to back up if needed. The converse applies for high winds. If you know you’re going to be running forward a lot in your routine for landings or stalls… start your routine with plenty of room to move forward when needed.

Kite Selection

Have access to an ultralight, standard, and vented kite. Know the performance limits of each. If you attempt any “tricks” in your routine with a kite you are unfamiliar with… have a backup plan. For instance if you want to do a stall then axle in your music… If the winds are blowing 15-20 and you haven’t practiced many axles in 15 mph winds… then do just a stall and hold it or a quick landing to accentuate the music. In many cases, Ultralights perform different than the standard kite. Usually, they require a little more slack and patience with tricks and do not like some things that the standard kite does quite well. The best example I can think of is that of a “turtle” or “backflip”… Not many Ultralights will come out of a turtle… Be familiar with all of the kites you plan to fly. If you are not familiar with the Ultralight or Vented version, have a backup plan for sections of your music.

Parting Lines…

KNOW THE RULES WHEN A NOVICE… REMEMBER the minimum windspeed is 4mph for novices. You can call for a wind check and invoke a wind rule up to the halfway point of your routine. If the wind is lightening up during your routine yell WINDCHECK!!! To the field director. KEEP FLYING until you are told the wind speed. If wind speed is below the minimum for your event yell I’M INVOKING THE WINDRULE and LAND. At some events you may be told at the pilots meeting that it will be “fly or die” meaning that there will be no WIND DELAYS. Please be aware that EVERYONE at the event wants you to have the opportunity to fly your routine in good wind… just remember that you must be aware of the rules that give you that opportunity.

During my Intermediate Ballet routine at Wildwood… I started my routine twice and called for a wind check less than 45 seconds into my routine each time. Each time the wind was well below the 4-mph minimum for intermediate. I kept flying my kite and yelled back to the head judge to confirm that I could invoke the windrule and land my kite. When I was told I could land, I landed and waited for the wind to reach the minimum windspeed. The second time I launched my kite I had put my straps on the wrong hands and immediately crashed my kite… fortunately the winds were not better the second time around and I invoked the windrule again. After a 100 degree windshift and delay of about 10 minutes… I finally got to start my routine and had consistent wind throughout. I ended up placing well at the competition… The moral of the story is to KNOW THE RULES!

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Author:Phil Napier

One of the founding contributors at Kitelife, Phil Napier was highly involved in both the organizational and competitive sides of kiting during the 90s.... Although primarily a dual line sport kite competitor, Philhas flown quad and built kites (primarily single line) as well, and even saw time in Rok battles at the Smithsonian Festival. He would like to share with you, in this column, some tips and techniques that will make being a novice competitor a little less frustrating and a more enjoyable.

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