Issue 4: Novice Class

phildog_smallWelcome to the Novice’s Corner for July. While generating ideas for a topic… it seemed appropriate to  devote this month’s column to flying in light wind conditions. Living in Richmond Virginia means that I have struggled with many light wind days on the kite field at Dorey Park. Light wind flying is very different from flying in a steady 8 mph ocean breeze and very difficult for someone starting out in this sport. There are secrets that I need to share with you for your next visit to the kite field on a light wind day. Here they are….

Bait the new fliers … then reel them in…

It’s often interesting to be at a beach event and meet someone who has just purchased a kite. Now this kite could be any brand of kite, and is supposed to fly in 5mph to 18mph winds. The owner is happy with the kite and is having some success in the air within an hour or so…. Over the next several days this person is hooked and might even buy another kite while on vacation… More purchases could be on the horizon for this individual, but they MUST HAVE SOME SUCCESS when they return home to fly the kite.

Kites don’t fly in the hills…..or do they?

OK… Our new kiter has now returned home from vacation and after a couple of weeks, manages to find a place to fly the kite in his/her hometown. Upon arrival at the field and re-learning how to put the kite together, he/she attempts  to fly the kite with no success and leaves, frustrated…

Kites do fly in the hills!

Now, what anyone who is new to this sport should know is that the wind ratings for the kites are for EXPERIENCED FLIERS!!! Don’t worry, you will become an experienced flier… just don’t throw in the towel too soon. There are several things you should know about flying a kite inland. Here they are:

1. Wind Speed and Direction

Winds are often swirling and can change direction quite often inland… and even more so if the area where you’re flying is surrounded by trees. Getting accustomed to wind shifts and changing wind speeds are a couple of the most difficult things for a new flier.

RUN, Don’t walk to your nearest kite dealer and buy yourself a (minimum) 6 foot windsock and 14 foot banner pole and hang the windsock from the top of the banner pole.  If there is any wind, the windsock will help you determine its direction. You could choose any mechanism for helping you determine your wind speed and direction, but a large windsock is easily visible and an attractive field ornament. You may have a steady 6 mph to fly your kite… but it may be coming from 2-3 directions at any given moment… From the East one minute, the Southeast the next and Northwest the next minute. Learn to read the wind.

2. TREES ARE EVIL.

Now, I don’t want to offend tree huggers… so remember … it’s a joke.

Trees do affect the wind… As Andy Preston says in the Trickery Flickery Video, “Anything that is between you and the wind… is what you want to stay away from. Think about it.” Trees, buildings, etc. can really mess up your wind… stay away from them, especially if the wind is coming off the trees. If the wind is blowing toward the trees, you stand a little better chance of success. Try to find yourself a nice OPEN field to fly in… and by OPEN, I mean at least the size of 4-6 football fields without trees. Hopefully, you can fly in the middle of this vast space, rather than flying on the edges where there are most likely trees or power lines… stay away from the power lines. Generally, these type of areas are located in parks where there are numerous soccer or softball fields. Watch out for light poles at these complexes, but they can provide you with a wonderful place to fly when not overcrowded by softball and soccer players.

3. After work is probably not the best time to fly a kite… during work is better.

One thing you start to notice after spending long days at the kite field is that winds tend to follow patterns in your area… get to know these patterns. In Richmond, Virginia, the winds seem to generally start around 10AM and continue until about 4-5 PM, sometimes lasting longer depending on whether or not some type of weather system is moving into the area. This only comes with a little dedication to the sport and getting to know your conditions.

4. Notice experienced fliers and their break times.

They often break as the winds are dying down. When they notice the winds picking up for a while… they fly. Sometimes, you’ll even notice that they just stop, land their kite, walk toward it and appear to be making adjustments (sometimes they are). Shortly they start to fly again with no problems. They know how to read the wind. This just takes time on the kite field.

BUY MORE KITES

Eventually… you’ll discover that you probably need an ultralight kite to fly in your area for most of the summer. Here’s my advice… It costs you nothing… use it if you can… but it worked for me.

My first real icarex kite was supposed to fly in 3mph and I could NEVER get it to fly in 3mph the first year I owned the kite. Folks would say… you need to adjust the bridle and nose the kite forward a little….giving it more lift…others would say – nose it back to catch more wind

PHIL says… “There is a certain wind range that any particular kite prefers, and as long as you are within 30 percent of that particular wind speed you are fine.” For example, the kite I mentioned above really LOVES about 8-9 mph… I can do EVERYTHING with it in a steady 8mph… and if it falls below 5mph, I start to struggle. I can still fly the kite in 3mph, but it’s not fun and it doesn’t fly well, so why fly it? Buy another kite.

Generally speaking, kites that are supposed to fly in 3mph need 5mph for the novice. So, what’s a novice to do? Practice in 3mph, and learn what the various adjustments on your kite’s bridle will do to the performance of the kite. Remember, the bridle is your friend. It will be a struggle at first, but you will eventually be rewarded. When you do purchase that first ultralight framed in skinnies or super skinnies, you will be a better flier and less likely to break sticks on the ultralight kites. A second thing is to get yourself an indoor kite framed in microcarbon, like the Wren or the Prism 3D. The microcarbon frames are very sturdy and the kites will fly in no wind. The skills you develop flying in no wind can be very useful.

Tidbits from the Masters

I figured I’d just wrap up this column with some tips that I’ve picked up over the past couple of years. Sometimes, when you’re flying on a light wind day, you will notice that there is more wind 50-60 feet in the air. Generally speaking, surface winds are lighter and there is more wind higher up. The savvy kiter can take advantage of this fact by flying on longer lines of 100- 120 feet long and never bringing the kite below 50 feet except when he/she can feel a good puff of wind. Now, sometimes getting the kite high in the sky can be difficult but there is usually a little more wind up high.

Another approach is to fly on very lightweight lines. I have seen local fliers using 50, 30, and even 20lb spectra when flying in light winds. Now, the 30 and 20 lb lines are generally longer sets to allow the flier to get the kite higher in the sky and fly in whatever is available. I know this may sound nuts, but I’m serious. Brad Spivey of the Breeze Brothers Pairs team is one of our local kite gods and I’ve seen him flying at dusk when there is NO wind. Now, Brad is a bit of a kite magician and understands Dean Jordan’s Millennium about as well as anyone on the planet… but the fact is that the kite can be flown outdoors in no wind… I mean no wind and very little movement on the flier’s part… Basically standing flatfooted once the kite is 60-80 feet in the air.

OK… I’ve ranted enough, but it can be done… How, you ask? The key is smooth movement on the part of the flier. What you don’t want to do is provide jerky inputs to the kite and cause it to dump what little air is in the sail. So this means that the snap stalls, combination turns are on hold until there is more wind. Use pull turns and smooth inputs to keep the kite in the air. You can still do fades, axels, pinwheels, 540 flat spins and other various tricks… just do them higher in the sky. After each trick where you dump the air from the sail… plan on using your feet and backing up to get the kite higher in the sky, remembering smooth inputs from the flier.

Finally, you could choose to fly a small indoor microcarbon kite outside on 10-15 foot lines. These same indoor skills can be applied to light wind flying. Besides, if you crash the kite, you only have to walk 10-15 feet to pick it up. You don’t have to worry about breaking your $250 ultralight framed in skinnies if you are flying a $90 – 150 microcarbon kite. You will eventually want to own a nice ultralight framed in skinnies, but when you’re just starting out, I recommend the microcarbon and short lines. Lightweight lines, bridle adjustments, and new kites will only get you so far when you’re just starting out. The key is to develop your light wind skills with practice and time on the kite field. Good Luck and hope to see you at a kite field soon.

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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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