Kite Flying with Intent

After six plus years of doing sport kite workshops and clinics (both dual and quad kites), I’ve had a lot of opportunities to work with different personalities and skill sets while teaching… One of the things that I see most frequently with beginning, and even some more advanced fliers, is a lack of intent in their kite flying.

Let me clarify with an over-simplified break down of the mindsets that come into play here…

  • First time flier – no idea what it feels like yet, no goals yet, just about to have an experience.
  • Novice flier – has basic control, but may be “just trying to keep it up”, correcting what the kite gives them.
  • Experienced flier – has more control, but may be stuck straight downwind, practicing individual skills.
  • Master flier – solid control, more visible flight paths and combinations of maneuvers with varied complexity.

Now truly, there is no wrong way to fly a kite as long as it’s safe for all involved, and you’re having fun… In my experience, you gotta have the joy.

However, this article is for those fliers who want to take it to the next level, to take the skills they’re learning and apply them in specific ways to increase your overall skill set, add context and most importantly for performance-oriented fliers, a number of combinations or snippets of flight program… And this brings us to a clear differentiation between what I’ll loosely term as “leisure fliers” versus “sport fliers”.

End of the day, you gotta do what fulfills you – so if you feel like I’m missing the mark here, skip past this and go fly how you like. 😉

“What are you thinking about when you launch your kites?”

That is one of the most common questions I ask a flier who is struggling after they learn their kite flying basics, to which the most common replies are generally “trying to keep the kite up” or “taking off“, and while there’s nothing wrong with that (again – fly for personal joy), those answers are indicative of the obstacles at hand… It’s a reactive state, as opposed to being pro-active… The kite acts, and we react with perpetual corrections.

I can’t stress enough, any enjoyable state of kite flying is a good one… But if you want to really increase your learning curve and gain more overall control, I suggest you fly with intent.

Launching – instead of this being a simple “off the ground” exercise, try thinking about the simple launch in these terms…

  1. Visualize a space 20 feet above where you are launching from, think about that space,  GO TO IT.
  2. Be prepared when you reach that space, and choose which way you want your kite to go (left or right).
  3. Pick a place on the ground (right or left side), fly to it and land.

Now this may not seem like much, but try that simple goal-oriented flight plan (3 steps) as shown below…


Now please understand, at this point it’s not important HOW you get from points A to B, just that you make the attempt – you can always refine the HOW later.

What are we trying to accomplish with this idea?

Well, instead of thinking about something as finite as “trying to keep your kites up”, you’ve stepped back to think about a bigger goal…

  1. By doing something measurable, we applied our skills toward a specific goal and accomplished it (effort over quality).
  2. We did several things in a row to achieve that goal, first step toward stringing together techniques and patterns (combinations).
  3. We set the path, defined our intent and looked ahead – sort of like riding a bicycle (pro-activity).
  4. We set the stage and acted, rather than improvising and reacting at every turn.

Now bear in mind, the value isn’t in trying it once or twice – try repeating it, changing it, improving it… That’s where the real improvement will come.

Granted, this was a very simple example, but probably a fair one for someone who still considers themselves a beginner.

Turning up the heat with precision compulsories

So now we understand that WE can define the kites action and have a format in which to improve our kite flying skills more rapidly – the trick now is to expand that format by adding additional flight patterns, generally referred to as precision figures, compulsories or maneuvers… And what a lot of folks don’t know is that most precision compulsories were specifically designed to focus on a particular combination of skills, in sequence, increasing in difficulty as you work your way through them.

Even if you’re not a competitor or fancy yourself a “leisure flier”, there’s no rule against flying shapes as an exercise… You can ALWAYS free fly, learning a few more skills will only help you enjoy it more deeply in the long run.

Precision compulsories are usually released to the kiting community as a collective effort from the IRBC (International Rules Book Committee), a group made up of veteran sport kite judges and fliers from the AKA (American Kitefliers Association), STACK (Stunt Team And Competitive Kiting) in Europe and AJSKA (All-Japan Sport Kite Association) – while they are generally available on the web sites for each organization, I’m particularly fond of the resource put together by Roy Reed… It’s one thing to see a static maneuver on paper, and another entirely to see it fully animated!

The full index of Roy’s animations –

For the purpose of this article (targeted toward newer fliers), I’ll highlight a sampling of the maneuvers below…

kite flying      compulsory for kites      kite flying
Animation                                           Animation                                              Animation

Remember, these are just examples from which you can improvise your own paths, but the compulsories above can give you a place to start… Again, working toward one’s ability to move their kite from A to B with intent.

Playing your kite flying deck of cards

I found a lot of success during my sport kite competition years (1991 to 2008) but believe it or not, I only had ONE fully choreographed or planned performance (Bugs Bunny with Rev) and every other individual routine I flew, ballet or precision, was pretty much improvised.

Why, or how, you ask?

Well quite simply, I don’t have much patience for practicing individual routines so instead, I developed and used a mental “deck of cards”… Whereas some fliers might look at a routine as many, many, many pieces, I started using a handful of combinations or sequences in my performance.


  1. Long ground pass left to right…
  2. Fly a big up circle and exit on the same ground pass…
  3. Land on the right side the window…
  4. Launch straight into a left square…
  5. Finish in the right ground pass again…
  6. Land in the same place as before.

What we have here is a sequence or combination, and it can be flown…

  • Larger or smaller
  • Slower or faster
  • With steps added
  • With steps removed

Those four choices can be applied to match your music, application or the type of kite you’re using and on it’s own, I visualize it as a single playing card from a deck of many different ones… This means while some pilots might be somewhere in the sky and thinking about the next turn, I’m thinking about where my kite is and which playing card I can apply or adapt for my next sequence.

Some of the things I’ve noticed…

  • Time seems longer somehow, like I have more mental space to operate, my mind is more calm – these mini-plans give me freedom to focus on the quality and timing, as well as what card I’m going to play next (long before I get there).
  • With simple things like adding, removing or changing the entry or exit portion of a single card, I’m able to string together a lot of content without repeating too much, especially if you’re dealing with a 3 minute ballet performance.
  • By repeating these sequences so many times, I’ve been able to do them very reliably, almost on demand – nothing like repetition and practice.

Whether or not the fliers use a deck of cards, a full routine or totally improvise, I’d argue that many top level performances that can be broken down into a winning hand of maneuvers… Try looking at 3-5 consecutive moves as a single card in the routine below, and see how many cards you can accumulate.

There are some pretty wicked maneuvers and control being applied there, but even if you take out the big tricks, you can see how effective a solid flight path can be and how things can be broken down into segments.

Now, I don’t often think about the cards unless I’m explaining it to someone else – they’re mostly ingrained, so I just enjoy the flying.

Mental process

It’s good to review your plans and think about your techniques… But, try not to over-think it.

We’re talking about flying kites after all!

There isn’t much benefit to your kite being on the ground when you want to learn – go ahead and test your wings.

I’d also like to suggest two more exercises, if you harmonize with them…

  1. Clear or “reset” your mind between attempts (and between cards), in a single moment, try emptying your head and just seeing where you want to go as a whole… As you build your deck of cards, you’ll be able to do this “mental clearing” between each step in a sequence, focusing on the quality of each turn.
  2. Clear or reset your posture – we generally accumulate tension as we try difficult things so I’ve found it to be very beneficial to literally “shake it off”, to relax my body… Tension tends to relay down the lines, I’ve found the best response when a flier is poised but relatively relaxed.

You may also find that music helps set a rhythm for your body mechanics and flight style – try setting your iPod to tunes with an open tempo, not too fast, not to slow, tracks that make you feel like swinging your hips a little… Above all, have fun with it, keep challenging yourself.

And remember – to each their own, and as long as you’re enjoying kite flying and not hurting anyone, you’re ultimately on the right track.

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Author:John Barresi

Involved in the greater kiting community since 1990, John is an avid kite flier in several disciplines, has served as President of the American Kitefliers Association, and is co-founder of the Revolution sport kite team iQuad. View John Barresi's Profile →

25 Responses to “Kite Flying with Intent”

  1. gilberto
    June 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    bom professor

  2. June 30, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    Thanks Gilberto, I don’t know about “professor” but I love trying to share the things that enrich my own kiting experience in case some others may benefit from it. :)

  3. John Dvoracek
    July 29, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    I’ve been meaning to comment for a while, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to say even though I knew I had something to add. I’ve never been to a kite event, and I’ve never seen a quad fly except for my own Rev’s. Hence, everything I’ve learned has been through on-line tutorials – many by this articles author, but I’d never come across Roy Reed’s animations which you link above. Those are fabulous as is just learning about those precision flying maneuvers.

    Each of those maneuvers is a combination of basic skills – flight in each of eight directions, clock-work turns – with stops, inverted flight, and forward and reverse loops. In addition to practicing full maneuvers, I think it is a good idea to keep practicing basic skills. Practice also overcomes being overwhelmed when you start to fly. I think it was my third day out before I could even keep the Rev up without crashing, although I am older and learning is harder. I knew I needed inverted hover, but I honestly felt I would never be able to do that. However, I kept practicing, and eventually it happened. I had the same feeling about clock-work turns with stops at quarter or eighth turns, but my past experience with getting inverted hover down by practice kept me going until the clock-work started to happen. Now I working on reverse flight, especially turning reverse flight (loops). I don’t have it down, but I know I will if I keep at it.

    I noticed the competition maneuvers do not include slack line tricks? Those seem a bit hard on your lines and kites, anyway, so I’ve never done much of that. Thanks for a great article, and learners, structured practice is the key to improvement!

    John, Windy Central Texas

    • July 31, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

      We used to see snap stalls or landings in more maneuvers, but that’s about it for “tricks” – for those, you’d need to look into the Tricks Party format (extinct in the USA but still practiced in Europe)… A Google search should yield some results. :)

  4. Kalamical Cerf-volant
    October 23, 2012 at 1:18 am #

    interesting article, thank you

  5. April 24, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    you are wise sensei.

  6. May 8, 2013 at 12:41 am #

    This is the difference between having a skilled teacher or a flying buddy.  When a teacher begins to teach they must have an excellent grasp on exactly what it is they are doing. Then they will be able to convey their concepts to the student.  As I try to learn many different kites I am at different levels along the same path.  Some tell me to concentrate on one kite.  Some say to get the one with the tricks built in.  But now I feel the important step to take is exactly this.  Fly with intent, use the key suggestions from one who has taught many others.  Think about what is the next goal then execute that plan in the conditions presented to you that day.  Another key point is to remember to relax .  When I was finally able to do a pretty stall with my zoomy little Micron I felt good.  I worked on it & had meant to do it.  The teacher directs my attention to what it is to learn.  Now my intent is to fly with intent, each time.  Many thanks for a direction to proceed in.



  7. May 27, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    I read that article shortly after you posted it. It helps. I try to always fly with intent now. Not that I need a plan every time I take to the air, but I do plan every maneuver, even if it’s only to complete a series of perfect wingtip spins (a personal favorite). After days of rain here in the NE, we finally got some sun yesterday and the wind was high. I went out with my full vent B and 3 wraps, and wished I brought my SLE for it. 15-20mph winds with gusts quite a bit higher. I layed out 120′ lines and eq’ed them (needed it!) It was so windy for inland CT that I ended up at 3 different sites and EQ’ed and flew all of my linesets.

    I have to say I really like flying the 50′ lines with winds like that. Winds here are always a bit unsteady and change direction a lot. With the 50’s I can react to slight changes of direction without thinking about it and everything is so immediate that you have to be precise. Things like clockwork are right in front of you and you can see and feel what the kite is doing. I think the shorter lines almost make you fly with intent, especially on a windy day like yesterday.

  8. June 9, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    This may be a bit off topic, but not really. John, I saw this the other day and I was blown away. Your flying always impresses, but for some reason this routine really did it for me.


    Maybe it was the precision, the crispness, I don’t know. It’s like the kite was a fine instrument, and you played it like a master.

    I have questions! Was the routine choreographed? Were you just “flying with intent” and thinking 3 moves ahead? I really liked the “rowing” move at around 3:00. I’ll have to try that.


    I was flying the other day in barely (for me) flyable conditions. Wind was 1-4 mph and coming from every direction (really!) though it was mostly from the south, and the west…and the north a couple of times. Anyway, I got to work on a few things that I’ve just recently sucessfully done. Because of the low wind I did some 360’s and noticed that I could gain ground using them. I also did my first “perfect” catch and toss. I did my first a week or so ago, but this toss caught a slow glide away from me and looked perfect.

    The next thing I need to work on is hand position. Since Ive never had the opportunity to fly with anyone who knew what they were doing, I’ve picked up some bad habits that are negatively affecting me. I tend to point my handles in the direction the kite is facing, so if I’m hovering facing left, my thumbs are pointing left, if I flip the kite over to facing right, my thumbs are facing right. It works if I’m spining the kite through the upright position, but not so well if I’m going through inverted. I remember one of the videos showing hands  with thumbs together and bottoms out, so I’m gonna go back to basics and work on not following the kite attitude with my thumbs, because I can’t put twists in my arms to make it work.

    I flew a dual line delta for over 10 years and had a blast tearing around the sky, maybe dragging a wingtip across the window once in a while, but never did any stunts because I’d never seen them done, or if I had in some video or movie, I couldn’t figure out how it was done. I would be in the same place with my Rev if it wasn’t for this site and your videos. I’m learning the basics and more, and also seeing what’s possible, so if I haven’t said it lately, I’ll say it now.



  9. June 9, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

    Nice one, Rex ! I hadn’t seen that video yet, thanks for dragging it out… 


    I have the same problem that you describe, following the kite with the bottoms of the handles. I realized it must be wrong, but it’s a hard habit to break. What’s helping me is pounding on the upside down hover. Just put it there & keep it there… for minutes at a time… sliding back & forth, but staying in the hover with the handles pointed right. With intent !


    BTW, the wind on Long Island today was 0-3mph, coming in solid from you guys in CT. Thanks for that nice wind, even if it was a little weak for Revs !

  10. June 10, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    Total improv, although I was “dancing” with the music (improv choreography).

    Which “rowing” maneuver are you referring to?

    Check out the Hands and Body Posture tutorial, lots in there about hand placement. ;)

  11. June 10, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    Thank YOU by the way… It’s seeing (or hearing from) folks like yourself that make my efforts so rewarding!

    Pay it forward. ;)

  12. June 10, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    What I called the “rowing” manuever was right about the 3 minute mark in the clip during the “wiggle wiggle wiggle” part of the music. You started left to right and it looked kind of like you were paddling across the window with your wingtip.

    I will check out the hand and body posture tutorials. I have a feeling it will be a challenge, but the payoff could be huge.

  13. June 12, 2013 at 12:43 pm #
  14. June 12, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    Thanks for trying. One of the problems with being in a kiting desert. I never get to see or talk to anyone in person who can fly. Maybe if I can make Wildwood next year that may change. :cat_biggrin:

  15. June 12, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

    I think I get what you’re talking about…kind of. Like pumping a skateboard on the flats, or paddling a gondola with a single oar at the rear. You’re “swimming” the kite through the air?


  1. When it Becomes Routine | Kite Competition | KiteLife™ - July 10, 2013

    […] encourage you to check out my Flying with Intent article (last March) for suggestions on how to create and use […]

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    […] strongly encourage you to check out my “Flying With Intent” and “When it Becomes Routine” articles for more in depth theory and ideas, but […]

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