Issue 33: Extremes

I’m a creature of extremes. Most of my kite flying happens either indoors or while riding a buggy. I went through the dual and quad-line competition scene for a few years but found it to be too subjective for my taste. I even spent a few years on the American Kite Flyers’ (AKA) Sport Kite Committee (SKC) trying to help make fair rules and representing the indoor contingent. I was invited to join the AKA Traction Committee and found I enjoyed it. With a diagnosis of prostate cancer at age 45, I examined my life and decided to only do the things I found rewarding and focus my energies where I could make a difference. I resigned from the SKC and focused on Traction.

Jon Ellis, the Chair of the Traction Committee, is a very good leader. Jon challenged each of the members of the committee to run, at least, five races. Being somewhat dense, I interpreted that to mean five separate days of racing. Jon meant five races that could be held in one day! We had the New England Traction Racing Series. Dan DelPapa is the fastest guy in New England followed by me and Paul Lawrence.

During the racing series, we discovered several interesting things. First, everybody has their own idea of what racing should be. I believe racing is more a test of skill rather than just “go fast and turn left” as NASCAR folks say. To me that means Circuit Racing is the way to go. In a Circuit race, you have upwind, downwind and crosswind (reaching) legs laid out in a triangle. Circuit races test the rider’s abilities and planning. I often tell novice racers that the fastest person doesn’t always win. The winner is the one who screws up the least.

I have seen people travel considerable distances only to turn around and leave if the wind wasn’t blowing perpendicular to the beach. Just like a sailboat, a buggy is most efficient and goes the fastest when the wind is coming from the side, a “Reach”. If you want to travel downwind, you need to zigzag (called a downwind tack) or you will quickly stall the kite when your speed reaches the wind speed. To go upwind, you need to zigzag (upwind tack) because you can’t fly the kite beyond the “window”. A kite (or sail) that has a large “window” is said to “point” well. All this means that if you are not in a reach, you have to do a little work to get where you want to go. In a reach, you can hang the kite on your harness and cruise along with only minor adjustments. When you tack, you need to work the kite and focus on timing.

All the people who race with us are there to have fun. To many of us, a Circuit race is too much work. Enduro races are the way to go. Enduro courses are set up in a large rectangle or even a line. The long dimension of the course is perpendicular to the wind so the whole course is basically a reach. Our typical Enduro course is a half mile long so one lap is a mile. Typically we do five to ten lap races. Enduro races are the most popular because they are easy.

The same people tend to win no matter what kind of course we are racing on. Most of us are using basically the same equipment so it is a test of skill on any course. The bottom line to me is that racing pushes you. A sailor once told me, “A day of racing teaches you more than a month of cruising.” It doesn’t matter where you place as long as you learn and have fun.

John Ruggerio