Issue 34: Team Tirades – Pairs Flying: The Wright Approach

Having spent a fair amount of time on the competition field with Ari, we were interested to learn from his perspectives… As well as share them with our readers.

Disclaimer from the author: No one on earth has a corner on the truth. The following ideas and approaches work best for me. There are many other veteran pairs fliers that have much more to add, or a different point of view. I strongly encourage you to approach these people and pick their brains.

Six Topics for Pairs flying

I will cover the following topics:

  1. Equipment for success
  2. How to call maneuvers
  3. The importance of body positioning
  4. How to choreograph an exciting routine (e.g. via finger flying in pairs)
  5. How to fly pairs precision figures
  6. How to best execute moves together
  7. Competitive strategies for winning

I. Equipment

A. Kites

1. Slow kites make it easier to execute maneuvers precisely and together.

2. Having the Ultra Light, Standard, and Vented versions of one model of kite allows you to work in any wind you must fly in competition. Having all the same model of kites makes it easier to change from the UL to the Standard kites with minimal technique adjustments. (To illustrate this, the next time you are at your favorite kite field, put two models of kites on equal lines and fly one for a few minutes, then fly the other kite and see how differently they fly. It is all about muscle memory. )

3. Adjust both kites so they have the same forward speed, pull, and turning feel. Do a speed check to adjust your forward speed. It is recommended that only person do all of the adjustments, as too many cooks spoil the soup. This topic is very important to looking the same in the air.

4. How to do a speed check:

  1. While both pilots have their feet planted, do a ground pass while in a follow-the-leader (FTL) position.
  2. Together, execute a 90 degree angle upward, flying side by side in the center of the window.
  3. Adjust the bridle of one kite until both kites have identical forward speed.
  4. Fly a second speed check to verify that the kites are moving at the same speed.

B. Line sets

1. Length- The longer the lines the bigger the wind window becomes (wind dependent of course). This allows more time between moves. All of our pairs’ lines are 125′ except for the 50# lines which are 110′.

2. Line breaking strength- We use the following lines: 50#, 90#, 150#, 200# and 500# (but only in ballistic winds of course). You must be very careful when using 50# line. You can break 50# line just by touching lines or kites to line. The heavier the line, the more wind drag. This drag will help slow down the kites but may decrease the sensitivity of the kite’s execution.

3. Some pairs fliers use “line extensions.” Up to 10 feet of a heavier line (from 150# to 500#) are attached between the ends of the flying lines and the kites. The advantages of extensions include the following:

  • The extra line length increases the size of the wind window
  • The extra drag may slow the kites
  • Extensions help to save wear and tear on your regular flying lines as that is were the kites touch the lines in refuel maneuvers and accidental contacts

The disadvantages include the following:

  • You add a knot in your lines which if not made small or tight enough may allow the lines to catch at these points.
  • Your lines are heavier in lighter winds.
  • You want to be careful to not fly out of bounds while using longer lines.

4. You may want to have on hand some short lines (100′) to help you in unusually small flying spaces.

II. Calling Maneuvers

A. First, determine which flier is going to make the calls.

B. Second, choose a executing call (see list in 1. below).

C. Third, choose a direction call (see list in 2. below).

D. The best pairs do not need to use a direction call because both fliers have memorized the routine. Because both fliers always know what move is coming up next they only need to use an executing call. Direction calls are used if the caller needs to remind the other flier what move is coming up next (or if the caller is improvising a routine for whatever reason).

  1. Sample executing calls (tells the other flier when to move)
    • “move”
    • “go”
    • “turn”
    • “now”
    • “break”
  1. Sample direction calls (tells the other flier in what direction to move)
  • “down to go in”
  • “under and in”
  • “over and in”
  • “up to go in”
  • “up to go down”
  • “up loop”
  • “fire drill”
  1. Ballet VS Precision Freestyle routines: In ballet, ideally the music should do all of the calling for you. These audible cues are predetermined to line up with specified moments in your music. Most of the top pairs fliers do not use calls in their ballet routine. In the precision routine the Wright Brothers designates one flier to calling the name of the up coming move while the other flier is responsible for giving the executing call.
  1. First work on establishing the cadence tempo between the commands and the executing moment. In order to agree on the tempo of this cadence practice flying (and finger flying) squares. Different wind speeds will have different cadence tempos: for instance “go”—(turn), vs. “go” ————-(turn), or “go”-(turn); The faster the wind, the shorter the time between the command and executing the moment. The slower the wind, the longer the time between the command and execution. However you may want to experiment with keeping the same calling / executing tempo. See what works best for you.
  1. Use clear and loud communication when calling your commands. It is possible the music may be very loud at a competition. Some pairs like to use radio head sets to help them hear each other. However there is always the potential for technical problems, and there’s the extra expense of equipment.
  1. If a partner is having a challenging time trying to follow the caller’s timing, experiment with the duration between the preparatory command and the execution of the maneuver. One exercise you can try without kites is to have the caller call the move and both fliers clap when at the time of execution. If the claps are not at the same time continue to experiment to both fliers agree how soon after the call the execution should happen. You may also want to try the same thing but instead of clapping face each other and do the actual hand movements to see if your timing lines up.
  1. Experiment with both members giving the commands. It is good to understand how your partner is experiencing the calls / executing times.
  1. Calling for precision figures:
  • The person designated to make the calls is responsible for the position within the window and precision grid. If they call the move in the wrong part of the window the move will not be flown correctly.
  • The non-caller helps the caller remember any important details that may be helpful for both fliers to remember.
  • Do NOT USE the word “OUT” (as in move towards the outside of the window) if you are trying to express the directions where to fly! This may confuse the judges, and lower your scores.

III. Exercises – Getting Started:

A. Getting used to flying next to someone else.

  1. If you have never flown pairs, start by flying far away but doing the same maneuvers. Then move your bodies closer together until you are in each others flying space.
  2. To cut down the learning curve, get an experienced pairs/team flier and take turns leading and following.
  3. When flying in FTL (Follow The Leader) position, leading is easier than following. This is because the follower is responsible for spacing and has to deal with avoiding the turbulent wind (vortex) generated by the leader’s kite.

B. First time exercises:

Practice the following by shadowing each other (flying side by side).Then try them mirrored (horizontally and vertically) in opposite directions.

  • Staying in your own space, fly up and down together.
  • Staying at the top of the window, move left and right gently across the window.
  • Ladders up and down the window.
  • Squares to the right and the left.
  • Barrel rolls.
  • Infinities upward and downward.

(Try “finger flying” the above figures before flying in the air. Finger flying: both fliers using their index fingers draw the maneuvers in the air. This saves a lot of time of making mistakes in the air. )

C. Experience exercises:

Loops and curves can be difficult to execute simultaneously because both kites must execute the same radius turn. Try experimenting between push turns and pull turns.

  • Stalls
  • Landings

D. Advanced exercises:

These are risky and dangerous moves that often risk damage to your equipment:

  • Head towards each other and just miss
  • Slack line tricks
  • Wrapping lines – Careful, you can break lines. Kites must remain generally near each other, or the lines may “lock up” on you. You know this has happened if you cannot control your kite.

Use the following to focus specifically on execution timing:

  • box
  • diamond
  • stalls repeat
  • square cuts upward

Docking (also called Nesting or Refueling) – starting from a FTL, the back kite flies into the lines of the front kite and the kites fly around while maintaining this connection. Make sure your bodies are properly positioned to avoid one kite going through the sail of the other. You can try entering a dock from many angles. However, most people enter going up the center of the window. The lead kite should slow down so the chasing kite can move into the lead kite’s lines. Your bodies need to be somewhat close (front to back) with the body of the one following about 5 feet behind the leaders body. Additionally, as you are setting up for the dock, many fliers like to stand one flier behind the other for better alignment.

To enter the docking the front flier can walk forward to slow down their kite in order to allow the back kite to move into their lines. The front kite needs to set a rock solid flight path so the back kite can guide easier into their lines. If the chasing kite gets too far down the lines because your bodies are too far apart, the kite becomes more difficult to keep steady, and it also may slip through the other person’s lines!

Once you are in a dock, the flier in the back needs to maintain pressure with their kite against the front kite. Many master fliers advocate a pendulum motion on the ground with your bodies. The front flier becomes a fulcrum point. The flier in the back will walk an arched path on the ground. So if the kites are moving toward the right half of the window the back flier will walk in an arch to the left (the opposite direction the kite is traveling). Some fliers additionally advocate that the front flier walks a small arch in the same direction as the back flier.

Be careful not to clip the head of the person standing in front of you as your kites come across the center of the window. The better the wind is, the less walking you may need to do. Some fliers like to have one wrap in their lines before entering into the dock. This helps prevent the back kite from slipping through the lines and helps add to the flight control of both kites once they are docked. Once you are in the dock the easiest move is to fly an upward infinity figure.

There are pairs and teams who have performed corners and even spin axles in a docking! There are also teams that will dock three or four kites all together. Try “finger flying” the Docked maneuver.

E. Warm-up exercises:


  • Equal timing of execution of kites
  • Matching both kites’ speed
  • Match corners (soft or hard)
  • To agree on the percentages of the wind window both vertically and horizontally.

The following exercise is what the Wright Brothers use in our 3 minute set up time in a competition. Our reason for this exercise is mostly to get the timing of our corners solid, to find the center of the wind window, get a speed check to assure a matched set of kites, and to find the best field position to avoid going out of bounds; especially on the edges of the window:

Left Box/ Right Box

Diamonds (continuing right to left in a ground pass)

½ axles on the left edge of the window (or sometimes just a Button Hook)

Moving from left to right two a stall together, recover flying left to right and execute another stall, recover flying left to right

½ axles on the right edge of the window (or sometimes just a Button Hook).

Repeat as needed until the timing of the corners are together.

Try finger flying the above warm-up exercise.

IV. Body positioning on the ground

A. Standing positions:

1. Side-by-Side

  • Close positioning- within 5 feet between shoulders
  • Wide positioning- with 10+ feet. This helps both fliers stay in the center of their own wind window for some precision figures like Inverted Eight with Landing and Pair Stops.

2. Front-to-Back

Equal line lengths- stand side by side. The leading kite should have that flier standing in front of their partner. Thus body positioning will change throughout your routine based on who is leading at a given moment.

Unequal lengths- stand about 5 feet difference front to back. I do not recommend using unequal length lines. As soon as you change who is leading, the difference in line length becomes a problem with wind turbulence.

V. Choreography: Fundamental Concept:

From a spectator’s point of view a clean simple routine is better than a fancy, difficult routine that is sloppy. Write moves that are simple to execute but have high interest level. If you have a difficult move that is not interesting, you will not get the points you may have hoped to get.

A. The relationship between Ballet Choreography and Calls:

As discussed earlier, when creating the choreography for a ballet routine, the music should provide the execution “calls.” A well written routine will show a strong connection between the kites’ movements and the music. Thus, you must know the music and the audible executing cues. Both fliers have to agree on the exact musical moment the movements are supposed to be initiated.

Sometimes it is necessary to make audible calls. Some examples where this may be helpful include things ranging from launches, landings, and timing in slack line moves (like a cascade). For example, you have to call timing in launches, landings or slack-line maneuvers, like a cascade. However, allowing the music to make the “calls” will give the better results.

Try to make one maneuver flow into the next one. Avoid writing too many “transition” moves. A transition move can be considered any time meandering between movements as a way to connect concrete choreographed ideas. A poor transition move will not have a strong connection to the music.

What are some of the kite flight attributes for which the judges reward you for? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do the kites match in every way they move (timing, directions, vertical and horizontal lines, style of corners (hard vs. soft) )?
  • Do the kites’ motions have a strong connection to the music?
  • Does the choreography have a variety of moves?
  • Are the movements interesting, unusual or surprising? Are there moments that make you go “wow?”
  • Do the kites use the entire window?
  • Do the kites fly consistently to each other regarding execution or does one kite bobble?
  • Does the choreography have a direct connection to the music ( don’t miss musical “opportunities”)

Warnings, the biggest traps for pairs routines include:

  • Too much repetition of types of moves (e.g. A full minute of mirrored moves or shadowed moves). Use more variety.
  • A lack of a strong visual connection to the music.
  • Using music that does not give many opportunities to write interesting choreography.

B. Execution of choreography: Advanced tips:

The secret is in the turns- matching your flying style (sharp verse soft turns). Generally speaking, (and depending on your kite’s characteristics) pull turns will create softer turns, punch turns create harder corners, while combo turns will create the sharpest corners. (Soft turns are much more forgiving than sharp turns for creating in-sync turns.)

It’s the timing and style of the corners that make you look clean. In fact, you can get away with being out of alignment vertically or horizontally as long as your turns are executed with the identical style. The turns give the image of clean flying. Conversely, correctly flown vertically or horizontal alignment that enters or exits with different cornering styles or out of sync turns looks much worse. If you execute synchronized turns, even if you are not with the music, look much better than having out-of-sync turns “to the music” (this looks like some one goofed).

VI. Precision Freestyle Choreography:

  1. The leader calls the turns while the other person calls the name of the move before the move to help remind both fliers.
  2. Make sure you know approximately how long your free style routine is before you go to a competition. You don’t want points deducted for not hitting minimum or going over maximum.
  3. What are the judges looking for in regards to the choreography of a precision free style routine? Ask yourself the following questions:
    • Does the routine have variety (e.g. curves, angles, mirrored moves, shadowed moves.)
    • Does the routine show off a variety of flying skills (stalls, landings, slides, slack-line.)

Although many pairs (and teams) will use their actual ballet routine for their precision freestyle routine, I do not recommend doing this. Because your ballet routine follows your music, it may not be as impressive for a precision freestyle routine. Use your precision routine for developing new creative maneuvers that can later be added to your ballet routines.

VII. What type of maneuvers help create a winning routine?

1. Use a variety of many or all of the following; lots of one concept becomes boring:

  • Mirrored (vertically, horizontally, and diagonally)
  • Shadowed
  • FTL
  • Kaleidoscope
  • Tricks
  • Stalls and Lands! These are basic but impressive. Both are visually the complete opposite of motion in the air (flying); thus demonstrating visual contrast in the routine.
  • Taking turns moving
  • Dangerous moves- almost hitting each other (crazy boxes, mirrored axles coming at each other)
  • Horizontal and vertical stalls (and how via body and arm forward thrust)
  • Follow the Leader moves (FTL) and adding in follower turns 180degrees in other direction

2. Create surprises in the choreography; this takes creativity.

3. Below is a pallet of maneuvers form which to choose when creating a routine. Take these ideas and expand on them. Try them FTL, shadowed and mirrored. The more creative you are in putting them together, the more interesting your routine will be.

  • Square cuts
  • Diamonds
  • Squares
  • Button hook (once reaching the edge of the window use this to change flight direction)
  • Ladders Up, or down
  • Do-si-do with a set up move by first passing each other (to avoid line wraps)
  • Speed control moves (rainbow, circle in a circle (precision move?), wingtip connected loop, double-U (precision move), speed up leader changes square (Evolvers)
  • 45 degree angles (diagonals)- zigzags (mirrored and shadowed), V’s, octagons (good and bad uses- how they can be easy and difficult physically when flying)
  • Landings- spin landing, tip stab, 2 point landings, belly spikes, nose (all easier on edge of window
  • Flying vertical and horizontal lines
  • Running around each other moves
  • Docking/nesting/refueling.
  • Flying on opposite sides of the window with lines over one another
  • Fly one kite on top of another instead of side by side.
  • Asymmetrical moves – “Mr. T” but rename it “L’s”
  • Give moves names that help recall the composite move
  • Slides
  • Taking turns moving- Evolver, twits (precision).
  • Slack line moves- cascade, flick-flacks, 540’s, insane, Stalls vertically and horizontally
  • Half axles, fades
  • Near misses
  • Line wrapping moves- leap frog, “Evolver move”etc
  • Infinities
  • Squares
  • Up and down loops
  • Matching size of loops- wing tip, 10 foot, 20 foot, 30 foot
  • Dancing moves- wiggles, pumping, ground bobbing
  • Taking turns in the sky while other on the ground

4. Simple and clean vs. complex and messy; the bell shape curve pay back for your efforts and the risk of trying a move. Sensibly if you cannot execute correctly a move 98% of the time it may end up hurting you rather than helping you.

Notes regarding avoiding excessive wraps in each individual person’s lines:

At a certain point if you have too many wraps in your individual lines you will eventually lose good control of your kite. Additionally, you may experience “line lockage” when you are wrapping lines with your pairs partner.

You will need to alter your original choreography to remove these wraps. You can do this by reversing the directions of any loops in your routine. Notice that some loops do not look like typical loops. Some “loops” may actually be something as simple as performing (in this order) a square, then an octagon, and finally diamonds all in the same direction. You may need to fly either the second or third figure in the opposite direction.

VIII. Tips for Competition:

Designate one person to turn in music to the announcing tent. The other is responsible for attending any fliers’ meetings.

Get into a routine at competitions of having all of your equipment ready to fly first thing in the morning. This way neither you or your flying partner will be unprepared for your events. It is all too frequent that the event schedule changes based on the weather.

ALWAYS (and I mean always!) take all of your lines and kites to the pit. The wind changes quickly. Remember you have two full sets of equipment.

Ask the field director to see each figure before you call in. This way you and your partner can review the maneuvers and percentages before calling “in”.

Be aware of your set up times (especially between figures). Setting up for a pairs figure is more time consuming than your individual ones.

Use as much of your set up time as you need. Feel comfortable with taking two or three passes to enter your figure. However, be aware of your maximum set up times.

Designate the non caller to keep tabs on the maximum times with the help of the Field Director.

Consider using some type of warm-up routine to help you determine choice of kite and field position.

In very light wind have the non caller be in charge of asking for “wind checks”.

Keep in mind your field position when starting your routine. The field almost always feels smaller because you have another flier on the field with you. You need to take into account your maneuvers you have in your choreography relative to the wind speed. You may need to choreograph into your routine moments that you need to move your bodies to gain ground in the middle of your routine (particularly in very light winds).

Do ANYTHING to make sure you do not go out of bounds and disqualifying.

Make sure your pairs partner is completely ready before you call “in.”

Make an agreement when to launch after you call “in.”

Many pairs fliers finger fly their routines in the pit while waiting to fly.

Make sure you have good field crew to help get on the field and set your field position.

Communicate with each other throughout your routine. Words like “abort,” “follow,” “gain ground,” and “walk forward” are common sayings.

Have a plan for aborting a move. Decide how to fill the time so you can continue your routine, i.e. the winds are too strong to execute the pairs axles.

Practice going from beginning to end of your routine even with problems. Half the challenge with pairs routines is being able to jump back into things when something goes wrong. This is a skill that is developed over time.

Play it smart. Watch your fellow pairs competitors. It may be in your advantage to adjust your routine (like taking out a landing, axle, or other high risk move). If you are flying last and everyone else had ticks and crashes you may want to play it safe to have a tick and crash free performance.

For very low and high wind conditions consider creating a safe version of your show.

De-bug your routine by removing maneuvers that are not working out no matter how much you have already practiced them. Realize when a great move is never actually looking great; thus remove it from the routine.

Strive to choreograph moves that have a high pay back for the least amount of effort/difficulty in order to fly consistently clean.

Avoid making stupid errors, i.e. breaking a kite during your set up time, flying unnecessarily out of bounds, etc.

Self evaluate your competition experience so you have an idea how to improve for your next competition.

IX. Flying Precision figures

You must have a predetermined set up move for each figure.

Have an outsider critique your figures.

Language for calls “split”, “in and out” (careful not to call “out” in precision as the judges stop watching your maneuvers and you score might be lower than you think)

X. Comments from other team and pairs fliers:

Henri Dancy

Follow. In curves, follow the outer wing tip of the preceding kite, On horizontal passes, aim to the middle of the upper wing. Avoid tight loops while following.

Keep the kites close when the lines are twisted (this reduces the chance of a cut line and reduces binding forces.)

Carl Robertshaw (Evolver)

  • Don’t do tricks for the sake of it, you should be able to justify everything.
  • Never fly a loop up together in competition.
  • Don’t be under-prepared.
  • Don’t do anything more than three times.
  • Don’t ignore the music.
  • Don’t choose music you don’t like.
  • Synchronized push and pull turns.
  • Changing spacing in the air and on the ground.
  • Speed control.
  • Watching other pairs and teams fly.
  • Use video to tape and record yourself and others to learn.
  • Choose a slower kite – especially beginners
  • Learn good stalls & landings
  • Try to make it look like one person flying two kites!
  • Try not to go lower than 120 foot lines
  • Good mix of follow, mirror and other symmetries
  • Reflect the mood of the music
  • Unison, variation, choreography
    (matching/interpreting music) first, technical difficulty second
  • Wow factor
  • Choose music you both like
  • Fly down when the tone (tune) of the music is distinctly rising & vice versa
  • Don’t risk hi-tech moves that you can’t execute every time (in competition)
  • Use some precision compulsories within the routine
  • Both pilots must learn to have the same pause after the call – especially the caller, for whom it is much more difficult!
  • Talk to experienced pairs flyers, they’d love to share.

Scott Davis (Team 6th Sense)

  • Have someone videotape you and then check yourselves on the screen for spacing, timing and the key elements listed.
  • More action, less transition.
  • Spend time, stick fly, clap the call cadence regularly.
  • If you make up a maneuver, name it with one or two words.
  • Keep any disagreements private.

Bob and Danielle Fermin (Against the Wind)

We do not fly by calls when we hit the field in Ballet. The only word said is the “out” at the end of the routine. It’s our belief that a true Pairs ballet routine should be flown as if you were flying the kites as ONE person. Imagining flying two kites by your self on the field is the best way I can describe our flying style. Danielle has explained it to me like this, “Sometimes I don’t even know you’re standing next to me.” Once a pairs team can get to this level, they have truly mastered Pairs flying.

For Ballet Choreography:

Besides flying to the music and hitting key points in the music, and flying in a style that is appropriate to the music etc, our thoughts are, “Does the audience know and feel the energy being conveyed by the fliers on the field?” Our emphasis has always been for the enjoyment of our fellow fliers and flying in such a way that the true novice will understand what kind of “story” we are trying to tell. Maybe it’s our strong musical backgrounds? When we choreograph a routine, our approach will be like a director in a music video or like a director in a action movie. For our early, mushy romantic stuff, we flew real flowy, curvy stuff to the theme from “Somewhere in Time.” For the last Nationals, we flew hard and aggressive. Literally attacked key points in the music, much like the namesake Gladiator in the movie. It all comes back to telling the story.

What are the judges looking for?

  1. Uniqueness. How unique was the routine as compared to the other routines seen around the U.S. ? Was there anything done in the routine that was truly groundbreaking? Anything that hasn’t been done before?
  1. The STORY. What kind of story was the routine trying to tell me? Was it sad? Was it happy? I’ve seen some technically outstanding routines that were simply just that, technically outstanding. However, there was something missing, almost like the routine had no soul.
  1. Do hit all opportunistic aspects of the music. Missed opportunities in a ballet stick out like a sore thumb. Big cymbal crash, followed by a 16 count string section, should be flown like this. 540 for the cymbal crash, followed by a nice long side slide, or a stall into a fade. Miss these music cues, and it’s like you just ran through a red light. Do exploit the strong points of both fliers.

Don’t become repetitive. You can tell when there is “filler” in routine by how repetitive the maneuvers flown show themselves.

Don’t fly like other pairs around you. If they are doing a tip stab for a landing, do a pancake landing instead. If they are doing cascades, do Jacob’s ladders. If they are doing precision flying, fly syncopated.

Don’t fly too much. Meaning, sometimes hitting ALL of the key points and showcasing every trick-ability can be a bad thing. Sometimes flying a straight line after 2 minutes of slack line is good thing. It will give judges something to think about and maybe give their hearts a chance to slow down after that awesome pairs Jacob’s you just pulled off.

Don’t do your showcase maneuver too early. Save it for last minute or 45 seconds of the routine. After showcasing it, slow things down. Give the audience a chance to savor the moment. Give the judges a chance to pick their jaw up off the ground. Build it up, Hit them good, then let them down slowly.

To create perfect timing and perfect maneuvers to make both kites look identical in the air, have both fliers pretend that they are the only one flying. Listen to the music often. For us, it was playing in the background all the time. The night prior to the competition, it is the music we us to fall asleep to.

Video tape your routine and critique it often.

Final Thoughts:

Thank you for taking the time and interest to improve your pairs flying. Feel free to email me if you have any further questions: .

    Happy flying!

    Ari Contzius     The Wright Brothers

*Article presented by Ari Contzius at ODSKC MMIII*
*Editing by Harold D. Ames and Kitelife*