North American Buggy Expo (NABX 2012)

On the edge of Las Vegas lies the Ivanpah Dry Lake Bed, home to the North America Buggy Expo; an event that has been running in various forms since the early 90’s. Kiters from far and wide converged on this patch of desiccated hard pack the first week of April to set records, elevate their riding, and reunite with the collective family that makes up this dusty crew.

This year was an especially poignant gathering for many of the NABX family as it was a tribute to a fallen comrade, Charles ‘AJ’ Jackson. Well known in the kite community, AJ went missing while kiteboarding off Cape Hatteras late September last year. His presence was sorely missed and those that knew him well took the time to recount stories over the communal dinners every night.

NABX is the event for more than just kite buggy enthusiasts; it is also the mecca for landboarders, landsailers, skaters, nutballs, and anyone that uses the wind to move. While the NABX tent serves as the central gathering point for pilot meetings and dinners, the occupants are stretched out in a mile long line known collectively as ‘buggy town’. Each group sets up their camp along a predetermined ‘shoreline’ allowing all participants to have direct unobstructed access to the riding surface.

This year NABX shared the lake bed – affectionately known as ‘the playa’- with the Blo-kart World Championships. Although at times there were nearly a hundred Blo-karts (landsailers) racing and mingling with the nearly 200 registered participants of NABX, one hardly found themselves fighting for space to ride.

The event overall was a resounding success. From the sand laden wind of 30-40mph on Thursday to the sublime sunset sessions and long tacks the rest of the week, this event proved the powerful attraction of wind-powered sports. For the uninitiated it took merely moments for them to fall into the routine of the regulars. Ride till you simply can’t ride anymore, only then do you tack back to camp, grab a fresh microbrew from Ska Brewery, clear the dust from your lips, and recount the whole story to your crew over exceptional dinners made be ‘Dog’ and the NABX kitchen crew.

Only a handful braved the ‘Out ‘n Back’ Challenge: a notoriously arduous endurance run to a series of waypoints nearly 12 miles away at the other end of the lake. Because of this large distance kiters often find themselves with completely different wind characteristics than they started with. What may appear as a simple 20 mile round trip by GPS can easily turn into a 40 mile, or more, trip if the wind is not right. Along with the unspoken rule to never do it alone and to take supplies, there is a safety net for those wanting to make the trek. Anyone who intends to set out is required to let the organizers know their departure time and return. Although cases of folks being forced to walk back after catastrophic blowouts are few, some have come limping back with tattered kites and flat tires.

When asked what it was like his first time buggying on the playa, accomplished sport kite flier Paul de Bakker said “It’s like being at the end of the world, I felt like I was going 50 or 60 but was probably only doing 15”. This feeling is not uncommon due to the near frictionless nature of the dry playa. Unlike other forms of powerkiting –that utilize water, snow, grass fields, beaches- the dry lake bed resembles miles of dusty concrete. This unique characteristic allows riders to achieve speeds that would be inconceivable elsewhere. It also demands that the rider dials in a unique skill that is perhaps hardly ever used elsewhere. In order to ‘bleed off speed’, the rider will need to allow their buggy to slide sideways towards the kite. This can be a disconcerting occurrence the first time it happens, but very shortly riders began to embrace this slide as a safe way to maintain control.

On the 6th of March, nearly a month before the start of NABX, Peter Lynn rider Brian Holgate who is perhaps best known for his freestyle antics, shattered the previous speed record of 82.89mph set by Arjen Van der Tol. With the use of the newly built Peter Lynn Speed Buggy and a Peter Lynn Vapor 2.7m kite Brian etched his name in the record books with a solid 84.10mph. Peter Lynn has always been on the cutting edge of buggy and buggy kite designs, and with this step towards a speed specific design it appears that once again the sky is the limit. In his official announcement to the world Brian stated that on this attempt the conditions were not ideal, but ”… doing it again is no problem. I could have gone faster if I would have went all the way to the freeway and started my run from there.” It appears that it is only a matter of time before the new record is near or over 100mph.

As many packed their belonging on Sunday for flights back across the globe, the collective thought was perhaps best summed up by Fast Freddy “… at least I am already packed for next year”. The feeling of AOXOMOXOA lives on in everyone and they will eagerly be returning to the playa for NABX 2013, and perhaps we will see a few more fresh faces.

See you on the road,

Nic O’Neill