I’ve enviously watched the power kite flyers and land boarders in Richmond Park on many Saturday afternoons, and been seriously impressed by their aerobatics as well as the speeds they reach on their boards and in their buggies.
So I decided to get in on the action this weekend and signed up for a two hour group lesson with Mark Parker, the owner of KiteVibe which is the only kiting school in London to have a permit from the Royal Parks.
We start off by donning an armoury of protective gear and are then given a quick physics lesson where we learn about the ‘power window’ and the ‘dead zone’. Don’t worry, this doesn’t relate to the kite flyer being in any mortal danger but is simply about knowing where the kite should be positioned to get airborne.
Mark’s kiting philosophy is that skill and safety are paramount, and that far too many beginners rush into flying large power kites in high winds without having the knowledge and experience to handle them properly. Today we are flying four line, Ozone Flow training kites, which are small and square making them easier to handle. They have two power lines on the top and two brake lines on the bottom which allow you to de-power the kite and bring it gracefully to the ground. Well that’s the theory anyway.
What actually happens is that then I proceed to spend the next hour and a half being dragged around a rugby pitch by a 3m piece of orange nylon. It might not look like much when it’s on the ground, but once the kite is up in the air it takes on a life of its own. The wind will twist it right and left, gust so hard that you’re unceremoniously yanked off your feet, or suddenly drop so that the kite comes crashing down in front of some startled dog walkers. I’m starting to realise that the key to handling the kite is in fact, understanding how the wind works.
Mark keeps patiently explaining the basic principles, such as watching where the wind is coming from, keeping your arms straight and not turning the kite too quickly. He is a calm, reassuring teacher who keeps up a regular supply of encouraging words, though you can’t help thinking that underneath that cool exterior, he’s finding it all utterly hilarious.
The session is over in a flash and I find myself champing at the bit to do more and keep practicing my newly acquired skills. I also feel like I’ve had a pretty good workout, as you’re constantly using your arms and core to stabilise yourself and keeping up with the kite works up a bit of sweat.
Power kiting clearly takes time and patience to master, and Mark recommends putting in some regular practice with one of his training kites before moving onto to anything bigger. However once you feel ready, you can move on to land boards, kite buggies or try the ‘leading edge inflatable’ kites which are used in kite surfing.
It’s been unexpectedly challenging, and all the more addictive for it. I’ll be keeping an eye on the skies and the wind from now on with a kiter’s eye, watching for the right conditions to head back out and go another round with the Ozone Flow.
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