When you're familiar with taking your kids out with a stunt kite on a breezy day you're unlikely to think kite flying is more than that -- a bit of fun with the kids. Kite sports are for big kids too! On the 30th of March 2010 a Dutchman did 82.9 mph across Ivanpah Dry Lake, CA. "So what?" you may say -- you could easily do that in your family car. This guy was sitting on a buggy being towed by a kite and became the fastest kite powered person in the world.
So, what's the idea?
Kite buggying involves flying a kite, and sitting in a three wheeled buggy. You fly with your hands and steer with your feet. The concentration required is intense -- I buggy in the United Kingdom and can vouch that even at 20 - 30 mph, you lose your concentration? You wipe out!
The kites used aren't like the ones you take your kids flying. I took my 9 year-old step son flying and the only way he could stay on the ground was with my holding him down by his shoulders -- and this with a very small traction kite. Indeed, you're looking for a kite that will pull a 200 lb man across the ground without thinking, let alone a 70 pound youngster! They are of similar construction to a high end parachute or paraglider, a 'ram air wing,' and are designed to generate lift through the miracles of aerodynamics.
You can spend as much money as you like on kite and buggy. I spent $600 on a low end buggy and when I was really into the sport in Cornwall, thought nothing of spending $600 on a decent kite. You can spend $2000 and not even have the sort of kite Fast Arie had. Obviously, the newcomer should spend a lower amount to learn if he or she likes the sport, on more forgiving kites and buggy. Put simply, straight out of driving school you wouldn't expect to drive a Ferrari having just learned how to parallel park!
Adventure under sail...
It isn't just about speed. Two teams raced across the Sahara Desert from Morocco to Senegal in 2009. Their aim was to beat the world distance record of 625 miles (1000 kilometers) in an adventure, and be the first people to cross the desert by buggy. They did 1562 miles (2500 kms). "However we failed on goal number three to break the 24 hour record of 315 km [196 miles]. We only managed 215km [134 miles]. But "two out of three ain't bad," as the song goes..." says the trip organizer Steve Gurney on his website describing the trip.
The two teams dodged corrupt border guards and camping camels, and avoided being shot by desert outlaws that frequently roam the desert looking for travellers to rob and kill. As Gurney says, this is one of the last adventures left to be had in the world. "There aren't many "Everests" left to conquer. Not on this planet anyway. And now there is one less because we're the first in the world to cross the Sahara by kite!" The same teams have crossed a desert in Australia, where one of the teams live.
How and where do I do this?
You don't have to be completely nuts to do the sport. In the UK I buggy on a grass field in Dorset. In Cornwall eight of us used a 3-mile long beach -- you just need a patch of hard sand (preferably) or grass. Sand is far better -- you don't have brakes on your buggy and the best way to stop is by powersliding sideways! This is certainly the most fun way -- I have been known to spend hours doing speed runs, just to power slide...
Again, you don't need a beach to have sand -- the world speed record was done on a dry lake in CA. A kite buggy festival happens every year in Black Rock City NV. They come from all over the states and fly as far afield as PA, FL and CA.
We ultimately do sports to meet other people socially, if only to learn how to do a sport better. The American Kitefliers Association should be your first port of call. Membership includes insurance in case you hurt someone, but is a very useful hub to learn about the sport and find out where to go locally. They have a page covering the best locations across each state, which can be seen here.
I'm no crazy adventurer nor insane enough to want to challenge the world speed record. In winds strong enough to take me at 45 mph I was scared witless. By and large it is a scene of people who seriously enjoy the sport even though they will never be world beaters, but believe me when you're screaming along the beach at 35 mph you really feel like one!
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