Power Kites, Traction Kites

Take Me For A Ride!

Power kites first made an appearance way back in the 1970s, when the Flexifoil stunt kite became available for anyone to buy. This kite had a single flexible spar running the full length of its leading edge. The front edge, if you're not quite up with the terminology. This was a fast kite with plenty of power, and people still fly this design today.

Anyway, a small number of people soon started experimenting with the Flexifoil as a traction kite. They found several ways to drag themselves along, for example over sand in a small wheeled buggy.

In fact, these days, kite power is used over

  • water
  • sand / dirt and
  • snow

Parafoils are the type most commonly used over dry surfaces, while down at the beach, Leading Edge Inflatables are the most practical.

Also, a small Trainer Power Kite is an excellent way to get ready for flying the bigger kites, over any surface.

Types Of Power Kites

Over the years, kite designers have made large kites for specific sports, so there's a lot of different types. I'll avoid getting you bogged down or bored to death by just mentioning 2 broad categories...

  • power kites
  • traction kites

Some people call all 2, 3, 4 or 5 line flexible kites 'power kites'. Many other people, including me, divide these into 2 or 3 line 'power kites' and 4 or 5 line 'traction kites'. There is a big range of sizes available, and cost depends a lot on size.

Now, are you totally confused about exactly what is a power kite and what is a traction kite?

What's the real difference? I'll try and sum it up for you.

Smaller 2-line power kites can be flown as flexible stunt kites.

Power kites are at the smaller and cheaper end, and are used mainly for stunt flying or just having fun. Yes, they are just another kind of stunt kite. A small power kite is pretty fast through the air, which is part of the thrill of flying it! There's one in the photo over there, courtesy of Mike.

However, if they are 3 square meters (about 30 square feet) or bigger in area, they pull quite a bit. Naturally, people then think about using them to pull along small land buggies, for example.

Depending on wind conditions, there's nothing to stop you flying a 4-line traction kite as a rather expensive and impressive stunt kite! The extra brake lines let you turn the kite with less arm movement than the 2-line variety. Also, the brake lines are handy for bringing the kite down onto the ground with a bit more control.

The picture down there shows a kite surfer in action.

A large surfing kite in action

With 4 or more lines dragging through the air, and other aerodynamic reasons, traction kites are a bit slower than the smaller power kites.

Most surfing kites are not parafoils. Can see the leading edge spar and a few other shorter spars helping the kite keep its shape? Photo courtesy of Jan Hecking.

Some kite surfers these days are into kite racing around a course, much like a boat race.

Although it's possible to be self-taught, many people these days sign up for kite surfing lessons. This way, progress is quicker and important safety lessons are learned the easy way.

Often, a trainer kite is used for the initial introduction to ground-handling.

I might just mention here that some traction kites are built purely for speed, compared to other kites of the same size. These are 'racing kites', and if you get one, don't expect it to be as easy to fly as other traction kites!

Power Kites in Action

OK, how do people fly power kites these days? What a big topic! This type being so popular, the manufacturers have managed to cater for just about everyone. Young children can fly the smallest 2-line power kites under supervision while down at the beach. At the other end, top-notch athletes push the limits doing freestyle tricks over snow or in the surf with other kite boarders, using very expensive Leading Edge Inflatables.

The top-end traction kites are more like aircraft than toys. That's not at all surprising when you consider that some parafoil kites used for traction are made by paraglider manufacturers! The cost of these flying wonders can exceed 1000 US dollars.

Mind you, if you are a very patient person, you could save a bundle by making power kites from scratch. Heaps of sewing involved, believe me.

It's wise to have a chat with the experts about what kind of power kiting you'd like to do, before actually laying down your cash for a kite!

Time for a Big List. I love lists, I'm one of those list-driven types of people. :-) Even if you're not like that, a list is a great way of summarizing information. It struck me that power or traction kites are used in a huge number of ways, so here is the biggest list of power kiting activities you will find on the Internet.

  • pure fun, just aimlessly flying a multi-line Parafoil kite as far as possible in all directions
  • learning some stunts and practicing them for fun, or competing in kite flying contests
  • in a controlled way, letting yourself get dragged across dirt, sand, ice or grass
  • breaking silly records, such as in September 1988 when a 43 square meter (460 square feet) parafoil broke the record for the Worlds Largest Stunt Kite
  • breaking sports records, such as the C-class unlimited speed sailing record, with a set of catamaran hulls powered by a winch controlled stack of Flexifoils! Cool.
  • kite surfing, or getting dragged along while riding a surfboard
  • kite surfing while riding a windsurfing board
  • kite surfing on a kiteboard
  • body surfing powered by a traction kite
  • snowkiting, or getting dragged along while riding a snowboard
  • kite boarding on an all-terrain board
  • kite boarding on a mountainboard
  • kite boarding on a landboard
  • kite sailing a boat on water
  • kite sailing a sled on ice
  • getting dragged along while riding ice skates, rollerskates or rollerblades
  • kite skiing over snow
  • riding a kite-powered land kite buggy
  • getting dragged along while on water skis
  • dangerous: kite jumping, where you let yourself leave the ground for as long as you dare
  • even more dangerous: man lifting, where a large tethered traction kite lifts someone high off the ground

'Freestyle' kite-skiing and kite-boarding have both seen big increases in popularity, as well as kitesurfing. Kite landboarding gear has many similarities to the gear used over water and snow.

If you have a think about it, it's not hard to make up a few kiting sports of your own. Here's my little effort, but don't try these at home ;-)

  • kitebagging, across wet grass while wearing a large plastic garbage bag (very do-able I'm sure)
  • kiteduning, over and around sand dunes on your bare feet, 'getting some air' once in a while (mmm how practical is this..)
  • kite-vertising, using your kite as a billboard at public events (not as silly as it sounds)
  • kitebiking, using your feet to steer and your hands for the kite (you'd be stupid to try this)
  • wet stunting, flying your kite underwater in tidal currents while scuba-diving (I wasn't serious, but then I saw some pics of people actually doing this!)

Think I'll stop before it gets too silly.

As you can see, just about any way of moving across the earth's surface might be tried by a keen traction kiter!

Now here's an interesting application for power kites that doesn't involve any movement across land or sea... Clean energy generation, believe it or not!

Here's a few notes on kite safety which might prove handy, particularly for beginners.

The history of power kites extends back to the 70s. Using big kites to pull you along isn't a new idea!

Start small, with something like this Trainer Power Kite from Amazon, and then graduate to bigger, more powerful kites.

You might have noticed that this site has a monthly newsletter...

For single-line kite fliers and builders, it's always been a good read. But if you are interested in KAP and/or large home-made kites you won't want to miss it!

So sign up today, and download the free 95-page e-book "What Kite Is That?" straight away. Info-packed and fully photo-illustrated.

And there are even more free resources, such as a kite-making e-course, waiting for you in the next issue of this newsletter.

What's New!

  1. Flight Report:
    Dowel Barn Door Rides Inland Gusts

    Sep 17, 14 06:33 AM

    Well, it was the same reserve and a similar time of day. A bit closer to sun-down perhaps. Only the kite was different - the Dowel Barn Door kite this time, chosen to suit the 'gentle' strength wind gusts of between 15 and 20 kph.

    The first flight went well, with the kite soaring straight up on around 45 meters (150 feet) of line. The late afternoon sun glinting off the panels as the kite moved about at steep line angles. In the gusts and lulls, the kite had a tendency to pull to the right at times.

    As I was taking the kite down to do a bridle adjustment, the main problem became apparent. The horizontal spar had pushed through the tip-tape on the right corner of the sail, drastically reducing the sail area to the right of center. It was actually surprising how well the kite was still flying, given the gross problem with the sail!

    On a second flight, with the tip repaired, there still appeared to be a slight pull to the right. So, after taking some video footage of the Barn Door's antics, it was brought down once again. This time the bridle knot was taken across by about a centimeter (1/2"). That was better! The 1.2 meter (4 feet) span pale orange kite shot right back up, showing much less tendency to pull across when under pressure.

    After some more video was taken, with the kite soaring around almost directly overhead at times, it seemed safe enough to let out more line. It was surprising to feel the flying line touching my jeans while it was anchored under-foot! How much rising air can there be at this time of day? At the time I was concentrating on keeping the wandering kite in-frame as I took video.

    Finally, after enjoying the kite doing its thing on over 60 meters (200 feet) of line, it came time to pull the Dowel Barn Door down. When within 30 feet or so of the ground it started to float and sink face-down. Then it was an easy matter to pull in the remaining few meters of line, keeping the kite flying until the bridle lines were in hand.

    Weather stations were reporting around 10kph average wind speeds with gusts almost to 20kph.

    "Simplest Dowel Kites": A free but very useful kite-making e-book. Make a super-simple Sled, Diamond and Delta - step-by-step with photos. Sign up for the e-book and get an emailed series of messages called "MBK Tips'n'Ideas". If you don't need the e-book, consider signing up anyway... You won't believe what's on offer in that message series!

    Read More

New! Comments

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