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
Parafoils are the type most commonly used over dry surfaces, while down at the beach, Leading Edge Inflatables are the most practical.
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...
Now, are you totally confused about exactly what is a power and what is a traction kite?
What's the real difference? I'll try and sum it up for you.
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.
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.
With 4 or more lines dragging through the air, and other aerodynamic reasons, traction kites are a bit slower than the smaller muli-line 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?
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.
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!
OK, how do people fly this kind of kite 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.
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 ;-)
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!
Check out the big purple kite weaving around in the video below - pulling it's skillful pilot across the sand in a buggy...