Getting Started with Stunt Kites

Written by David Gomberg


If you can ride a bicycle, you can fly a sport kite. Everyone knows how to steer a bike, don’t they? You turn the handle bar to the right, and the bike goes right. Keep steering right, and the bike completes a circle. Straighten out the handle bar and the bike goes straight in whatever direction you are pointing. It’s easy. So keep that image in your mind and lets go kite flying.

Kite Safety

OK, now its time to talk about kite safety. Experienced fliers use something I call the “Pre-launch Checklist”. It’s becomes so natural that they don’t even think about it - like checking to make sure there are no cars in the street before you begin to pedal.

Kite Setup and Flying Line

For beginners, launching a stunt kite and getting it under control is almost as hard as mounting a bicycle and getting it rolling. After you do it right the first time, it gets much easier. Roll out your flying lines and make sure they are exactly equal in length. (If one line is a few inches shorter, the kite will think you are pulling on that line and start to turn.) The lines should be about 75-100 feet long. Shorter lines reduce response time and make the kite move too fast for most inexperienced fliers. Longer lines make maneuvers harder to complete.

Video: Kite Components and Assembly

Video: Attaching Kite Lines

Launching the Kite and First Flight

For the first time flyer it is great to have a helper pick up the kite from behind, and hold it by the base and center strut. Keep a little tension between the two of you so that the fly lines are off the ground. If the winds are strong enough, all your helper needs to do is let go, and the kite will soar off into the air. And if the winds are lighter, give the kite a slight “boost” by stepping backward as the kite is released. After a little practice it only takes one person to get the kite into the air.

Now remember — it’s like riding a bike. You want to get “rolling” in a straight line, so don’t start steering right away. Don’t jerk your hands around or make any sudden move. Don’t get over excited and let go or start to run. And please, don’t lift your hands up over your head, thinking it will make the kite go up. It does absolutely nothing to help. I mean, you wouldn’t try and steer your bicycle with handlebars that are up over your head, would you?

Video: How to Launch & Fly a Two Line Sport Kite

Steering and Controlling the Kite

Now we’re ready to go somewhere. So pick up your kite from wherever it crashed after that first launch, untangle the lines, and let’s learn how to steer. If you want to turn your bike to the right, what do you do with your hands? Pull back on your right handle. Visualize that motion. Now, gently, do the same thing with your stunt kite handles.

As a beginner flier, your goal should be to move the kite in a big, lazy figure-eight across the sky. Turn to the right as we told you a moment ago, straighten out to fly by bringing your hands even, turn a bit more to loop under, and then straighten out again. When you have gone all the way over to the left, just repeat the process, turning in the other direction.

It’s like riding your bike in a figure eight, except that you don’t need to pedal. If you get excited and pull too hard, the kite will jerk around fast and probably crash - almost like a bike when you turn too hard. But if you eased into it, the kite will gracefully curve to the right. When you bring your hands back even, the kite will straighten out. If you keep turning, the kite will fly all the way around into a circle.

If you decided to fly a complete circle, or maybe did one by accident, you’ll notice that your flying lines have now twisted around each other. This is nothing to panic about. You can easily put as many as a dozen twists in a good set of lines before your control of the kite is affected. Just remember which way you turned, catch your breath, and then turn back the other way until all of the twists have come out.

If your kite crashed with twists in the line, simply wind the handles around each other until the twists disappear. This is much easier than having your helper pick up the kite and try to “un-rotate” it.

Once you have practiced enough to perform a good figure eight, you’re ready to experiment with a few more advanced maneuvers. Instead of pulling with your right hand to turn right, try pushing with your left hand. The result will be roughly the same although the turn will be a bit sharper. Study the differences between these “push-turns” and “pull turns”. Advanced pilots use the difference to improve and perfect various types of maneuvers.

Fly all the way to the left and right. Experiment with how far “out” your kite will go. And notice that it slows down, and then stops when it reaches the “edge”.

Try a landing. Just fly out to the edge and steer gently toward the ground. The idea is to reach the ground about the same time the kite reaches the edge. Try flying big smooth circles, and then flying squares.

Problems Encountered During First Flight

Lousy Wind
There may not be enough wind, or too much. The amount of wind you need to fly easily depends on the design of your kite. You aren’t trying to fly behind a big tree or building, are you? The wind there is going to be turbulent and really bad. Move downwind or find an open area.

Wrong Handitis
Is the line in your right hand attached to the right side of the kite? If not, you’ll get some really surprising results when you try to steer.

Unbalanced Lines
If one line is shorter, the kite thinks you are pulling on that line and start to turn. If someone’s personality seems a little "off", we say that they may not be flying with lines of equal length.

Look at your kite. Has it been put together right? Pay special attention to the bridle lines. Is one wrapped over the spar, and the other one under it? I thought so...

Tune In
If your bridle isn’t twisted, then look at the connection points where you attach the fly lines. Are they equal distance from the nose of the kite? Usually, kite makers put a mark on each bridle to show the “factory setting”. You can change the setting to adjust your kite’s performance, but make sure both sides of the kite are "set" the same.

Performing Basic Tricks

You have a sport kite and can keep it flying. You’ve learned to launch without help and make it do loops. What do you do now? How do you get the kite to do all those other tricks you’ve seen sport kites do?

Besides the light touch on the lines, advanced flyers move their feet as much as their hands. Moving downwind a couple of steps and swinging your hands forward at the same time can slow the kite significantly, allowing dramatic downwind stalls and axels.

A stall is when the sport kite hovers pointed nose-up but not moving. The axel is a spinning kite move beginning from a stall position. Most impressive when the kite is a few feet above the ground.

To axel the kite, the flyer tugs one line while giving slack to the other. A short sharp tug. The kite flops face down (while still in the air) and rotates around in a full circle before popping nose- up and flying away. Be careful not to wrap the lines on a wingtip.

A turtle is started the same way, but the kite flops backwards and doesn’t spin around.