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[August 29, 2007]  "Kites: Flying Skills and Techniques, From Basic Toys to Sport Kites." Rosanne Cobb, Firefly Books, 2007, 128 pages.

Review by
Richard Sumrall

The old expression "go fly a kite" takes on a completely different meaning in the new book "Kites." Sports enthusiast Rosanne Cobb has written an informative and lively book on an activity whose origins can be traced to Asia over 3,000 years ago. Today kite flying has gone high-tech and features exquisitely decorated kites, stunt and sport kites, water kites, and kitesurfing and kiteboarding. Cobb's book is divided into the five subjects that explain kite flying as a hobby or sport: kites and equipment, understanding the wind, basic flying skills, kite sports, and safety measures.

Understanding kites and equipment

It is important to distinguish the different kinds of kites available today. Most people are familiar with the single-line kite, but kites also come in multiline designs for sports, stunts and other activities. Regardless of the number of control lines, all kites share some basic characteristics. Those characteristics include the design, or shape; the construction materials -- sailcloth, spars, lines; the size; and the control system -- holding on to a flying kite.

Understanding the wind

It is ironic that the wind is "the most crucial piece of equipment you need for kite sports." Understanding the wind and its relationship to the kite is dependent on four factors: speed -- different kites require different wind force; direction -- when you're in proximity to natural features such as bodies of water; quality -- constant, not gusty; and the window. The wind window is the key to getting your kite airborne. You must position yourself so that you are upwind of the kite; that position fans out about 180 degrees in front of you and extends about 90 degrees from the ground to above your head. The 40 percent middle of this window is the optimum portion and is known as the power zone.

Basic flying skills

According to Cobb, "Kite flying is not hugely taxing, but there is a fair amount to learn, which takes time." There are four basic flying skills to master.

The setup is the assembly of the kite prior to flight. Most kites come with explicit instructions and, depending on their size and shape, are easier to assemble indoors rather than outdoors.

The launch is the first step, in which your kite becomes aloft and achieves altitude. Contrary to popular belief, running is not an effective way to launch a kite. If you are performing a two-person launch, you generally remain stationary while unwinding the line. As your friend holding the kite releases it, you pull the line toward you. If you are executing a solo launch, stand with your back to the wind, slowly let out the line and let the wind take the kite upward.

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The different maneuvers you want to perform will depend on the kind of kite you are flying. Single-line kites are less maneuverable than the multiline versions. The extra lines give you greater control in performing tricks such as loops, stalls, stands and turns.

The landing is important to master so that you don't damage the kite during its descent. A single-line kite can be landed by either reeling it in or walking up the line. Multiline kites require greater skill and usually incorporate the technique of stalling. A properly performed stall will cause the kite to lose power suddenly and make the landing easier and safer.

Kite sports

The evolution of kiting has taken it beyond the traditional forms into new and exciting sports activities. These kite sports have been developed to harness the power of the wind and use it as a force for traction and motion. Land-based traction sports include kite buggying, with single-seat, three-wheel vehicles; kite landboarding, a variation on skateboarding; and kite skiing and snowboarding. Water-based traction sports include kiteboarding and kitesurfing. Kitesurfing resembles windsurfing except that you capture the wind with a kite rather than a sail. Kiteboarding employs the same pulling principle and uses the wind instead of a boat and cable. In each of the sports Cobb devotes considerable attention to explaining their basic skills, equipment needs and some simple maneuvers.


Regardless of the kind of kite flying activity you are participating in, it is important to observe all appropriate measures of safety. This includes choosing the right activity site, identifying the optimum flying conditions, outfitting the proper equipment and wearing protective gear. Protective gear is especially important when engaged in kite sports and should always include helmets, pads, body armor, gloves, long-sleeved clothing and water flotation devices.

"Kites" is an enjoyable and informative book that takes a fresh look at an ages-old activity. As Cobb writes in the introduction, "Whether kites are big or small, homemade or factory designed, flown for power or beauty, all are a truly inspiring spectacle and never less than fantastic fun to fly." This book is recommended to anyone who enjoys kite flying or wishes to increase their knowledge of this timeless hobby.

[Text from file received from Richard Sumrall, Lincoln Public Library District]

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