What’s the make and model of kite that you’re flying?

These days, I’m usually flying one of the following kites. The choice comes down to whichever one will perform the best in the current wind conditions.

Sky Burner Aura Super-Ultralite

Sky Burner Aura SUL

Sky Burner Widow Maker Ultralite

Sky Burner Widow Maker UL

Sky Burner Widow Maker Standard

Sky Burner Widow Maker Std

l'Atelier X-Masque Variable Vent

l’Atelier X-Masque VV

Where did you buy that kite?

Several of my kites were purchased directly from the exceptional craftsmen who built them. Others are readily available at local retail stores. I’ve listed a number of of my favorite sources for kites and accessories on the Resources Page.

How much does a kite cost?

The price range for dual-line sport kites is approximately $5 to $500. There’s literally a huge range. To some extent, you get what you pay for, although there’s a much bigger difference in performance between a $50 and a $5 kite than there is between a $500 kite and a $100 kite. Manufacturers have to sacrifice a lot of performance and use extremely inexpensive materials to produce a $5 kite. Once you get into the $50 to $150 range, you start to get some pretty nice kites from reputable manufacturers, such as Prism and Premier, that are well built and capable performers. You’ll see a lot of advanced fliers with kites from boutique kite builders that offer more capability for doing things like tricks or precision competition flying. Because these kites are usually hand-built in small quantities, they command a premium price. If you’re just starting out and learning how to fly, a good bet is to start with a moderate investment in a modestly-priced kite from a reputable manufacturer that will perform well in the wind conditions at your flying field. Get comfortable with the basics of flying and learn what style of flying suits you. Use that experience to inform your future kite purchases.

What is best kite to purchase?

There are nearly as many answers to this question as there are people flying kites, but I can offer a few general suggestions that should help point you in the right direction:

  • Choose a kite that is appropriate for the wind conditions at your field. There are kites that will fly in 0 mph of wind (yes, even indoors!), but an indoor kite wouldn’t survive outside in a 20 mph wind. Similarly, a kite designed to fly in 20+ mph would be far too heavy to get off the ground in light wind. If you have your heart set on flying your new kite today, be sure the kite you select is appropriate for the current wind conditions. A knowledgeable local kite shop will be able to help you make an appropriate choice.
  • Ask for suggestions from the people flying kites at your local field. Kite fliers are friendly people and are almost always happy to tell you more than you ever wanted to hear…

Where is the best place to fly a kite?

In the San Francisco Bay Area, I can usually be found either at Ocean Beach in San Francisco or at the Kite Flying Area at Shoreline Park in Mountain View. I also visit many other nearby locations, such as Crissy Field in San Francisco and Berkeley Marina. Currently, my favorite destination is Ocean Beach when there’s an onshore wind, because the winds off of the ocean are remarkably smooth and consistent. As a general rule, the winds closer to San Francisco Bay tend to be noticeably more turbulent and gusty.

An excellent resource to find kite flying locations worldwide is http://www.kitemap.org.

Don’t you need more wind than this?

This is quite possibly the biggest misconception about kites. Many people assume that you need a gale force wind to fly a kite. In actuality, kites are built with specific wind ranges in mind. There are even kites that will fly indoors with no wind at all. A light or moderate breeze is often less turbulent than a strong wind, which makes kite control easier and more enjoyable. Most people that spend a lot of time flying kites will have at least two or three different kites to cover a variety of wind conditions.

How can I learn to fly a sport kite?

The other kite flyers at your local field will usually be happy to help you get started. There are also lots of instructional videos and helpful hints available online. Many local kite shops also offer basic instruction to help you get started, so be sure to ask when you purchase your kite. Visit the “Learn to Fly” section of the Resources page for links to various resources that should be able to help you get off the ground.

How do you make it do that spinny, flippy, loopy thing?

Most of the tricks that fall into those categories are slack-line maneuvers. During these maneuvers, the kite isn’t exactly flying, per se. Rather, the kite is put into a specific orientation to set up the trick and stalled. The pilot provides an input to one or both lines, followed by slack (i.e., no tension in the lines) while the kite’s momentum carries the kite through the maneuver. The pilot re-establishes tension on the flying lines as the kite exits the maneuver. There are some excellent online video resources that demonstrate the details. Check out the “Learn to Fly: dual line kite stunts and tricks” section on the Resources page for links to these videos.

 How do I know when I’m ready to upgrade my kite?

Well, what style of kite flying are you aspiring to do? If the kite you’re already flying is capable of meeting those goals, why not stick with what you already have? If your current kite won’t get you there, I generally offer some advice that goes against conventional wisdom. There seems to be a commonly-held belief that it’s somehow inappropriate for someone to purchase a high-performance kite unless they’ve first spent at least 6 months working through a succession of entry-level and intermediate kites. There’s nothing at all wrong with flying entry-level or intermediate kites, but if your goals as a kite flier require the capabilities of a more advanced kite, I argue that you’re better off getting that advanced kite sooner rather than later.

  1. Let’s say, for example, that you have your eye on an advanced kite because you want to learn slack line tricks. Flying a non-trickable kite won’t help you learn those tricks. The longer you wait to buy the advanced kite, the longer you’ll wait to become the kite flier you want to be.
  2. Perhaps you’re worried that you’re not experienced enough to avoid damaging the more-expensive advanced kite? There’s some logic to this concern — you can certainly develop a lot of valuable muscle memory and crash-avoidance skills with an inexpensive sport kite. Once you’re confident that you’re well past the “lawn darts” phase, however, you’ll have the skills you need to keep your expensive kite in good shape.

Let’s say you’re past the high-speed-nose-plant phase, you’ve done some research, flown some other peoples’ kites and have decided on an advanced kite you’d like to own. Maybe you’re still not sure you’re a good enough pilot to justify the cost of that kite. OK, let’s do the math:

  • Suppose you take a step up from your existing kite and spend $140 on an intermediate kite. Six months later you realize that kite isn’t going to get you flying the tricks you want to learn, so you invest another $200 in a more trick-capable intermediate kite. You struggle with that kite for another six months and finally take the plunge and purchase the $300 advanced kite that has the capabilities you really wanted in the first place. (Note: this is a hypothetical example, but the $140, $200 and $300 are prices of actual kites that are often advocated as an “appropriate progression.”) You’ve now invested a total of $140 + $200 + 300 = $640 plus a year of your time to get to the point where you can actually start to learn how to fly those advanced tricks.
  • What if you’d skipped over the intermediate kites and just gone for the kite you wanted in the first place? You would have spent $300 on the advanced kite and saved yourself $340 compared to the more conservative approach. On top of that you will have also gotten a one-year head start on your goals. You might be thinking that some good kite handling skills were probably learned during that year of flying intermediate kites — skills that will translate to less abuse of the advanced kite. This is no doubt true. Kites are actually surprisingly tough, however. Broken spars and minor sail punctures are easily repaired. In the (unlikely) worst-case scenario, maybe something happens and the expensive kite is totally destroyed. In that case, you might have to bite the bullet and purchase another one. Following along with my little hypothetical example, that means you’ll have spent a total of $600, which is still less than you would have spent working your way up through the progression of kites…and don’t forget about that one-year head start!