Every muscle in my forearms begged for mercy as my eyes danced in time with the ball of colour in the sky. Wrestling with the wind my feet suddenly left the ground and I plummeted headfirst into the sand… This was my initiation into the exciting realm of extreme kite sports – the latest craze to sweep the nation. And having witnessed the kiting scene ‘take-off’ on Cornwall’s beaches, I was longing to blast along the coastline at adrenalin-pumping speeds. So I scraped half of Perranporth beach out of my ears and nose and re-launched the beast of a kite into the sky.
Since kitesurfing took the lead as the fastest growing watersport in the world, there has been a huge surge in power kiting of all strains. Kiting is a versatile, exhilarating and elegant activity. And with kites available in all shapes and sizes, the slightest breeze conjures up the perfect excuse to harness the power of the elements.
But first things first. Any kite discipline requires you to learn control of the kite and the basic rules of flying it. My induction was a two-hour kite buggy lesson with kiting school Mobius in Perranporth. But the buggy was left redundant on the sand while I got to grips with the ‘wind arc’ and learnt to tease the kite from its ‘neutral position’ and into the ‘power zone’.
The term ‘power’ kiting needed little explanation, as the kite tugged my arms from their sockets and yanked me in kamikaze tracks through the sand. But before I was ready to ride my chariot, my instructor Timo had to explain the use of safety lines, powering up and de-powering safely, hazard awareness and the restrictions of kite flying zones. I soon realised that this is a potentially dangerous sport and it pays to take a lesson from a qualified instructor.
Once I could handle the kite without too many face-plants into the sand, Timo handed me a safety helmet and told me to climb into the buggy. Now the challenge was to direct the power that was pulling me off my feet into the wheels of the buggy. And I couldn’t ask for much more than the two beautiful miles of beach stretched out ahead as a launch pad. Perranporth, especially at low season and low tide, is a world-class destination for kite buggying – you just need to stick to the kiting zones and watch out for dog walkers, horse riders and other beach users.
After Timo had demonstrated the fluid motion of a kite-powered buggy, as he zipped up and down the shoreline, it was my turn to give it a shot. But the concept of wind direction and buggy control still puzzled me, so I was secretly smiling when he leashed himself to my buggy so that I didn’t zoom off down the coast.
Fingers firmly wrapped around the kite handles and my bum snug in the buggy seat, I yanked the kite this way and that, toying with the gusts of breeze and nose-diving the kite into the sand in the same inelegant motion I had practised earlier. A quick jerk on the brake line and I soon learned how to re-launch the kite solo – reassuring me that this was a sport I could undertake independently.
Steering into the power zone by mimicking a figure of eight with my hands, the wheels below me started turning and I was off. Not at adrenalin-pumping speeds. Timo, who was still attached, was barely jogging yet. But I was moving. And then I was lifting the kite to neutral, turning the buggy, moving the kite to the front of the wind arc and then changing direction. Magic. And then the kite was screaming towards the sand and screwing itself up in a puddle of saltwater. Not so magic.
Despite the obvious pitfalls, kiting is not as hard as I make it out to be. You just fly the kite on one side of the wind arc or the other depending on which way you want to go. Unless you are an expert at wind sports, you are likely to travel downwind to start with, until you learn to bring the kite to the edge of the power zone and come up into the wind. Within two hours I was just about getting the hang of it.
And now that I’ve had my first taste of kiting, I’m gagging for another shot. Feeling the raw power of the wind is simply an exhilarating way to enjoy the beach and the Cornish outdoors. And with so many beaches to choose from you can almost always fly a kite, no matter which way the wind happens to be blowing. And once I’ve given up the face-plants, I can’t wait for the day when I can zoom up and down the beach spraying arcs of sand as I pull tight turns like a pro.
Hayley Lawrence had two-hour lesson courtesy of Mobius. Mobius runs kite buggying, kite boarding and kitesurfing taster sessions and full courses on Perranporth and other Cornish beaches according to wind conditions (www.mobiusonline.co.uk; 01637 831383).
Other kite buggy centres in Cornwall include:
The Extreme Academy, Watergate Bay (www.extremeacademy.co.uk; 01637 860 840)
Sky Hooked, The Skypark at Monkey Tree Holiday Park, Rejarrah, (www.kiteboardercross.com; 01637 870835)
Speedsail UK, Gwithian (www.speedsailuk.com; 01736 332648)
Mobius kite school instructor Tim Ovens presents his top tips for safe power kiting:
• Have lessons from a British Kite Surf Association (BKSA) approved school
• Always wear a kite leash so you can de-power the kite and never lose it
• Find clean wind with no upwind obstacles, which create turbulence and dangerous gusty wind
• Use a large uncrowded area and always allow at least three clear line lengths downwind of you
• Always put up your smallest kite first until you are confident at reading the wind strength
• Buy a kite peg so if you are on your own you can still land and retrieve your kite safely
• Purchase equipment from a reputable local kite shop for better customer service
• Let your friends teach you – this is where most accidents occur!
• Touch the lines unless the kite is secure and there is no chance of it taking off
• Fly a kite before you have at least had the basic safety part of a kiting lesson
• Fly your kite in restricted areas – it could jeopardise the future of kite flying for everyone, so read the signs or check with locals first
• Buggy with too much power. Remember there are no brakes on the buggy – you can only control speed with the kite!
• Stand downwind of the person flying. They could hit you! Common sense really but we see it all the time
• Scare other beach users – the general public are not aware of how quickly you may be able to manoeuvre