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Issue 12 - Pop a few airs

Scotland Magazine Issue 12
January 2004


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Pop a few airs

Power-kiting is the latest daredevil beach craze and Scotland is ideal for it. Louise Gilbert gave it a twirl

The initial research for this story throws me into a world of unique vocabulary. Power-kiting equipment has, let’s just say, rather unusual names.

‘Frenzy’, ‘Littledevil’ and ‘Meteor’ are the names of just a few of the kite models available. Kite-boards are no exception, with such colourful titles as ‘Sicko’, ‘Viper’, ‘Skidzo’ and, my all time personal favourite, ‘The Lord of Hellfire’.

I begin to wonder, is Power-kiting really a sport or is it a pseudonym for some kind of nocturnal underworld activity?

Power-kiting is indeed an exhilarating sport and it’s taking off in Scotland. Why? Because, once you’ve learnt to fly a Power-kite, you can use it to power a variety of different kinds of craft.

That means speed and lots of it, with the added bonus of no engines and limited noise. With a Power-kite, you can wake-board without a boat, snowboard without a ski lift or dune buggy without an engine.

Not only is this sport eco-friendly but it’s accessible to all.

The surf at Balmedie Beach, near Aberdeen, is often alive with kite-surfers zooming along as if they’re running across the waves.

With the help of a Power-kite, surfers skim the ocean’s surface, wind in their hair, sea-spray shooting out from the board, as they carve a path through the water.

The more advanced, might throw in a few somersaults for good measure. Actually, my use of the word ‘somersault’ seems slightly insipid next to the phrase “popping a few airs,” which is the terminology used by kiting enthusiasts.

For those who prefer to keep their feet dry, then kite-buggying could be the way to go. Imagine yourself in a three-wheeled vehicle, low to the ground, kite harnessed tightly around your body, racing across sandy beaches at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, skidding around corners and leaping over dunes.

There’s also kite-landboarding, which involves a contraption resembling an oversized skateboard and loads of protective gear. Snow-kiting is for skiers or snow-boarders who crave a shot of extra speed, delivered with the aid of the kite.

The exciting thing about this sport is that it opens up huge areas of terrain for leisure activities during winter.

Four years ago Mark Ward got involved with kiting sports “on a whim,” he says. Today, Mark is the vice-chairman of the Scottish Power-kite Association and a Power-kiting sports instructor.

Initially, Mark bought himself a land-kite. “I spent a year learning to fly the kite in big winds and doing all sorts of silly things,” he says.

One of those ‘silly things’ is called scudding. (For the uninitiated, scudding is basically being dragged along on your feet by the kite. More fun than it sounds on the page!)

“If a strong wind was blowing in the right direction, I’d literally be able to slide from Aberdeen’s Bridge of Don to Balmedie beach on my feet, spending half my time in the air,” he says. “That was a hell of a blast and quite hard work.”

That hard work resulted in benefits to Mark’s health.

“I lost nearly a stone over the summer just through toning up! Power-kiting is great exercise. Then, when you go the extra step and get into kite-surfing or buggying, you use every muscle in your body, including your face because you’ve generally got the big grin factor as well!”

The 12 months that Mark spent learning to handle the land-kite was time well spent. “All kite sports, whether it’s kite-buggying, land-boarding, kite-surfing or snow-kiting, are all about flying skills,” he says.

“Too many people try to get into kite-surfing or onto a buggy far too quickly and don’t spend enough time learning to fly the kite.

You need to be able to handle windshifts, wind gusts, changes in wind direction or dying winds in order to stay safe.

“There have been some serious accidents within the sport. The kites are powerful bits of kit. I know of incidents where people have been lifted over 100 feet in the air and in a situation like this, if you land….”

Mark trails off not wanting to be too specific about the potential repercussions. It’s for these reasons that Mark is so safety conscious when he’s instructing.

“About 50 per cent of any course is safety oriented. This way people can then go away and continue to explore the sport safely.”

So what are people’s reactions when Mark first teaches them to handle a Power-kite? “I’ve been quite surprised at how many people say that it’s really relaxing,” he says. “In a mild wind, it is a really good chillout. But when the wind becomes more powerful, you do need to exert quite a lot of energy. Once people begin to learn, they play about a bit with more power, feel the exhilaration of the pull, fight it a bit and maybe get dragged along the beach for fun.

“Sometimes the acceleration is tremendous and people really enjoy that and find it quite stimulating.

“It’s quite difficult to describe the experience. It’s like trying to describe the taste of a strawberry. It’s so many things all thrown into one, relaxing, exhilarating, constantly changing and it’s addictive!

“You end up sitting in the office, looking out the window and as soon as you see a few leaves on the trees moving, you get all twitchy. Yeah, it’s an addictive, adrenaline rush but that’s what extreme sport is all about.”

Mark teaches a variety of different kinds of Power-kiting from flying the kite itself, to kite-surfing, snow-kiting, kite-buggying and land-boarding.

“There’s different stages of the teaching process. People come to me and when they arrive they’re on the edge of their comfort zone,” he says.

“They’ve never done anything like this before and so I aim to take them into a discovery zone. Then, they learn a bit, get comfortable with that and I’ll push them a little bit harder into the fear zone.

“That’s when the adrenaline starts flowing but I never push people too quickly, too far, just enough for it to be a blast.”

Mark is based in Aberdeenshire and he’s convinced that Scotland is the perfect place for kiting.

“Here in the North East of Scotland, we can cater for every wind direction. All the beaches, like Nairn, Findhorn, Lossiemouth and Balmedie, are all at different orientations, so within the space of two hours we can be at a location with a safe wind direction for kiting.

“There’s also fantastic beaches on the West Coast. Tiree is a hotspot for kitesurfing and there are great beaches there for buggying. Troon, Campbeltown, St Andrews, are wonderful.

“Fraserburgh is also a beautiful beach with tremendous surfing conditions. Scotland has literally dozens and dozens of locations to choose from, with brilliant atmosphere, lots of little hotels and nowhere near as crowded as the beaches elsewhere.”

I wonder aloud if it’s not a wee bit cold, at certain times of the year, in this neck of the woods.

“Oh no. This is an all year round sport. I’m often out on the beach on winter mornings.

The North Sea is perceived as a cold and dangerous place. But that’s a complete load of rubbish!

“The water temperature is only two or three degrees different from the South coast of England.

“It really is safe water. I’ve not heard of a shark attack yet,” he says with a laugh. With that, Mark hands me a wetsuit and says, “so, let’s get out there while the sun’s shining.”

I make a mental note to keep a lookout for any signs of grey dorsal fin (there’s always a first time for everything) and reply with my newfound vocabulary.

“Wicked dude. Get me on that viper and let’s go pop a few airs.”

Mark Ward teaches an internationally recognised curriculum. (IKO/BKSA)

A half day Power-kiting course costs £30
A‘Taster-day’ kite-surfing course is £90
A3 day Kite-surfing IKO course is £240

Tailor made courses and snow kite courses available on application

Extremexposure is a supplier of the majority of top brands and accessories for all Power-kite activities

32 The Holdings
North Beach Road
AB23 8WU
Tel: +44 (0)7710 639 796

Scottish Power-kite Association (SPKA)
(For general information on the Scottish power-kite scene and insurance information)

Kite Sports Scotland – Retail and Qualified Instruction (IKO/BKSA School)
Burgess Close
141 South Street
St Andrews
KY16 9UN
Tel: +44 (0)1334 460 616

Wild Diamond Kitesurfing – Qualified
Instruction (IKO/BKSA)
Isle of Tiree
PA77 6TZ
Tel: +44 (0)1879 220 399

Craig Wearing - Qualified Instructor
Tel: +44 (0)7813 921 843