BEST Traction Kites

What is a traction kite?

There are numerous kite designs on today’s market, from a plethora of single-line toy-town kites to those noisy delta-shaped two-line stunters you see whizzing around the park. But for sheer kiting thrills, nothing comes close to the grin-inducing lark of wrestling with a traction kite (also known as a foil- or power-kite). Traction kiting is an exhilarating activity, whether it’s zipping a small two-line foil across the skies of your local park, being dragged for several metres by a larger three-metre beast or, for the very experienced, getting huge air out at sea with a 12-metre kitesurfing monster. It’s also an enjoyably effective way to tone the key muscle groups and generally keep fit.

 

Most traction-kiting aficionados will agree that it was the bods at British company Flexifoil who, in the early 1970s, first thought up the idea of tethering a pair of 25-metre long nylon lines to the tips of a wing-shaped ‘parafoil’ made out of ultra-strong nylon-based Ripstop material. As designs developed and the kites themselves became larger, manufacturers began to think of ways of adding extra control in stronger winds, so a brake system was introduced by installing a second pair of ‘brake’ lines. This four-line system is the one most favoured today, and is essential for anyone thinking of taking up motion sports like kitebuggying (sitting in a low-slung three-wheeler), kiteboarding (standing on a large, big-wheeled skateboard), kitesurfing (on a surf board fitted with foot holders) or snowkiting (on skis or snowboard).

 

Modern powerkites share the same flying principles as a soft ‘ram-air’ parachute: when under tension, a row of stitched chambers (rams) are filled with air and the tips of the kite bow to form a semi-rigid wing which in turn creates impressive lift. Powerkites are flown in a wide arc between the clock positions nine and three; the optimum ‘pull’ occurs within the centre of this window. Most four-line powerkites are controlled by two 20 to 25-metre lines attached, via a complex bridle system, to various points on the kite’s underside. A further two brake lines of similar length are affixed to the kite’s trailing edge. All four lines run down to a pair of vertically-positioned handles held by the flyer. The top two ‘power’ lines take care of the steering (left, right, up and down) and the amount of pull. The bottom brake lines are used only for changing the pitch of the kite should a gust become too overpowering. For instance, to control a power surge or to bring the kite down, you simply activate the brake lines by bending down the wrists. Flick back on the wrists again and the kite changes its pitch to offer maximum traction. Some four-line kites also have an extra safety system in the shape of a pair of bungee cords (called kite killers) that tether the handles to the flyer’s wrists. If a gust proves beyond control, the flyer simply lets go of both handles, the brake lines are immediately activated, and the kite flops down. This system not only helps prevent you from being dragged into the nearest powerline but it stops the kite from drifting off into the distance on its own. It’s worth seeking out a product fitted with this safety device.

 

The smattering of kites reviewed here are ideal for land-based activities which include both traditional feet-on-the-ground fun-flying and, for the larger models and those with acres of space and some tuition behind them, the extremities of buggying and kiteboarding. The kites themselves vary in width from 1.5 metres to an impressive 4.9-metres. Kite sizing isn’t really quantifiable as it depends entirely on the individual’s body-weight, strength and fitness, not to say strength of wind. Indeed, many regular flyers have different-sized kites for various wind speeds. That said, you’ll get more than enough kicks out of a 2.5-metre kite. Powerkiting is an extreme sport activity which can be dangerous when undertaken without due care. Wind can be unpredictable, particularly in built-up areas, so prepare for the odd arm-wrenching gust. Powerlines are dangerous and trees eat kites, so don’t fly near them. And if you fly in an electric storm, you may have to change your name to Crispin. Finally, wind up the lines carefully when finished flying or next time you may have a monumental tangle to deal with. Happy flying!

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This huge, eminently controllable 4.9-square metre quad-line model requires only a moderate breeze to lift an average-size flyer clean off the ground (in a 12-15 mph breeze the pull is absolutely colossal). Just as well it’s equipped with brake lines and kite killers. This particular model is especially well suited to buggying, boarding and recreational jumping. Needless to say, it’s not for the beginner. The Flexifoil Blade V is available in three sizes and in three colour schemes. It comes with quality flying handles, all necessary lines and a superb rucksack. Flexifoil kites aren’t cheap but then they are among the best designed (and robustly constructed) kites on the market. What’s more, they’re British, which means any repairs (a rareity) are easily sorted.

From £266, flexifoil.com/uk

Flexifoil Blade V
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Ozone Imp III Trainer

As its name suggests, the 2.5-metre Imp Trainer is designed as an intermediate powerkite for those who may wish to progress to the exteme sports of kiteboarding. But it’s also a fabulous kite for mucking about with in the park. The Ozone Imp II Trainer is controlled with the aid of an 18-inch bar tethered to two 18-metre long control lines. It also has a third ‘brake line’ attached to the centre of the bar via a length of bungy cord. The Imp handles with confidence and comes in its own shoulder holster.

From £98, powerkiteshop.com

With this five-metre model we’re getting into the realms of serious high-traction powerkiting. The Beamer comes complete with lines, quad handles (with integral kite-killing safety system) and a well-made canvas rucksack. As with most of the kites reviewed here, the lines don’t come attached to the pre-installed bridles, so a few pre-flight setups are required. But thankfully all lines are colour-coded, making attachment straightforward. The HQ Beamer V is well constructed and the soft, rubber-coated handles are really comfortable to hold. It’s not a fast kite – this one’s all about tug – but believe us, flying this beast is akin to competing in a tug-o-war with a buffalo on steroids.

From £140, powerkiteshop.com

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HQ Beamer V
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Flexifoil Rage

The Flexifoil Rage is suitable for beginners as well as advanced flyers . It’s available in several different sizes and is eminently controllable, extremely robust and huge fun to fly. It’s ideal for buggying too. Just make sure you wrap up the lines carefully when finished or next time you’ll have a nightmare of a tangle to deal with.

From £119, flexifoil.com/uk

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Flexifoil Sting 2

Flexifoil's superbly-packaged Sting is the ideal entry-level, four-line stunt kite for youngsters aged seven and up. Unlike an ordinary single-line kite, this one can be swooshed around the sky, swirled around in circles or swept in a low 160-degree arc inches off the ground. Rest assured the tug it generates will have your sprog grinning for hours.

From £87, flexifoil.com/uk