A BRIEF HISTORY OF KITESURFING
the power of kites for a practical purpose is probably about as old as the invention of
the kite itself. Many kiting enthusiasts suspect that the kite was invented in China.
However, on the island Sulawesi in Indonesia there exists a very large leaf that flies well as a kite from a single point line attachment.
It requires no stablising tail and little work except plucking it from the tree. Combine these leaves with fishing lines that have been used in that area for more than 10,000 years, and canoes (or their predecessor the log) and kitesailing could conceivably have been born.
The relatively passive act of being pulled along by such a single line kite does not allow any course that deviates much from downwind. For other courses, reaching across the wind for instance, it is necessary to use controllable kites. In this respect, George Pocock - the father of kite traction - made the first recorded kite powered upwind course. This was achieved with a carriage powered by his patented four line controllable kite systems on the back roads of Bristol, 170 years ago. The ingenious inovators' intention was to establish kitepower as an alternative to horsepower, partly to avoid the hated "horse tax" that was levied at that time. Pocock's system proved the principles of kite traction but was not particularly practical. Following the efforts of Mr Pocock, kite traction progressed very little for 150 years, excepting aviation pioneer Samuel Franklin Cody who sailed across the English channel in 1901. In the late 1970s the development of high-tech Kevlar then Spectra flying lines and controllable kites with reasonable efficiency (like L/D ratio >3.0) made Pocock's dream of practicable kite traction possible at last. By 1978, Ian Day's "FlexiFoil" kite powered Tornado catamaran had exceeded 40km/hr and through the 1980s there were sporadic and occasionally successful attempts to combine kites with canoes, ice skates, snow skis water ski's and roller skates. In fact kites were applied to every conceivable thing that slid, rolled or wallowed across the face of the earth or sea. A decade later, there was still an electric feeling amongst those working in the traction field that passionately sought breakthroughs were imminent. The first significant success came with the development of practical kite buggying in 1990, at Argyle Park in Ashburton New Zealand. With the conception of the forerunner of modern parafoil kite technology - the "Peel" - coupled with the three wheeled buggy, Peter spawned a worldwide sport with more than 14,000 Peter Lynn buggies alone sold in the years up to 1999.
A considerable number of other maufacturers also produce buggys now. Kites improved rapidly through the 1990s, driven largely by the significant and highly competitive market provided by kite buggying. However, the development which was to be penultimate to the success of modern day kitesurfing carried on almost independently of buggying. The Roeselers in the USA and the Legagnoixs in France became the Wright brothers of recent kitesurfing history.
Bill Roeseler, a Boeing Aerodynamicist, with his son Corey, also an engineer and world class water skier, worked away for many years experimenting with kite powered sailing boats and buggies. They struck success with their patented "KiteSki" system; water ski(s) powered by two line delta style kites controlled via a bar mounted winch/brake. Available commercially from 1994, the KiteSki has genuine water launch capability. This is accomplished by winding the lines in until the nose of the kite is within reach. Then the kite is hand launched on very short lines, with the lines let out under brake control until the kite is at full height. KiteSki kites generate a smooth, powerful pull in stronger winds and have excellent upwind performance, especially in gusty conditions. In 1995, Corey visited Peter Lynn at New Zealand's Lake Clearwater (Lynn's infamous testing ground situated in the Ashburton Alpine Lakes area).
Corey impresssed the Lynns with his speed, balance and upwind angle achieved on his 'ski' - a feat not matched by anyone in New Zealand until 1998. In the late 1990s, Corey's ski has evolved to a single board that is more representive of surfboard style boards. Corey and Bill certainly deserve their success and the kitesurfing community's thanks and support for their years of pioneering technical and promotional work. Brothers, Bruno and Dominique Legagnoix from the Atlantic coast of France also put their lives and souls into making kitesurfing practical, working at it full time from the early 1980s. Peter Lynn first met the Legagnoixs and tried out their breakthrough "Wipika" kite design at a kitesailing regatta in Italy in 1995. The Wipika, described as a "spherical Gore", or sometimes more affectionately as "a big slice o' lemon" has a structure of preformed
inflatable tubes. This design has a simple bridle system mainly to the
wingtips which reduces the chance of bridle tangles and facilitates its extreme spanwise arch. This form's huge virtue is ease of water re-launch, almost always possible without winding in provided that the wind is above a minimum threshhold. Wipika kites have largely defined kitesurfing for the last three years especially on Maui. Ram-air parafoil design kites, a dominant power kite for buggying and all other traction action for nearly 10 years, are now gaining widespread
acceptance among kitesurfers. Many kitesurfers are now using foil type kites, even offshore, especially since the development of leading edge vent valves for this style of kite. These vent flaps retain air giving a few minutes kite flotation and a reasonable chance of re-launching, although less for 2 line than for 4 line versions.
New Zealand's major contribution to kitesurfing technology has been Peter Lynn's development of the 4 line "C Quad". This quasi-framed kite hybridises aspects of delta and foil design. With its very fine leading edge and single skin the C Quad is very efficient in flight allowing good upwind sailing angles. C Quads can only be re-launched from the water in very strong winds or when the flier's feet have purchase on the ocean or lake floor. By this year, (1999), boards derived from windsurf and surf board designs have become the dominant form of kiteboard. The things kitesurfers were trying to balance on in the beginining were like riding an unbroken horse compared to current designs. Kiteboards are now delightfully easy to use with natural responses that chop away much of the learning curve for beginners. There is also a significant subset of wakeboard style bi-directional kite boards available. Users often choose this format
because of their wakeboard or snowboard background and because such boards lend themselves to more expressive freestyle manoeuvers.
As kitesurfers gain confidence in their flying skills, the requirement for water relaunchability has become less influential relative to demands for power and efficiency. Every last little bit of available efficiency, measured by lift/drag ratio, becomes important because even the best kites perform poorly upwind compared to conventional windsurf sails. Nevertheless, modern day kitesurfing has now matured to the point of practicality. That is, a flysurfer can now purchase reliable equipment and sail as a leisure time activity, maintaining position to windward and pushing the limits of freestyle expression. And furthermore, with many more people spending all their waking hours thinking about this new sport, who knows what successive waves of kite and board innovation will bring?
What exciting times we live in.
Kitesurfing is not so new that it seems. In the 70's, a few
US people use round parachutes to pull them on waterskis. In 1977 the Dutchman Gijsbertus
Panhuise gets a patent where a pilot standing up on a board is pulled by a parachute tied
to his harness. It seems that no media nor commercial back washes followed.
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