Mary Poppins has a lot to answer for. Who doesn’t love the feelgood finale of the classic movie, when Mr Banks’ grumpy exterior transforms to pure joy as he takes to the park, wonky kite in hand, for a jubilant bonding moment with his children? They make it all look so fun – and effortlessly easy! However, if you’ve ever seen would-be flyers wrestle with their kites in an attempt to get them airborne, only to see them crash down in an instant, you’ll soon realise the reality is not always quite so straightforward.
The first thing to do is choose your kite. You can buy kites in lots of different shapes and designs, but the classic diamond is best for beginners (you can advance to a more whizzy multiple-string affair once you’re a little more proficient). Most kites are designed to fly in winds of between four and 20mph (that’s from a mild breeze to the sort of gusts that would turn your umbrella inside out). As kites are essentially wind deflectors, they work on the principle that the wind blows horizontally until it hits the angled surface of the kite wing and gets deflected downwards. The kite can’t move backwards because it is tethered to the line, so the force pushes the kite higher. At a certain point for a given wind speed, the vertical thrust balances the weight of the kite and it hovers. Et voilà.
Like the good Banks, you need to find a nice location for your kite-flying endeavours: somewhere flat and grassy with enough space so you can run along a little, and away from trees. Positioning is also key. “Stand with your back to the wind and let the wind take the kite out of your hand,” says John Dobson, of the British Kite Flying Association. “If the wind is light, stand your kite on the ground facing the wind, walk backwards into the wind 10m or so, keeping the line taut, then pull sharply on the line to lift the kite.”
The basic rule is to keep a tight hold of the line. And stick at it. When your kites is flouncing around the skies, eliciting gasps from passersby, it will feel worth it. If you’d rather watch from the sidelines, check out the 15th Streatham Common Annual Kite Day in London on April 7, or other events nationwide.
For simple, easy to make kite designs visit The Kite Society of Great Britain.