The editors of KITE & friends magazine received many responses to my last article about the Eurocup. Here is the follow-up with more insightful information about flying sport kite competitions. I will try to cover the entire spectrum of competition flying and yet keep it as simple as possible.
First: Who am I?
It would be fair to tell you more about my competition background initially, so that you also know where my knowledge comes from. I am Stephen Versteegh, and I started competition flying in 1998. There were no competitions in the Netherlands, so I went to fly my first competitions in Germany. In order to fly competitions, you need to be a member of STACK, the competition organisation, and for me the easiest way in was to found STACK Benelux, with me as its first member. After I had established STACK Benelux, several kite fliers were willing to fly competitions in the Netherlands. So the next step was to organise a national championship. Than we decided to promote the sport by organising Eurocups in Scheveningen, 2004 and 2008. But after more than 15 years of Dutch competitions, the kite fliers decided they no longer liked flying competitions – and without competitors there is no competition. So we currently do not have any sport kite competitions in the Netherlands.
Why fly sportkite competitions? The most important reason should be fun. It is fun to practise flying to a musical routine and to push yourself and become better and better. Without this drive you will never improve and work towards a competition. Also, attending a festival and being with a group of kite fliers – all aiming for the same goal, working together, learning from each other and also competing – is great fun. It is such an adrenaline rush when you go onto the field and fly 100 % in a few minutes to impress the judges. It is such a roller coaster ride.
The wrong reasons
Flying competitions only to win would be the wrong attitude and give you a lot of stress and bad energy. Flying kite competitions is a sport were judges have to decide who wins. Their judgement may at times seem very unfair to your eyes, but it is part of the game. Also, this sport is not professional, so judges, officials and organisers will not always share your endless enthusiasm.
How to fly
There are books that contain the rules of competition flying, and the most common one is the International Rule Book. You can find it here: http://worldsportkite.com/irbc-rules/.
So if you would like to fly competitions, you need to read dozens of pages with all the rules first.
99 % of these rules you will never use or are even aware of as a competition flyer. This is why I can explain the most important rules here on less than half a page.
Competitions are flown in six different classes. We have the dual line and the quad-line multiline class. In each class you can compete as an Individual, in a Pair (2) or as part of a Team (3 or more). So two kite groups times three pilote groups results in six classes.
What you need to do
Every competition is divided into three elements: The first element (which makes up 30 % of your final score) consists of flying three compulsory figures. These are handed out a few months before the competition and selected by the judges from a large set. You can find the compulsory book here: http://worldsportkite.com/irbc-rules/.
The second Element (= 20 % of your final score) is the technical routine, where you show the judges what you can do with a sport kite in a slot of between 1 and 3 minutes. You can fly precision, tricks, fast, slow, landings – the more you can show with the least amount of mistakes, the higher your score.
The third Element (= 50 % of your final score) is a routine based on music, a ballet. Choose a piece of music, between 2 and 4 minutes long, and let your kite dance to it. Here you also have to show as many different flying styles and techniques as you can, as well as precision and tricks. A piece of music with a lot of different speeds and rythms will give you the chance to show the judges more variety. What will it be, a rap or an opera song?
The competition field measures 90 x 90 or 110 x 110 meters. It is forbidden to walk or fly outside of the field once you have entered the competition. As soon as you finish, you are to land your kite and walk out of the field, with a ground crew to help you.
Crash and Ground Crew
Flying competitions is always a balance of taking risks with difficult manoeuvres and tricks and avoiding a crash. You will gain bonus points when you take more risks and points will be deducted for crashes. All competitors can use a ground crew to help them (re)start their kite. You have 45 seconds time to relaunch your kite after a crash.
The competitions are flown between a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 45 kilometres per hour. There is no requirement to practise flying without wind or during a hurricane. So you need an ultra light, a standard and a vented kite to cover all possible wind conditions.
Tricksparty or STACK competitions
Many kite fliers ask me about the difference between these two, and I am lucky to have flown both for several years. The difference is that the compulsories with STACK are more about precision flying and with tricksparty more about trick manoeuvres. For the musical routine, the judges look at different aspects: With STACK, they look at your choreography, how well you are following the music and execute your routine. In fact, they judge the whole routine in the end. Tricksparty ballet is divided into nine tricks, and these are judged individually, and are totalled up with style points for your overall score.
Personally, I prefer STACK. There is more freedom in flying to the music, you can improvise more. And it is also possible to do the tricks in a different way. Within the tricksparty rules, the tricks should be executed in the way prescribed by the rules.
Looking at how STACK is organised, things are getting more complicated, and the only way to explain it is by looking at the past. A few years ago there were National Directors from every country, chosen by the local members, and their duty was to organise the national championships. Above the National Directors was SIEC, consisting of four members chosen by all the STACK members. Their job was to promote the sport, organise Eurocups and ensure that all countries that organise STACK competitions are following the same rules.
Now we have a situation where there is no SIEC any more and just a few National Directors are left to organise national competitions (France, Italy, UK and Russia). Official STACK does no longer exist, but competitions are still held, as long as kite fliers use the rules and the system.
Organise an event
As there is no longer an official sport kite competition organisation, it has become easier to organise a competition. You can still use the rules, or part of them, and you can decide what suits the needs of the participants. This brings me to the most important fact about competition flying: You need kite fliers willing to fly competitions, the rest is easy to organise.
I like to organise competitions at kite festivals. Most events have a sound system and a demo field, and most organisers would be very happy when you can offer them a competition at their festival. The only trick is to make it interesting for the audience to watch as well. Do the compulsories and technical routines in the morning. This part of the competition is hard to explain to an onlooker. Then, in the afternoon, fly the musical routines. Get somebody at the microphone to announce competitors, to tell people something about them and explain how the competition works. I have seen thousands of spectators watching such a competition. Sometimes it is one big picnic around the competition field.
Are we at the bottom of the curve? Is competition flying going to climb back up again? I am afraid it may not happen.
The reason is that competition flying needs a lot practise; before a Eurocup I train several months for an hour each day, which is a great escape from my computer desk. But there are now so many other toys and distractions that are so much easier to learn, for example flying a drone or playing computer games …
On the other hand – if you like an extra challenge with your kite flying friends, then it is easy to organise and fly competitions. Do it just like me: Ask for a wildcard to the next Eurocup and take up the challenge! And do not forget to have loads of fun …
For all that are interested in competition flying in germany, there has been launched a new website with a concept to start competition flying again: