A sport kite, also commonly known as a stunt kite, is a kite that can be maneuvered in the air. A related kite also controllable and used for recreation, but capable of generating a significant amount of pull and used for providing movement is the Power kite.
Developments in multi-line kites in recent years has allowed forms of kite flying to develop into a sport. Kite competitions have much in common with figure skating, with competitors being judged on their performance in compulsory figures as well as a "ballet", which involves artistic interpretation of music. Performances are done as individuals, a pair of pilots, or as a team. Team flying is typically the most spectacular, with up to eight pilots, their kites flying within inches of each other and narrowly averting disaster, while performing all manner of figures and formations in the air. Competitions are held nationally and internationally under the auspices of Sport Team and Competitive Kiting (STACK). There is a bi-annual World Championship which was last held at Berck sur Mer, France in April 2014 and won for the third consecutive time by British team 'The Scratch Bunnies'. They are the first ever team to hold the title on three consecutive occasions.
In the United States, the American Kitefliers Association (AKA) is the umbrella organization for sport kite contests. Competition winners from the various regions are invited to the annual AKA convention for national championships.
In 1996 the AKA, STACK, and All-Japanese Sport Kite Association (AJSKA) formed the International Rule Book Committee (IRBC) to standardize rules and processes.
The most common configuration for a sport kite is a roughly triangular "delta" shape, with two lines for control. These kites are normally constructed from lightweight ripstop nylon or ripstop polyester with spars made from carbon fiber tubing. The flying lines are made from braided ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, which is light, does not stretch and stays slippery even when wrapped many times.
To control the kite, the pilot pulls on the right hand line to turn right, left line to turn left, and so on. The pitch can sometimes be controlled by walking/running forward or backwards, giving the lines different amounts of tension. Using a combination of pulls and pushes (to give slack to the lines), complex tricks and patterns can be flown. These range in difficulty from turns, loops and landings, to maneuvers where the kite is flipped and turned end over end, wrapping the lines or floating on its front or back. During diving maneuvers sport kites may reach speeds of 60 mph, while in stall type maneuvers they can remain nearly motionless. This type of stall allows for various other acrobatic maneuvers to be performed.
Sport kites can be designed to fly in a wide range of conditions. Most standard kites fly best in winds from 3–9 miles per hour. High wind kites can be flown in very strong winds of 30 mph or more. There are kites made from the lightest materials that can be flown in the slightest breeze or even indoors. Novice or first time fliers may have difficulty flying a dual line kite. For smooth and consistent flying, a steady breeze is required, uninhibited by trees, buildings, hills, or other tall objects which may block the wind.
A dual line stunt kite can range from anywhere from $50 for a beginner kite, to over $300 for specialized competition kites made from high grade materials such as wrapped carbon fiber spars and lightweight ripstop polyester fabric. Some high performance kites have optional tail weight attachments, which change the flight characteristics of the kite, making some advanced maneuvers easier or more dramatic. Some sport kites are even made with mesh panels to fly in higher winds (15-20mph+).
Some pilots also fly four-line (or "quad-line") kites, which are controlled with a pair of handles, each with two lines attached to the top and bottom and attached to the kite correspondingly. To control the kite, the pilot pulls on the lower line to turn the kite in that direction. Skilled use of these handles allows a quad-line kite to perform in ways that are difficult or impossible with a dual-line kite. Unique quadline maneuvers include reverse flight, axis spins, hovers, and side to side flight.
Other aspects of sport kiting include power or traction kites, which can be used to tow wheeled kite buggies (kite buggying) or surfboards (kite surfing). Power kites vary in size from "trainers" which often have dual lines and a small sail area, to large full size traction kites with four lines, designed to pull people on kite boards or vehicles.
Many sport kite pilots have a variety of line sets, in different lengths and strengths (Measured in Lbs) to suit the wind conditions. Specialized kite bags are designed to tote a collection of kites, along with line sets and repair materials such as tedlar tape (for fixing punctured sails) and spare parts. Kite cases or bags also facilitate traveling with kites, some designed to fit into the overhead compartments on airplanes. Other accessories include hand-held (digital) anemometers for accurate wind speed information and LED lights that attach to the frame of the kite to allow for night flying. Some manufacturers offer replacement spars or spare components for their kites, for replacing damaged components after a particularly unforgiving crash landing.
There are three main categories of sport kites:
Traditional Sport Kites
Traditional sport kites were most prevalent in the mid-90s and early 2000s. The kites were built for precision, and were often fairly large and generated a decent amount of pull. Such kites are considered "old school" today and they have largely be replaced with more agile designs capable of pitch tricks.
Trick kites became popular after the early 2000s. The kites sacrificed some precision for the ability to perform 3D acrobatic maneuvers. These kites have spawned a new free-style type of flying where the flyer strings together tricks.
Quad line kites first hit the kiting scene in 1988 with the invention of the "Neos Omega," later called the "Revolution 1." Quad line kites gained popularity after sport kite team The Flying Squad was formed in 1999 They were the first successful competition quadline team, winning back to back STACK European championships. Revolution has dominated the quad-line market, with only a few competing kites from manufacturers like Prism and New Tech Kites. Quad line kites are noticeable by the way that they can hover in space unlike any other sport kite. These kites can be extremely precise.