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The Four Building Blocks

by: Nic O'Neill

Alright, let's say you are already starting to fly and you are wanting to advance your flying. The best would be to find a clinic or sport kite camp and go and learn from a multitude of fliers on how to fly. That would be great wouldn't it? Just hang out on the beach with a bunch of great fliers and absorb all of the wonderful knowledge. They would critique and encourage you, and give you that positive push to be better. It would be great if it was easy to make happen.... but it isn't!

To be honest, most of us are self taught; having spent the bulk of - if not all - of our time trying to teach ourselves, critique ourselves, and encourage ourselves. There really is nothing wrong with this approach, but, if you do not have experience creating and following training programs you might find yourself wallowing on a plateau or feeling stagnant. Or perhaps you are looking how you might advance your skills.

Well, I present to you the 4 Building Blocks of tricks, moves, and maneuvers. Each one of these is present in every single thing you do from the very basics to the most advanced.

  1. Timing/Speed

  2. Distance

  3. Input

  4. Placement

Some would potentially argue that 'wind and weather' is another building block, but the approach here is that wind/weather is not something you can control or manipulate. It is definitely a skill you can work on like many other skills, but it is a challenge that you adapt the building blocks to. You can not adapt the wind/weather to your flying. (Other than perhaps removing yourself from where you are, or only flying in perfect conditions)

Before I go in to what each Building Block is and how to adapt it, let me say that it is important to work on becoming aware of each one of these building blocks in everything that you do. That way as you advance forward in your flying, it is easier to fall back to the basics and tweak one thing and work on it to move past a plateau. Also, when we train our brains at the start to associate elements, or in this case the building blocks, of our actions, it is a LOT easier to assess what we are doing and make the needed corrections. The final benefit is that it also allows us to play in a more intentional and purposeful way that even though it is carefree, will advance our flying.

All of these building blocks depend on one another in some fashion, and at each stage of your flying you will have to find the right balance between them. Some actions will be more dependent on a single building block, but still incorporate the others to a degree. Some actions will be a completely even mix of all 4. It becomes really difficult to eliminate one of these and have the others compensate, that is not quite how it works, but there is an element of playful intentional learning by trying to do just that. More on that later, first let's break them down.



This building block is not all about how fast you can do something, it is also about what is the right speed, and when to do it. Whether this is how fast you perform a slack line trick, or what is the right time to execute a turn to make a precision move look and feel right. Timing and Speed reside in the minds eye and in your hands and wrists. You have to predict where something is going to be versus where it is and then execute the action all in the span of less than a second.


If you are at the point of flying only patterns in the sky (not slack line tricks) then timing and speed is important in a few different aspects. Lets take a Triangle (aka Pyramid) as an example. If you are going to use your kite to draw a large triangle in the sky you will need to know what is the right time to make the turn to the next leg in order to make each leg of equal distance. Being aware of your timing and speed helps to create the red triangle in the picture below, where as not paying attention to it may create the yellow not-so-much-a triangle. (Sometimes you may WANT the yellow, but the point is to do it intentionally)

Your timing/speed would also be how fast you pull or push the line in order to make that turn. Faster hands/wrists means a faster crisper turn. Slower hands/wrists means a slower more rounded turn. There is a case and a TIME for both types of turns or actions, again, it is about flying intentionally and knowing when the right time for those are.

Tricks - Slack Line Tricks, Precision Flying

Tricking your kite is also all about timing and speed. Without the right timing or speed you simply can not execute the trick. Let's take a rather simple slack line trick that is a foundation for many other tricks: The Snap Stall. If I move my hands too slow in a snap stall the kite will wobble and keep moving without stalling. Inversely, it's almost impossible to move my hand too fast. (Worth noting that this affects another building block - Inputs - but will get into that later). As you build up to more advanced tricks the timing of when to do the trick, to give the input, and when to gain/give distance also come into play.



This building blocks refers to not only how much distance you need to give or gain on the ground (by using your feet or body) but also how much distance your hands may have to travel to make an input. This is more exaggerated for dual line fliers than it is for quad line fliers, however both have to deal with distance in some fashion to make things work. Distance is something that resides generally in what we might consider the gross motor movements, meaning your legs, shoulders/upper arms, and the position of your body; whereas timing/speed is in your fine motor movements (hands/wrists).


Using a change in distance helps to maintain that first building block - speed - when it comes to flying patterns in the sky. If we use the example of the triangle again, and knowing what we know about how a kite reacts to where it is flying (placement) we can use changes in distance to make that perfect triangle. When a kite is heading directly at the ground it will go faster than it would in the horizontal leg of our triangle. In order to slow it down to match the speed of the horizontal leg I can step forward or move my hands forward from my starting point. Inverse for when the kite is heading upward. The bigger the movement in the sky, along with wind speed, will dictate how far you have to travel to make each crossing of the leg of the triangle of equal speed. This portion is more pronounced in dual line than it is quad line. Again, please note that wind speed and weather also effects distance changes.

When it comes to pairs and team flying we definitely see that changes in distance are required for both dual and quad line. Because of wind buffeting from one kite to another, or to execute maneuvers that include a lot of twisting etc, you will often see fliers in a slightly staggered position in a line. While at times this is not an active changing of distance, it still is there, this is still 'distance' in a more passive sense.

Tricks - Slack Line Tricks, Precision Flying

Particularly for dual line flying, or any three dimensional tricks for quad lines, distance is a critical element. Often times the accuracy of the trick comes down to distance in one, or a combination of the following instances:

1. The distance between your two hands in a given plane. The easiest to imagine is a simple turn. For dual line it is the difference between pushing/pulling one hand in comparison to the other. For quad line there is a factor of the difference in hands, but also the distance between your top and bottom lines. A difference between your hands can make the kite slide, difference in lines will make it drive or 'break/back up'.

2. The distance your hands travel from a starting position to an ending position (in combination with speed) is often times achieved with shoulders, lunging, or changing the body position. You see this when you need to stall a kite (predominately dual line) and you throw one hand forward hard enough to dump the wind out of the kite.

3. The distance of travel in the wind window for a trick or maneuver to be executed (in combination with placement). If you are attempting to execute a chained together series of slack line tricks, you need to account for the distance that each trick will take, along with the overall effect.



Inputs are the ones that we all naturally gravitate towards when looking for help. If you haven't done it yourself, you have seen others commenting on sport kite videos asking for the flier to show their hand movements. Inputs are kind of general term, and like the other building blocks, they can't really exist without being influenced by the other building blocks. Inputs can best be described as the TYPE of action you are doing. Be it a push, a pull, a flick, a shift, etc... It is the action that translates down the line to the kite. The other building blocks becomes aspects of the action. You can pull one hand, but how fast you pull it and the distance your hand travels are what make the action successful. If it helps, think of inputs as what you 'have to do', and every other building block is the 'when' and 'where' you do it.


The easiest to identify inputs for patterns are the pull turn and the push turn. Pushing or pulling one hand causes the kite to turn. The distance your hands travel to execute this action dictates not only the speed of the kite, but the placement of the turn in the wind window. A small gradual input of a pull on the right line will cause the kite to go in a broad circle to the right. A medium input of a pull on the right line will make the kite go in a smaller circle. A quick pull on the right line will not only cause it to turn on a very small axis, but it can also lead to a dumping of the wind from the wing and create a turn like a half axel or full axel.

Tricks - Slack Line Tricks, Precision Flying

As mentioned above, the same input at different speeds causes different results in the kite, but it is still the same base input. There is also another element of how inputs have a different result from when the kite is fully powered up versus when in a full slack line state or stall. As an example a flick of the wrist in a fully powered up kite may cause the kite to turn quickly or stall out where it is, or even to do a half axel. When it is in a stalled or slack line state, such as floating on its back, it could cause the kite to spin like a plate.



Placement is mostly associated with the place in the wind window where an action might occur, but the idea can be expanded a bit as you advance. As you become more aware of your flying, you become more aware of the different parts of the wind window, and how each part acts differently even if your actions are the same. Some tricks can only be accomplished in the center of the wind window, while others are easier to learn on the edge before moving to the center. This mainly has to do with the angle of attack of your kite in relation to you and the direction of the wind. At the edges of the wind window, your kite is naturally dumping more wind than it is at the center when it is flying at its optimum.

Placement will also affect the distance and speed of your inputs. Let's assume that you want to do a trick at the same visual speed in different spots of the wind window. Generally, but not always fully true, the closer to the edge you place an action or trick, the greater distance and slower you can be in executing the trick. Whereas, the closer you are to center the smaller the distance and the faster your inputs need to be.


Placement becomes important when attempting to draw a pattern in the sky. Where you start will ultimately dictate the size of your pattern (assuming you as a person are not moving laterally across the ground and expanding your wind window). In the photo below you can see how your placement would affect the size of a pattern like the triangle. If you start it on say the far right of the wind window and are moving left you can make a large triangle (black). If you start left of the center and are moving left, you can only make a small triangle (red). Also note that the left leg of the red triangle is close to the edge of the wind window and this will affect your speed and distance, where as the black triangle is nearly all within the area where the kite will stay fully powered.

Placement also becomes an important element when it comes to pairs and team flying. Some maneuvers require a precise placement of a kite, not so much in reference to the wind window, but in reference to another kite. If you think of creating a 'ball' in the sky, or a large circle, the image is only complete if each kite is placed in the correct spot in relation to the other kites.

Tricks - Slack Line Tricks, Precision Flying

Some slack line tricks, particularly dual line, are only possible in certain spots of the wind window. An extreme example is what is called a tip stab, or a wing tip stand. This involves placing one wing tip on the ground and balancing the kite on that wing tip. For obvious reasons you can't do this at the top of the wind window, because the trick requires the ground as a part of it. Other times that placement is critical is with more advanced slack line tricks requiring the trick to be initiated in the center column of the wind window in order to maintain some semblance of flight and loft when the wind is dumped from the sail.


SO WHAT?!?!?!

Alright, a big kudos to you for getting this far, and chances are you are thinking.... 'so what... now what do I do with all of this knowledge?' Well, this is where you can become your own coach, your own teacher, your own motivator.

Let's take the example of learning a trick for the first time; for this we will use the dual line 'Half Axel'. If you click the button to the left, it should open up a new tab in your browser that gives you a bunch of information about how to do a half axel.

The section that says 'Execution' gives us right off the bat the placement. Note that the half axel can be performed left to right, this description is simply to help identify how to set it up in one direction.

Flying the kite from right to left past center of the wind window...

Then gives us distance, along with the necessary input

...step forward to temporarily kill most of the kites forward drive. Immediately do a small push with the right hand (top wing) and a very small pull with the left hand (bottom wing). Follow this with an immediate axel type snap of the right hand.

Then it adds a bit about the Timing/speed

Vary the right hand snap. Under snapping it will cause the kite to loose altitude in the turn. Over snapping it will cause the kite to over hover, or even flip onto it's back and do a rixel.

In the video below, if you watch the fliers hands closely, you can not only see the input, the speed of the input, but also the distance the hands are traveling, along with the distance the body travels. Placement is somewhat represented as at the edge of the wind window.


Play With It...

Now what happens if we start playing around with the building blocks. Playing can be seen in two ways, it is the way we explore and learn and 'add books to our mental library' (as a beginner) and it can also be how we 'fill the pages of a book' (as advanced). Remember... all of these are not fully set in stone, you also have to learn how to adapt these building blocks to the wind and conditions you are flying in, and even what kite you are flying.

As a Beginner

For the beginner, focused play is an essential tool in learning how to execute a trick. Let's continue to use the half axel as an example. Say I am flying it as described (right to left) and trying to make it happen at the edge of the wind window, but it just keeps falling out of the sky. If I take a minute to stop and try to play with one of the building blocks at a time, I may find the solution. Instead of trying to move the action to the center, it might simply be a change in my speed, or a change in the distance of my hands that results in the desired outcome. Or, it may be that a change in one gets me a step CLOSER to the desired outcome, and adjusting another building block brings me the success. None of these building blocks truly exist as the sole solution to anything, it is more about finding the right balance between all of them. But in learning or refining, it is easier if we focus on a single thing and work on that instead of trying to change everything at once.

One of the other side effects to taking this approach of focusing on building blocks is that when it comes the time that you have been flying for years, and have a full library of knowledge, when you are presented with something new it is easier to break it down. apply it, and perfect it faster. Most of this may be subconscious at that point, or just simple muscle memory.

For the Experienced

For the more advanced flier, looking at every maneuver or trick through the lens of these building blocks can be the difference between intentional flying and 'sloppy reactive flying'. There are some times that we may completely neglect one of these building blocks and force the other three to compensate. If this is done UNINTENTIONALLY, it usually results in either what looks like the flier muscling through the actions, struggling even, or the movements look sloppy and unrefined. As the flier, you may not even be fully aware of this till someone points it out to you, or you fly next to someone. When you look at another flier and it looks like they make it easy, or they are super laid back and can grab your attention with the simplest of moves, THIS IS INTENTIONAL FLYING!!! This is the moment when someone is performing the balance between all of the building blocks in each aspect of their movement.

So, as an experienced flier how can the building blocks be useful to you? Well, you may already know how to do the trick and have 95% accuracy rate (meaning you nail the trick nearly all of the time), but is there a better way to do it? Maybe a different way to do it? Playing with the building blocks can challenge a flier in new ways, and reinvigorate their flying. Either you can willfully eliminate one of the elements or radically change it. Yes, you will find that there are something that simply can not be done, but those are in the minority. More of what you will find is what YOU can do and new ways to do it. Below are a few examples of what this might look like or how it might manifest.

1. Timing/Speed

Will increasing your speed on a given input make the action more crisp. What is the slowest you can do that input before it radically affects the result. Can you play with timing/speed changes, go fast to slow rapidly without losing control?

2. Distance

What happens if you are standing on a pedestal that is 3ft by 3ft and flying over a bunch of people, you realistically can not use your feet to gain or give distance, how do you adjust the other building blocks to compensate. What is the difference between taking a few steps forward and leaning forward with your arms extended.

3. Input

Instead of a pull turn, what happens if you do a push turn on the other side instead. Everyone has a preferred side, play exclusively on your non dominant side. Do the trick/sequence in reverse.

4. Placement

Move a trick you always do on the edge of the wind window to the center and visa versa. Do a pattern within a pattern within a pattern, like those nesting Russian dolls. Stand next to a hard boundary, or visually draw a boundary in the sky... Now you can only do everything on the right side of the wind window, or the left, the top, etc...


So there you have it, the Four Building Blocks of sport kite flying. Hopefully by looking through this lens, it will better help you in teaching yourself, or even others, how to fly.

Last Updated 7/31/2021

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