Friday, February 02, 2007

The Kite of Doom

I’d heard a lot about the kiting at Halley. Colleagues at Cambridge raved about the sport, so a few weeks before leaving I rang Antarctica for advice on what to buy: “Everyone’s riding Flysurfer down here. Beginner? 6 foot? Hmmm, ok - I’d look for about 10square meters... ” came the reply. Ebay provided a used Flysurfer Spirit from a surfer in Newquay, who was a little surprised at my purchase of a 10m as my first kite. Out of kindness (or concern about liabilities) he dug out the manual and instruction DVD. Other mates joked about a quick flight back, whether I wanted it or not! Were the Southern crew having a game of “let’s mess up the new-guy” I wondered?

I watched the DVD, read the manual and tentatively laid the bright yellow wing out on the snow. Checking the lines were clear, I hooked the control bar onto my harness and pulled hard to take off. And… Nothing. The lines needed sorting, a job that would be a pleasure on the beach, but took a finger-freezing hour on the snow. Job done, I tried again. This time the wing inflated and the lines whistled as the Spirit took off.

It would now be tempting to lie about how I manfully fought to overcome the sheer force of nature, struggling with my lines like a red-neck fisherman with a shark. But I didn’t. The kite simply sat above me, perfectly still. Gently pulling on the bars would drop it into the powerzone, dragging me along on my feet. In fact, it handled a lot like a stunt-kite.

After a couple of stationary flights, I was beginning to feel the need for speed. My snowboarding is coming on, but needs more practice, so I strapped on a pair of skis and launched the kite into a pleasant 12 knots. Whoooaa! Facing the wrong way, the acceleration whipped me round and a binding popped! I careered across the snow for 30 metres on one ski before pulling the beast back onto the deck. Trying again, I faced the right direction and launched at the edge of the wind where there’s less power. As the kite slowly rose above me, I moved off, sliding effortlessly over perfect fresh snow. After a couple of turns my confidence called for a faster run. Dropping the wing into the more powerful wind, my speed increased and I edged the skis hard to counteract the pull. Skimming the snow with one hand on the bar, I was pleased with how easily it had come together and relieved that I’ll have a good sport to occupy me for the next year.


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