Do you love the idea of flying a kite but don’t know how? Flying a kite at the beach is tons of fun, but learning how to do it can certainly seem intimidating.
What type of kite should you get? How do you keep it in the air? What other info do you need to know?
Don’t worry; you’re in the right place. Our complete guide has everything you’ve ever wanted to know about kites. You’ll learn how to fly a kite, what type of kite you should choose, and much more.
Ready to elevate beach-time fun with a kite? Let’s get started!
Let’s start with the basics: What is a kite?
A kite is a winged craft tethered to the ground with a line. It stays airborne via the power of air moving across its surface.
Of course, the dictionary definition of a kite is rather vague and technical. Let’s break it down further. A kite:
Fun Fact: A type of bird called kite hawks inspired the name. They’re a bird of prey known for their ability to hover and soar.
As we learned above, a kite can be as simple as a wing and a string. However, most kites are more complex. Here’s a closer look at the parts of a typical kite:
The kite sail is the lifting surface. Every type of kite has a sail. More than any other part, it’s the one thing which makes a kite a kite. The sail uses wind resistance to lift the kite high in the sky.
Sails must be lightweight, so they’ll catch the wind, and strong, so they’ll resist tearing.
Sail styles vary significantly. They can be a simple, single-colored shape (think Charlie Brown) or significantly more intricate (like large dragons or licensed characters).
Materials used to make sails include the following:
Spars are the kite’s skeleton. They form the framework which supports the sail. They’re either rigid or flexible, depending on the kite’s design.
Wood spars are the traditional type. Bamboo, spruce, and pine are used most often, although other woods are also available.
Composite spars are a more modern option. They’re made from fiberglass or graphite.
The flying line, sometimes just called “the line,” plays an important role in flying your kite successfully.
It connects the winder (which you hold in your hand) to the kite. The best flying line is usually synthetic because it’s lightweight, fray-resistant and small. Dacron polyester is one of the most popular types.
Lines are available in different strengths measured in pounds. Twenty, 30 and 50-pound lines are the most popular, but heavier lines are also available.
The line’s diameter should be small enough to minimize drag from wind resistance, but not so thin it’ll break. Use the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Check the line before every flight. Watch for knots and wear. They can reduce line strength by up to 50%. Areas near swivels are especially vulnerable.
Don’t take chances by flying with a damaged line. After all, if it breaks, your kite can sail away never to be seen again!
Winders let you take the line out and in. They have a variety of names including reel, spool, spinner, India Spool, and e-z winder. Most are made from plastic or wood, although bamboo winders are also available.
They keep the line smooth and damage-free. As you turn the winder, you roll and unroll the line evenly. It allows for more control and fewer knots.
Winders have a fairly simple design. The most common winders are cylindrical with caps on each end. The caps keep the line from falling off the end of the winder.
Hoop winders are another type. They’re doughnut-shaped. They can make the line a bit tighter than traditional winders, but they’re also slightly more complicated to use.
Winders are useful for normal kite flying, but sometimes you’ll have to use the hand-over-hand method. As you can imagine, this involves pulling the line in as fast as you can by hand. It’s mainly used to keep control of your kite in fast winds.
The bridle is a line which connects the flying line to the kite. Most kites have at least one, although larger kites can have 50 or more.
Kite experts often refer to the bridle as the single most important part of the kite. They establish the kite’s flight angle against the wind. Adjusting the angle keeps the kite airborne. Most commercial kits have fixed flight angles.
Now, we’ve been discussing quite a few different lines, so let’s back up a moment:
Most kites have at least one bridle. However, kites don’t need bridles to fly. Some kites have none.
A keel can be used instead of a bridle. It attaches to the sail over the spine. The keel keeps pressure distributed evenly across the sail, so it retains its shape when flying.
Keels aren’t as common as bridles. You’ll only find them on certain types of kites. Many kite pros believe keels help keep kits stabilized better than bridles in strong winds.
Generally, the difference between a keel and a bridle is a matter of personal preference. However, I tend to recommend bridle kites for new fliers. Keels require adjustments based on the type of wind, which can be a bit confusing for beginners.
Tails stabilize kites. They help it fly steadily even in rough winds. Kites with tails are often recommended for beginners because they’re easier to fly than the tailless type.
However, not all kites have or need tails. Many Japanese kites are tailless. “A good kite needs no tail,” is a common saying used throughout the history of Japanese kite-making.
Other types of kites celebrate tails. You can find a wide variety of options, such as:
Streamers – These thin tails help stabilize kites in light winds. You’ll often find these streamers on Delta kites.
Drogue or Fringed – These tails produce drag to help slow the kite. They’re used to help control larger kites in strong winds.
Fun Fact: Colorful, eye-catching kite tails have the nickname “line laundry.”
Spars sizes refer to the outside diameter. A diameter of a quarter-inch is fairly average, although variations can be found based on kite size and style.
The three most common types of spars are:
Each has pros and cons, but carbon graphite is the most popular. It’s both strong and lightweight, making it the best option for many types of kites.
Try not to mix and match spar types. If an original spar breaks, replace it with the same type and size. Mixing different types of spars isn’t necessarily dangerous, but the kite probably won’t fly well because the weight will be off-balance.
However, if a spur breaks, a wooden dowel rod from a local hardware store will usually work as a makeshift replacement for the day.
For a permanent replacement, you can order a premade spur from the manufacturer or a third party. If you’re handy in the shop, you can also cut carbon graphite spurs to size with a Dremel or hacksaw. Usually, the premade spur will be the best fit.
Kites have many different shapes and styles. Here’s a rundown of the most popular single-line kites:
Flat kits have a rectangular or square shape with rigid spars. With rigid spurs and a taut sail, they don’t bend in the wind. They usually have at least one tail and usually also a vent.
A relatively simple design, flat kites were among the earliest (and like the first) type made. Many popular flat kites today are replicas from Asian, Caribbean and Japanese history. A well-known example is the Japanese Edo kite.
NASA invented these triangle-shaped kites known for its agility and ease of use. They get their name from the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, which is also triangular.
Delta kits automatically adjust to wind force and direction. They’re easy to fly, making them a popular choice for beginners and kids. However, the responsive controls also make these kites popular among experienced fliers.
Bowed kites have a curved sail. The curve looks similar to the front of a boat. It cuts through the air, much like how a boat parts water.
Kites bow in two ways. The sails, spars, etc. can be constructed into a permanent bowed shape. Alternately, the design can be more flexible, so the kite only bows in the wind. Most bowed kites don’t need tails.
Another popular type of kite, figure kites include a huge range of animals, cartoons, and objects. Just about anything you can think of is probably a kite somewhere, including most major licensed properties such as Star Wars, Harry Potter and many more.
Generally, most figure kites, especially those featuring licensed characters, have a modern construction with nylon, fiberglass, etc. However, traditional figure kites with bamboo frames and paper sails are also popular.
Invented in the 50s by a man named William Allison, these kites resemble the classic Flexible Flier snow sled. Their simple, sturdy design is easy to fly.
Sled kits are also easy to make at home using paper and wood.
These kites consist of three-dimensional shapes. They have many variants, including:
Cellular kites often have elaborate designs and multiple accessories, including wings, fins, and vanes.
Soft and Flexible kites (or just “soft kites”) have no frame or spars. Instead, they have multiple cells which fill with air when the kite flies in the wind. Soft kites need multiple bridle lines to maintain their shape.
They can be large – really large. Certain types can even lift motor vehicles (although that’s mainly a military thing.)
A Rokkaku Dako is a traditional Japanese fighting kite. It has six corners with four bindles. These kites range in size from four to seven feet across. Twin tension lines bow them.
Rokkaku kites are popular because they’re easy to fly, fast and fun. Even beginning fliers will quickly have these kites dipping and diving.
Rokkaku kites fly in games called Rokkaku Challenges. They’re aerial demolition derbies. Two or more players fly their kites in a zone while attempting to knock their opponents’ kites down. Check out some Rokkaku action here.
Aside from games, Rokkaku kites are also frequently used for kite aerial photography and atmospheric research.
They’re stylish, too. Rice paper and bamboo spars are used to make Traditional Rokkaku kites. They often feature hand-painted faces of famous Samurai. Other Rokkaku kites feature paintings of cows which symbolize wealth.
Kite fighting is a popular sport throughout Asia. Fighter kites have tissue paper and bamboo construction with either two or three points.
The flier changes the kite’s direction by pulling and releasing the line. They’re widely considered the most difficult types of kites to fly.
While I’m certainly no expert, I have participated in a few kite battles and can confirm they’re lots of fun. A fighter kite is a great choice for an experienced pilot interested in meeting friends with similar interests. Don’t let the combative nature of the sport fool you; fun, friendly folks will be all around.
The American Kitefliers Association lists numerous activities open to all kite fans.
Also called trains, they consist of many kites all flown in a row. Similar to boxcars on a real train, each kite exerts pull on the kite behind it. Train kites can pick up tons of speed and put on quite a show.
Don’t be intimidated by all the different types of kites. Finding a well-made, easy-to-fly kite suitable for your skill level is usually not a problem. Here’s what to look for:
First, consider the material used for the sail. While traditional paper kites are beautiful, and often inexpensive, they also tear easily. Beginners benefit from the more durable design of rip-stop nylon, polyester, or other synthetics.
Next, consider the frame. Wood is an affordable option which won’t pose any particular problems for inexperienced pilots. However, wood can break after just one hard fall. Plastic frames are stronger than wood but still prone to damage.
If you want the kite to last as long as possible, choose a frame made from fiberglass rods or carbon tubes. They’re lightweight and far more durable than wood.
The area of a kite affects how easy it is to fly. Generally, beginners should choose kites between 30” and 60” wide.
Larger kites are easier to launch than smaller ones. New fliers, especially kids, can quickly grow frustrated if the kite is consistently difficult to get airborne. Learning flying basics is easier with a medium to large kite.
However, once you know the basics, a smaller kite can be fun to fly. Small kites have precise controls. You can zip, dip, and maneuver them through the air.
Choose a simple shape. I recommend any of the following types:
Many kid-friendly kites are surprisingly difficult to fly. Sails with irregular shapes are imbalanced, making them more likely to spin and tilt. Unfortunately, licensed characters, animal and similar kites often struggle to stay in the air.
Each kite has a specific wind range it’s designed to fly in. Lightweight kites fly best in winds between five and 20 mph. Generally, 20 mph winds move leaves but not branches.
Kites with heavy-duty lines and sails can handle winds up to 30mph. Anything stronger is approaching gale force levels, when staying outside becomes dangerous.
Don’t buy a heavy-duty kite intending to use it in all types of winds. Heavier kites struggle to fly in light winds.
Beginners should choose a kite with a tail. They add stability even in high winds. If you have a kite you like which doesn’t have a tail, adding one is usually simple.
Of course, tails also add fun style to any kite. Kids and adults love watching a kite with a colorful tail fly through the air.
Choose a large, open area away from obstructions. Popular places for kite flying include:
A major aspect of knowing where to fly your kite is knowing where not to fly your kite. Avoid areas with obstructions. Common “kite eaters” include:
You don’t have to worry about too many physical obstacles near the beach. Instead, you mainly want to watch out for people. Never fly a kite over sunbathers, swimmers or anyone else. If the wind shifts or you lose control, someone on the ground could be seriously injured.
You can fly a kite over the ocean or other bodies of water as long as you’re sure it’s free from swimmers and boaters. Of course, if your kite falls in the ocean, the chances of getting it back in one piece are slim.
Some days feel made for flying a kite.
The best kite-flying days have smooth, steady winds. Each kite has a wind speed rating, but most introductory kites fly best in wind speeds between four and 15 mph.
Let’s look at the Beaufort Wind Scale. It’s how the National Weather Service measures wind speed. You’re looking for what they classify as Light to Moderate Breezes.
On land, you’ll feel the wind on your face. Leaves on the trees rustle while loose leaves move. Tree branches might sway. At the beach, the ocean will have small waves and scattered whitecaps.
Steady wind speed is ideal. Sudden gusts of wind can send your kite in a tailspin.
Watch for hills, buildings, and other ground obstacles. They can affect the flow of the wind, resulting in turbulence throughout your flying area.
Experienced pilots can fly a kite in stronger winds such as Fresh and Strong Breezes. Many kite enthusiasts like the challenge of flying an advanced kite in moderately-strong winds. Just make sure you follow all proper safety practices, and never fly in overcast or rainy weather.
Flying a kite has three parts:
Launching is usually considered the most different part, however pulling the kite down runs the greatest risk of accidental damage.
How you launch a kite depends on the wind level.
The wind is choppy at the ground level. You need to launch your kite in such a way where the ground wind propels it upwards into the smoother layer of wind above.
Quick Tip: Kites should always face into the wind when launching. That forces the wind underneath the kite. It’s the same aerodynamic principle used when aircraft take off.
Moderate wind speed is ideal for launching the kite right out of your hands. Place the wind at your back. Hold the kite facing you.
Let the kite go. Release the line quickly while keeping it taut as possible. If the kite struggles to launch, take a few steps backward to help it elevate.
Launching a kite in light wind can be difficult. You’ll get the best results if you enlist the help of a second person. Older kids can help, but it might be a bit too complex for little ones.
The process is called a long line launch. You hold the spool. Your helper holds the kite about 100 to 200 feet away. Line rests on the ground between you both.
He or she will then release the kite on your signal. They don’t need to throw it into the wind. Instead, the kite should rise naturally. As soon as it starts heading upwards, you want to reel in the line as fast as you can.
If you pull the line in fast enough, and the wind is strong enough, the kite should rise into the upper stream of calm air.
Getting a kite off the ground in high-speed winds usually isn’t difficult. Keeping it steady is another story.
You can launch a kite in high wind directly from your hands. However, it’ll take off quickly. Make sure you’re wearing gloves to protect your hands from line burns.
Is the kite spinning, looping, and acting crazy? It’s getting overpowered by the wind. Try adding a longer tail. You might also need to adjust the placement of the tow point (the point between the line and the bridle).
Whenever a character in a movie or TV show flies a kite, they run around like Usain Bolt. Is that something you should be doing, too?
It’s fine to take a few fast steps to help your kite launch. When I say “running” I’m talking about extensive, full speed sprinting with a kite in your hand. You rarely want to do that.
As long as you’re using the right technique for the wind speed, you should be able to launch your kite without running, either by yourself or with a two-person line launch.
Running with a kite should be avoided for a few reasons.
First, most people do it wrong. They run with the wind. While it’s natural to run with the wind at your back, your kite must face the wind to launch. If you’re going to move in any direction when launching, move into the wind.
Also, running can make launching more difficult. If you need to run to get your kite in the air, it’ll most likely fall as soon as you slow down. Running rarely creates enough lift to elevate the kite into the stronger winds higher in the sky. Instead, it needs to catch and ride lower-level winds, and running doesn’t usually help with that.
Finally, the most important reason you shouldn’t run when launching a kite is that it’s incredibly dangerous.
Paying equal attention to your kite, your feet, and your direction is downright impossible. Running with a kite increases your chances of plowing into a tree, person, or another obstacle. Even if you’re running in an open field, you still can easily trip over your own feet.
Remember, kites consist of solid wood or carbon sticks. Falling on a kite can cause serious injury. Play it safe and avoid running during launch.
Once your kite is in the air, it’s time to enjoy the ride.
Kite flying basics are simple:
Releasing line lets the kite fly away from you. Pulling in line elevates the kite and brings it back towards your direction.
Usually, the goal isn’t to get your kite as high as possible. Instead, allow the kite to ride the winds naturally. Keeping the line tight and reasonably short helps keep the kite under control.
Higher altitudes contain faster airflow. You want to raise your kite just high enough for it to sail smoothly, but not so high it’s hard to see.
Depending on the wind conditions and type of kite, your kite will either fly easily or need a fair amount of attention to keep it in the air. Here’s a look at some basic ways to fly your kite:
Let out a long amount of line. Pull back in less line you let out. Repeat in a cycle. The Release and Pull technique will raise your kite. It’s a simple process which works in practically any wind condition.
Pumping the line helps raise the kite in low winds. You pull on the line several times in quick, sharp succession. Then you keep the line still for an equal amount of time. Repeat the process a few times.
Alternating between sharp pulls and stillness raises the kite by increasing the flow of air across the sail. You might need to experiment a bit on pull speed and length. Larger kites typically need longer line pulls.
A “wind drop” is the most common reason your kite will fall from the sky. The wind suddenly stops, and your kite starts to plummet.
Fortunately, you can prevent a crash by pulling in the line. The fastest way to pull the line is what’s called the “hand over hand” method. You yank the line with one hand then the other as fast as you can. You’ll end up with a spool of line at your feet, but hopefully, your kite will remain airborne.
Be careful when reeling in your kite. You want the kite to land slowly and gently either on the ground or in your hands. A hard, fast landing will likely damage the kite.
Keep the line taut as the kite descends. Don’t be afraid to drop your winder and reel the kite in by hand if it’s dropping too fast.
Reel the kite in steadily. Pulling increases the wind speed forces by one to three miles per hour. Pulling a kite down too quickly can result in a situation called “overflying.”
The kite will flip towards the sky before diving to the ground. If you react quickly, you can slacken the line and correct the overfly before the kite touches down.
If you’re pulling a kite down in high winds, try walking forward while you retrieve the line. Reducing the tension in the line helps prevent overfly. However, you’ll need a fair amount of open space to use this technique.
Pulling a kite down is almost always easier with a second pair of hands. One person works the line while the second person catches the kite.
Kite flying is usually a safe activity, but there are a few safety rules you’ll need to follow at all times. The three biggest dangers related to kite flying are the following:
Make sure you and your family wear sunscreen, even on cloudy days. Hats and sunglasses take on added importance, too. You want to protect your eyes as you’ll probably accidentally glance at the sun now and again.
We covered safe flying locations above, but even safe areas can quickly turn deadly. Bring your kite down and get indoors at the first sign of stormy weather. Kites increase your chances of getting struck by ground current and other types of lightning.
If your kite becomes tangled in a tree or other tall structure, don’t climb up after it. You can try to pull it out of the tree with the line as long as you stay on the ground (and out of the way). Unfortunately, when your kite becomes trapped in something tall, you’ll likely have to cut the line and let it go.
If your kite gets tangled in power lines, drop the handle immediately. Call the electric company. Keep your distance from the area and warn any passersby.
Finally, never fly a kite over other people. A sudden change in the wind can cause your kite to plummet to the ground and potentially injure anyone below.
The kite’s line can move pretty fast. It can easily cut or burn your hands and fingers. A pair of gloves help protect them from injury. Lightweight leather gloves provide the most protection. Avoid rubber gloves as they’ll tear.
Kite flying is a fun, healthy activity for kids of practically any age. Even younger kids who can’t fly the kite themselves often love watching it soar through the air.
The physical benefits of kites are fairly obvious. You and your family will enjoy moderate exercise outdoors. Kites help develop leg and arm muscles.
Plus, flying a kite helps develop fine motor control. Using the winder to control the line requires precise hand movements. Hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness can also improve.
Kites are an excellent introduction to the world of aerodynamics, physics, and general science. Kids are often curious about why kites fly, and that curiosity can quickly turn into learning opportunities.
They encourage creative play, too. Add custom tails, lights, and other decorations. Paper kites are easy to paint and personalize.
Kids can even build their kites from scratch. Simple kites need a line, wooden rods, and paper. Many DIY kits are available for kids and parents to use together.
Finally, kite flying can be a fun social activity. Two or three people can fly a kite together. Additionally, shy kids can join a kite flying club to make friends with common interests.
Early kites existed over 2,500 years ago across China and Indochina. Kites are so old historians don’t know when or where they were invented (although many different cultures probably invented them around the same time).
The 1800s saw a Golden Age of kite flying in the U.S. Men, women and children across the country spent many evenings and weekend flying kites for fun. However, they were more than just a toy. Leading aviation pioneers of the period used kites to understand important aerodynamic principles.
They fell out of fashion for many decades but saw a return to popularity in the 1960s. New technology such as rip-stop fabrics and carbon frames made kites stronger, lighter, and easier to fly than ever before.
Today, kites have a wide range of uses. Aside from being a fun hobby, kites play an important role in meteorology, military operations, aerial photography, and much more. They’re truly one of humanity’s most amazing inventions.
The world of kite flying has a fair amount of jargon. Here are the most popular terms you’ll need to know:
The anchor is the rather impersonal term for the person flying a kite. He or she is also called a pilot or a flier.
An anchor can also refer to an inanimate object used to hold the kite. Common anchors include trees, stakes, and posts.
It’s the angle between the sail and the wind. Adjusting the angle of attack allows the kite to reach higher altitudes. The angle of attack is also called the pitch, attitude, or flight angle.
It’s the amount of tension in pounds required to break a kite line.
Drag is the force created when air presses against the kite’s sail and other parts. It pushes the kite down.
Lift is the force moving perpendicular to the wind’s direction. It pushes the kite up.
It’s any airflow with irregular, unpredictable speed and direction. Turbulence originates when air low to the ground is forced upward after contacting an obstruction like a hill, tree or building.
Don’t sit on the sidelines, watching other people have fun flying kites. Use the guide above to find the perfect kite for your interests, budget, and skill level.
Now that you know how to fly a kite, you’re ready to hit the beach or park. Kite flying is fun for the whole family!
Are you just learning how to fly a kite? Let us know how it’s going in the comments below. Experienced fliers should feel free to chime in with helpful tips, too.