Kite of fashion as club tows with the flow

All smiles: Members of Sheffield Kite Fliers have a great social time and meet right next to a pub, where they usually adjourn for a 'lovely meal'.
All smiles: Members of Sheffield Kite Fliers have a great social time and meet right next to a pub, where they usually adjourn for a 'lovely meal'.
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LET’S go fly a kite, or so the song goes, that is, unless you’re in Sheffield. At Lodge Moor, it’s more a case of letting the kite fly you! Star reporter Rachael Clegg takes a peep at Sheffield Kite Fliers’ session on Lodge Moor hill.

THE front of the Sportsman pub at Lodge Moor looks like any other pub.

Sheffield Kite Fliers

Sheffield Kite Fliers

But go round the back on a Thursday evening and be prepared for a view that no other drinking venue in Sheffield can compete with.

It’s not the panoramic view of the city that makes this scene special - it’s the dozens of enormous kites flying before the eyes.

Here, on the Sportsman’s fields, the Sheffield Kite Fliers congregate for their weekly flying session.

The club has been going for eleven years and attracts around 20 kite fliers each week, with members ranging in age from 22 to almost 60, though anyone above the age of six can join in.

Sheffield Kite Fliers

Sheffield Kite Fliers

And the kites flying around Lodge Moor this evening are not the ordinary, diamond-shaped kites you see in a toy shop - these are tremendous flying devices, some of which stretch to two and a half metres in diameter and are capable of towing three-wheeled buggies and boards. Indeed, some of the kites at Lodge Moor are so elaborate and powerful they could set you back a whopping £1,500.

Club treasurer Sarah Herrett, 30, from Halfway, who started kite-flying eleven years ago, says: “It’s a really relaxing extreme sport, which sounds daft but when you’re bombing down a beach being towed by the wind it’s lovely. And if I can do it, anyone can.”

Being an inclusive club is important to Sheffield Kite Fliers. Sessions are free as long as people make sure they have public liability insurance first, which can be obtained through the British Kite Surfing Association (BKSA).

“The insurance costs £38 for the whole year but the lessons are free and most clubs will charge you £50 for a lesson alone,” said Sarah.

Sheffield Kite Fliers

Sheffield Kite Fliers

“Kites can cost anything from £100 to £500,”

Sarah points to a huge kite lying on the ground. “That kite there was made by my husband’s grandma, she made it out of rip-stop nylon in the local church hall as a project when she retired.”

The visual image of someone’s grandma carefully stitching in a church hall is quite a contrast to that of the kite wildly tugging its rider along a rugged terrain.

Kite boarding is, after all, an extreme sport. Kites pull the riders swiftly and sharply. The rider is constantly ducking and diving from left to right, ‘tacking’ the wind.

Sheffield Kite Fliers

Sheffield Kite Fliers

Kite buggying, on the other hand, is perhaps more sedate. With buggying, as the name suggests, the person sits in what looks like a go-kart, pulled by the force of the wind.

“We like to encourage people to try buggying before boarding as you can develop a feel for the wind and learn the basics that way, before letting loose on a board. We measure whether someone is ready to progress to boarding by their ability to hold a conversation while buggying. If they can do it and talk at the same time then they’re good enough to board.”

Sheffield Kite Fliers is completely independent from any commercial interests, while the majority of other kite boarding and kite surfing training schools are attached to a shop.

“We’re all volunteers who run it, we don’t make any money from doing it but we have a great time. We come here on a Thursday night and end up having a lovely meal at the pub. The landlady is great because she lets us use her field. It’s a really friendly thing to be involved with and we go on regular trips to the beach. Sheffield’s equidistant from the coast in North Wales and the east coast so within a couple of hours we can be kite surfing on a beach.”

The club is affiliated with the British Kite Surfing Association, which co-ordinates and sanctions the British Kite surfing Championships.

Sarah became a kite-boarding convert through her husband, Paul, who has been involved with the sport for more than 11 years.

Sheffield Kite Fliers

Sheffield Kite Fliers

Fellow kite boarder Anna Waterson, 33, from Walkley, also got into the sport through her boyfriend. “A lot of girls join through their boyfriends. It’s either join in or sit in the house on your own. Buggying is scary at first but it really depends on the conditions. If you start with a smaller kite you get a lot smoother ride.”

It’s not just abandoned girlfriends and their other halves at Sheffield Kite Flyers, though. Clare Fowles, 23, from Meersbrook has dropped in to have a nosey: “I did climbing and jujitsu at university and came across Sheffield Kite Fliers at the Cliffhanger event at Millhouses Park.”

Sarah reflects on her conversion to kite-boarding and buggying, and she’s definitely a satisfied customer. “It’s great - it’s really social and we meet right next to a pub. What could be better?”

Kite-flying factfile

SHEFFIELD KITE Fliers was set up 11 years ago.

Despite the relative infancy of Sheffield Kite Fliers, kite buggying was invented as early as the 13th-century, in China. Kite buggies were available commercially from 1827, in the US and the UK.

George Bush’s rival, John Kerry let photographers take shots of him off the coast of Massachusetts kite surfing, a move that one political observer suggested was to win over under-25 ‘Jackass viewing’ voters.

The kite buggy is a three-wheeled go-kart-like device. The rear wheels are mounted at the end of the rear axle and the front wheel is mounted on a front fork. The front of a buggy is rather like a push bike, only there are no handle bars. The fact that there are no handlebars means the rider’s hands are free to handle the kite and thus harness the wind’s energy.

Kite buggying is an ideal sport for people who suffer from physical disabilities.