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Blowing in the wind

What do kites mean to you? Even after repeated attempts, many people fail to get past the dragging-the-kite-across-the-ground stage. For others, kites may evoke memories of their childhood. But few people would associate kiting with technical practice every weekend and two days' additional training during the week.

When Jeremy Boyce was a member of Airkraft - the team which won the British Team Sport Kite Championships four times and the1995 World Champions - kiting was much more than a leisurely pastime.

"I got involved around 1990 when I was playing cricket at a playing field in London," he explains. "I saw some people turn up with modern stunt kites. They flew them around a bit in formation and it looked amazing. Since then I've pretty much been sold on kites.

"You can really get into the control aspect of kiting, especially when some of the kites have a 2.5 metre wing-span which can be an incredibly strong force on the end of your line."

Whether you're flying a single-line, two-string, four-string or sport- kiting, all you require is basic eye-to-hand co-ordination; you don't need to be an expert. It's even possible to perform basic formation manoeuvres with friends to dazzling effect without having too much skill.

Anyone interested in kites has the perfect opportunity to learn more about this growing sport, watch the experts perform and test their own skills as the International Kite Festival 1998 arrives at Hackney Marshes this weekend.

A huge area on the marshes will host formation flying, including the first round of the British Kiting Championships on Saturday, in addition to the latest adrenaline- inducing activity - kite buggy racing.

There will also be an area where people can come and fly their own kites while a Pirokite exhibition (kites with fireworks, music and lights) is scheduled for the evening and looks certain to be a memorable spectacle.

Sunday offers more high-flying entertainment including a kite workshop. Sponsoring company Worlds Apart has donated 250 kite kits so children will be able to build their own kites.

The organisers also hope that the weekend will demonstrate that kiting can be an engaging leisure activity, in addition to being an exciting sport.

"When you go to kite festivals, you can get up to 30,000 people," explains Boyce. "I've been to events in Holland and France when there have been more than 100,000 people present on one day.

"In the UK, we have some of the best kite designers and flyers in the world and the adrenaline side of kiting is becoming very popular. We're starting to see 'power' or 'traction' kiting taking off now as well as power- surfing, in which you attach a kite rig to a surf-board.

"These activities have a similar elemental feel to windsurfing and snowboarding at its most radical end, but if you just want to go for a gentle potter down the nursery slopes with a kite, you can do that as well."

As a member of SICE (Stack International Executive Committee), the administrative body that hopes to take a European-wide view of how sport kiting should be developed, Boyce is hoping that many old stereotypes about kiting continue to be demolished.

"Kiting covers a multitude of things but, unfortunately, many people seem locked into the Mary Poppins image of kites," he says.

"I would love to see sport kiting recognised by the Sports Council and receiving exposure, and I hope that a professional circuit is created so that the top flyers can earn a living from it."

The International Kite Festival 1998 is on today and tomorrow at Hackney Marshes, Homerton Road, E9.

Additional information from STACK (Sports Team Amateur Competitive Kiting): 01277- 373 865.

Kite shops: Kosmic Kites, Surbiton (0181-390 2221); The Kite Store, Covent Garden (0171-836 1666)