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KITE POWERED SPEED RECORDS.

Brian Holgate
Brian Holgate
On the 6th March 2012 at Ivanpah dry lake, Nevada, Brian Holgate flying a 2.7 PL Vapor and using the PL Speed Buggy set a new outright kite powered speed record of 135.34 km/hr.
Kite boarders have done 114.41 km/hr (peak)and snow kiters, 119kph km/hr
Brian had been having a few problems that day- like he forgot his harness, had to borrow one, and a kite, which he wasn't that comfortable with (not having flown it before).
After a brief bit of stand-up flying to make sure everything was basically sound with the kite, lines and harness, he then set off for a shakedown loop out onto the playa in the buggy- to check out that everything was OK with it also.

Speed Buggy at base camp.
Speed Buggy at base camp.
On returning to base camp, a check of the GPS's showed he had already beaten the old record (133.40 km/hr ).
This had happened as he was attempting to throw the kite away- while still accelerating., but with the bushes fast approaching.
Naturally, the day then turned a bit celebratory and no further attempts were made- although it was pretty obvious that a few longer runs might have lifted the bar higher.
And then things went a bit dodgy for the next while, with (politely expressed) disbelief coming in from various sources- basically, I suppose, because it had all seemed too easy (though I'm sure this wasn't the view from where Brian had been sitting!)
Forensic examination of the GPS tracks eventually showed that he had indeed done what he said he'd done.
But this claim has raised all the traditional queries, demands, and other agendas of record setting in general.

Peter Lynn Speed Buggy Construction.
Peter Lynn Speed Buggy Construction.
It's a swamp that I'm inclined to wade into -even though I do have a vested interest in this one.
In the bad old days before GPS's and other accurate instruments were widely and inexpensively available, setting wind powered speed records (like the sailing speed records) required fixed courses with a start and a finish, and experts to record the elapsed time for each run, accurately measure the distance, and then convert these data into average speeds.
As the set up to do this requires expensive infrastructure, many volunteer helpers, and (often) paid officials, such records can usually only be challenged once a year for a short period and at a notified location.
Which is not optimal, because weather and course conditions during that week will be rarely if ever optimal.
It is a fairly level playing field though; provided you're persistent, live in the right country, can get the time off to attend, have enough money to pay for access by way of entry fee or whatever and get lucky with your wind slot.

Peter Lynn Speed Buggy.
Peter Lynn Speed Buggy.
But even if you can tick all these boxes, it will still always produce records that are less than what is actually achievable.
Because there is always just one course relative to the true wind direction at any moment that will allow maximum speed. Five degrees either way and speed noticeably drops off. Having a fixed course, even if it can be re-aligned from run to run, will not allow competitors to attain their best speeds- except for those legendary "perfect runs" that are about as rare as winning the lottery.
I'm not in any way suggesting that records set under these restrictive conditions are invalid or lacking in value. All credit to those who strive against these odds and come out on top- sure luck does play a part, but it's also noticeable that the luck seems to favour the most skilful, especially if they also try hardest for longest.

Speed Buggy at Ivanpah.
Speed Buggy at Ivanpah.
But I am saying that this record setting game needn't be such a lottery.
And I am saying that a fundamental function of record setting is as a carrot to improve our equipment and lift people's skills- and that institutionalised record setting doesn't do this as well as it could.
We should embrace the democratisation of record setting that has been made possible now by new technology.
The more people who get out there and have a go, the more rapidly kite sport activities will develop- and here is an opportunity to give them opportunity, and status for doing so.
And make no mistake about this, we're in an arms race with every other recreational activity.
Just because kiteboarding has basically won the hearts and minds of those who in a previous generation would have been windsurfing doesn't show that there isn't another activity spluttering around in the shadows that could suddenly find its wings and see us off in turn.
And as for record verification; why do fixed rules and conditions need to be met before a record will be accepted?- Who says?!
The court of public opinion can (and does) make it's judgements without reference to institutional rule books.

Speed Buggy at Ivanpah.
Speed Buggy at Ivanpah.
If someone claims a new kite speed record- in any category- with just a snapshot of a speed on a single GPS then they probably won't be believed.
If they have three GPS's in the same frame all showing similar numbers, publish the tracks, and video from their helmet cam, and have witnesses who verify the general context, then it's highly unlikely that they won't be believed- almost inconceivable even.
And if some self appointed person or body then comes along and says it doesn't count because of some bureaucratic shortcoming, then it will be that person or body's credibility and reputation that will suffer, not the record claimant's.
Nor does GPS verification have to apply only to peak speeds; the technology is quite capable of capturing speed over straight line distance, if this is what those who are interested are more comfortable with.

Peter Lynn. Ashburton, March 28th 2012


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