Pro Diaries: UK & European Kite Buggying Champion – Craig Sparkes

An interview with UK & European Kite Buggying champion Craig Sparkes, discussing his journey in the sport, the development of Kite Buggying and great tips for how and where you can get started!

Name: Craig Sparkes
Occupation: UK & European Kite Buggying Champion
Age 21
Honours: 2010 1st BKSA
2010 1st European KLB Masters
2010 9th World Snow Kite Masters
2009 4th BKSA
2009 1st South West Freestyle
2006 3rd The Gathering
2005 1st KiteJam
2004 1st X-Zone

Hi Craig, thanks for talking to us today. So what exactly is Kite buggying and what do the competitions consist of?

Kite buggying involves flying a large power kite and sitting in a 3 wheeled buggy, using the kite’s power to propel yourself along a surface, like hard sand or a grass field. For the freestyle side we strap ourselves into the buggy to allow for aerial tricks.

In the competitions, riders compete in rounds by performing a range of tricks that are judged on height, technical ability & the overall smoothness of the trick. As you win the heat, you advance onto the next level and so forth.

How did you get into the sport?

I got into it by flying small kites when I was still at high school, which then progressed on to power kiting where I’d go to the beach and spend hours getting dragged around and jumping around with the kite.

In 2003 I got my first buggy and since then it’s just been getting better & better! I knew when I started I wanted to do tricks, but I honestly didn’t really expect to get to the level I am at today. The learning curve is not too steep, so you can progress well enough – it just takes time.

Snow On Beach Session from craig sparkes on Vimeo.

Was 2010 a good year for you?

Absolutely, 2010 was my best year to date – I could barely have asked for a better year in-fact! In 2009 I had a car accident which had left my back with a few issues – I was hit from behind & had severe whiplash so I didn’t expect to ever get back up to top level – but luckily this wasn’t the case and I’m back competing!

At the start of 2010 I was able to go out to Las Vegas for an event called NABX which takes place on the dry lakes around Nevada & California. This was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on as the locations for kite buggying were fantastic and the nightlife is something else…

I also took part in the BKSA freestyle kite buggy competition winning 3 of 4 rounds en route to becoming UK Champion. I headed out to Germany with several riders later in the year to take part in the European KLB Masters which I was also lucky enough to win!

Wow, what a year! What will 2011 hold for you?

I’m not sure as yet if I’m going to go back and compete. My back will always be a major concern of mine, so I’m worried that I’ll one day it in. The aura of competing and the adrenaline rush involved means pushing yourself so hard – and taking risks, so it can be a worry.

I am however going back out to Las Vegas in a few weeks for the 2011 NABX event, which I’m looking forward to! We’re going to road-trip it a bit this year with Flexifoil and hopefully visit a lot more locations where we can just stop and ride in the middle of nowhere! I’d also really like to head back out to other parts of the states later on in the year but will have to see!

I’m going to try and push the free-ride side of the sport too, getting more people to take part and realise you don’t need lots of gear to get involved, all you need is a beach and a kite!

Where in the UK would you say are the best places for Kite buggying?

Home spot – Can’t quite say which beach as of a lot of problems with Authorites!
Westward Ho! – One of the biggest beaches in the UK! Ideal for our sport.
Pembrey – Good old South Wales, nice hard long beach!
Frinton – Grass location right on the coast! Super clean winds!
Black Rock Sands – Massive beach in North Wales.

How often do practice, and what does your training involve? Where are the best places to learn and practice that?

I try to get out at least once a week but living in England it’s not always possible due to the weather not permitting. Some weeks can be amazing and you can get in at least 2 sessions a week, like last year which was really good and I managed to get a huge amount of sessions in – but sadly 2011 has not quite been that good so far!

Training is pretty much free-riding, trying to mix the session up with different types of tricks to keep them fresh in you’re mind. If you’re trying a new trick idea out; it’s all about practicing the most similar tricks before-hand to have the feeling fresh in mind & then just practice, practice, practice until you nail it.

Beach locations with on-shore winds are the ideal place to learn. These provide nice clean winds that allow you to trust your kite when airborne and give you the best chance of landing new tricks.

What has been your best memory in the sport?

It’s going to have to be NABX 2010! The whole trip from the minute I landed to the minute I left was just unreal! The group of people that we met up with out there were so hospitable as well, looking after us really well. The first week we camped out in the wild right on the dry lakes, you just could not ask for a nicer place to spend time!

And of course you have the Vegas nightlife up the road… it really is as wild & crazy as its made out to be…but what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!!

Have you ever been injured?

I’ve had a few minor injuries and one major injury. The minors are cuts, grazes and bruises – one was when I flipped on tarmac and took all of the skin off from my knee down to the muscles & was left with a giant hole…wasn’t a great idea!

The major injury was a mixture of loading the van up & then riding… Regardless of how I did it – I ended up with a severe slipped disc in the lower back, which is now the ultimate annoyance/hindrance of my life!!

What is your best / favourite trick?

That’s such a hard question to answer. With different styles of tricks they give different feelings. If it was the trick that gives the best overall feeling, it would have to be a big aerial 360 with a forkspin which is a trick I came up with a few years back.

If it’s the feeling of landing a hard trick & being stoked you’ve landed it, it would be something like a boneless aerial 360 forkspin landing on 2 wheels. This one is a little more technical and needs a bit more thought.

Have there been any big developments in kite buggying during your time, and do you see any coming in the future?

The buggies are getting stronger & more solid, which is a good thing. When I first started they weren’t that robust and certainly wouldn’t last the strain we put on today’s ones!

The kites have also got a lot more powerful and generate a lot more suitable lift & float, which makes the tricks range much more versatile. If you then fly older kites you’ll see how big the gap is and how much they have moved on with technology!

What equipment do you recommend using at first for getting started in Kite buggying? How much do you think it realistically costs to set up and get into the sport?

If you go about it by doing it in stages then its not too costly. Most people start by just getting a power kite and enjoying learning this, as being pulled down the beach by a power kite is great fun! And then when you’re ready and have got the kite skills you can get a buggy, which makes it much easier.

Small power kites like the Flexifoil Buzz start at around £50 and go up to a Flexifoil Rage powerkite, which costs around £200. Buggies are around £400, but like I said you can get this after learning to powerkite.

Brancaster 10/10/10 from sy leonard on Vimeo.

What tips would you advise for people looking to get started?

Your best bet is to find your nearest shop, where you can go and have a chat with them and get some good advice. Failing that, get a small power kite and get down the beach and enjoy yourself! I’d say the golden rule is ‘don’t go to big to quick’ – you will fail! It’s best to work your way up… I know that’s not the macho thing to do – but it’s true!

And what would you advise for learning and improving Freestyle techniques?

It’s best to learn as much of the basic stuff as possible first without pushing straight for the big tricks. This will give you a great trick base, which then leads into the more advanced tricks and making them much easier to pull off!!

Thanks for talking to us today Craig, good luck with the rest of the year and have a great time in Vegas!

No problem, cheers!

You can follow Craig on his website here, and check his sponsors:
Flexifoil
Dakine
Sennheiser
King of Water Sports
Bern

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