Meet Red Bull Kite Force team member Ramlal Tien, one of a quartet of expert flyers who combine absolute precision with creativity as they harness the elements to paint a masterpiece in the sky...
Tell us how your kites are different to the sort we’ve all tried as kids?
“The kites we fly are delta shaped with two lines. They always go forward and you can change the speed and there are many other tricks we can do. You can do whatever you want in the sky with these and you try to fly them as precisely as possible.”
How does flying in a team differ from going it alone?
“There are some figures that we fly in competitions, like if you imagine a square in the sky, if you are flying the kite on your own you can make the square as big as you want but in team flying it is completely different. We have to adapt to each other when we do a manoeuvre together and it is all about space, timing and precision.”
How do you know if someone is out of sync?
“Synchronisation is one of the most important things. So for the square, we have to all turn at exactly the same time, within hundredths of a second. Even if you are out by a tenth of a second you can definitely notice it and one side will be much further out and follow later than the rest.”
What are the key factors in creating a seamless display?
“The stroke – the way we move our hands, arms and whole body – this has to be adjusted so we are all the same. The angle of the kite is also very important. If we need to turn 90 degrees then it must be exactly that; not 91 or 89 degrees. If that happens, then two of the kites would be closer or further apart than the others. Even the tiniest difference in the movements from one pilot to another can make a huge difference in the sky of a few metres. Parameters such as this make the discipline very hard to practice. It’s not all hard work though and there is a real sense of pleasure when you manage to fly all together.”
How does it work with the team in the competition environment?
“Our team is currently made up of four ‘pilots’ and we’re hoping for a fifth to join us in the future. In competitions, there is no limit to the number of team members but having four is already difficult enough in terms of getting everyone together to practice at the same time.”
“You don’t even know which kite is yours as they are all moving together in the same direction. This is like the holy moment!”
What are the rewards of being involved in a team activity like this?
“If I talk about the feeling, then flying the kite alone can be very nice but a bit boring. When we are all together and really on form, concentrating, something happens when you are really immersed in what you are doing. It can be like you don’t even know which kite is yours as they are all moving together in the same direction. This is like the holy moment! It’s magical.”
Is there a leader who guides the rest of the pilots?
“Yes, and the leader has a microphone and we all have a radio. He talks and gives the orders. We work a lot like this and then any of us can announce when we are about to ‘go top’. To ‘lead’ has a slightly different meaning in our team and if you are second you can also lead. We have our own communication system. If I am following the first kite, if I decide to be further away to make the distance greater, it will determine what we can do in the next few minutes. It can change the tempo. When we are following each other like a train, we note a single point in the sky where we all pass, like in music if I am further away I can reduce the tempo which makes the next moves different. We fly and practice together so we are all used to each other and communicate like this all the time.”
At kite festivals and other events, you fly a choreographed routine to music. How is this different to the precision competitions?
“This is when we create. When the program is already fixed with the choreography and music then, of course, it is decided in advance and we improvise when we are deciding on the routine. What we call the ‘ballet’ - which is with music - lasts about four minutes and we do this in competitions and at shows or festivals. At competitions, there is also the precision component. It’s a bit like ice-skating and everything is fixed in terms of the many figures we have to fly. You have to do them perfectly in terms of speed, distance between kites and so on. A few months before the competition, you must learn either 6 or 12 figures and then on the day, the judges will choose just 3. It is not about improvisation at all and each of us knows exactly how they must be flown. The leader gives the tempo, when to ‘go top’ and we all know exactly where and when we have to turn in the sky.”
How do you know where and when to turn in the sky? Is it a sixth sense or is there some science behind it?
“The sky is divided into a big grid and is divided into percentages. The sky is no longer abstract and we know exactly where we have to turn. It takes an huge amount of work to be able to see this. This is described in the official rules and it is our base of working. It could sound boring but it is also a tool, a way of communication and we use it for the basic figures which we can then adapt with music to make a very nice display."