That Buggy Boogie Thang
Power kites race the wind

Four gossamer lines stream down from a neon slice of nylon 75 feet overhead. They connect to the joints of a stainless steel buggy that resembles a crumpled paper airplane. The desert air echoes with the scream of dirt against tire and whir of wind against line. The pilot, a hunched gnome in a shiny beetle-black helmet, whips into a 180-degree turn. From sunrise to moonset the El Mirage lakebed is the playground for a tribe of speed demons riding the wind in Operation Desert Swarm.

See also...
... by Sandy Brundage
... in the Scope section
... from November 12, 1999

From the very beginning, kite buggy enthusiasts have been as colorful as their rigs. The craze seems to have its origins with George Pocock, a 19th century Englishman, who hitched a kite to his carriage so he could sneak around the "per-horse" highway toll. A century later Pocock's idea has been reincarnated in the form of a kite buggy designed by Peter Lynn.

Today buggy riders swarm over dry lakebeds, pavement, hard beaches, anything flat and fast, in vehicles as unique as their pilots. You can hear John Ellis coming long before his buggy zips into sight, thanks to its onboard tape deck and speakers. Meanwhile, Bob Childs takes more of a minimalist approach, his kit consisting of nothing more than a pair of in-line skates tied to a kite.

And then there's The Ancient One.

With his round face and broad smile, Dave Lord on a buggy resembles a clean-shaven Santa Claus tripping on speed. "It can be an incredible adrenaline rush -- in this small buggy it seems like you're going 100 miles per hour. Sometimes you just marvel at how something can be so much fun." Since retiring from design engineering at age 58, he's boogied along lake shores, coves, and beaches from Washington to Nevada. "I've made it a priority all my life to have as much fun as I can. As I turn 70 years old I don't intend to stop."

Powerkiting with buggies is not always safe. Aside from the forces of nature, like flash floods, lightning strikes, and high tides, there are the collisions with power lines, pedestrians -- and other buggies. If a runaway kite snaps you off your perch at 50 miles per hour, the resulting wipeout could lead to Involuntary Rectal Expansion.

Other hazards have less to do with physical laws and more to do with the eccentricity of certain buggy drivers. We're talking about the few, the proud... the nekkid. These types shed the recommended long pants, gloves, and heeled shoes for the adrenaline rush of flying across the desert with their naughty bits exposed a mere four inches above the sand. There's a rumor that the Europeans are developing a device for nude male buggyists; not all balls are meant to roll across the desert floor.

Kite buggies have drifted beyond dry arenas. Flash Austin, the 1998 Kitesurfing World Champion, launched from the beach and caught 40 feet of air over Maui's shimmering ocean last summer. Others hit ski slopes and ice fields. As the sport grows, so does the repertoire of tricks the most daring pilots show off. In a lingo spattered with skateboard chic, stunt buggyists swap tales about pulling a tightrope into a twister that lands, fishtails, and spins into a bombing run.

Craving the boogie rush? Check out the Kite Buggy Resource Page to join the buggy craze.

Sandy Brundage has stalked adventure in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and odd corners of cyberspace.