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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Japanese sport kiting champions in the spotlight

Yumie Yoshiba

Oct. 30, 2017

An international contest for sport kiting was held in southern France in late May. In the sport, players control multiple kites in sync to create dynamic performances. It originated in the US and is popular across Europe, and now Asian players are emerging. A Japanese team, air-rex, won the championship.

Five kites zoom skywards. Their maneuvers look like airshow aerobatics. The 5 members of Team air-rex steer the kites. They have just 2 strings each to manipulate. This is how it works: when the right string is pulled, the kite turns right. When the left one is pulled, the kite moves left. These movements are combined to pilot the kites in a variety of ways.

The kites weigh 200 to 300 grams each. The team members choose which kites to use after checking how strong the wind is. The team's strength comes from the combined skills of its members.

One of them, Takatsugu Kubota, visits a gym to practice. He closes the windows and begins flying his kite. "This is to practice ways of flying the kite when there's hardly any wind," he says.

The team was set up just over 20 years ago. In the past 2 decades, they've honed their synchronized stunts, such as having all the kites bank together and flying them equally spaced apart. The trick needs smooth coordination. When the strings get tangled by accident, they quickly shift the kites in opposite directions, and untangle them.

"It's fun playing in a team. The harder you work at it, the more fun it is," says a member, Rie Tamura. "We are the champions, so we have to impress people with our performances," says Kubota.

Team air-rex rose to meet a new technical challenge. Kubota composed original music to accompany the shows. No existing music will do -- it cramps their style. So they decided they had to fit the music to the choreography.

"At one point, all the kites stop. At that moment, we turn the music off and everyone goes, 'Ah!'" says Kubota. "The trick is making a difficult thing look simple. We stay one step ahead by thinking about how we can make people feel happy with our performances. That's why we decided to change the music. That means coming up with new ideas," he says.