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High Flying Performer

Mention kite flying and most people think of a gentle breeze and a Sunday afternoon in the park . But talk kite flying to Ashburton entrepreneur Peter Lynn and it takes on a whole new dimension; almost in the ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ category.

Peter Lynn is one of the entrepreneurial pioneers of the fast-growing sports of kite buggying and surfing, running a company regarded as one of the world’s leading hothouses of innovation.

His kites are leaders in skies around the world; a combination of kiwi R&D, a close relationship with a company that markets his products in the Northern Hemisphere and a smart licensing deal with a Chinese-based factory employing 80 people.

He admits his interest in kites is ‘more than a bit of an obsession’, but he realised early on in his 30 year old business that he could only make his business grow by making the market itself grow. It was a simple matter, he says, of making kite flying exciting enough so people would want to do it.

‘Exciting enough’ in his jargon saw the introduction of kite buggying to the world in 1990, replacing the traditional sail on a land yacht with a high performance traction kite. This developed into kite surfing, where surfers use the additional power of a hand held kite to get even more air on a wave.

It’s a fastgrowing business, according to Peter Lynn, “ because we and others made it happen. We spent thousands of hours falling into the water before we got it right.” As well as kites that thrill the thrillseeker, his company also makes marketing and promotional kites (a lobster for a Malaysian football team’s logo, for example) and holds the record for the world’s largest kite.

Peter graduated from the University of Canterbury engineering school in the late sixties and set about the kite business in earnest. He built on the association with the university to provide on-going propulsion for his business. “There’s no shortage of people wanting to work for us because they like to be in a fun, glamorous and dangerous sport,” he says.

One of the lucky few is Justin Stevenson, a Masters student from Canterbury’s engineering school, who carried out a research project with the company, funded through a Technology for Industry Fellowship from Technology New Zealand, part of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Justin says it was a “an excuse to play around with recreational stuff and call it work. Being at the commercial end of a research project threw up some challenges; trying to get good results and finding out how difficult it is, and having to work around errors that arise while doing the experimentation can be incredibly frustrating.”

But the serious side of the research had him designing, building and validating a test rig. In typical Peter Lynn kites workstyle, this meant driving along a beach at speed to record kite efficiency and develop a performance chart.

It might have looked like fun (and most of Peter Lynn’s research work does) but there was a strong business platform being established.

“The work done by Justin, and other graduates, is forming the base for the business to move forward, as we can determine very quickly what we should and shouldn’t do,” says Peter. “It’s allowed us to define performance so we can benchmark our own and competitors’ products.”

Research results will be published on the web; a move Peter says should benefit the whole industry.

"We’re using local knowhow to drive a whole industry internationally and we’ll do what we have to in order to build the sector and grow the market for us all,” he says. “We’re committed to building R&D capabilities in New Zealand.

“The gain for us will be in the next few years when we can design even better kites. Sales have really taken off and in the past 12 months are double what they had been for the past three years combined, which shows the value and impact of R&D.”

Tony Hadfield, of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, says Peter Lynn’s research projects are a classic example of Technology for Industry Fellowships at their best.

“We are able to act as the glue that helps put a researcher together with a business, with experience gained by the researcher and commercial benefit for the business,” he says.

“In this instance, Peter already has strong links to the University through his own degree, and the Fellowships enable him to tap into some of the brightest brains at little cost.”

And how does the man who thinks ‘faster, better and higher’ as a business mantra relax? Even while pottering amongst his collection of antique stationary engines, he ponders the possibility of taking the world sailing speed record using kites.


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