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    Power and precision with a 15-foot wingspan

    Shapson's Force 10 Power Kites send small business soaring

    When Steve Shapson saw an unfilled niche in the stunt kite market, he decided to pursue it in a big way. Literally.

    Shapson, who had a background in sailing and hang-gliding and operated a best skateboards shop in Mequon, set out to develop the world's largest dual-line-controlled kite. By all accounts, he has succeeded in providing size and performance.

    His 19-month old kite business, Force 10 Power Kites, has soared into the collections of stunt kite flyers throughout the United States and overseas. He has become a celebrity on the stunt kite scene, with fans seeking his autograph at major kite flyins.

    "I positioned this kite away from the others," said Shapson, who has spurred other kite-makers to develop larger models. "Either you're a leader or a follower. We're a leader."

    The Force 10 kite is measured in wingspan -- 15 feet -- and bears no resemblance to the 10-cent paper-body-and-wood-spar jobs Shapson, 37, flew as a boy. An inexperienced or careless Force 10 flyer can crash the mega kite or tangle it in a tree, but it won't break.

    At a retail price of $489 to $585, it better not.

    "It's just a size below a hang glider," said Jeff Kataoka of Milwaukee, president of the Kite Society of Wisconsin.

    Kataoka and others in the kite cult credit Shapson with boldly flying where no kitemaker has flown before.

    The Force 10 is the largest kite controlled with two lines (as opposed to the traditional single line), according to Shapson and others. There have been larger single-line kites, but, Shapson noted, a flyer can't control the single-line kites' course or run them through maneuvers.

    "It's like no other kite, as far as power and performance," said Bryan Baxley, assistant manager of Windborne Kites, a shop that carries the Force 10 in Monterey, Calif., who has tested Shapson's creation. "It's very precise for a 15-foot wingspan."

    Shapson operates his kite assembly business out of his retail shop, Screamin' Tuna Surf and Ski Shop, a store catering to surf boarders at 10318 N. Port Washington Road, Mequon. Shapson, who has a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, opened the shop about five years ago on Milwaukee's east side before moving to Mequon about four years ago.

    Force 10 is Shapson's second stab at the kite market. A year before Force 10 took off, Shapson ended an unsuccessful small kite manufacturing business called Striker Kites with a partner from Madison.

    The pair had planned to build one 15-foot kite as a promotional flag for the smaller models. However, advertisements promising that Striker eventually would offer the 15-footers drew responses from people who wanted the big ones, Shapson said.

    Shapson set out to develop a prototype for Force 10, named after a measurement of a strong wind. He located suppliers for the various parts, including a sail-maker in the Milwaukee area to sew the kite bodies, and began assembling Force 10s in March 1989.

    He received orders for the first batch of 100 within their first month on the market. He since has sold about 700 of the kites and has built a dealer network of more than 150 shops and a mail order company.

    Force 10 kite bodies are delta-shaped, made of ripstop nylon and available in color combinations including black, yellow, hot pink and custom colors. The spars are made of either fiberglass or reinforced graphite and the battens are actually tapered sail battens.

    Shapson said his start-up cost for Force 10 was about $2,000, and he said he has no debts of significance. He declined to disclose sales figures, but said his retail store still accounts for about 75 percent of his sales and the kite business for the rest.

    Shapson also sells a line of harnesses that can be attached to the Force 10 flyer's waist to prevent the flyer from being dragged excessively or from suffering back or wrist injury from hand-held controls. Other products bearing the Force 10 name are a beverage can cozy, wallet, hip pouch, pins and patches, and T-shirts with the Force 10 logo and "Stunt Kite Addict" printed on them. how to turn on a skateboard

    The kites are available in a weight of either 3 pounds or an ultra-light 1 1/2 pounds. Because of their aerodynamic design, the kites need little or no wind to fly. A tug on the two synthetic fabric lines sends the kite airborne.

    Distribution is handled out of the Screamin' Tuna shop; assembly is conducted in a space next door to the shop.

    Shapson constantly revises and updates his kites and he also plans to diversify his product line. He has developed a prototype for a kite with a 21-foot wingspan.

    "Its about 25 percent larger for those people who want a bigger kite," Shapson said.

    Force 10 caters to the growing stunt or sport kite market, which appeals to men aged 18 to 50. The biggest subgroup within that age range is 30 to 45, most of whom are professionals or others who can afford these kinds of adult toys.

    The kites are not for beginning flyers. They require advanced maneuvering skills. Nevertheless, Shapson said their users don't require much training. He started on smaller kites and graduated to the large ones.

    They also aren't for children, who likely would be pulled around by the powerful kites.

    The Force 10 is for the experienced modern kite flyer who periodically wants a feeling of power or the ability to show off.

    While kites usually don't conjure muscular images, Shapson said the Force 10s are pretty macho. The kite roars when it flies and it can pull its flyer along the ground; indeed Shapson and others use the kites to pull them on skis and sleds during the winter.

    "There's a lot of macho with a big kite out there," Shapson said. "It makes a big roar when it goes by."

    Added Baxley of Windborne Kites, "It's not for the fainthearted -- it's for people who want a lot of power, a lot of show."

    A review of the Force 10 kite in Stunt Kite Quarterly described the massive kite as "primarily a power exercise." The magazine's reviewer found that the kite is more than a mere novelty: It performs well.

    "The only...problem with the Force 10 is the amount of people that gather when you set it out to fly," the review said. "The kite has the best `drawing power' of any that we've flown."

    Shapson himself flies his Force 10s at fly-ins around the country and is known as "quite a showman," said Joe Stanton, owner of Stanton Hobby Shop of northwest Chicago, which carries the line.

    Force 10 Power Kites provide flyers with an escape from day-to-day stresses, both Shapson and Stanton said.

    "It's your therapy, your crutch, your cup of coffee," Shapson said. "The (flyers) who go out, go out a lot."

    Some hearty souls use the kites to pull them on water skis during the summer months. Winds of at least 25 mph are necessary for such an outing, as is a boat to carry skiers back to their starting points.

    And owners of Force 10 kites need not pack up their toys with winter weather impending. Power kites offer the winter fun of kite-skiing -- slapping on snow skies and letting the kite pull the skier. How to ride a skateboard for beginners

    Shapson has kite-skied on the snow along Milwaukee's lakefront at Veterans Park and on the ice at Pewaukee Lake, where he was clocked at 52 mph.

    Kite flying is possible in the winter even if the flyer wants his feet firm on the ground, he said.

    "It's OK if your back is to the wind," Shapson said.
    Last edited by tuanhuylink; 06-05-2017 at 08:21 AM.

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