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October 2, 2014

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Kite buggy enthusiast waiting on wind for world record, redemption

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Steve Marcus

Brian Holgate, 28, runs in a specially-designed Peter Lynn kite buggy on the Ivanpah dry lake bed near Primm, Nev. Wednesday, March 6, 2013. Holgate set an unofficial kite buggy speed record of 84.4 mph at the lake bed in July 2012.

Chasing a Kite Buggy Speed Record

Brian Holgate, 28, prepares a kite for his specially-designed Peter Lynn kite buggy on the Ivanpah dry lake bed near Primm, Nev. Wednesday, March 6, 2013. Holgate set an unofficial kite buggy speed record of 84.4 mph at the lake bed in July 2012. Launch slideshow »

Brian Holgate is waiting on the wind.

Standing on the Ivanpah dry lake bed, the Las Vegas resident is prepping his kite buggy for a ride across the parched dirt floor that stretches as far as the eye can see. His buddy Antony Miller films Holgate as he lays out four kite lines.

Behind Holgate, a flag flaps in the wind intermittently as if dancing to the medley of ’70s and ‘80s rock blaring from his speakers. It is nowhere near powerful enough to propel his kite buggy — which looks like an upturned wheelbarrow over a sled — to the speeds he wants to reach. The forecast told him it’d be a gusty morning, but the wind is a fickle element.

Holgate, 28, is used to waiting on the wind. He’s been waiting on a gusty day for more than a year now. He wants to harness it, use it to propel his buggy 100 mph — faster than any buggy has ever gone.

He knows he can do it. He says he’s broken the buggy speed record once before, but few believed him. Now he’s aiming to break it again, but this time he wants to make it official through the Guinness World Records organization.

“My whole drive on all this is I want to have the record videotaped. I want to have it documented properly and be the first person to put it in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records,’” Holgate said. “That will kind of redeem myself, not so much for them, but for me.”

Out on the lake bed, Holgate drags his dust-covered buggy onto the desert floor. A water bottle is duct-taped to the seat to form a makeshift headrest, and a Gatorade bottle is taped to the bottom to prop up the seat. The buggy sits just a half-inch off the ground and is perfectly designed to cut through the wind.

When Holgate pulls out his sprawling kite, his friend and fellow kite-buggier Bobby Muse teases him.

“What’s that?” Muse says with a grin.

The sport of kite buggying is as it sounds: A kite propels a buggy across flat surfaces — typically a dry lake bed or beach. Riders can either do freestyle, where they perform tricks such as wheelies and swiveling 180s on a tricycle-looking buggy, or speed riding.

The kite buggy bug bit Holgate about seven years ago. He discovered it after spending a nostalgic afternoon with his friend flying a stunt kite, just like Holgate had as a kid. The experience didn’t capture his mind as it had when he was younger, but it did lead him to stumble across power kites and the sport of kite buggying.

A few days later, he spent an afternoon scooting back and forth on a baseball diamond, from the outfield to the dugout, on a buggy. There was something about the way the kite felt in his hands as it propelled him that silenced the worries on his mind.

Now, he’s sponsored by kite manufacturer Peter Lynn and rides on Ivanpah dry lake bed near Primm several times a month.

“I go out, put the kite up — it’s relaxing,” Holgate said. “I don’t feel anxious, nothing. Just peace.”

Holgate began trying to break the unofficial speed record of 82.89 mph about a year ago as a way to stay interested in the sport. He was tired of freestyling after accomplishing nearly every trick; he needed a new goal to drive him, and the speed record was as good as any.

Boiled down, there are four keys to going fast in a kite buggy: an aerodynamic buggy, the right kite, a flat surface and kite skills. The first three are available to anyone, but the fourth is what puts Holgate in rare company.

It’s not just about flying the kite so that it catches the wind; it’s about finding the right angles, Holgate explained. It takes practice but also a natural feel for where the wind is going to be to get the maximum output.

“I can feel the kite, feel where it’s at and how much power it has and what I need to slow down or speed up,” Holgate said.

Holgate is one of only 38 people who have ever gone faster than 62 mph, according to kite buggy website popeyethewelder.com.

“It’s amazing to watch (people riding kite buggies), especially Brian,” said Holgate’s friend Steve Holeman. “It’s amazing what he can do on that thing.”

Holeman and Holgate's best friend Johnny Losada were the only two there on the lake bed when he claimed he broke the record last March. That day, Holgate said the winds were so fierce his kite dragged him across the lake bed when he set it up for a test flight.

“Think of a sandstorm,” Holgate said. “That’s what it looked like, that’s how windy it was.”

Typically, Holgate records every ride he takes with a GoPro helmet camera and three GPS units as a way to document his runs. His first ride was supposed to be a test run. Instead, he said he broke the record going 84 mph, but he hadn’t turned on the camera and only had the GPS units to provide his proof. People online claimed he forged the record by driving around in a car.

“I wanted to cry the way people talked to me, as if I was a liar, only trying to get attention,” Holgate said. “They made me feel like nothing after I did something incredible.”

Since then, Holgate has been trying to prove those doubters wrong. He has filed the necessary paperwork with Guinness World Records and has been in touch with a company that owns a laser device and chip to verify how fast his kite buggy is going.

“I don’t like people thinking I’m lying,” Holgate said. “I don’t want people to think I’m just trying to be in the limelight. … My intention isn’t to do it to be in the limelight. My goal is to do it because I want to do it.”

He slides into his kite buggy like a racecar driver, and takes off. A cloud of dust kicks up behind him. On this day, with winds blowing 20 mph, he can only get up to 54 mph.

Lately, the thought of setting the record has consumed him. His biggest fear is that he’ll be working a job on the perfect windy day. Fortunately the latest forecast for Wednesday indicates there will be 40 mph winds - perhaps high enough for him to set the record.

Holgate can hardly wait.

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