What you get is a wind-powered three wheeler, that’s the modern, peppy incarnation of the old land yacht. It provides low-flying, very eco-friendly thrills, because of course – no noisy gas-guzzling motors are involved.
Low-flying is exactly what it feels like in these racy land sailers that were invented in Papamoa, and have been sold by the thousand (8000 and counting!) all over the world.
This day at blokart Heaven, the aptly- named, purpose-built track at Papamoa, it’s blowing hard and I’m secretly nervous because of it.
If it’s blowing its head off,’ says General Manager Matt Beckett (father Paul is the founder of blokart), generally the guys on the track are wanting a bit of a fright. ‘And we can deliver a fright on a windy day,’ he smiles.
Half an hour later, with a strong, squally wind lashing the track, I’ve had a fair quota of frights, mixed with sheer exhilaration. I’ve wiped out twice with alarming suddenness: that is, ‘capsized,’ after getting up on two wheels and then flicking the steering in the wrong direction. It’s scary but safe because the sail hits the ground first, and stops you rolling. In a sleek pod with helmet, seat belt and gloves, keep your hands in and you’re fine.
Blokarting for the first time blows away (hah) a few misconceptions. It’s not what you imagine, which for me, was something akin to windsurfing on land. In a near-lying position, one hand wrestles a rope to ‘sheet in,’ or release the sail, the other rests on a super-sensitive handlebar to steer. Instead of slowing in a gybe, my kart is hooning, accelerating. Haul on the sail and roar up to a crazier speed, or let the rope go? There are no brakes so the three rules are, the track boss jokes, ‘let go the sail – let go the sail, and let go the sail.’
So low to the ground, the rumble of wheels on tarmac, the speed sensations are all heightened. Matt explains that when you hop in a blokart, ‘everything’s magnified – any reaction to the wind on land is magnified compared to on the water, including your speed.’ On a high wind day, it’s a cross between speedway, sailing and chess, he says – referring to the strategies needed to compete at 60 or 70kms, everything happening so quickly, 15 karts around you and no brakes…
The biggest users of blokart Heaven? A diverse range of people, Paul Beckett says, depending on what the wind is doing. If it’s a nice, sunny summer’s day, with a gentle breeze blowing, people with young families turn out and ‘have a great time.’ In school holidays, grandparents go out with their grand kids and end up having a shot themselves a lot the time. ‘It’s across the board, you can’t really pinpoint the track users,’ says Paul, but they include people on corporate outings, stag do’s, and work Christmas parties. Although ‘anyone and everyone’ can do it, it’s definitely more of a male pursuit in terms of blokart buyers. Often guys ‘love the outdoors, and just want to get amongst it and have a bit of a blast really.’
Sometimes they are people who’re fed up with other sports like windsurfing or sailing, when it’s logistically too much to get the whole family on the water. They might sell the family boat and get a couple of karts, says Paul. They see a lot of people who’ve sailed catamarans and like the speed of a blokart.
A blokart comes in a handy-size package that will pack down into the boot of an average car. Pull it out and after five minutes assembly, you are sailing. The most common model sold is a stainless steel kart with a four metre sail, which sells for around $4,400. They’re worth buying for their durability, says Paul, because if five years time – give it a wash and it still looks like new. But you can start as low as $3,400 for a kart with a powder-coated steel chassis.
People who start out buying the basic kart, and find they want to further and faster - get accessories like the pod that provides a streamlined shape, a light-weight carbon fibre mast, and different size sails. A performance kart feels like hopping into a sports car, says Paul. ‘Everything is stiffer, it rolls faster, it’s more responsive.’
At competition level, the company has a strong commitment to one-design racing. But they have a production class and a performance class. It’s easy to go up into the performance class just by adding the necessary accessories, and doing a bit of tuning ‘so people can start and stop where they choose.’
Blokart has exported 70% to 80% of its production in the past eight years. Europe buys the most karts, with one main distributor based in Holland, and sub-distributors throughout Europe.
Where are they sailed? About a third of the karts are sent to event companies doing similar things to blokart Heaven, who rent them out. The remainder are sold to retail customers either through boat shows, people ‘having a go with an event company,’ or through dealers and clubs, says Paul Beckett. With skates fitted they can sail on frozen lakes, and with balloon tyres, they can run on soft sand.
Blokart Heaven and tracks like it, he explains, are the way the company wants to go. ‘The track is in a way, it’s kind of like a vineyard. We show people what we do, they can have a taste for what we do in the environment it should be – good to experience it (blokarting) in.’
The company is in discussion with parties in several cities, and Paul can’t elaborate at this point. But he acknowledges they’d like to see another four five tracks around New Zealand in the next couple of years. ‘There are three viable ones where we’ve found people interested, and we’ve potentially found areas to use. But it’s just a case of working through with land owners or councils and making sure all the appropriate permissions are in place.’