The Parafoil kite pioneered by Peter Wallenda of Cape Town.

Mike Bruton

It’s summer time and the living is easy. Some like it hot and laze in the sun, others are active and enjoy showing off their sporting prowess. It is amazing how many of their “toys” were invented in SA.

The snakeboard, a skateboard with a hinge in the middle, was invented by Capetonians Oliver Mcleod-Smith and James Fisher in 1989. It includes design ideas from snowboards and surfboards, and consists of a central axis with two pivoting footplates. The wheels are attached to the footplates on small bogies or trucks, as in regular skate boards. Snakeboards allow skateboarders to do new tricks and to move forward by “snaking” along without putting their feet on the ground.

Fisher and Mcleod-Smith effectively owned the patent to the sport of snakeboarding through most of the 1990s. In the late 1990s, they sold the company to MV Sports in England, who soon stopped the production of snakeboards. The sport survives today with more advanced boards called “street boards”, made by Streetboards USA and others. In some street boards the rider’s feet are strapped to the board, which allows him/her to perform more radical manoeuvres.

In competitive sports the ability to make critical adjustments to your equipment is often the difference between success and failure, even in surfing. The height, speed and behaviour of waves, as well as the height, weight and stance of a surfer, vary widely, yet surfers using traditional boards are forced to use the same fin array in all wave conditions.

In 2001, Dean Geraghty of Cape Town invented the Four-Way Fin System, allowing surfers to adjust fin position and angle according to the board’s hydrodynamics, the surfer’s natural stance and the prevailing surf conditions. Sliding the fin forwards, as well as increasing outward splay, increases manoeuvrability, whereas sliding the fins backwards or inwards improves drive and stability.

This adjustability allows the surfer to make one board feel like a quiver of boards. Four way fins are made from cutting-edge fibreglass and carbon-fibre materials.

Geraghty’s Four-Way Fin System is one of the most significant breakthroughs in surf board fin technology in recent years, and is very popular in South Africa, Australia, Europe and the US.

Peter Wallenda of Cape Town pioneered the development of parafoil kites in SA in 1995 after gaining experience with the design and manufacture of paragliders and gliders. He created the Wallend-Air brand, with all its products designed and manufactured in SA.

Whereas paragliders and gliders are launched from mountaintops or in mid-air, parafoil kites are flown from the ground. The force of the wind is enough to lift a large man off the ground and to perform acrobatic feats at speeds up to 160km/h.

The Wallend-Air Parafoil Kite, which Wallenda invented in 2002, is made from top quality ripstop nylon panels sewn together to form a completely “soft” sparless parafoil kite. The Skyno Parafoil Kite, a two-line fun kite suitable for beginners and professionals, is known for its easy launching, forgiving flight behaviour and wide speed range. Other models of parafoil kites developed by Wallenda include the Hooligan, Tramp and Vortex.

Wallenda and his team have also developed a highly successful range of Twister water kites, used for waterskiing and snowboarding, and Move Kite-Surfing Kites that are popular overseas and have launched a new sport in South Africa.

l Mike Bruton was the founding director of the Cape Town Science Centre and is director of imagineering at MTE Studios. He wrote Great South African Inventions (Cambridge University Press).