Issue 34: Thoughts for the Winter Months

So you’re sitting home these days. It’s overcast and freezing out, and the snow is a foot deep on your flying fields, and the winds are next to nothin’ anyway – right? But you still want to go fly!

You’ve already repaired all the broken spars, replaced all the marginal stand-offs and crumpled nocks, and checked out all of the bridles. And you’ve taken that old sail over to your local kite shop to have the Tedlar pulled off and a “real” patch sewn on. But – you still want the joy of staying “active” in your favorite sport.

And – in the “off hours” – you’ve watched every kite video you can get your hands on at least 30 times.and found a couple dozen more out there on the Internet to view. Saved ’em all to your Hard -Drive too, didn’t you? Then trolled the Internet forums for more.

You’ve gone so far as to (1) wash your kite-bags in the washing machine, (2) test and adjust the length of all you line-sets, (3) organize all your spare-parts into a field-kit, and (4) buy a few spares “just in case.” You’ve EVEN gone to the extraordinary length of taking each of your kites into the shower with you – one a day – until they’re finally all clean, bright, and shiny.

What’s left? Haunting the forums again? Thinking about taking sewing lessons, so you can make a few kites of your own? Moving the family to Key West (where they fly year-around)? Finding an empty High-School gym to fly in? Or maybe – giving up altogether and buying a Snow-Mobile (((shudder)))?

Well, they’re all good thoughts (except the last one, of course), and I praise you for the efforts you’ve made to date, but I think there might be another option.

Consider “Kite Collecting!”

Oh, sure. (you say). I have a few kites around.(modestly). I mostly fly the ones I bought in the last year or so, though. so that’s where I concentrate, now. You know – that __________, that does all the latest tricks and looks so pretty in the sky and is teaching me Soooo much. Who’d want to mess with those older rags – the stuff out of the eighties and nineties (or earlier) that’s stuck up in the rafters of the garage? I bought some of that stuff BEFORE God made Air!

Yeah, Right!

Seriously, though. Give Kite Collecting a thought, why don’t you? There’re are a couple of decent reasons why you might want to consider “organizing” that mess you have lurking in your storage area. and maybe even buying a few other “oldies” too!

  1. How about – because it’s “fun?” As you haul each one out of storage – think of when and where you bought it, and remember all the joy it brought you when you flew it. Then consider – do you think it could ever fly again? Commonly, the owner answers, “Sure! It only has a few (hundred?) hours on the sail. Look, it’s nearly brand-new (or will be when I get done with it).”
  1. How about – because your old kite can still teach you? Put it into perspective. That kite fits somewhere in your flying “history,” and you can track your progress as a flier by re-discovering all those links to the past. Did the kite “teach” you anything when you flew it? Maybe it was a special trick that’s still part of your repertoire, but maybe it was just that it’s fun flying at ________ Beach (or Field) on a clear, bright day in ______. So – isn’t that old kite better at helping you remember than that photo album you have on the shelf in the den?
  1. How about – because this is the right time to ADD to your collection? Whaaaa? Yep, now’s the time. Have you ever wanted to own and fly a Top-Of-The-Line Northshore Radical or Spinoff? Well, they’re not exactly cheap, but the used ones sure don’t cost what they did when they first came out either. Ever wonder what all that “Flexifoil” stuff was about? Same there! Skynasaurs too! And some of the Aerie kites – FXs and Diablos! How about the original Chicago Fire “Bees?” And, believe me, there’re a whole bunch more that you’ve never even heard of – some good fliers in their day, too.
  1. Please notice – I did NOT mention any “Get Rich Quick” schemes here. I’m sorry to tell you this, but Kite Collecting isn’t like Stamp Collecting – yet! It may get there eventually, but nobody’s getting wealthy off old kites right now.

Well, assuming you’ve read this far, I’ll give you the story of how I got into it (strictly by accident, folks), and what I’m doing with my collection, and some things I do in collecting used kites. Maybe that’ll help you out, here.

Like many of you, I had a bunch of old kites – stuff I’d bought when the kids were small and the family ended up at the beach with nothing to do. I’d packed ’em all away by just sticking ’em on a shelf in the garage, and they sat there forever. Mostly whole, but some broken ones too. Dacron and Kevlar lines (yup). Yes – single-liners and dual-liners too. I hadn’t given any of them a thought in years, frankly.

I happened to stop by the World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame in Long Beach , WA (more by accident than design) while I was on a road-trip a few years back, and was honestly amazed at the variety of kites displayed. So I asked the curator where the “dual line” displays were. Well, there weren’t any. What? Well – we have a great Japanese Flat-Kite collection, and quite a few single-line kites, but not so many of the dual and quad line kites.

Well, most of the stuff in my garage was early “dualies,” so I just decided I’d do what I could to help collect some of the older dual-line kites, and put them into my Will for the museum. And that’s the way I got into the game. It’s turned out to be much more fun than just buying, refurbishing, and storing, though.

One of the first questions I had to answer for myself was – What kites should I collect? Never mind the bit about “one of everything.” How about some “focus” here? After much internal debate (and some procrastination), I came up with the following:

  1. Kites “representative of similar kites” – for example, I only needed one Skynasaur to represent ALL kites designed out of Francis Rogallo’s original design. And one kite that mimics Jones and Merry’s Flexifoils. And a single diamond stunter, like a Peter Powell or a Rainbow or a Trlby. And one old low aspect-ratio delta stunter designed in the seventies with a rip-stop nylon sail and a three-point bridle. And it didn’t matter whether that kite happened to be an original Tracer, or a PBSK Bad Boy design, or a Dodd Gross original Jam Session! (Not that these kites are all the same at all – just that one of that “design” could be considered “representative.”)
  1. Kites considered to be design “oddities” today. Examples might be the old Hyper-Kites. Then there’s the Banshee – the logical predecessor (from a design standpoint) to the Stranger Level 7. And a thing called a “Cyborg,” which is a two-piece sail with each piece moving independently of the other, kind of like a pair of airplane ailerons with no center in between. And I’ve acquired a huge (nearly 10 feet wide) stunt kite called a “Victoria Hawk” that had triple spines – except two of the spines stuck out the back instead of out front like the Benson Gemini.
  1. Thirdly, I’ve acquired what I considered to be “Princess Kites.” Kites with special meanings – either because they’re prototypes or because they’re signed (and I have the provenance for the kite), or because they happen to be kites with a special significance. I have Don Tabor’s original R2 prototype – the first kite he ever constructed in Icarex, as an example. Another “Princess” is a Precisionist UL that Ken Howard (of PKC) made and signed for Ken McNeill (of Blue Moon Kites). My Ray Bordelon signed “Big Easy – MEFM” fits into this category, too.

So – given that set of self-imposed guidelines, I started collecting kites. Nope, I didn’t take out any billboards, or place any want ads in trade magazines. I just bought kites where and when I could afford them – mostly kites to enjoy flying, but also kites that fit the criteria I’d set out for myself too.

Needless to say, I’ve made my share of “collecting” mistakes. I’m going to list a few things here, so that you can avoid the pitfalls that many Kite Collecting “Newbies” make.

  1. Work with the kites you HAVE first. By that, I mean, everything you already own fits somewhere in a collection – even though you consider it to be a piece of junk! There are collections of “low end” kites, just like there are collections of anything else (but you probably don’t have any of them, do you.). Form your collection around your “current” stock. It’s what you’re interested in anyway.
  1. Refurbish kites AS YOU ACQUIRE them. A broken kite isn’t any good to anyone. Fix it up. If it needs a new bridle, buy or make one. Edge connectors rotting off? Replace them. Nocks missing? Standoffs broken? Spars split? Sail need patching? Well – get it done early. USE ORIGINAL COMPONENTS, too. I spent most of a year hunting for the bridle dimensions for an original Jabberwocky. Fortunately, I managed to hook up with Bob Childs (designer-builder) and he tied one up special and shipped it to me – from Switzerland – True Story!
  1. Do the research to figure out what to buy to augment your collection. Study the “genre” and locate “holes” to fill and kites to fill them. Reference help is still available. Check with “the old man” in the back room of your local Kite Shop – the one who remembers the kite history. Read back issues of the publications (such as “Stunt Kite Quarterly” here on KiteLife’s website). Ask the older pilots at your local flying field.
  1. If you can – buy kites in good condition (or better). If you use eBay, or the kite forums, or Kite Classifieds or the local Want Ads or the local kite-store’s “sale bin” (and I’ve used them all) – ask significant questions of the seller before you commit to buying. And buying decent sails is especially important, since nearly everything else is replaceable – but a sail in shreds is usually beyond salvage (I only got stuck with one of these babies before I learned this hard lesson).
  1. Finally, negotiate a fair price if you can. Know the “street value” of the kite going into the deal if you have some way to discover it. If you can’t, the next best thing you can do is to determine for yourself what your own “top dollar” is – and then just don’t exceed it! (You may want to have your “significant Other’s” help on this one – believe me, it saves a lot of wear and tear on relationships.) You may not believe it, but rare kites continue to come around with amazing frequency. If you don’t buy it today, someone else will have it for sale in a few months – or maybe next year.

Well, that’s about all I have to offer in the way of suggestions right now. We can go deeper if you want, though.

Nope – we didn’t get into stuff like cataloging your collection, or insuring it, or the part about researching a kite’s bloodlines and provenance. We didn’t cover storage of your antique kites, and when and how to fly them (and who to let do it, too) – and when to sell one to get something better, and how to go about improving your collection. There’s lots we didn’t cover here. Maybe, next time?

Sure – I’m up for a little discussion on the subject of Kite Collecting. Feel free to fire away.

Fair Winds and Good Friends,