Issue 41: From Kite Fright to Kite Trains

This personal episode is written as an inspiration for those of you who doubt your abilities to enter the exciting world of stunt kiting by clinging to procrastination. It is not as scary as it appears and with serious practice and dedication, success can be yours. Occasionally, we flyers remember our first kite training session taking place either on a sparkling beach or on a smooth grassy field. Now, you have scores of spectators bubbling out compliments and telling of the joy you have given them. Would they ever consider that long ago your flying wasn’t worth a tinkers darn? I fell into a deadlock for I believed that stunt kiting was too difficult and inner confidence was ebbing with doubt.

My decision to seriously give it a fly arrived from two important opportunities bringing me face to face with the subject. The first event brought my attendance to the 2003 Berkeley Kite Festival held annually at Cesar Chavez Park near the Berkeley Marina, California. During that magical day, a friend and I were astonished over the magnificent artistry of Ray Bethell who is a world-famed one man team in multiple-kite flying. We didn’t know Ray from a bag of beans, but we babbled up a blue streak over his demonstrations for the remainder of the afternoon. Throughout the festival of championship kiting, wonder filled our hearts, including all the colorful giant octopi and related critters floating happily in the breezes and into our dreams at night. It was The Berkeley Kite Festival that introduced a nagging desire to really go fly a kite. Yet, could I do it? Where do I start? Who in Heaven would train me?

Within a short time frame, the heavens answered with a second opportunity arriving at my doorstep. Our local kite master, Mr. Larry Medina hurried to the rescue to sweep all doubt from under by feet. Under his direction, my first flying lessons became an awesome accomplishment that launched my life into a new realm of laughter, fun and precious friends whose paths were a delight to cross. Larry is well known here at Ocean Beach for his 100-foot rainbow tube tails that twirl and writhes through the air like a restless dragon sky dancer. I would watch him from afar with other admirers, but too shy to say “Hello” until one day, I finally made contact. Befriending this kindly gentleman was like winning the jackpot. He was right there when no one else was and because of Larry, my kite life soared full blast into the air.

I fly here at Ocean Beach located on the Pacific side of San Francisco. It is a five-mile stretch of beach starting from the base of the famous Cliff House and is incorporated into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Serious kite flying takes place near the Beach Chalet Restaurant by Golden Gate Park where the winds flow at their best. The panoramic views of the Marin Headlands make this magic spot a stunning backdrop to your flying or a good kite show with your meal.

So, one Sunday afternoon last May, Larry Medina and I returned from a kite store to discuss kite-related information over the kitchen table covered with kite catalogs, fly line, tails while sipping cups of Jasmine tea. Little did I know that several hours later, I would experience my first extensive flying instruction up close and personal?

It was now 5:30 and Larry suggested, “Okay, let’s go and fly your Beetle,” he grinned. This kite called the “Beetle” is a beginner kite that came with a 50-foot flat tail. It is a durable and strong kite made to withstand many crashes. The cold winds were slightly rough but not serious enough to cancel out the adventure, so we got to work. Larry stood behind the Beetle as it nose dived periodically, but with his kind patience, it was back in the air with improved control on my part each time. Now, he took the straps and for several minutes explained the intricate right and left swirls and how to maneuver within the wind window. Meanwhile, I studied his arm movements; so crucial in observing hidden techniques. “Now, it’s yours!” I took over and envisioned by own swirls heading for the sand. They did. “That’s okay,” he called out, “That’s how we learn!” Problems were faced head on until I eventually made three perfect swirls to the right while remembering to count them properly. “How do you untwist the lines?” I groaned. “No sweat,” he returned. “Just stay even, and pull left three times, up, even, and pull right three times! Remember how many turns you pulled in one direction, and then do the same number of turns in the opposite direction to untwist the lines. Now, do it again!” Grasping more fluid control resulted in a smashing accomplishment! My eyes flooded with tears as I jumped up and down shouting, “I DID IT! I DID IT! I DID IT! The exhilaration of joy was reminiscent to when I passed my drivers test, although this “steering wheel” was a pair of stunt kite straps. Larry beamed happily too while I continued reaping up the euphoria with the Beetle zipping through the air. My frozen hands and arms did another four swirls, five swirls, and seven swirls. Unable to give my instructor a bear hug, he got one anyway in my brain . . . ten swirls . . .

Faithful practice eventually extinguished kite fright when I entered the Intermediate category. Becoming fussy about my flying, I preferred the ballet style and elegance of Ray’s artistry, but mastering a single kite!! One day, while pondering his unique flying, I attached two purple 45-foot tube tails to the wingtips of a Prism Nexus kite including a 100-foot red one on the center spine. It looked impressive as my flying was becoming more fluid and graceful. Later, I tackled the larger and louder Alpha + kite! Pulling heavier in gusty winds, I used the 100-foot rainbow tail and what a show that is! One late windy afternoon, the Alpha + roared during maneuvers with the fly line singing and hissing in different octaves, while the tumbling dragon tail glowed like vibrant neon in the late sunlight.

Now, for the kite train! I wasn’t through with my ambitions. During the 2004 Long Beach, Washington Kite Festival, I spotted a gentleman flying a two-kite train using the Dodd Gross Explosive Ignitor kites. These smaller kites showed promise for an impressive train and more could be added. The Ignitors are a pleasure to fly because of the lesser pull. They can be stacked together without dismantling and their tails can be wrapped in a figure eight around the wing tips. Larry assembled the trains and now we both have six kite Ignitor trains with red and yellow flat tails. One day, we electrified the skies with our two trains performing maneuvers to the awe of spectators. You know you are doing well, when a barrage of onlookers fascinated by your kite performances, roll out their cameras.

Many of the Ocean Beach spectators are from out of town carrying their cameras and video equipment. When stunt kites are in the air, they turn their attention to us flyers as a magical moment for photography. One reporter from a Sacramento TV news station was cruising around for stories, when he spotted my kite train slicing through the air. After a short interview, he remarked they might use this footage at the end of their program, pointing out the many exciting things to be discovered in the Bay Area. Then, others will walk over and inquire what kite you are flying and where to get one. Then there are those who want to fly like you.

Looking back, I quickly discovered the surprisingly therapeutic affect kiting has over the mind. It soothes the senses as the ills of humanity and any personal cares ebb away. It does not matter whether you fly all day or only an hour, kiting demands your full concentration, making new friends, helping others with kite questions or lessons then see that broad smile of success on their face. When stepping through this “kite door” you enter a calming ethereal world were the soul is refreshed while time stands still; very similar to a hike through the Redwoods or sitting near an overhanging waterfall.

Another perk from sport flying is the sociability and friendships it offers in sharing a common bond. Other parts of my life are just as rewarding; however, with kiting I never know whom I’ll meet at the beach resulting in a new friend. I’ve come away with heart-warming contacts and an inner happiness that does much to sustain me.

In the foreseeable future, sport kiting holds many promises. For one, I’m considering starting a local kite club to inspire interest into this field. There are no such organizations here in the Sunset District; hence, a kite club would have far reaching benefits for the community and is a way of giving something back to my neighborhood. Larry has trained many flyers such as myself, so finding future members should be easy.

Lastly, entering competition is another goal. During the 2004 September “Golden Gate Challenge” one skilled championship flyer suggested that I should consider competition! Not so soon as there is still more to accomplish; however, his uplifting opinion was a powerful shot in the arm. That’s all you need. Your sky can be the limit. Go for it.

Joan H. Laurino