Having met Ray Bethell back in 1990 when I was at the tender age of 15, he quickly became one of my role models as I watched him from event to event for over more than a decade myself… With an inner spirit that naturally warms you, makes you feel immediately familiar and want to give him a huge hug, he travels to kite festivals all over the world and performs incredible feats flying 3 dual line kites at the same time, all controlled independently.
As a former champion competitor he has helped to set the standard for multiple kite flying as we know it today.
Ray is also a recipient of the Lifetime Achievment Award presented for the first time at the Washington State International Kite Festival in August of 2003… At the same event, he was voted “People’s Choice” for the 12th straight year.
I not only wanted to find out more about my good friend Ray, but also to share with our readers some of the inspiration that he has brought to myself and so many other people worldwide… At an incredible 78 years young, he continues to amaze us with his tremendous flying and stamina.
JB– Tell us a little about your early life if you would.
Ray – To give you a little in a nut shell as the saying goes, I started working at the ripe old age of 12 years old to help support our family when my father passed away at the age of 35, leaving seven of us. My mother had a widows pension at that time of one dollar and fifty cents a week, and being the oldest son I was responsible to take my fathers place. I probably had just about a 5th grade education, every thing I learned from that point on was self taught, even at that early age I accepted the fact that life was nothing more than a challenge, accept it, learn from it and move on.
JB– Did you fly kites when you were a boy?
Ray – No, I was 52 years old before I had a kite in my hands, it all started when I came home early from work one day, my wife never looked so sexy as she did on that day and she must have seen the gleam in my eyes, saying “Ray you know what you can do… Go Fly a Kite!!” – and I’ve been flying since then. 🙂
JB– Could you tell the readers how and when did you were introduced to kite flying?
Ray – My wife and I were on holiday in Honolulu Hawaii and I happened across a few locals flying stacks of Hyper kites, (I did not know it then but they were all the rage in 1980) I thought I would like to try this, so I purchased a 6-pack from Robert Loera’s shop (Kite Fantasy) to take home, but honestly never had a clue about sport kite flying.
I was the first to introduce sport kites to Vancouver, again I had to teach myself as there was no one to ask or to see how it was done, I was flying for five years in Vanier Park before it really caught on. Robert Riley and myself started to make our own kites and flying as a team we called ourselves the “Vancouver High Flyers” (in the early days you could fly as a team with only two flyers) we flew for the next 7 years and adding Cal Yuen as a third flyer we won the right to represent Canada at the very first World Cup held in Seaside Oregon in 1990. I also represented Canada at the 1991 World Cup in Bristol England, then again at the 1995 World Cup in Lakes Entrance in Australia where I opened the World Cup with a 7 kite routine especially made by head judge Dan Buxton. Two of the kites had USA emblems, two with the Canadian Maple Leaf, and three with the Australian emblem. This was to show the harmony of the three nations.
JB– What gave you the idea to fly 3 kites in the first place?
Ray – One day while flying in our local park I put my kite on hold in the center of the wind window as there were a lot of school children crossing the park in front of me, I had both kite handles in my right had just relaxing until all the children had passed when suddenly a gust of wind came up and I somehow managed to control the kite with one hand until it crashed to the ground a safe distance in the opposite direction from where the children were heading. I thought “hey, this is a possibility” and went from there. A few months later at the Hawaiian Challenge in Hawaii, I saw for the first time Ron Reich from the Top of The Line Sports Team flying 3 kites (far from today’s standards) but different from the way I was planning which was to fly 3 kites completely independent of each other while Ron flies one line from each hand and the second line is attached to a center point on his waist. This was great from the very start as we both could do our thing with out being a carbon copy of each other. We both have a strong mutual respect for each other, both as people and for our respective flying abilities.
JB– I remember you setting a world record for simultaneously flying 3 independent Kestrel sport kites for 12 hours and 12 minutes straight, without stopping… What was that like?
Ray – Yes, that was at Long Beach WA, in 1994. Before that I set 3 previous multiple kite records at 4, 5, and 8 hours. The 1994 record was really 12 hours and 40 minutes, but KiteLines found that a few people signed in as witnesses but did not sign out so they did not count. I really had the easy part as all I had to do was fly, it’s so easy for any one to say I did this or that but you must have a official time keeper, a safety crew, someone there to make sure witnesses sign in and out leaving their address and phone number. You also have to tell the festival organizers when you are ready to proceed, they then tell the announcer who lets everyone know it is a go… Now I have to fly continuously for 8 hours and one minute to break my last record and move into a new one, spectators were kept informed of my progress through out the whole day. I remember telling the time keeper not to tell me how long I have been flying at any time until it was all over, I also remember when I got to the 8 hour mark… Dave Gomberg who was announcing at the time, called for a count down: “9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-Ray is into a New World record!”
To hear 50,000 people whistle, clapping, jumping up and down and giving the thumbs up, was a thrill of a life time, the time keeper said “Ray you did it”, I remember saying good now I can really do some flying, to which the crowd that had gathered around me screamed with laughter. I know for sure I could have flown for another 5 or more hours, but all the crew (God Bless them) had been there from minute one, so I thought of them and landed. After a beer I flew unofficially for another 3 hours just to prove a point to myself.
JB– Who are some of your favorite and most inspiring sport kite flyers you have seen, both currently and over the years?
Ray – On top of my list it has to be Ron Reich every one all over the world that flies a sport kite in some way owes it to this man, and without any doubt you John, in the past and present run a close second… You and I go back many years competing against each other with the fullest respect for each other’s capabilities. And then there is Miguel Rodriguez the Wasp man, and Lam Hoac who are both great and passionate fliers too. Other great flyers who have since passed are Cris Batdorff (publisher of defunct SKQ magazine), and David Bui. I couldn’t begin to remember all the names of fliers who have made an impact on me over the years, but they are all in my heart.
JB– What can you tell us about some of the changes you have seen over the years?
Ray – The biggest change over the past few years is tricks, all over the USA, Canada, Europe every one is doing tricks, which I have nicknamed Flip Flops. I have nothing against tricks but it is not a spectator-oriented facet of the sport, and I have literally been asked many times “Could you please go over and help that poor guy as he can’t seem to be able to fly his kite properly?” I am not into trick flying but I have been very impressed with the way French teams incorporate and blend tricks into their routines.
JB– Is there any thing you would like to see done differently at kite festivals?
Ray – I would definitely like to see more than one demonstration arena and separate arenas for Roc battles, as some of them seem endless, we have to try and hold the spectators with continuous demonstrations and education about kites.
I would also like to see in competition back to were you had to have 3 or more flyers in order to run a category… I mean with having just two participants it is a foregone conclusion that you will make 1st or 2nd, you really don’t have to even try, and a Team competing against themselves is no more than a demonstration. What ever happened to the good old days when there were anything from 15 to 40 flyers competing in every category?
JB– Do you feel like you have accomplished all the things you hope to do flying kites?
Ray – No way John, I have a lot more up my sleeve which I hope to prove at the Washington State International Kite Festival in August of this year!
JB– Tell us about one of your best times flying, a time and place where everything was at the very best it could possibly be for you…
Ray – I have had so many such times but one of the very best was at the International Kite Festival in Narbonne Plage France, when I asked by the organizers to open the festival with a multiple kite demonstration. After I set up I got a feeling that all the European Sport Kite flyers who had gathered to watch me were wondering who the hell is this guy from Canada was, the wind was a beautiful steady 10mph and I said to myself “Right Ray, introduce yourself!”. As I was announced I was tapped on the shoulder at the first note of my music, then flew like my life depended on it… I could do nothing wrong, all my moves were right on the money as I added moves that I have only dared to do while practicing and only then if no one was watching. My refuels, breakaways, Maple Leaf Split and the Crucifix mode were perfect every time! I landed all three kites independently behind each other as the music faded away, the next thing I new all the sport kite flyers ran into the arena picked me up and carried me shoulder high around the arena and to see the hundreds and hundreds of spectators waving, jumping up and down was a thrill of a life time.
This is the greatest award any performer can achieve, recognition and being honored by one’s own peers.
JB– What has kiting meant to you, and what keeps you motivated after all this time?
Ray – It is just a case of loving what I do and doing what I love to do. I can literary fly every day 8, 9, 10 or more hours every day as has been proved over and over again at each and every kite festival I am invited to. If I fly in front of 100,000 people or no one at all, I am enjoying myself. I know for sure that I have somehow been given a gift and I use this gift to the very best of my ability, if I happen to please a lot of people along the way this is an added bonus for me. Also because I am deaf I can concentrate 100% – I have no distractions as my music comes from the juke box in my head and I see my next move long before I put it into action.
JB– What are some of the best lessons you have learned in your many years of traveling the world?
Ray – If there is one very important thing that I have learned is that no matter what the media tries to tell us, the World is still full of Beautiful People regardless of race or creed, I have visited some of the very poorest of countries who have such meager offerings, and yet are very honored to have you sit at their table, these are the real people of the world and I am always touched by their warmth and sincerity.
JB– What countries have you visited in your travels?
Ray – I think it would be better if you asked me what counties I have not been invited to? I am very lucky to be fully sponsored and invited to international kite festivals all over the world. Right now I am being booked for 2004 and 2005, Australia twice, France three times, UK, South Africa, Italy, Great Lakes Michigan, Kites on Ice in Madison Wisconsin, just to name a few.
JB– What is it that really turns you on in our sport and makes you think it is all worthwhile?
Ray – I really like helping paraplegic people in wheel chairs who think that flying is way beyond them, I have literally helped dozens to fly, and the joy they show in there attempts is priceless, helping a legless person to fly is fairly easy but a no arm man or a one armed man is more difficult but the reward is far greater, these people are not onlookers with a dream in there heads they are living that dream.
JB– Now after seeing you fly for all these years I remember when you still had remarkable hearing, Would you share with our readers and myself what caused your hearing loss, when it occurred and how you have managed to win at yet another one of life’s many difficult challenges?
Ray – It will be 10 years ago this September when I went to bed hearing and woke up deaf, hard to believe but true. I was devastated, I mean why me, I am a nice guy, “why not the guy next door”? I had many tests over the next few weeks including cat scans, they could find nothing wrong and the Vancouver Hearing Center came to the conclusion that it was a virus and told me that in most cases of this kind the virus only takes one ear, but in my case I guess the virus liked the taste so much he just had to have a second helping? As I said, I was devastated at first to live in a world of silence, not to be able to hear your love ones, ones favorite music, traveling from one end of the world to the other in silence asking directions is nerve racking.
I have over the years taught my self to lip-read with the aid of watching people’s facial expressions and on a one-to-one basis I am not doing too bad, with the awareness aids which only gives me a noise and not speech, to help me cross the street and drive a car. With these aids I have only 6% of hearing and without them utter silence, but I have learned from the very beginning of my loss to stop and smell the roses, when I see so many people so many times more unfortunate than I, in wheel chairs, limbless, people especially children with terminal cancer (and I have a problem? No Way!), while I was in Columbia I saw young people unable to walk or crawl dragging themselves along the sidewalk just to get from A to B, I stopped and thanked god he only took my hearing. I will never forget the words of a Canadian Indian that I had befriended he said, “Ray you hear more than I do because you hear with your eyes and heart.”
JB– Indeed you do Ray, indeed you do… Thank you.
Ray – My pleasure… If I may be so bold and not stepping out of line, I know that so many kite flyers from around the globe look forward to reading Kitelife on a regular basis I would like to take this golden opportunity to express my heart felt thanks to everyone that has sent and is still sending me e-mails, letters, and cards from every corner of this planet on my daughter’s passing earlier this year plus such kind words and thoughts on my wife’s passing here recently. I can not express how much this is helping me through this very tough, yet another one of life’s challenges.
God Bless each and every one of you.
[box style=”rounded” border=”full”]Not long after we interviewed Ray, we saddened to hear that his wife Lesley passed away… Our prayers are with her spirit, and with Ray. We will leave you with this snippet from their local newspaper, and words from their good friend Gerri Adler.[/box]
Betty “Lesley” (nee Hindley), wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, aunt. Born February 2, 1928 in South Halifax, England. Passed away suddenly on September 22, 2003 in Vancouver. Lesley was predeceased by her daughter Sonia in the spring. She is survived by her loving husband Ray, and devoted sons Tom and Mark (Sandy); grandchildren, great-grandchildren and numerous relatives in Canada and England.
Her greatest passion was her family. She was an avid hockey fan, enjoyed shopping (especially in the Dollar Store), word searches, and morning coffee with dear friends. She loved chocolate, stuffed animals and her dog Shadow. She had many happy memories of her time spent in Hawaii with her Big Daddy (Ray). Lesley always had a twinkle in her eyes and enjoyed a good chuckle. She was very kind and warm hearted with a soft spot for all children. You will be truly missed and forever in our hearts. The memories not forgotten.
You are the wind beneath our wings.
Lesley was not really at all interested in Kite festivals, even though she was invited to accompany Ray on many international world kite festivals, but she never stopped Ray from attending all the worldwide invitations he received. Lesley was very proud of all of Ray’s achievements. In fact she used to embarrass Ray so many times because she would tell the Baker, Butcher and everybody she met on the street about how famous he was. I will never forget the first time she saw Ray flying multiple kites at Berkeley International Kite Festival. Her eyes were huge, she was so proud of him! You have to imagine this was the first time she ever saw Ray fly in the twenty-three years. To say she was over the moon is an understatement. She would not stop talking to me about it.
*If you would like to learn more about Ray or share your best wishes and love, be sure to visit his home page at http://www.raybethell.com