Issue 35: Starting Over

More often than not, people involved in kiting go through phases or fall into cyclical trends. I’ve seen it over and over, both in myself and in others, and it generally takes several years before we settle down into a more “sane” approach to kiting (assuming there is such a thing). For some folks, that may never happen but for most of us, the phases we go through can include (but are certainly not limited to) the following –

1. Elation – this is the initial phase of kiting where we are awe-struck and mesmerized by our interaction with inanimate objects (our kites). There is no rational explanation for this phase since unlike our relationships with humans, our relationships with our kites are non-verbal (although I have overheard a few people saying, “Alright, you piece of s__t … DO AN AXLE!”) and are not unlike our relationships with our cars (which we also talk to and expect a response from).

This phase generally involves dumping mass quantities of money into kites in the hope of finding “Kite Nirvana.” The phrase “Kite Nirvana” was first conveyed to me by Ellen Smith (of Peter Betancourt Sport Kites) and for a great many years was my MAIN goal in kiting (to aspire to, to find, to achieve and then wrap myself around it and wallow in its Zen-like qualities). As I recall, at one point I owned well over 100 stunt kites and my level of sanity during this phase was miniscule, at best. For me this phase began in March of 1986, when I first discovered the sport/hobby/addiction (2-line stunt kites) and to a much lesser extent, it continues today. This is also the phase that kite builders and companies who manufacture flying line, rods and accessories hope we NEVER grow out of.

2. Education – this is the phase where we learn all about kites, how to fly them well and how to tune and (when they break) repair them. During this phase, we talk to EVERYONE on the kite field and anyone we see who flies better than we do (which is just about everybody). We’re like sponges and absorb and digest every aspect and nuance of the kites we fly. Since we’re *new* to the sport, and like any hobby, we want to learn everything there is to know so we’ll be “THE best” at what we do. That way we can show off at the kite field and hear all those “OOOOoooos” and “AAaahhhhs” from bystanders and our fellow kite fliers while we demonstrate our complete lack of understanding of what’s REALLY going on. We’re hooked, addicted and totally out of control. This leads, naturally, to —

3. Recognition – “Hi. My name is AL and I’m a Kiteaholic”. All together now, “Hi AL!” At some point we recognize the fact that we have a kite addiction and begin to wonder if there is a relevant 12-step program we can enroll in. This phase generally occurs around the same time we discover that we can’t park in the garage any more because it’s full of kites, kite bags and other kiting-related paraphernalia. We have kites on the walls, kites hanging from the ceiling, kite magazines in every bathroom and kite stickers on our cars. The worst of us even get personalized vanity plates for our cars  that convey to the entire world just how far our affliction has brought us. Our credit cards are maxed out, our bank accounts are empty and people who know us well, look at us with concerned expressions — the same way you’d look at a friend who just lost someone near and dear to their heart (like a wife, son, daughter, or that custom, made-to-order, Jose Sainz flying work of art).

The time it takes for this phase to kick in varies from person to person but the end result is always the same — EVERYBODY [else] benefits! Why? Because you start to sell off your kites at greatly reduced prices! In many cases, these kites are still quite competitive (performance wise) and someone can save 50% or more on the cost of ownership. This is why it’s always a good idea to stop by the kite field at least once a week. You never know when someone will come to their senses and start selling their kites.

4. UDT – a byproduct of recognition, the “Unified Disappointment Theory” (UDT) reminds us that Kite Nirvana is only a pipe-dream. There will ALWAYS be another kite, just around the corner, that fly’s better than ANY of the kites we currently possess. That new kite (we think) WILL push us over the edge and bring us true happiness (uh huh) … but it never does. As a result, we’ll always be uniformly disappointed with nearly every kite we purchase because eventually they ALL become out-dated and obsolete (technologically). Occasionally, and like SOME people who will remain nameless (Bob Fermin), we fly our one-of-a-kind, custom kites into trees and completely destroy them. In this case, the Unified Disappointment Theory is experienced by all (albeit on a perfunctory level).

Kite designers and builders are constantly striving to push the outside of the envelope in an effort to force their kites to do the impossible (defy gravity). For 2-line stunt kites, the current trend seems to be to design and build a kite that does THE most bizarre things imaginable to create THE most visually confusing set of maneuvers that cause the observer to stand slack-jawed in wonder at just what the heck he or she has just observed. This new breed of stunt kite pilot has the same hand-eye coordination skill set as that “special” group of video game players you see at the arcade. Many people think they are secretly being trained by our government to pilot space ships and defend the Armada in the next millennium, which seems perfectly reasonable to me. What does the UDT have to do with this?

5. Acceptance – at some point in our kiting career, we accept the fact that we’re NOT Ron Graziano and DON’T have the ability to pilot a space ship or defend the Armada in the next (or any) millennium. We observe little Alex Herzog who, at age 12, is already nearly as good a trick flier as Ron Graziano and we realize that we REALLY don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever competing at that level. Again, the UDT kicks in.

By the time we reach this phase, we’ve trimmed our stockpile of kites down from 4 or 5 bags to 1 or 2 (at most) and we’re now comfortably numb and happy with our selections. We have kites for every wind range and every style of flying and that’s all we really need (aside from the toaster, that lamp over in the corner and our Craftsman tools).

We can now, at this phase, talk about kites like we know what we’re talking about. People listen to our thoughts, opinions and equipment recommendations and, depending on which particular phase THEY are currently enjoying, they may even take what we say to heart. These are the years that are the most enjoyable because by this phase we’ve come to the realization that kiting is all about the PEOPLE who are involved in it, the friendships we make and the good times we have with those people.

We begin to observe the “character of kiting” as more than just an avenue of escape or stress relief and we begin to see it as an enjoyable relationship that CAN last a lifetime. We still cringe when we hear that effervescent splat of a kite being flown like a lawn dart into the ground, but now our reaction is to provide suitable instruction, rather than to just chuckle at the inevitable destruction of someone’s most prized possession. We become the wise elders who people turn to for advice and we give credence to that phrase, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

It becomes fairly easy to analyze tricks, to figure them out (whether WE can actually do them or not) and then give instruction to someone on how to perform a particular trick or set of maneuvers. This is also around the same time we get into other aspects of kiting like single-line kites, fighters, quads, indoor flying … whatever … and it (these phases) starts all over again.

6. Inevitability – eventually we broaden our horizons and see kiting as being multi-faceted (which it is). We go to the AKA National Convention and offer our services as judges, field directors or whatever they need us for. Whether we’ve qualified to compete or not, it really doesn’t  matter because we’re there with our friends — and that’s the best part of being there. We may end up being just another brick in the wall, but it’s a pretty good wall to be a part of, no matter how you slice it.

When we inevitably accept the fact that kiting ISN’T just about learning the latest tricks or owning all the best and brightest kites, we learn to appreciate kiting for what it really is — a way to enjoy the company of others who are going through the same phases we are (or who have already been there and done that). It’s a way to draw strength from knowledge and to grow as a person while the same things happen to everyone else.

Kiting brings with it the people who make the kites, who fly the kites and who ARE the reason we keep showing up at the park, the beach or that next competition. Its ranks include people who have been in its fold for decades and those who have only been around for a few days. It takes ALL kinds, as they say, and the variety of people you’ll meet in kiting is as diverse as the variety of kites you’ll see. A virtual rainbow of humans with personalities ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. In the end, it’s all about starting over and realizing that it’s the people involved in kiting that make it so appealing and so much fun. The kites help too but for a lot of us, it’s a small part of the equation. Mostly, it’s about all those friendships we’re lucky enough to enjoy during all those crazy phases our kites put us through. What follows — well, you’ll just have to hang around long enough to find that out for yourself.