Issue 38: ProFile with Carl Bragiel

I met Carl for the first time a couple years ago at the 2003 Crescent City Kite Festival, and was quite impressed with his style… An easy going gentleman, he’s one of those guys you might not take notice of until you actually see him flying. With his three trademark black, white and grey kites and six lines coming off of him, he looks a bit like Spider Man spinning a web!  Although he’s been doing it for 11 of his 14 years in kiting, Carl didn’t go public with it until 1993… Having developed his skills into one of the best in our sport, he is now a regular featured flier at kite festivals all over the West Coast and getting more exposure every year.

One of just a handful of people who have successfully flown three kites over the years, Carl uses a unique method of flying one from each hand and the third from a belt around his chest! His show (which includes as many as 9 tails streaming behind the kites) has been an entertaining and valuable asset to events throughout the season.

Tell us Carl, when did you start flying and what got you into it?

Not taking into consideration the Jolly Roger design paper kite with the rag tail that I flew the heck out of as a child, my first exposure to kites was in the fall of 1990. My wife Lisa and I stumbled upon a kite festival in Lincoln City, Oregon. I remember being intrigued with the size and shapes of the some of the single line stuff, but it was the maneuverable kites that really caught my eye. It was shortly after that event that we purchased a cheapie dual-line sport kite which I again proceeded to fly the heck out of. It wasn’t long until we purchased our first kite bag and soon after, found a way to fill it! I think the quad-line was my next kite, and still to this day it is what I tell everyone I started out on.

Where do you hail from originally?

I grew up in suburban Indianapolis, Indiana. I moved to Oregon at the age of 18, and attended college, which is where I met Lisa. We moved to the Mt. Hood area shortly after college, and after about 4 years there we found ourselves looking for a change. We packed up and moved to upstate New York where we had some family property and lived there for another 2 years. We quickly became “homesick” and beat a path back to the Pacific Northwest in 1990.

Who or what inspired you to perform for the public?

An interesting question to pose to a guy that typically shies away from the limelight! Let’s step back a few years. When I started flying, or I should say when I started flying seriously, there were always people watching. The beach that we flew at was probably the most popular one on the central coast. Looking at it now, it was a really rotten place to set up kites but there were 2 kite shops close by, bathrooms, good parking, and lots of tourists to harass. What else do you need? Did I mention I was into quad line kites at the time? A small group of us spent countless hours teasing unsuspecting passers-by with our kites to roars of laughter from the people on the seawall. A built-in audience!

It was on this same beach the inspiration came about to attempt flying multiple kites. This same group that I flew with, we all experimented a little. We put hooks on our Revolution kites and picked things up, lifted skirts (shhh, don’t tell anyone that was us!), and played with some “new” dual line ideas. We tried flying several kites on a single on broom handle, or stacking them in reverse… were we bored? Not at all, let’s say we were creative! Some really good (and bad) ideas came from those days! I got so used to having an audience, it actually got boring on days that there were only a few people on the beach!

What other individuals have been a major inspiration, and why?

Oh, of course my good friend Roger Maddy whom I met while he was trying to polish his multi-kite skills. Somewhat later, Ray Bethell was a great source of inspiration, although I had never known of Ray until I was well into the multiple kite flying. I had 2 kites going pretty well at the time, and was trying to figure out a third when I met him. I had also attempted flying 2 quad-line kites simultaneously, which to my surprise happened rather quickly and easily. Then I added a dual line in the mix. That was such a mess, I decided it was more practical to stick with the dualies.

There are the guys I flew with in the very beginning. Bruce, Clint, and Larry, here’s to you! You fanned the flames! And I do also have to give credit to various sport kite teams of the time for inspiration – Cyborg, Peregrine, Pacific Flyers, and Team Invisible Wind. I wanted to do just what they did… But by myself!

How would you describe the dynamics of flying 3 kites simultaneously?

It’s nuts! What kind of idiot would do this? No matter how well practiced you are, or how perfect the conditions are, if you break concentration you are bound to get in a mess! But, there is nothing like the feeling of having all those kites going at once and seeing them in perfect unison. There’s the dynamic!

What do you look for when choosing performance kites?

First, let me say that I don’t trick fly. I don’t even know the names of most of the tricks and I stand in amazement when watching a trick shoot-out event. Ok, so I can axel… sometimes even with 2 kites if the wind is perfect… I can axel a kite from my knees… but that is beside the point. What I look for is a good “team” kite. I need a kite that is a steady flyer, has good tracking, and is as smooth in a turn as it is in straight forward flight. Basically, a truck!

My whole multi-kite show is a soft and slow performance focusing on (hopefully) clean lines, graceful movements, ground work, and close wingtip to wingtip drill. A trick oriented kite often needs to be worked constantly or it will dump. If I need to paste a kite high in the sky for whatever reason, I need to know that I can forget about it for a few seconds.

How do you go about selecting ballet music, and what do you look for?

Oh, so you want the secret to my success, huh? Wow. It took me 10 years to find the perfect music. Seriously! I flew to some jazz, some blues… a lot of mystery (misery) ballet for most of my shows. It helped that the festival announcers and I had similar musical tastes. We usually found something agreeable and no one knew that it was a mystery!

My musical selections of the past 2 years have come from the heart. I have found a musical genre that is deeply rooted in spirituality and mystique. Again, soft and slow. I never wanted to fly *to* music. I wanted the routine to be a part of the music, or better yet, the music and the kites working as one. My goal is to draw the spectator into the show. I want them to feel the experience and take with them some of the energy that I pour into my work.

Do you have set routines, or do you improvise each time?

Both. Let’s face it, there are a finite number of moves that you can do with a kite. Make that 2 kites or 3 kites and that number gets smaller in a hurry. I have some defined patterns that I will fly, and I have certain formations, turns, passes, and tricks (there’s that word again). The improv happens in between these moves. Improv fills the gaps from one maneuver to another and gets me to the next phrase in the music. It is the order in which these moves are put together that changes.

As I am saying this, I wonder if improvisation is really a good term. To avoid a tangled mess of kite and line on the ground, even my improv moves are well rehearsed. They have to be!

My routines are put together in my head, and occasionally a move is drawn on paper. Mostly… listening to a piece of music over and over, until I can’t almost stand it anymore, is how a routine evolves. If I have chosen the “right” piece of music the routine almost choreographs itself.

What kind of a practice schedule do you maintain?

Practice? hmmm. I started out flying every day for about a year. Then it was 2 years of every weekend at the beach or a park, sometimes with a quickie mid week trip to the coast. I have gone an entire winter without touching the kites, but I rarely stop thinking about flying. Seems that I am always practicing them in my head -which could explain the absent mindedness.

How do you prepare for extreme wind conditions, high or low?

Well, that is a subject of some debate. Is the kite event an invitational? If I am expected to fly, then wind permitting I will usually find a way. I prefer light wind, and the lighter the better! Really, the secret is not so much in the kites. It is all about finesse. With 3 kites, the flyer sacrifices some speed control. It isn’t so easy to walk backwards to gain a few MPH’s, and the kite that is strapped to the body is never in as good of control as those in the hands.

My lightest kite weighs a total of 6 ounces and will usually perform OK in the light stuff. Smaller, heavier, and possibly vented kites are used for the high winds. I always fly with tails, and this is a real problem in the light winds. In heavy winds you can put on all the tails, wind tamers, shocks, 500 lb line, and that will slow you down. If two and a half pounds of tails on a single kite isn’t enough, you can say you hurt your wrist and can’t fly!

What are your philosophies on the mental aspect of flying three kites at once?

My standard joke is that I had a metal plate surgically installed in my brain and this is the only way a person can do this. Some people buy it! I am also dyslexic. That one is the truth. A woman stopped me once and asked if I just happened to be dyslexic. Naturally I thought she was joking, after all, how could she have known? Seems she had just finished reading a case study on such a disorder and concluded that people with dyslexia were able to multi-task in ways that others can not. Sounded good to me!

For anyone else though, you have to really want it! You have to be able to commit the time, the dollars, and the energy to this facet of kiting. Not only was I willing to do all of that, I used and still do use kiting as therapy. It is a ton of work, a physical and even an emotional roller coaster at times, but it is a pretty good getaway from whatever ails ya.

While many other multi-kite fliers attach the third kite to their hips, you use a chest harness… Why do you use this method?”

My chest is the most convenient place to strap on a 3rd kite especially since I don’t wear a belt. I have also tried flying from my knees and my feet… However, I think the waist allows more freedom of movement while still maintaining a forward stance. But heck, all of them work well enough – and for giggles I still change out once in awhile.

I said the chest is the most convenient, but flying from my knees is the most comfortable. The problem is that I like to walk around while flying, and that isn’t easy to do with something pulling you forward… and up! For that reason, I now only use my knees for my 4th kite, and lately I have been giving that some more consideration.

On a side note: in my younger days I used to whip out a pretty fine axel from my knees.

Have you ever reviewed your routines on video, and how has it been useful?

Oh geez! There are hundreds if not thousands of hours of video tapes of my flying out there, and I have seen just a few minutes! People shoot footage of me constantly and take it home. I can’t imagine the conversation they have while watching. I would really like to see some of the good stuff!

I remember a man shooting a video of me years ago as I was learning my 3rd kite. I was flying in the worst kind of wind, a southeast, blustery, bumpy… you know! I had a big gust catch the “new” kite. It proceeded to take out the other 2 kites and a land on family that decided to picnic under me. In less than 20 seconds there was a huge kite knot, ripped sails, broken spars, tangles lines, and crying kids. The video guy laughed and left. That is one I want to see! It is important to point out that no children were harmed in the making of this video. My pride on the other hand…

What thoughts do you have on kiting’s influence on global culture?

Man, oh man… If only we could get a kite in the respective hands today’s world leaders! I am glad to see such a cultural exchange in kiting. It is one of the few things that is without borders. What a wonderful thing to share.

What is it about kiting that most appeals to you now and keeps you involved?

You know what?… There are days the I could chuck the whole kit and caboodle. I mean really give it up and not look back. I have been very close several times. I realize that I often react first rather than think, and I sometimes get caught up in the politics and bull of this fine hobby. But, the friends I have made and kept over the past 14 years will never let me leave, and for that I am grateful. It is not the applause after a solid performance, and it’s not the sponsors, it is the people in kiting that keep me going.

We’ve often hear you compared to Ray Bethell, Joe Perron, Jim Poy, Scott Aughenbaugh and other well known fliers who have flown three kites at once… What do you think of these comparisons?

Well, I have certainly been accused of chasing some of these people, and it is a real honor to be compared to a couple of them! I know some started flying before I did, some started after, and although I only know one of these flyers well, I am sure they all are highly skilled and put on quite a show.

I would have to guess that we are all *very* different stylistically. I mean, we’re all proficient with the same concept, and viewed one at a time we might even look the same. But, put us next to each other in the flying field and I am sure you will see some very different performances. I have people tell me all the time that “I am so much better than so and so”… or “that guy is way different than you”, and, “how come you don’t do this trick?”… I just grin and think how true it is that we all have our own style, and that each of us is quite unique!

For all of us, with 3 kites and about a hundred feet of line, the wind window is just so big, and there is only so much that can be accomplished in that space. We do what we can in the given space and it may (or may not) look like what the “other guy” is doing. Whether you call it talent, skill, finesse, or just dumb luck… the spectators love it. It is all about the energy that the flyer puts forth. The audience feels that, and that is what they remember.

Do you have any sponsors, and how do they help?

Oh yes. And my sponsors are a big part of what keeps me going! That’s not to say I wouldn’t be doing this without them, I would just be using ratty old kites and line with about hundred knots in it. I have had sponsors come and go. All have been very generous and I am fortunate to have been associated with each of them, no matter what they provided. I must say that the sponsors I now work with are the best.

I recently struck a deal with New Tech Kites, and as my primary equipment sponsor, I expect they are going to help keep me in this gig for a long time. I have 2 other sponsors that make some very fine sport kites: Miguel Rodriguez creator of the California Wasp Kite, and Gary MacEachern at the Oregon Kite Company. Sponsorship is a rare thing, and I am proud to represent and be represented.

Do you feel the kiting scene will ever become mainstream, and how might we go about making it happen?

Mainstream? Oh I hope not. The kiting world still seems like a little bit of a counter-culture society to me. Granted there are people from all walks of life and all economic and social classes, but aren’t we a strange bunch? I wonder if being mainstream would initiate the decline of some of the Kahunas in the sport, and erase a lot of the mystique.

Sure, a full kite bag in every garage is a good thing for the retailers. I would like to see that too. So, I guess it depends on your definition of “mainstream”. Would I like to see more interest in kiting? Yes, of course! Do I want to watch it on regular TV or read about it in the daily paper? I don’t think I am ready for that yet.

Well, it’s always a treat to watch you fly and we’re grateful for the opportunity to catch up to you without a kite(s) in your hand.

Thanks for the chance to share my thoughts John, I was thrilled to be asked and happier yet to tell my story. I am so used to answering questions over my shoulder while flying kites, that actually sitting down and talking with you was a real pleasure!

For more information about Carl and his
pastime or to have him perform at your event,
visit his home page by clicking here!