Issue 45: ProFile: Tristan Underwood

At only 9 years of age, this young man from Canada has already been competing against seasoned pros several times his age since 2003, and holding his own.  Whether it’s Hot Tricks at the AKA Grand Nationals, Novice competition or Tricks Party, Tristan can fly and trick with the best of them… Even going so far as Hot Tricks semi-finals against Ari Contzius and other top fliers.

As a presence on the kite field, many would say he’s quiet… But, what you’ll find after a little observation is that he’s watching and listening intently, absorbing as much as his young mind and talent possibly can.

As a competitor, he’s the youngest Tricks Party and Hot Tricks participant the USA or Canada has seen to date… That’s enough from us, let’s get a look at what he has to say.

Hi, Tristan! To start with, how old are you, and where do you live?

Hi. I am 9 years old. I live in Langley, B.C., Canada.

Tell us what happens in your average “Tristan” day. What is really fun, and what part is hard work?

I get up everyday around 7am. Then I get ready for school. My mom drives me to school, along with my little brother Cailan. I am in grade 4 and my teacher’s name is Mr. Johnston.

While at school I do lots of work. I really like learning about music and am learning to play the recorder. I am on the cross country running team and run 2km. 3 times a week.

I am also in the chess club. After school, I do my homework. I like to watch T.V. My favorite show is: Yu Gi Oh GX. I like to relax when I am at home.

Do you happen to remember the first time you ever saw a kite of any kind? Please tell us about that.

My mom and dad took me to Long Beach when I was around 3 and 4 years old, but I don’t remember way back then. What I do remember is when my dad took me to White Rock beach to fly kites with him.

How about the first time you ever FLEW a sport kite… Was it fun, and what was so interesting about it that made you want to keep flying?

I wanted to keep flying because there were so many tricks to do.

We know your father, Ray, is a very good kite pilot. Did he first help you to fly a dual-line kite? I imagine that took some real effort on your part to fly that kite on your own successfully… How long did it take you to learn?

Yes. My dad started going kite flying to White Rock beach every Sunday and I used to go with him. I started tagging along when I was four. It took me about 2 – 3 months to learn how to keep the kite up.

Aside from your father, who have been the biggest inspirations to you – anyone in particular who you’ve just watched and learned from, or that have taken the time to work with you?

Ari Contzius and Lam Hoac.

Can you tell us a little about the special things (or ways of looking at flying) that you learned from these two [great] fliers?

Lam told me that practice is very important to be a good flyer. Ari is nice friendly person and I want to be like that.

When your dad would go out to practice, did you always try to go along to fly too? Did you usually fly the same kite and if so, what kind of kite was it? If not, what different kites did you learn to fly?

Yes, I always went along to fly with my dad. I flew different kinds of kites: I have flown the Beatle, Pizzaz, STX 2.3, Skymasters and now Sea Devils.

Since you’re pretty well known as a tricks flier, we have to ask… When did you start to learn to do “tricks” with a dual line kite? What was the first trick you learned and mastered, and how old were you when that happened?

The first trick I learned was the Snap Stall. I was 6 years old. I then learned the Axel at the same age.

Since we know you’ve competed before, can you give us a little background information about what events (disciplines) you’ve entered and at what festivals or comps? And how did you do in those competitions? What did you like the most?

I started competing at the Steveston Sport Kite competition when I was 7 years old. I competed in the Novice Ballet and did a routine to Superman. I came in 3rd. place out of 3. I did not know how to use the whole window at that competition.

I have entered Novice Ballet and Precision at Whidbey Island for the past 2 years. Ocean Shores for the past 2 years. I also entered Hot Tricks at Nationals 2004 and made it to the semifinals. I have achieved first place at many of the competitions. I don’t really keep count of all of my placements. I like the banquets.

We understand that your parents are also very involved in dog training. Are you involved with this as well?

Yes, I used to train and compete with my mom’s Shetland Sheepdog, Bullet. We did K9 musical freestyle together. Bullet is too old to do that any more.

Musical freestyle, is that similar to kite ballet? And if so, how do you think it has helped you with kites?

Yes. You get music and have to choreograph and routine to it. The difference is you use a dog instead of a kite. It has helped me to learn to choreograph routines and perform in competitions.

Has the family ever tried to train a Border Collie to fly a kite?

No, ha ha.

With your family’s background in training dogs for all intents and purposes, what training and practice concepts do you carry over into kiting?

Concentrate, practice a lot, have fun, plan your routines, choose good music.

Now that Cailan is also starting to fly, should we be on the lookout for an Underwood team with the whole family flying in the near future?

No. Cailan won’t be ready for awhile.

Do you sometimes go out to fly all by yourself, or do you still fly only when dad goes out with you? If you go out to fly by yourself, do you mostly “fun fly,” or do you practice tricks and routines, or do you do some of both?

Yes, when the weather is good I go out and fly in the front yard everyday after school. I like to practice my indoor flying in the front yard. I practice tricks and my indoor routine in the front yard.

We know you’ve taken to Lam Hoac’s Sea Devils recently. Why did you switch to Sea Devils away from the kites you were flying earlier? What is it about the Sea Devils that make them attractive to you? What is easier? Is anything harder with a Sea Devil?

Because my dad wants to fly pairs and we needed a kite that we could both fly and have success with. There is nothing harder about flying the Sea Devils. Things that are easier: Back spins, Yo Yo, Jacob’s Ladder, and most other tricks.

Can you give us a list of the tricks you are comfortable performing? What tricks still give you a little trouble? What ones are you learning now? And what’s the ultimate trick you want to learn “someday?”

I am comfortable performing: Cascades, Axel, Double yo yo, Yo Yo, Back spin, Jacob’s Ladder, Insane, Comet, Flic Flac, Yo Yo Insane,

Learning now: Rolling cascade.

Ultimate trick: To do ten yo-yos.

We’ve seen you fly Lam’s VIP in indoor competition. When did you first start flying indoors? Do you enjoy it as much as you like your outdoor flying?

I started flying indoors when I was 7 years old at Whidbey Island. Yes, I like it the same as outdoor flying.

We know that your dad is also a pretty fine indoor pilot, and he often flies an Indoor Revolution. Do you also fly quad-line kites like your dad? If so, when did you start to learn quad-line flying – and how is it coming along? Do you expect to compete in quad-line events someday?

No, I don’t fly quad line.

Now, it’s time to get a little specific. Are there some tricks (either dual-line or quad-line) that you think you fly BETTER than your dad? (Tell the truth, please, Tristan…) If so, what are they? If not, are there some tricks you fly just as well as dad?

Yes, I fly the Flic Flac, the yo yo better than my dad. My dad doesn’t know how to do as many tricks as I do.

Is flying better than dad a real goal for you, or is dad just another competitor? If your dad is not the person you’d really like to beat on the flying field, who is? And when do you think that might happen?

Yes, I would like to beat my dad and Lam Hoac. I think it will take about 3 years.

Now five years probably seems like a long time away at your age, but do you still see yourself flying kites when you’re five years older?

I will be 14 in five years and yes, I still see myself as flying kites.

If so, what would you like to accomplish… What are your long-term dreams as a competitor?

I would like to fly kites like Richard Debray.

What advice do you have for new fliers that are thinking of entering competition for the first time?

Use the whole window and have fun.

What do you think of growing up in the kite community so far? Anything different or special about it, from the viewpoint of a young man?

I like being around kite people because they are really nice.

Moving on to some more traditional questions, do you prefer the Xbox or Playstation 2?

Gamecube, of course.

And on that note, what’s your favorite game?

Tony Hawk and Mario Sunshine.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I don’t know yet.

What is your favorite music?


Any favorite food(s)?

Candy and roast beef.

Nice work Tristan, we always enjoy your flying and really look forward to watching you develop and grow in the sport… And, thank you very much for taking the time share your experience with the readers here at Kitelife!

Thank you John for asking me to do this interview. I am looking forward to next season and seeing all of my kite friends.

Interview by John Barresi