Take a stroll through a modern kite store, such as the Kite Loft at Harborplace, and you'll know the days of the paper-covered two-stickers you used to get for a dime are long gone.
It is easy to spend $100 to $200 or more, on sophisticated models with light and durable fabric covers and sticks made of fiberglass, aluminum or high-tech composite materials.
But getting into kiting can still be a simple and relatively inexpensive pleasure for both youthful and adult beginners. Here is a basic primer on some good first kites:
This is perhaps the most basic kite (and the type to be built in today's workshops at the Maryland Kite Festival). It is rectangular, with just two sticks mounted parallel and vertically. A bridle is attached to a keel on each stick, allowing the wind to hold the kite open and flying.
Often available in a plastic version at toy stores ($1 to $2) with Donald Duck, Spiderman or other cartoon characters as decoration, it is also about the easiest kite to make at home. Says Kite Lines magazine editor Valerie Govig, "you can do it with nursery school kids if they're able to color, and even adults enjoy seeing that such a simple thing can fly. The sled is pretty much guaranteed."
Pricier versions made of nylon (about $12) are sometimes marketed as a "pocket kite," perfect for adults to stuff in a briefcase and fly on the spur of the moment as a stress reliever.
One of the easiest kites to get aloft, this is a flat kite with a single stick of bamboo or fiberglass. The framing is bent in a 180-degree arc, which flexes before the wind to provide an airfoil that creates lift. In its least expensive versions (about $6), it is covered with Mylar, a papery plastic material that resists tearing and is often decorated with cartoon characters or other designs; more expensive models are made of nylon.
On the octopus, a fringed tail helps keep it stable. Closely related are the dragon and cobra kites, with long, tapered tails sometimes stretching to 40 feet.
This is actually a relatively recent kite design, dependent on the same fairly sophisticated aerodynamic principles from which hang gliders were developed. The wedge-shaped kites gain stability from a triangular keel on the center line.
Ms. Govig says a well-built delta is the easiest kite to fly, and a good choice for adult beginners. They soar in light winds and can range in cost from reliable plastic toy store models made by the Gayla company (about $2) to magnificent nylon versions, with up to a 20-foot wingspan, spectacular colors and elaborate fabric work in the design ($20 to close to $200).
Although this is the kite many of us flew as children, it is hardly the simplest model around. Technically called the Eddy (after
19th century inventor William A. Eddy), the two-stick kite depends on a bowed cross-stick to fly well, and is designed to be flown tailless. (A tail adds stability, however.)
"A lot of people make them poorly and then they're hard to fly," says Ms. Govig. A more reliable recent variation (around $12) uses a flexible fiberglass bow that is bent by the wind rather than a string across the back (adapting a technique common to fighter kites from the Orient).
Simple paper or plastic models are still available for $1 to $2, but the diamond is also popular in cloth with a variety of fancy decorations or appliques, ranging from $10 to $20.
The box kite:
Looking less like a flying device than a piece of free-form sculpture, this old design actually flies quite well. In traditional wood and paper or cloth versions, it takes a bit more wind than any of the above, but lightweight models lift off in lighter air. Boxes are good for seeking altitude and for carrying aloft wind-mills or other playful devices that can be attached to a kite line.
It is hard these days to find the paper-and-spruce models once common in toy stores, but it is just as well -- they were hard to assemble and often ripped at the slightest provocation. Traditional four-sided boxes in nylon or cotton are available along with a wide range of multiple-sided and winged varieties. Costs range from $15 up.
"One of the great kites," says Ms. Govig. This model combines the virtues of the delta and the box design. The soaring wings of a delta are mounted on the body of a triangular box that replaces the delta's usual keel.
They fly steady and high, and some enthusiasts use them to carry camera rigs aloft for kite's-view photography. Costs range from $20 to $150 or more, depending on size.
These are relatively sophisticated stickless kites, usually of nylon, which are held open by the wind much like a modern sky diver's parachute. (Cost: $20 to $200 or more.)
Often sold as a back packer's kite, the smaller models especially require moderate to heavy winds. But they are convenient for spur-of-the-moment use because they can be stuffed and folded into a small space.