Go fly a Kite Hobbyists claim a direct line to fun, freedom, friendship

April 03, 1993|By Daniel M. Amdur | Daniel M. Amdur,Contributing Writer

There is something almost spiritual about flying a kite.

It is a communion with nature, where the wind and the earth are joined by a slender string reaching into the heavens.

Kiting can be a solitary journey or it can be a festive gathering -- a party in the skies.

But most important, it is universal. Kite flying, say kite enthusiasts, is for everybody.

"Kite fliers are one of the friendliest groups of people you will ever meet," said Billy Jones, co-owner of the Kite Loft of Ocean City, one of the largest kite retailers in the country, with stores in Ocean City, Baltimore and New Orleans. "They're from all walks of life, from people who are unemployed for years to doctors, lawyers and construction workers.

"But every one of them will sit down and take the time to tell you what it is they do [with their kites] and turn you on to kiting," he said.

While kite fliers all seem to share the love of the sport, their urge to soar with the birds is as varied as the fliers themselves.

"It's a sense of freedom," said Emanuel Payton, a volunteer at last Saturday's Smithsonian Kite Festival in Washington. "When I'm there, time tends to stand still."

For Paul Lawrence, who came from Massachusetts to compete at the festival, kiting is a labor of love. Since 1991, he has worked on his "seven sisters" box kite, seven individual box kites he built from scratch and connected as one huge contraption. And it flew.

"I felt great," he said with a smile. "All that time was worth it."

Ask Mr. Jones why he flies kites, and you quickly discover that kiting is a family tradition.

From the time his father, a pilot for PanAm Airlines, brought back kites from Asia, Mr. Jones, 29, has been a flier. In 1986, he $H started using dual-control kites, or "stunt kites" as they are called, and has competed many times along the East Coast.

"My two passions in life are kites and sky diving," said Mr. Jones. "Once the parachute opens, it's just like being a kite. You have total control. . . . You're flying."

But for Mr. Jones, kiting clearly has the edge.

"[Kite flying] allows you to totally escape," he said. "It can be whatever you want it to be."

"If you want it to be a workout, . . . you put a big kite on the end of the line and it will pull you around," he said. "If you want it to be docile, you can put a smaller kite on the line and you could fly it just like a ballet."

Stunt kites are easily maneuverable and are operated with two pTC lines. A relatively new model in kite history, they were developed a little more than 10 years ago and are now a favorite for competition. Fliers can learn to perform a variety of aerobatic tricks with these kites, which can travel more than 90 miles an hour. According to Mr. Jones, a good stunt kite will usually cost between $29 and $99 and is simple to learn to fly.

"If you can ride a bicycle, you can fly a stunt kite," he said. "And once you buy the kite, that's it. The wind's free. It's just about as ecologically sound as you can get."

In addition to stunt kites, there are many other models such as dragon kites, box kites and diamond kites. According to Jack Levenson, assistant manager of the Inner Harbor branch of the Kite Loft, the delta kite is best for beginners.

Deltas, which are wedge-shaped kites with a triangular keel on the front, capture the wind and are easy to fly in light breezes. A good-quality delta, says Mr. Levenson, usually runs from $15 to $25.

For kite fliers who are always on the go, parafoils are a good kite because they are stick-less and can be folded into a small pouch for transportation, says Mr. Levenson. Parafoils require a slightly stronger wind to get them in the air, he says, and usually cost from $17 to $35.

Be it delta, stunt, dragon or other, aspiring wind runners need a place to spread their wings. "The best place to fly a kite," said Valerie Govig, editor and publisher of Kite Lines magazine, "is the nearest."

In the Baltimore area, good flying locations include Fort McHenry, Patterson Park and Harborplace, she says.

"The best thing to look for is 'clean wind,' as we call it," said Ms. Govig. Wide open spaces away from tall buildings and trees are the ideal kite flying grounds, she added.

"There's no time of the year when you can't fly a kite," said Ms. Govig. "Actually, there's no day of the year you can't fly a kite. . . . You may not like it, but the kite doesn't care."

According to Fred Davis, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, April is a good time to go wrestling with the wind. April is the second windiest month of the year for Baltimore (after March), with an average wind speed of 10.6 miles per hour, more than enough wind to get a kite aloft.

The best time of the day to fly a kite, says Mr. Davis, is the late afternoon because the sun will get the air moving by this time.

"People think kites are difficult," said Mr. Jones. "They remember running around when they were children and trying to get the kite off the ground."

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