More to kite flying than pulling strings

Upper body gets quite a workout and feet do a lot of running around

April 29, 2005|By Tom Dunkel | Tom Dunkel,SUN STAFF

The giant flag waving over Fort McHenry is in full, unfurled glory, its red and white stripes undulating in a persistent breeze.

Bad day for kicking a field goal. Great day for flying a kite.

A few hundred yards from the fort's walls, a man seems to be practicing some kind of fast-paced, martial-arts-inspired cha-cha in an open meadow.

He rushes a few steps forward, then pedals a few steps back; another few steps forward, another few steps back. He occasionally pumps his arms: short, quick strokes that make it look like he's trying to shake candy out of an imaginary vending machine.

This is how serious kite fliers do battle with the wind.

"You've got to have good legs in this business," explains Mike Mosman, a 54-year-old electrical engineer from Columbia who's busy manipulating two, long nylon strings attached to a bow-tie-shaped kite that's dancing overhead. "The way you control a dual-line kite is to adjust your speed to the kite."

Mosman probably could fly a kite inside a phone booth. He'll readily venture out in rain or snow. His kites can spin in place and instantly change direction, cruise upside down and trace geometric patterns in the air.

From a hundred feet away, Mosman will make a kite touch down in somebody's outstretched palm, landing as softly as a pigeon taking feed. All that's required is a few strategic jerks on his guide lines, a few well-timed, to-and-fro mini-marches.

"Mike is truly one of the most enthusiastic kite people who has ever come down the pike," says Jim Cosca, a senior account executive with Premier Kites and Designs in Hyattsville, where top-of-the-line models cost as much as $1,000. "He has embraced virtually every aspect of kite flying."

When most people think of kite flying, they think of standing in a field of grass with one arm held high like the Statue of Liberty's. They think of praying for gusts of wind. That's the amateur approach: all luck, no skill.

There is, however, a minority of kiting enthusiasts who have fire burning in their bellies. Mosman hooks up with them about once a month at various East Coast competitions. He's not one of the top trophy winners. Rather, his trademark is versatility, hence his nickname: "The Total Kite Package."

Mosman flies basic single-line kites, plus dual-line and quad-line. He does "ballet" flying to synchronized music, performance flying (the kiting equivalent of figure skating), and dabbles in Japanese-style, dog-eat-dog Rokkaku fighting, where the object is to knock opponents' kites out of the sky.

Like most everyone, Mosman fooled with kites as a kid. But about 12 years ago he was vacationing in Ocean City and stopped to watch his father-in-law send up a kite on the beach. That got him intrigued.

He started practicing and competing. Suddenly, kiting became his "sport" of choice.

"I think this is the best thing to keep somebody in shape," he says. "I'd probably weigh about 15 pounds more if I didn't do this."

At 6 feet and 205 pounds, Mosman is only a little soft around the waistline. He doesn't jog, doesn't lift weights. Has no stretching routine. But he passes physicals with flying colors. Mosman stays fit simply by riding herd on his kites.

Once a week he likes to squeeze in an extended flying session. Mosman brought a gear bag to Fort McHenry filled with his kites, an assortment of heavy- and lightweight flying lines, his hand-held wind meter, snacks, suntan lotion and a jug of water.

"If you're out here on a hot day and you're sweating like a stuck pig, you better hydrate," advises Mosman, who has pulled shoulder muscles, developed tennis elbow and once broke his right index finger yanking on lines during a high-pressure tournament.

"You can absolutely get a good aerobic workout," says Cosca. "In Rokkaku competitions you are literally sprinting around the field."

Some fliers are drawn to bulky, comparatively slow, single-line kites, which can be nearly the size of a billboard. Mosman owns one. He calls it "the Boss." But he prefers more maneuverable dual-line and single-line kites. They're small and tethered to lines less than 100 feet long.

Those so-called sport or stunt kites can be finely controlled and therefore offer the most acrobatic and aesthetic possibilities. Mosman flies them for the mental, as well as physical, benefits.

Indeed, he sounds like a Zen master when describing the "euphoric feeling" of being at one with his kite, of talking to it through the lines and through his fingers: "The kite represents the human condition in a lot of ways. When body, mind and spirit are in balance, you're a happy person. I fly because it puts balance in my life."

A few moments later he snaps out of that reverie. The Total Kite Package has made a totally rookie mistake. His concentration wandered, and so, too, has the Boss. It's now stuck in a tree.

"Uh oh, we're in trouble here."

With that, Mosman breaks into a slow jog. He makes a beeline for that tree, eager to retrieve his kite, anxious to regain his balance.

Go fly a kite

Mike Mosman suggests the serious beginner invest at least $50 in a quality kite. Here are a few other tips for getting started:

Jim Cosca, who works for Premier Kites and Designs in Hyattsville and also competes, says most serious sport-kite fliers keep themselves in good condition. He does long-distance cycling for his legs and hits the gym five days a week. Cosca says beginners often are surprised at how long they're on their feet and how hard they work their upper body, especially when strong winds are blowing.

To get a feel for competitive kite flying, check out the aerial action at the Maryland International Kite Exposition this weekend in Ocean City. For information, click on the "Event Calendar" listing at www.kiteloft.com.

Most avid kiters belong to the American Kitefliers Association (www.aka.kite.org) and/or a local club like Wings Over Washington (www.kites.org/wow).

The online magazine Kitelife can be read for free at www.kitelife.com.

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