Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Let's Go Fly a Kite

Let’s Go Fly a Kite, 2012

I’ve never thought of myself as a kite person. Last year I balked when my wife suggested that it might be fun to go take pictures at a kite festival at the oceanfront. I imagined hoards of kids running around crying and tangling their lines while their parents screamed at each other to get out of the way.
I was wrong.
When I was a kid you were supposed to know how to make a kite out of balsa strips and newspaper, with a tail made of old cotton rags. I made a few of those and some actually flew. I lived a block from the ocean, where there was nearly always a breeze.
I’ve come to believe, later in life, that the beauty of kites might be wasted on kids, especially today when the idea of standing on the ground holding a string strikes a lot of kids as, well, slow. Instead, kites are probably for people who enjoy, or will grow up to enjoy, sailing. They’re a more cerebral bunch, appreciative of how the air moves above us, and how its movement isn’t a function of push so much as a function of pull. They want to learn how the wind comes and goes and how to notice how and when it changes. They want that contraption of paper and balsa to dance, bobbing and weaving hundreds of feet above them. It’s not hard to imagine that they see themselves bobbing and weaving up there in the air as if in flight.
And so it was this past weekend that I went down to the oceanfront to see what there was to see at this year’s kite festival.  If nothing else, I’d get a good walk on the Boardwalk, maybe run into a few friends and do some people watching.
I did run into a few friends. I did people watch. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that the kite festival wasn’t at all what I expected. It turns out these kite people are a serious lot. Whole groups of them came from hundreds of miles away to compete in the sun and sand.
Several large areas were blocked off on the beach. There were sections for giant kites, like the ones shown above. There were sections for smaller, handmade kites. There was a tent where you could learn to make your own kite from paper and balsa and another large marked-off area where you could fly them.
To be honest, I didn’t see many kids flying kites. The professionals, though, were announced as if they were Olympic stars, with great attention given to the trickiness or complexity of the design of their kites. Serious kites, it seems, are more than paper and balsa and a tail of old rags. A common theme in the introductions was how the contestant had made the kite being flown “on his own sewing machine.”
It was a beautiful morning on the beach. I’d like to say there were huge crowds of people there to watch the kites. But there weren’t. Most people watched for a few minutes and then wandered on while the kites hung in the air far above their heads.
Kite Colors, 2012


  1. On the way back from Ocracoke a few years ago, my son and I stopped at a kite festival at the Wright Brothers Memorial. Not only was it an appropriate place for the festival, but you could climb to the top of the hill and look down on the kites. I think the same octopus was there.

  2. I haven't been able to fly a kite in several years but still have several stored away in the garage. I think of it as a version of fishing only instead of reeling in, you reel out.

    My favourites are the kites that need you to work to keep them up rather than just leave them tied off to a post.

  3. Oh, I'm a huge fan of kite flying--they're beautiful. Something about them being free yet tethered is interesting to me. Love the octopus!