A guide to kite flying

By Josh Rose

Contrary to popular belief, not all kites are lame, dollar store cheap and easily breakable. Instead, they are beautifully tethered aircrafts with a rich history behind them. Invented in China over 3,000 years ago, they were used in war to spy on enemies. Evolving and proliferating across Asia and Europe, kites have been used in various scientific experiments and were even used in the Second World War as spy equipment. Kites have been the base for conceiving numerous activities popular today including hangliding and parachuting.

Hundreds of kite festivals around the world attract a variety of enthusiasts. Windscape, held in Swift Current, Saskatchewan from June 25-26, is a world-class event providing many different activities for children and adults alike. The weekend had children’s games, face painting, music shows, kite choreography and international professionals showing off their collection of kites.

“We started doing music festivals and kites were a way of utilizing the main tent during the day, when it would have sat empty, because we only do the music at night. It just took off,” said Shann Gowan, Windscape’s head coordinator. “We get lots of wind and we wanted a festival that was uniquely Swift Current — wind and kites were just a good fit.”

There are many different types of kites, all based on how many strings, or lines, are attached. Single-lined kites are typically what you find in Walmart and other bargain stores, but can get grandiose — show-kites, a special single-lined kite, are massive monsters of splendour. The largest kite to date is a whopping 42 metres long and 25 metres wide. These show-kites can be a variety of sizes, colours and shapes, including green geckos, blue super-bears and sleds.

“I started kite flying in the late ’80s,” said Gary Mark, the proud owner of a 366 metres square ‘Mickey Mouse and Friends’ show kite. “There was a gentleman named Ray Bethell who mesmerized people with his ability to fly three stunt kites at a time. So I bought my first stunt kite and kept graduating from one level to the next. By the mid-’90s the sport got to the point where people were just doing tricks and stuff and that just wasn’t something that interested me. I started collecting single-line kites from various makers and countries. About year 2000 I got my first show kite and I’ve been show-kiting ever since.”

Bethell holds the world record for flying three stunt kites at one time. Stunt kites deal with two or more lines. It is a basic back-and-forth, push-and-pull action that can make a dual-line dance among the clouds. Very similar to figure skating, performances can be done alone or as a team in competitions. Flying in a team is spectacular to watch — over five fliers are able to complete their tricks and formations while avoiding accidents, kites within inches of each other.

Hailing from Quebec and traveling far and wide for the sport is the dual-line duo known as Dipt’R. Flying since 2002, Stephane Dery and Edith Lacombe are crazy about the dynamics and simplicity of the dual-lines.

“We like what we can do with the dual-lines — it’s a lot of freestyle. Quad-lines are funny, especially when you’re flying with other people. You need a lot of skill and control over the speed in those situations. If you’re out just for fun, I recommend the dual-line,” said Lacombe.

Quad-line kites were brought in to mainstream media by Connor Doran, an America’s Got Talent Top 12 contestant, who flew a quad-line kite indoors. Quad-line kites, as the name suggests, are four-lined behemoths. Instead of a back-and-forth motion with the arms, it is an up-and-down movement of the wrists. Quad-lines provide greater control and more tricks, yet are pricier. Doran and his mother Amy were among the celebrity fliers at Windscape. The two regularly participate in competitions and choreographed kite flies across North America.

Corporations that build precision kites like Prism in the United States and HQ Kites in Germany are massive kite distributors. And just as there are suppliers, there are retailers. Located in Taber, Alberta is the Great Canadian Kite Company — a family-owned retail business striving to be the number one kite business in Canada.

“We sell kites because we enjoy flying them,” said Mike Rose, founder of GCKC. “We were looking for a place in Canada that was reasonable and competitive with the United States and would provide a good-quality kite. We couldn’t find any. So it made sense to turn a hobby into a business. It just took off and now we sell kites all over the world.”

There is a lot of innovation in the kite industry, complete with its own set of challenges.

Competitions and choreography, whether with two or four lines, are always exciting to watch and the bigger the kites, the bigger the crowds.


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