HONOLULU — Kapiolani Park, a wide expanse of open Hawaiian grassland just west of Oahu's Diamond Head by the sea, is a kite flyer's paradise where trade winds blow all year.
It's where you can watch championship flyers on the ground maneuver the highest-tech "stunt" kites in the air. And if that tempts you, you can get free lessons.
You can say goodby forever to those kite-eating trees flaunting their undigested remains because stunt kites can be precisely controlled.
The New Technology
If you haven't been kite-flying lately, you'll be amazed at the new generation of wind worshipers and their high-tech aircraft, dual- and single-line controllable kites. They call themselves "pilots." The champs are "top guns."
Graphlex and fiberglass have replaced glued sticks. Thousands of design hours have been invested in new wing-shaped, multicolored sails fashioned from Space Age fabrics.
They climb, dive and loop at breakneck speed on lines spun of nylon and kevlar, the stuff used in bulletproof vests.
It doesn't take long to master the basics. Head for the park where kite-shop "pros," equipment at the ready, are eager to launch student pilots, free.
There's probably none better than U.S. stunt-kite champ Robert Loera.
Four years ago, vacationing on Oahu, Loera, a kite maker's son, made a discovery: This island blessed with perennial trade winds didn't have one specialty kite shop.
Propelled by a lifelong love of kite flying, he redirected his career as a baseball player and tennis pro to the hot new sport of stunt-kite flying. He moved to the island and opened his park-side emporium, Kite Fantasy.
Soon after, he co-founded the Hawaii Kiteflyer's Assn. and put together the Hawaii Challenge, an annual stunt-kite competition to attract mainland flyers.
And just for the love of kites, he's conducted countless workshops and demonstrations for schools and community groups. He's even happy to teach visitors to fly anything in the shop.
If the visitors decide to buy, his staff interprets national wind charts to ensure that the selection will fly in the Hawaiian sky.
Kapiolani Park is considered to be the best urban stunt-kite spot in the world.
Just ask kite designer Don Tabor, who comes from San Diego every year for the Hawaii Challenge: "Kapiolani is no 3-par course. It's not just the speed, but the dramatic 45-degree wind shifts that happen within seconds because of Diamond Head."
It's no wonder that Tabor's precision flying team, Top of the Line Flight Squadron (U.S. national champion), heads for the annual island competition. They agree: "Hawaii produces the highest caliber and most competitive flyers. We stretch ourselves and our equipment to the limits."
What's the sensation? "When the team flies, we're standing shoulder to shoulder with kites traveling in excess of 60 m.p.h., doing with kites what the Blue Angels do with airplanes.
"You feel every punch of the breeze. It's like being in the sky with the kite. It's physically exhausting and mentally refreshing," Tabor said.
At the fourth annual Hawaii Challenge next March 13, sponsored by the Hawaii Kiteflyers Assn., you will see the world's best flyers or, better still, you might enter the competition.
Besides experienced and professional divisions, there will be novice events for pilots and flyers yet to win laurels. Competing teams perform synchronized maneuvers or, choreographed to music, present flying ballets.
The 21st annual Oahu Kite Festival for single-line kites, including local ethnic handmade kites, is March 12. For details, contact Kite Fantasy, Honolulu.
The 1987 show-stealer at the challenge, Ron Reich, from Tabor's team, won the individual creativity division. Wired to a sound amplifier, he held an animated conversation with his kite--the kite's response in pantomime.
Then, turning cartwheels over the lines and somersaults underneath, he mimicked the kite. He flew with the lines between his legs and, for the finale, with no hands, produced perfect maneuvers with the lines secured to his belt loops.
Another spell-binder last spring was (Big) Jim Torres' performance with Hyperkites, high-tech triangular kites known for their grace and efficiency and flown in breathtaking stacks.
With the help of a four-man crew, the 250-pound island flyer launched a stack of 100 Hyperkites. To overcome wind stress, the base kite was constructed of 10 pounds of stainless steel. It flew on 1,200-pound kevlar line.
Later, Big Jim tried to break his 100-kite world record, flying 200 Hyperkites, but the winds were too strong. "It's like holding onto a dump truck," he said. "But I'll be back next year."
Along with the competition, many of the nation's top stunt-kite designers present informal workshops at which they exchange tips and anecdotes. Designers Randy Tom (Hyperkites), John Perusse (Action Kites) and Don Tabor (Top of the Line Kites) are regular participants.