KITES HAVE A universal appeal, unfettered by the boundaries of age, sex or athletic ability. And kites are definitely no longer considered child's play--more and more adults are getting into the game. One reason for the soaring number of kite flyers is the economic factor. "With most hobbies," says Ken Price, owner of Village Kite and Toy Store in Ventura, "you have to buy the product and then pay to use it. Kites are free after your initial investment because flying requires no greens fees, no licenses and no lift tickets."
Another reason for the comeback is the new technology. "Not that many years ago, kites didn't work unless you lived in Chicago in March," explains Roger Hyde, veteran kite flyer and manager of Let's Fly a Kite in Marina del Rey. "The Space Age changed all that, and now even kids know better than to put up with bad aerodynamics. The simple stuff is now reliable, and so is the sophisticated equipment."
While some kites are easy to fly, others require varying degrees of muscle. The two-string stunt kite, which can be maneuvered into an endless number of moves, appears to be influencing the upsurge in kite sales and the widening of demographics. "Stunt kites can fly up to 100 miles per hour and get the adrenaline running right out of your ears," Price says. "If you're not real careful, they can put you in the Superman position."
"Stunt kites are the wave of the 1990s," concurs Howard White, owner of Windworks in Panorama City. The two-line stunt kite has proved to be such a success, there is now a recently introduced quadruple-control stunt kite. "The four-line is just catching on," says Jim Pettit, manager of the Ultimate High in Long Beach. "It's a different way of flying and takes some getting used to, because you maneuver the kite by twisting your wrist. The four-line will spin on a center point, go forward, backward, dive and hover, much like a helicopter."
With so many kites to choose from, the question is not only which type to fly but where. Over-urbanized Southern California is punctuated by the flyer's most fearful enemies: tall trees and high wires. But flying grounds abound if one is willing to look for them.
Gloria Lugo, owner of Let's Fly a Kite, says, "Our Southern California beaches are the best places in the world to fly. We don't need to wait for the traditional March winds. Here we have an offshore wind every day it doesn't rain. And that means we can fly."
Other great flying locations include Eisenhower Park in Orange, Craig Park in Brea, the rose garden by the Santa Barbara Mission, an area in Los Angeles' Griffith Park near the softball diamond off Crystal Springs Road, Glen Helen Regional Park near Cal State San Bernardino, Embarcadero Park in San Diego, the north side of Woodley Park in Van Nuys, Chatsworth Park, El Dorado Park and Shoreline Aquatic Park in Long Beach. Desert areas also are perfect for kite flying--except when it's too windy.
Although March is the traditional time for kite festivals, flying is equally popular in the summer, and there are several competitions on the agenda. The Candlestick Park Stunt Kite Competition, scheduled for July 22 in San Francisco, is expected to draw many top flyers in California. A date for the Santa Monica Pier Kite Festival is up in the air; telephone Let's Fly a Kite, which is the sponsor, for more information. Also scheduled: Berkeley Kite Festival at the Berkeley Marina, July 29-30; West Coast Stunt Kite Championships at San Francisco's Marina Green, during Labor Day weekend, and Hair of the Dog Kite Fly, at Del Monte Beach, north of Monterey, on Oct. 14-15. Thousands of kites are being manned by enthusiasts who are flying just for the sheer joy of it. As one brand-new fancier puts it: "From the feeling flying gives you, I'm beginning to think kites lift us up where we belong, sort of like love."