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FOR THE KIDS: KITES : Sky's the Limit : A simple hobby has become big sport, with faster, high-tech crafts taking off in popularity.

July 12, 1990|JANE HULSE

So you want to take the kids out to the park and show them how you flew a kite when you were a kid. It was simple then. A kite was a kite--cheap and uncomplicated.

Not so today. Now it takes muscle and money and a little more know-how.

"Kiting isn't what it used to be," said Ed Back, manager of Village Kite and Toy Store at the Ventura Harbor.

There are two types of kites now, he explained. The passive kind are the traditional kites called high fliers. "The kind that you let go way up, and look at it, and say 'Wow,' " Back said.

The active kites, called sport kites, are the newer versions. They have two or four controls that make them maneuverable, and they fly lower at speeds of up to 100 m.p.h.--so fast they buzz like an airplane.

"They can rip you right out of your sneakers," he said. "Anything that takes that much strength is not just a hobby."

The sport kites are taking off in popularity, according to Back who sells twice as many of them as the high fliers. "The last three years have been crazy."

For those who want to learn about power kites or traditional kites, the city of Port Hueneme is offering a series of six weekly classes on kites at Moranda Park. The classes will be held on Saturdays, beginning July 14, from 2 to 4 p.m. The cost is $10 a week, plus the cost of books and materials.

The classes are for children, adults, seniors and handicapped people. However, children under 13 must have an adult in the area. Participants may sign up at the first class.

The classes will cover how wind works, good flying locations, safety, how to buy a kite, and individual and precision flying. Half the session will be held in class, and the other half in the field. Students also will learn how to make a kite.

"It's not just paper and matchstick any more," said Jeff Pilon, a nationally ranked kite-flying competitor who will teach the classes. "Now it's ripstop nylon and graphite."

Pilon said the classes are not solely for those who want to fly stunt kites. But, he said, anyone who takes all six classes and practices three times a week during that time should be ready for novice competition.

Kites can cost up to $400 these days, but Pilon said that kind of expense won't be necessary for the classes. A suitable dual-control kite costs about $40, and a competition-level kite runs about $150.

Kites are a big business these days, Back said. Kite fliers compete across the country for first place prize money of up to $10,000.

A flier three years, Back is captain of a four-person precision flying team that often practices at the beach near his store. In April, they performed in Las Vegas at a land sailing championship.

Precision flying is like a ballet of sorts. They do loops in unison, or they fly their kites apart and then dive back toward each other, their kites narrowly missing.

Those looking for a more rigorous workout can try power kiting. On a windy day, they poise themselves like a water-skier and let the kite pull them through the sand.

"We do this for fun, up and down the beach," Back said. Sometimes they stack kites to get more power. For this you can get strapped into a harness with wrist straps.

"You let your body take the brunt," he said. "It's hard to hang onto something pulling you that hard." He pointed to a kite in his store with a 16-foot wing span. "That monster will take you for a ride."

If a ride isn't what you had in mind, Back's store--possibly the only kite store in the county--still sells traditional kites for under $12. Even those are better than they used to be, he contends.

"They used to last a couple of days," he said. "Now they last years."

* WHERE AND WHEN: The city of Port Hueneme offers a series of classes on kiting, beginning July 14. The classes, held Saturdays from 2 to 4 p.m. at Moranda Park, costs $10 per week. For more information, call 986-6592 or 986-6584.

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