A visit to Kites Etc. on the Balboa Peninsula brings out the kid in everyone. It's hard not to smile at the sight of the store's brightly colored kites, which bring back fond childhood memories.
"We sell fun," said Stephen Kent, who opened the store almost six years ago with his wife, Cathy. Kent, a former race car driver, decided to open the store when he discovered there wasn't a nearby source to satisfy his stunt kite obsession.
Since then, he has helped form the Balboa Bees, a four-member exposition kite flying team that placed fourth in a national competition in July. His 10-year-old helper, Chiron Stewart, placed fourth in the junior competition.
Kent does more than sell kites. He promotes stunt flying as a sport by taking his kites to the people. With Stewart's help, Kent conducts stunt kite exhibitions every weekend in Peninsula Park. Big Mo, the store's largest parafoil kite, functions as a local landmark when tethered to a palm tree during the exhibitions. "It's 550 square feet with a 45-foot spin sock on it. It brings people in from everywhere," said Kent.
The parafoil, which sells for $1,500, is available at the store, along with kites ranging in price from $12 to $400. "It's best to start simple," said Kent. "We usually go out with people and let them test-fly a few kites so they can see which is right for them."
Kites are still relatively simple, but advances in design and materials have made a larger selection available. Most are made of rip-stop nylon over frames constructed of plastic, fiberglass or carbon graphite, the same material used to make faster sailboats and lighter tennis rackets. They can be flown singly or linked together in a train. Some are flown single-handed and others require two-handed control.
"It used to take at least a 4- to 5-m.p.h. wind to launch a stunt kite," said Kent. "Now there are some that can be flown in 2-mile winds. They're getting better every year."