Wind, sea and sky – could there be a better combination for summer? Well, add one kite and the mix jumps to an, ahem, higher level! Or at least that’s what our local kite makers, kite sellers and kite enthusiasts think.
Among the other wonders of the North Coast, we’ve also got a little bit of kite heaven. There are people and places to go to get both the information and the supplies you need, whether you’re an old-hand at kite flying or newly-minted.
One of the first places kite aficionados should consider visiting this summer is the World Kite Museum in Long Beach, Wash. Executive Director Chelsea Libby emphasizes that “we have a new family-friend mission: We want to tell the story of kites and their effect on world culture, art and scientific innovation through hands-on learning exhibits for all ages.”
The magic ingredient: wind
Libby’s got enough enthusiasm to entice even those of us who have never flown a kite before. “We’ve got perfect wind conditions on the Long Beach Peninsula, which is unique because we have the coastal environment but we also get a bit of a break in the wind with Cape Disappointment. So we seem to have just the right amount of breeze coming off the ocean and hitting the land,” she says.
The average wind speed needed for kite flying is between five and 20 mph. But as Libby says, “It also has a little bit to do with the fact that kites need the right amount of drag. Most kites are calibrated to catch the wind but not to catch too much wind because you don’t want your kite torn up – there is a lot of force involved. You also want consistency to give the kite the right amount of lift. If you have choppy wind speeds your kite can crash. Usually, on any given day, we have consistently between 10 and 20 mph.”
She explains why coastal regions like ours attract kite flyers. “Most of the kite festivals in the world are located at the ocean to catch the wind coming in off the colder water. Once the wind starts hitting the land it warms and starts slowing down.”
Kite flying is a mix of art and science. Libby often talks to classrooms of kids about the weather, how wind happens, kite drag and other kite-trivia relevant to a science curriculum. “The subject of kites is so interdisciplinary,” she continues. “It can include science, history and art. I have an art degree, so I can geek-out over the hand-painted kites and how much artistry goes into making these beautiful things that float in the air. Also, every culture has its own unique style of kites – from the Japanese rokkaku with painted kabuki faces to South Korean kites, which tend to have more natural elements like birds and flowers.”
Libby also mentions a few special programs coming up at the museum. One of the Northwest’s most legendary kite flyers, Ray Bethell, will have his own exhibit running from mid-July through the end of October. Bethell is known for flying three stunt kites single-handedly all at the same time. “Ray is amazing. He’s a kite maker, an artist and also quite an engineer. He invented his own gear – his harness and handles – to be able to do what he does.”
And, of course, one can’t forget the Long Beach Kite Festival Aug. 19 to 25. The museum will be sponsoring kite making for kids and a mega-fly. “This year’s theme is red, white and blue,” says Libby. “We’ll be flying on the Revolution Field, and everyone with a kite up will get a button commemorating the event.”
If Libby has whetted your appetite for kite flying, where is the best place to get your own kite? Once Upon a Breeze in Cannon Beach, owned and operated by Lisa Fraser, is the oldest kite shop in Oregon.
Frazer is no slouch in the enthusiasm department either. Several years ago she found out that kites had been banned in Afghanistan and was part of an effort to bring some high-flying joy back into the lives of Afghani children.
“I was just floored when I heard about the ban,” Fraser said. “To me, flying a kite is one of the most relaxing, enjoyable things you can do. And kite flying in Afghanistan is a serious national sport.” Fighter kite flyers use strings coated in glass that can cut another kite flyer’s line in the air and bring the kite down. Together, Frazer and Pasco High School teacher Carol Brucker hatched a plan to send 600 kites to Afghanistan. (The Humanitarian organization Mercy Corps delivered them.)
Once Upon a Breeze has a wide variety of kites. “The Australian-made Ground Zero line of kites is a top seller,” says Fraser, “and sales are strong for the upscale kites.”
Another long-standing kite shop, and one that also manufactured its own kites for many years, is Pinky’s Kite Factory, also in Cannon Beach. “We’re a full-service store, and we’ve been here for 35 years, just when kites were starting to be cool,” says store volunteer Michael Strasser, who goes by the name “Wizard.” “It’s just Wizard, one name only – even my mom calls me that,” he says. “We used to build kites here, but we don’t anymore. This was a gift shop first. Then one day Pinky put out a bucket of kites, and they sold out in a day. So a second bucket went out, and those sold out too.”
Wizard is hard-core. “I built my first kite when I was 3, and I’m over 60 now. And I still remember when I saw my first jet – it came back over the house and did a sonic boom. I was hooked. I retired 26 years ago, and I’ve been running the store ever since.”
What’s new in the world of kites?
“There are always different styles of kites coming out, but in a way nothing changes,” says Wizard. “But kite boarding is still sort of new and clean line surfing.” These are sports that utilize a kite and wind for propulsion to move a skateboard or rider over water or land.
“There are also foil kites that will pull dirt boards with inflatable wheels and will carry you down the beach – we carry some of the foils. I have a buggy kite and also an eight-meter foil. You can be pulled on a snow saucer or hydroplaned across the water with a kite,” he says.
Wizard emphasizes that they also offer a variety of kite experiences. “We have big kites all the way down to kites for a 2-year-old or a 6-week-old dog. I’m not joking. It’s actually happened. We’ve sold over a 100 kites for dogs.”
“We had a 6-week-old beagle in here the other day,” he continued. “One of his owners even taught him how to take something in its mouth on command. So the beagle put his paws up on the counter and paid for his own kite. I gave him change and off he went. We’re trying to encourage affordable family fun, and we provide a good product for a good price. We try to teach children how to be adults and adults how to be children.”
So whether you want a kite for yourself, your dog or your grandmother, the North Coast is the place to be. We’ve got the best shops and some of the most knowledgeable kite experts. Just add a little wind and get flying