It's kite-flying season on Washington's Long Beach Peninsula, so we got some flying tips from a local expert.
LONG BEACH PENINSULA — You see lots of cute and funny kites here — a Hello Kitty, a flying dragon, a train floating on air as if it were off track. The range is broad, that’s for sure.
But I didn’t drive three hours to the southwest corner of the state for that. I didn’t come to the kite-flying mecca at the start of kite-flying season just to watch a kite float like some stray red balloon.
No. This is what I came for: It flew sideways, this stunt kite Rae Bohn was showing off to me. It performed a figure 8, then spun as if it were out of control and nose-dived, destined for its demise in a dune, only to speed up again.
It floated like a feather and perched on the beach with its silhouette under the sun. Then it rocketed, its wings flapping against the wind.
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In the annals of geekdom, this ranks pretty high, I know. Who flies kites, in this “Angry Birds” and Facebook age, anyway?
Plenty, apparently, along the Long Beach Peninsula. This is the kite-flying capital of America, home to the annual Washington State International Kite Festival and the World Kite Museum & Hall of Fame.
When Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Pictures needed a kite consultant for the movie “The Kite Runner,” it contacted the kite museum.
Some locals, with support from area businesses, hosted the first kite event in Long Beach 30 years ago. Only seven kite fliers came. But five were boys from North Seattle bent on breaking the world’s record for longest kite staying in the air. Their record feat, 108 hours and 17 minutes, made news around the world. Soon kite fliers from Canada and then Asia and Europe came. They compete in kite fighting, fly lighted and glow-in-the dark kites and do kite aerobatics set to music.
In 1990, Long Beach residents Kay Buesing and her late husband, Jim Buesing, founded a kite museum, displaying hand-painted Chinese silk kites and about 2,000 different kites from around the world. The museum, still run by Kay, hosts workshops and gives flying lessons.
Along with razor-clam digging and the summer Rod Run car event, the annual August kite festival remains one of the area’s biggest draws. Souvenir shops sell almost as many kites as trinkets and T-shirts around the kite festival.
Now, every summer during the festival, hundreds of kite fliers come. Tens of thousands of people watch.
A fan is born
Some spectators go on to pick up the hobby. Bohn, formerly of Walla Walla, even picked up his belongings and moved to Long Beach 16 years ago to be part of this kite-loving town.
A semiretired handyman, Bohn, 55, felt like a boy at that first festival, watching with his mouth open at the tapestry of colors filling the blue skies.
He frequents the beach weekly, with Santana on his headphones and a kite in the air.
“When I think my problems are big and the world is overwhelming, I come out here,” he said.
I met up with him recently in the museum parking lot. “Hop in the kite vehicle,” he said of the beat-up truck he bought just to haul “his toys” around.
The engine coughed and sputtered. His 300 kites ($20,000) are worth more than the truck.
What does a $1,400 kite look like? He parked on the beach and unfurled a 50-foot Manta Ray kite, tying it to a stake. That became a clothesline from which to tie more kites.
He also unfolded two 30-foot floaters that resembled parachutes, tying both to his truck. Kids spotted them from downtown and came running.
He warned me, “Don’t get tangled.”
In 1983, a man got tangled in the line of a giant kite and it pulled him 100 feet in the air and dropped him to his death here in Long Beach.
Bohn once tied two giant kites to his truck and saw the kites drag his pickup along the beach after the wind picked up.
He once tied a 450-foot kite to a stake, then relaxed in his folding chair under the sun. Then an 18 mph gust yanked the kite hard and uprooted the stake. “I had one too many cigarettes. I wasn’t going to run after it,” he said. He later recovered it along the beach.
Stunt kites perform
The big kites tied to stakes and other anchors are glorified show kites, which fly in the same manner as the single-line, drugstore kites you might have bought as a kid. They just float. Stunt kites, on the other hand, fly. Stunt kites are controlled by two or four lines, allowing you to manipulate the wings and perform aerial tricks.
In the hands of Bohn, a dual-line kite looked like an unmanned stealth fighter.
Then he handed the lines to me. Before he could even light a cigarette, the kite took a kamikaze dive.
He recalled the words of wisdom a passer-by gave him early on. “A guy pulled up in his pickup truck and said, ‘Would you take some constructive criticism?’ ” His advice: “Pretend like you got handcuffs on. You remember what that was like, right?”
It’s sound advice. Keep your hands close to your body. Flying stunt kites requires little arm motion. Just a gentle tug of the wrist. Tug on both lines, the kite rises. Tug the line with your left wrist, the kite flies left.
And with that advice, I got the kite to fly, if only for 30 seconds at a time.
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle.