Kite clubs around Seattle and Whidbey Island can help you get involved in group events — or check our list of top kiting spots and go solo.
The first time I ever witnessed a sport kite in action I saw something that blew my mind.
I was a young boy visiting the Washington Coast, watching a kite flyer zoom his triangular kite in a strong breeze a few feet above the sand. Without warning, the man took a few steps and then literally leapt over a 15-passenger van.
For a few seconds he used the power of the wind to take flight himself, and for a moment, he was a real life superhero.
At the time I had no idea that kites could be controlled with such precision, let alone give someone the ability to fly.
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But once you’re into the world of modern kites, you soon realize that the hobby isn’t all Mary Poppins and whimsy. In fact, some kites can be pretty badass.
Something for everyone
A few weeks ago I was spending time with some veteran kite fliers at the tulip festival in Mount Vernon. Affixed to poles were a bunch of colorful kites shaped like pterodactyls, each gently rising and falling in the breeze.
Their movement was magical. Thousands of people strolled past, and not a single one could ignore their beauty. Parents had to drag young children away to see the tulips.
“They’re magnets for kids,” says Mark Williams, a member of the Washington Kitefliers Association (WKA), who was hosting the event.
Williams had a variety of kites scattered around the demonstration gardens. Some were a few feet long and could be learned in seconds, while others were enormous, billowing and colorful, stretching as long as a school bus.
Thousands of years after their invention, kites are still mesmerizing humanity with their wonder.
Like a dance
Flyer Jim Dygert, of Lynnwood, assembled the hand-wrapped carbon fiber frame on his performance kite. It was battered from years of use and patched with Gorilla Tape, yet of the 50 kites he owns, it’s still his favorite.
Dygert jerked the strings and the kite popped into the air, sweeping back and forth over the lawn. With a subtle tug of the line, he made it spin and twist, bringing it low to the earth before it rocketed skyward again.
The kite seemed to stall in midair and plummet in a death spiral before recovering an instant before crashing. Dygert settled it gently on the ground before making it leap up again.
To the untrained eye, it might appear that the wind was wreaking havoc on Dygert’s kite. But all of its movements had purpose.
“Everything it does is completely within my control,” he said. “It’s what makes it fun for me. When I fly, I like to put ear buds in and listen to music. It’s like a dance. I’m just mesmerized.
“I’m old and I can hardly move. The kite makes up for what I can’t do. I can out-fly the younger guys,” he chuckles.
Strangely, Dygert’s description of kite flying reminds me of Alpine skiing. In both sports, you’re trying to perfect your technique under constantly changing conditions. When you nail your moves, there’s a fluid euphoria you experience and your sequence feels almost effortless.
Dygert has been flying an average of three days a week for 20 years, usually along the Edmonds waterfront. He says there’s a fast learning curve when it come to learning a performance kite.
“It takes 15 minutes to an hour to be able to keep it in the sky. After one hour you can do spins and fly close to the ground,” he says.
Learning the basics can be rewarding but there’s always the challenge of mastering increasingly difficult tricks.
Dygert has won kite competitions yet he’s still trying to perfect moves like the Jacob’s Ladder and the Backspin, which has a kite going from an axel to a fade to lying on its back and spinning.
Just when you think you’ve seen every trick in the book, someone will make a small design change and a kite will do something no one has ever thought of.
“If you do it twice and give it a name, you’ve got a new trick,” he says.
Kites that fight
In some parts of the world, especially the Middle East and India, kite fighting is a popular pastime, and the tradition has arrived on our shores.
During kite-fighting competitions, fliers use small square-shaped kites guided with a tugging motion on the string. The point is to dive bomb other kites in sudden attacks.
If you do it right, your line will slash your competitor’s line, sending their kite skittering to the ground.
Years ago, kite strings were glued with crushed glass to make it easier to cut down a competitor, says Williams. But now the lines are sinister enough to do the cutting on their own.
Fighter kites can be seen in action at the annual Washington State International Kite Festival at Long Beach, Pacific County. This year’s festival is Aug. 15-21.
If you go
Kiteflying clubs and events
• Washington Kitefliers Association (WKA) is the oldest kite club in Washington. It organizes regular festivals, competitions and kite-building workshops throughout the year. In the spring, events are held almost weekly.
It will host a Father’s Day kite fly at Seattle’s Magnuson Park on June 19. wka-kiteflyers.org
• The Whidbey Island Kite Fliers (WIKF) is another active club in the region.
It will host a Fun Fly at Fort Casey State Park on May 21 and June 18, and a Memorial Day kite fly on May 30. whidbeykiteclub.org
Where to fly
Washington and Oregon coastal beaches are premier places for kite fliers. Big open stretches of beach allow for safe flying areas, and the steady winds are ideal for keeping kites aloft.
Waterfront parks adjacent to Puget Sound or large bodies of water are also good places to fly. Look for spots with an even breeze away from trees and power lines. Popular parks include Magnuson, Discovery and Gas Works, in Seattle; Fort Casey State Park, on Whidey Island; Fort Worden State Park, in Port Townsend; 60 Acres Park, near Redmond; Lake Tye, in Monroe; and Marina Beach Park, in Edmonds.