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Head for a Southland Beach to Go Fly a Kite

There’s a certain otherworldly (which is not to say New Age) ethos about the kite flier’s wish to touch the clouds.

“I definitely believe a kite raises your spirits,” says Anders Holmquist, owner of Colors of the Wind kite shop in Santa Monica.

Gloria Lugo of Let’s Fly a Kite shop in Marina del Rey says: “Man has always wanted to fly kites; it’s a natural thing that’s really meant to be.”

And Leo Eyman, maker of custom kites: “You get to meet a lot of new people, especially if you make and design your own kites.”

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Many Festivals in March

With these and similar sentiments borne on March winds over the Southland, no wonder kite fliers are getting ready for a spate of kite festivals planned for four Sundays this month. All are free. Mark them on your calendar.

First is the 14th annual Festival of the Kite, Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. on the sand south of the Redondo Beach Pier. Because more events are scheduled than can fit into one afternoon, the Redondo festival, sponsored by Sunshine Kite Co., Spectra Star Kites and the pier, continues on the afternoons of March 12 and 19.

Then on March 26, the 15th annual Santa Monica Pier Kite Festival summons devotees to the beach north of the pier starting at noon and lasting until the last spool of twine has been reeled in.

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“We depend entirely on the wind, so when it picks up, that’s when we officially begin,” says Suzanne Kampe, also from Let’s Fly a Kite, which is co-sponsoring the Santa Monica festival with the Pier Restoration Corp.

“No signs, no banners, just a lot of people flying kites,” she says. “Some people get there in the morning and set up camp. If they get hungry they bring picnics, or they can walk up to the restaurants on the pier.”

At Sunday’s festival, two special exhibitions of precision stunt-kite flying will take place, at 1 and 3 p.m. Performances are a team from Top of the Line Kites, a San Diego manufacturer, followed by free lessons and safety tips. The exhibitions reveal just how far kites have strayed from traditional design.

Been Around for Ages

Kites, of course, aren’t late-breaking news. They’ve been made and enjoyed for centuries by the Chinese and Japanese. Lugo, who researched the history of kites 15 years ago when she opened her store, says kites are “the world’s second-oldest toy, after the doll.”

But as far as many younger kite fliers are concerned, those single-line dragons and diamond-shapes made of paper or silk and stabilized with tails from mother’s rag-bag are akin to Model-T’s.

“The kite market has exploded because kite flying has almost become a sport,” Kampe says. “The shapes are mostly aerodynamic shapes, chevrons, diamonds or triangles. Our most expensive stunt kite is the 10-foot Flexifoil, which runs about $325, but we also sell an octopus-face kite made of Mylar, with streamers, for $6.95.” The string, which comes wound on a spool, is an extra $4.50.

Made of fabric, usually ripstop nylon, the new kites fly better and last longer, as long as the owners care for them. Some of the kites, with a swept-wing configuration and 8-foot wingspans, even resemble the Stealth bomber.

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Some Have Dual Lines

No longer does the kite flier throw the kite up into the breeze away from the power lines, play out the string and pray for favorable winds. The new stunt kites are controlled by dual lines, one held in each hand, and they are amazingly maneuverable.

“They’re fun to fly,” says Eyman, who builds custom-designed spinners and kites.

“That’s because you can make (stunt kites) do figure eights, loops, dives, landings and takeoffs, and all kinds of things. And you get a lot of exercise out there while you’re running around and pulling on the kite strings.”

Right. In fact, some of the bigger models, which fly up to 100 m.p.h., exert tremendous pull and require both strength and finesse. “Sometimes you have one heavy guy and two or three other guys holding him, if they want to stay on the sand,” Holmquist says.

With all that power available, the inevitable result was a new thrill sport--sand skiing. Says Kevin Moore from Colors of the Wind: “You put your feet on a thing like a water ski, and the kite pulls you along.” Moore, however, prefers a stunt he calls “Superman.”

“If you’re flying in 35-m.p.h. winds, like the Santa Anas, you can hold onto the handles and actually jump up and the kite will fly you across the beach. I’ve been picked up and flown 30 feet,” he says.

Better Strings

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String too has changed. “It isn’t just dime-store cotton twine,” Kampe says. “Some of our line is made of Kevlar, the stuff they make bulletproof vests out of.” For the largest kites, Kampe recommends 300-pound test line, an eighth of an inch thick.

The Hawaiian Spin-Off, the Team and the Hawk are three of the most popular big-stunt kites. For more laid-back kite fliers, there are smaller versions in the $20 to $40 range, including the Trlby and the Skynasaur, which Holmquist says “a 70-year-old lady” can easily fly.

Readers accustomed to promotional shows where entertainment fills every moment, square foot and void, be prepared to create your own wonderment at these kite festivals. Kite people are a friendly but independent lot, and their gatherings are both unstructured and non-commercial. No booths to demonstrate products, no bands play songs to fly kites by and no support groups man fund-raiser snack shacks.

There are several events planned for the Redondo Pier Festival, however. On March 12, Garfield the Cat will make an appearance, although it’s not known whether cats like to fly kites.

Free Kites for Seniors

From noon to 1 p.m., the first 100 seniors to appear can claim a free starter kite and string. And at 2:30 p.m., a Taiko drum performance will rend the air with rhythmic booms.

On March 19, the Rokkaku Kite Fighting Challenge will demonstrate the kite flier’s civilized way to settle old scores. Local teams, manning 6-foot Rokkaku fighting kites, will take each other on in aerial combat.

If you’d like to try your hand (or hands) at kite flying, here’s a sampling of some of the kite stores you might wish to visit:

Colors of the Wind, 2900 Main St., Santa Monica, (213) 399-8044.

Let’s Fly a Kite, 13755 Fiji Way (in Fisherman’s Village), Marina del Rey, (213) 822-2561.

Sunshine Kite Co., 101 Fisherman’s Wharf, Redondo Beach, (213) 372-0308.

Ultimate High, 419-G Shoreline Village Drive, Long Beach, (213) 436-3180.

Village Kite & Toy Store, 1575 Spinnaker Drive 107-B, Ventura, (805) 654-0900.

Windworks, 15317 1/2 Roscoe Blvd., Panorama City, (818) 892-6474.


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