I was first introduced to stunt kites in the late 90’s when I was working at a kite festival at Arcadia Lake in Edmond, Oklahoma. Richard Dermer, owner of Oklahoma’s original Hideaway Pizza and major kite enthusiast, was at the festival. He overheard me talking about how I thought the stunt kites were really amazing and how I wished I could fly a kite like that. I had no idea that I was talking to perhaps one of the biggest kite flying experts in the country and the owner of one of the largest kite collections in the world.
Mr. Dermer was really nice, and eager to introduce a complete novice to the hobby he loved. He walked me out to the beach and borrowed a kite from one of his friends. The man who had just been flying the kite was doing loops and dives and all kinds of crazy stuff. I’d always been lucky just to keep a kite in the air for a little while. But this kite was nothing like any I had ever flown. It was made of rip-stop nylon with a 50 foot tail and a delta shape, triangular and sleek like a manta ray or a Stealth Bomber. And it had two strings.
I listened as Mr. Dermer explained how to hold the handles upon which the stings were wound. His friend went to the ends of the strings and held the kite up, and when I was ready he tossed the kite up into the air and I gave the strings a little tug. The kite shot up. It climbed fast, soaring up to about a 45 degree angle and hanging there, steady, pulling the strings like it wanted me to hurry up and do something cool.
Holding my hands as if they were on a steering wheel, positioned at 9 and 3, the kite stayed upright in the sky. Mr. Dermer said if I wanted the kite to turn left, I should turn my hands a little to the left just like steering a car. I gave it a try and suddenly my kite was on its side, zooming to the left as fast as could be. He told me to straighten the wheel, so I brought my hands back to the upright 9 and 3 position and the kite straightened up and hung there in the sky. Back to the right I flew the kite, like turning a wheel, and straightened it out again almost exactly where it started.
The next lesson was a loop. Just like doing donuts in a parking lot, if I turned my imaginary wheel further to the left, I would send my kite soaring in a loop. Mr. Dermer explained that the farther I turned my hands, the tighter my loop would be. A smaller turn would create a bigger, slower loop. But whatever I did in one direction, I would have to undo in the other, so three loops left would have to be followed eventually by three loops right to undo my strings.
I did several loops, and a few swoops, and even a dive or two before plunging my kite solidly into the sand. It fell as quickly as it soared, zooming like it had a kamikaze death wish, right into the ground! That’s when Mr. Dermer explained the potential dangers of stunt kite flying. He said that the lines on my kite were no ordinary strings. Most stunt kites are strung with a very strong line, and a diving, swooping kite could easily take your ears off if it swiped your head. He didn’t have to tell me twice to stay out of the flight zone.
After a little more flying, I thanked Mr. Dermer for the lesson, and thanked his friend for loaning us the kite. I had so much fun, and I was anxious to get a kite like that of my own. I bought one that day at the festival and flew it on my own. Flying a stunt kite took just minutes to learn, but could take years to master. There are so many tricks you can do, and every flying day is a little different. I haven’t flown my kite in a few years, but my kids are old enough now to try it out, so we’ll be getting it out this spring.
If you see someone flying stunt kites on a beach or in a field, go ahead and talk to them. Chances are, they’ll be happy to help you learn how to fly. Just make sure you walk up from behind the flyer, and never, ever get out under his strings.
More fun hobbies to try…