I’m sitting on a deck at Holden Beach, NC watching my grandson fly a kite held aloft by a constant breeze rolling in from the Atlantic. As kids, every spring we’d take a few nickels to the Famous 5&10 store and buy a kite kit. The picture on the wrapping always displayed children having huge fun watching their assembled kites soar into the stratosphere.
That may have been my introduction to the world of false advertising. The directions didn’t seem that difficult and my completed kite always looked like the one in the directions but, it never flew very high and refused to stay airborne. Given what we know today about things made in China containing excessive lead, I’m pretty sure China is where my kite kits came from.
Kites have come a long way since the 1950s. Today’s kites are made of strong synthetic materials, have been aerodynamically perfected, tuned to perfection, and lofted by a decent breeze they really, really, do fly.
Craig “Cap” Pitcher introduced me to these new fangled kites. Back in the 80s he came to the North Carolina beach with us and paid a visit to a Kitty Hawk kite shop. I didn’t know such places existed but he came back with a stunt kite system that was totally steerable and totally awesome. In no time Cap had it doing loop-de-loops, figure 8s, and a myriad of other tricks. These toys worked so well even I could fly them. A favorite pass time was dog-fighting with another kite, each flyer trying to knock the other’s kite from the sky. I’m sure this was a heavily endorsed activity since it got you back to the kite shop several times during the week’s vacation. I didn’t say these new kites were indestructible.
My first success at building and flying a kite wasn’t as a child. I was in my late 20s and teaching junior high school at South Salem, OH. I found plans for a box style kite guaranteed to work. Armed with these plans I had my students take on constructing a couple of them from scratch. If I recall they used nylon salvaged from a military surplus parachute and thin strips of white pine we made in the school’s wood shop.
For string I had a several thousand foot spool of very strong thread used by the local shoe factory to stitch soles to shoes. When we were ready my class and another took everything to the playground for launching. The wind quickly caught hold and the box kite rapidly headed for the heavens. The thread was feeding out so fast the friction was burning and cutting our hands. It began so quickly we had not thought to put a wooden dowel through the spool as an axle.
Finally getting it under control the kite continued to climb becoming smaller and smaller as it traveled further from the playground. Eventually it went completely out of sight but was still pulling string. Curiosity got the best of us so the other teacher jumped in his car and headed down Mount Olive Rd. trying to find the kite. After several miles with no luck he abandoned the chase and returned to the playground.
To this day I have no clue where that kite ended up. But, eventually the spool ran out and we couldn’t keep hold of the end. I only hope its remains are still dangling from some old moss-covered live oak tree in the panhandle of Florida.