Go Fly a Kite!

Head into the breeze with a kite
Children fly kites at Hampton Beach.
Photos courtesy Rick Dumont Images

Look for them on sunny days with steady breezes on sandy beaches and in alpine fields. High in the sky, it’s a colorful air ballet of grace, style and skill. The kites — coming in all shapes and sizes, piloted by single- and multi-line kiters of various backgrounds — weave, dart and sail.

Whether a throwback to the newspaper kites of childhood or cutting-edge kites linked to power, stunt and sport, they are high-flying toys, scientific tools for data collection and even have been instruments of early warfare when ancient commanders ordered them up to help gauge the distance of the enemy.

Early kites looked like birds and other winged animals, says Kites Over New England President Don McCasland, and now come in virtually any shape in hundreds of styles.

“The categories are flat kites, such as a diamond or barn door kite; bowed kites such as a Malay or Rokkaku; cellular kites including basic box kites and elaborate facet kites, serpent kites, octopus kites, parafoils, centipedes and more,” he says.

They can be made from many materials — tissue, newsprint (comics are colorful), polyethylene either for factory-made kites or a garbage bag turned into a kite — and many types of fabrics.

“The majority of kites sold in good kite and specialty stores are ripstop nylon with fiberglass or carbon frames,” he says. “Other frame materials include bamboo, wood, plastic and composites.”

With April being National Kite Month, and lots of kite-flying events like Exeter Hospital’s Kites Against Cancer May 17 at Hampton Beach, it’s easy to head into the breeze. 


In 1752, Ben Franklin flew a kite to prove there was electricity in lightning.

Gear Box

Novices might enjoy the ripstop nylon, fiberglass-framed, 33-inch Rainbow Best Flier from Sky Dog Kites in Connecticut with its easy-to-asssemble manifesto ($15). Those beginners wanting to ramp it up a bit with a multi-line experience can try to launch the entry-level and sporty styles of the Calypso II by HQ ($19.99 and up). Want to be seen? Try piloting the Prism Stowaway parafoil kite with its 20-foot tail ($29.95-$37).

Don McCasland
photo by marty basch

Expert Advice With Don McCasland

President of Kites Over New England, a club of kite-flying enthusiasts, and program director at Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory. A lifelong kite hobbyist and professional, he also teaches kite-building workshops and often flies kites in New Hampshire, including once from the Mount Washington summit.

What’s the appeal of flying a kite? The connection to nature and the wind is my favorite part of flying a kite. Many people will mention “reaching to the sky” and feeling part of both Earth and sky while looking at their kite and the heavens beyond.

What’s the best way for someone to get started? Come to a kite event where experienced fliers can help you. If you can’t do that, get a well-made kite or follow well-written kite-making instructions. Avoid cheap, poorly made kites that may not actually be a kite. Choose a good location with proper wind conditions. 

What are optimal conditions? Steady winds 8 mph to 16 mph in a wide-open area with little turbulence. 

What are some of the best places to fly a kite around here and why? Any large field or beach on the coast from Salisbury, Mass., to Ogunquit, Maine, including Hampton Beach, Rye, Seabrook and other coastal areas. There are a few caveats: Be aware of crowds and avoid flying in a congested area; if there are nesting piping plovers, don’t fly in that area; and understand that dunes and buildings near the flying area can cause turbulence. Inland, large fields are another good spot. I like the fields at Great Glen Trails and Bretton Woods. Avoid areas surrounded by trees or hills. A gradual slope with the wind blowing up the slope are ideal inland conditions.

Is there a particular technique that works for most people? A great kite educator and enthusiast from Massachusetts named Archie Stewart has a key expression: “If the wind’s in your face, you’re in the wrong place.” Keep your back to the wind, face the kite into the wind. A helper to hold the kite up in the air and then release it to the wind when the flyer is ready helps a lot, especially in lower wind conditions when the pilot can then run to get the kite to a higher altitude and stronger wind quickly. Don’t run in circles. Stand still whenever possible and always walk or run away from your kite and into the wind.

Flying a kite is one thing, but building it is another. What are the challenges and/or pleasures of building a kite? The biggest joy is to take a variety of materials and combine them in to one piece that successfully flies. When people see it and ask if you built it, you can say yes with pride. You can also modify a design to make it uniquely yours. Like all artists, certain kite makers have a style that is so unique it can be identified as theirs. 

What impact does the type and length of line have on flying a kite? You should always fly your kite on the lightest line that won’t break. Except for indoor and miniature kites, avoid thread and yarn. Monofilament line is dangerous for many reasons so don’t use that. The best line is polyester or a polyester blend for one-line kites. Maneuverable Sport Kites that use two, three, four or five lines do best on low-stretch Spectra or Kevlar or a blend of those fibers with other fibers. Flying more line than you need just gets it farther away from you and harder to see and takes longer to bring back in. Some people like the process of flying high and then bringing it all back in.  NH

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