Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2014

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Las Vegas climate ripe for kite enthusiasts

Danny Hunter Jr. had faith that his rainbow would fly.

"It's gonna go high," the 4-year-old Las Vegas boy said.

His father wasn't so sure. As Danny Hunter Sr. tied the last knot on the homemade kite they had just finished assembling, he assured his son and himself that the fun was in the moment, not the outcome.

"We like kites," Hunter said. "It's something we can do together outside and it's relaxing, but active, too."

The Hunters were one of many families who participated in the city of Las Vegas' kite workshop at Lied Community School on Saturday. The free class was offered in preparation for the Kite Karnival to be held March 10 at Children's Memorial Park at North Rainbow Boulevard and West Gowan Road.

"I just like spending time with my son and thought this would be a fun thing to do, for him," Hunter Sr. said as he drew a banana on a white canvas made of Tybek, a fiberous paper used for making kites.

Kites beckon to the child inside us, said Mike Walden, the workshop instructor and manager of the Wind Power Sports kite shop on South Valley View Boulevard.

"They are just a peaceful way to get out and enjoy the wind, the day, everything," Walden said. "It reminds you to be a kid, run around and have fun."

Walden moved to Las Vegas two years ago for his job -- and for the wind.

"You can fly almost everyday here," he said of the city's kite-flying conditions.

Kites have seen a rebirth in the past 50 years with the use of strong, lightweight materials such as ripstop nylon for the canvas and Fiberglas and carbon graphite for the structure.

Due to the durability of the kites, tears, breaks and scrapes are no longer signs of their imminent demise. They can be repaired with relatively cheap and easy patches of specially designed tape.

"They are so indestructible that a good kite will last you through childhood on until you can pass it down to your own (child)," Walden said.

Flight history

That's a far cry from the wood, paper and leaf kites that were assembled 100 years ago.

Since its inception approximately 2,000 years ago in China, the kite has aided in the wooing of lovers and the intimidation of soldiers.

In India, around 1000 A.D., suitors would attempt to have a kite fall into a woman's yard to send love notes or propose marriage. If she followed the string -- and was smitten with what she found on the other end -- they were wed.

To inspire his reluctant soldiers to battle in 600 A.D., Korean General Gim Yu-sin flew a large kite into the night sky and set it ablaze to create a heavenly omen.

During World War II the U.S. Navy used large Barrage kites to prevent enemy aircraft from flying low over targets, and sailors lost at sea flew kites to be located by search planes.

More recently in Hawaii, coconut-leaf kites were used to signal the loss of a loved one.

Walden, a Honolulu native, said the ancient practice of flying kites for military use or symbolism has evolved to become more of a sport and leisure activity -- and a million-dollar industry.

Big business

That industry was, and still is, fueled by the creation of the stainless-steel kite-powered buggy by New Zealander Peter Lynn in the '80s.

The three-wheeled buggy is built low to the ground and riders are propelled by a 20- to 80-square-foot kite. The start-up cost for a buggy and kite hovers close to $1,000.

With so much invested, kite-buggy enthusiasts like to play as much as possible. Their unofficial kite club meets Friday nights at the Silver Bowl Park, and Sundays at the Eldorado Dry Lake Bed, north of Boulder City, to chat, fly kites and kite buggy.

The sport's local popularity has increased so much in the past year that Todd Price, the manager and owner of Wake and Skate sports shop in Boulder City, began to stock land kites and buggies to meet the demand.

"It's natural power," Price said of the sport's appeal. "You're flying, or at least get the sensation you're flying."

The store's kite business is brisk, which shocked Price when he first delved into the relatively new sport.

But Las Vegas is a kite town, said Mike Gillard, first vice president of the 4,000-member American Kitefliers Association, during a recent phone interview from Columbus, Ohio.

"There's a lot of active kite fliers in the Las Vegas area because it's so perfect for flying," he said. "You have steady wind from the desert to keep a kite up, no problem."

The desert's wide-open, flat plains are ideal for wind sports. "It's the hotbed of kite buggying for the entire world," Gillard said.

Enthusiasts abound

As part of the celebration of National Kite Month, March 31-May 6 (as designated by Oregon's Kite Trade Association International), kite lovers from around the world are expected to attend the fifth Spring Break Buggy Blast March 14-19 at Ivanpah Dry Lake Bed near Primm.

"It's going to be huge," Gillard said. "People come from all over for that."

The 13th annual Kite Trade Show was held in January near Primm. The kite-friendly desert breezes helped showcase state-of-the-art kites, as well as the latest kite vehicles such as buggies, snowboards and landboards.

"Definitely, it's more popular than ever," Gillard said.

The kites can accelerate up to 70 mph in seconds, which makes the ride breathtaking. Control is key to making the kite appear to have a life of its own in the wind.

Ian Esposo has been flying kites for 15 years and recently bought a kite buggy for weekend thrill rides.

"You can make them dance," Esposo said.

He only flies kites once or twice a week for up to three hours, compared to the four or five days he would fly when he was younger with fewer daily tasks and stresses.

"I have a family and job, " Esposo said. "Like everything else you have to grow up and have responsibilities."

For those hours he is staring up at his kite -- watching it, controlling it, moving with it -- he is reminded of his childhood.

"That's what it is to be a kid," Esposo said. "You go out and play and all you need is a kite."

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