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Having won 26 championships over the past 25 years, John Barresi is the Michael Jordan of kiting. He can roll and unroll a kite into its own string mid-flight like a yoyo, dip his wingtip in a Coke bottle from 100 feet away, and coordinate an 81-man formation to fly in unison. From his home base of Portland, Oregon, he runs an online kiting magazine, teaches kids as young as 7 the dark arts of kiting, and (presumably) watches that guy with the Darth Vader mask play flaming bagpipes on a unicycle. Because Portland.
Kites come in all shapes and sizes, from Japan’s “giant battle kites” to India’s “fighter kites flown in the millions.” Before taking to the sky, it’s important to know which design best suits your kid; it also helps to know how to take to the sky — here are Barresi’s tips on getting your kids into kiting.
Find The Right Kite
The first step is figuring which of the 3 main types of kites fits your kid. The ages below are loosely recommended — there’s no danger in premature kiting — based on the their ability to operate the controls.
• Single-Line Kites (Age 3+) — “A single-line kite’s whole purpose in life is to go up in the sky and sit there and look really good,” Barresi says. Like holding a balloon, even toddlers can man a single-line. If they’re too little to hold on, just tie it to their belt loop (and maybe a cinderblock to their ankle) and let the kite do the rest.
• Dual-Line Kites (Age 7+) — “A dual-line kite is like flying an airplane,” Barresi says. “It does dives at the ground. It’s a little hair-raising, exhilarating.” This delta-shaped flier will turn or spin left or right depending on which of the 2 strings you pull. You can make it race, shake, stall, or scare the crap out of people on the ground by swooping it straight toward them (don’t do that). Hence, they’re best left to slightly older kids.
“When the land is warm, it sucks the wind in from the ocean. When the land is cool, the wind just sucks.“
• Quad-Line Kites (Age 12+) — “Flying a quad-line kite is like flying an RC helicopter,” he says. With 4 strings, you can maneuver the kite in every direction with precision — guys like Barresi actually make these things “dance” to music during competition — AC/DC or the Bugs Bunny theme song, in his case. While these kites are extremely stable, they do require some attention to detail to avoid catastrophic tangling, the sorting of which will invariably fall to you when your kid ditches it in favor of something less broken.
Predict The Wind
Ideal winds are 5-25 mph, and they tend to blow from cool areas toward hotter ones. If you’re going to fly at the beach (and you should, since that’s where your kid will have the biggest audience, which is half the fun of kiting to begin with), that means the winds will increase as the land heats up through the afternoon. Remember this saying and you won’t have to Charlie Brown that thing: When the land is warm, it sucks the wind in from the ocean. When the land is cool, the wind just sucks.
The Kite Flying “Wind Window”
Put Your Back to The Wind
You’d be surprised how many new kiters victimize their kids with a kite. “We go to a festival sometimes and see someone brand new to kiting, and the person holding the string — probably a little kid — is standing downwind with the wind in their face, and then the parents are standing upwind with kite,” Barresi says. “That means when the parents let go of the kite, it blows down and basically slaps their kid in the head.” Here’s another handy saying: wind to the back or kite to the face.
Walk The String Out
“Don’t start with your string too short, because the wind near the ground is a little bouncier,” he says. Instead, let your kid hold the reins while you walk the kite out about 20 yards. This will allow the kite to quickly ascend higher, where the airflow is steadier and your kid is less likely to have that profoundly unsatisfying feeling of almost-flying a kite.
Keep The Lines Taut
Hold the kite perpendicular to the ground, and have your kid pull in enough line to create tension. Let the kite fill with wind, and release the magic. From here, the kite should feel a bit like a fish on a line as it rises and becomes parallel with the ground. If you haven’t taught your kid to fish yet, don’t use that metaphor with them.
“If you’re going to show your kid this video, be prepared to explain Bernoulli’s Principle to them.“
Once the kite is flying, having them tug at the line in order to gain altitude. This works because it creates a difference in air pressure between the top and bottom of the kite — you can learn all about the physics of kite flying in this 30-minute video, but if you’re going to show it to your kid, be prepared to explain Bernoulli’s Principle to them.
Don’t Flail Around
If their arms move around it makes “the controls get all weird” (in a bad way, not the Portland way). “Keep your hands right in front of you and just make inputs toward the kite and back toward your body,” Barresi says, comparing the stance and movements to a boxer — the world’s least intimidating boxer.
If your kid is sufficiently enthralled by the act of standing there with a kite attached to a string, they’re going to want to step up their game. “Tricks take a lot of practice, but they’re done by recreational flyers all over the world,” he says. “It’s not like a professionals-only thing.” If you’re game to buy them a dual or quad-line kite to encourage it, then you’ll want to visit Barresi’s tutorials page for a whole pile of helpful videos — everything from a flat relaunch to the windy with watty (hell, you can even learn the windless watty).
For more on kiting, check out the American Kitefliers Association. Want to fly indoors, on the water, or in the city? He has a guide for that too.