Last summer, on a lovely beach, as the day sauntered toward sunset, we finally made it happen.
Three of my kids had kites, which survived the trip to the beach, and the wind was insanely good, although somewhat gusty. After a struggle, each kite took flight and the beauty of it was staggering.
We took photos, but they can’t fully capture the loveliness of it. So we’ll take to the open air again this month, when kite flyers across the nation, novice and experienced, celebrate National Kite Month.
April’s a great time to fly a kite in Westchester. The wind is good: according to weath
“A tradition in the U.S. has long been established of flying kites in the spring because the weather is good and there’s some wind,” Daniel Prentice, executive director of the American Kitefliers Association, says, although traditions vary internationally. In Germany, there’s a major kite flying festival in the autumn, and Prentice himself flies year-round.
Enjoyment of the outdoors is one of the best reasons to fly kites, Prentice says. “It’s an activity where you’re in nature. You’re dealing with the wind and the weather and looking at your surroundings.”
But the beauty of nature isn’t all there is.
According to NASA, kite flying is a great way for kids to learn about aerodynamic forces. After all – remember the Wright Brothers? They were avid kite fliers who tested out many of their ideas with kites they built themselves.
Before Wilbur and Orville, Ben Franklin famously flew a kite and proved the connection between lightning and electricity. And Alexander Graham Bell invented a kite strong enough to carry a person. Kites have been used throughout history to learn about flight and other sciences, to simply enjoy and even for military purposes.
The thing about kite flying, though – which on the face of it is a deceptively simple activity – is that many factors have to come together well in order for it to take place. You need time, wind, an open space and patience.
Beaches are great for kite flying, and Taka Andrews, owner of Miller’s Toys in Mamaroneck, says they sell a lot of kites because of the nearby harbor. Andrews sells kites in different categories, such as long-tailed kites, stunt kites, box kites and parafoil kites.
Prentice says all kites can be broken down into two simple categories. “In modern terms, there are single-line kites and kites with multiple lines,” he says. “You can start with either one.” The one most of us used as kids were single-line kites. Kites with two or four lines, Prentice says, can be pulled to the right or the left – their flight can be directed. “Within those two categories we can keep breaking it down and breaking it down,” he explains.
Beginners generally buy “something with a long tail because it makes it more stable in the air,” Andrews says. Stunt kites, on the other hand, are for “teenagers, or someone who wants a more dynamic kite.”
Parafoil kites are easy to transport because they don’t have frames, Andrews says, so they take up less space – that of a small bag. That can make parafoil kites a good choice for vacationers who are short on packing space.
Besides for vacations, people buy kites as gifts, of course, and just for themselves if the weather’s good. People tend to purchase kites “as the weather breaks, number one, and number two, in advance of every holiday weekend,” Andrews says.
But some kite aficionados prefer to make their own. Online resources abound for those who’d like to try their hand at crafting kites. “You take this homemade thing and throw it up into the sky and experience the outside world that way,” Prentice says, but he adds that most kite flyers buy their kites.
Once a kite has been purchased or made, parents may want to consider also purchasing a two-handed string winder, Andrews says. “This way, little kids have a chance to hang on to it – you can give a 5-year-old one on a windy day and say ‘hold on for dear life’ and they can sit right down with it.” These helpful devices run about $10.
When planning to fly a kite in Westchester, check to make sure the activity is permitted. Kite flying is not permitted in Westchester County parks, nor is it allowed at Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park in Yorktown. At press time, park representatives were not sure why kite flying was banned, but speculated it might be a safety or wildlife issue.
Many local area parks do allow kite flying, however, such as Leonard Park in Mount Kisco, and parks in the towns of Bedford, Rye and White Plains, among others; parks department employees caution people to watch for tall lights or athletic fields in use.
Interested residents of Rye should keep an eye on the web page of Rye Town Park, because there’s a kite flying community program in the planning stages.
Amy Kelley is a Westchester-based freelance writer and the mother of kite flying kids.