Soar By the Shore

With a riot of motion and celebration of wind, the Washington State International Kite Festival in Long Beach invites amateurs and professionals to share airspace and steady sea breezes.

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Everyone with a 59-cent kite has it in the air," says festivalgoer Gayle Wallace of Vancouver, Washington, gazing up at the rustling canopy of colors and shapes hovering above the beach. Among them, the red tentacles of a 90-foot octopus waver. Rainbow-colored parachutes spin. And a 1,000-square-footer pulls against its anchor, buried in the sand.

Near water's edge, four black-and-blue sport kites slice the air in a synchronized fury the Blue Angels would admire. They plunge toward sand, swerve over the ocean, and zoom up again in the sky. "It's ballet," says Jim Barber, leader of Team Visual Impact from Ocean Shores, Washington. "We dance the kites."

Down the beach, the legendary Ray Bethell, a 70-something Canadian resident known for flying multiple kites, attracts onlookers. With one in his right hand, one in his left, and another harnessed to his waist, he makes them all dart and dip like a flock of birds.

A jerk of his hands and a bend of his knees forces them to blast apart in whirls of rippling speed. "It took me 14 years to get this far," says the world champion. "Next year I'll be better." The day before, he broke the world record for flying the most kites simultaneously―21.

While casual visitors are welcome, this crowd is mostly a subculture of hobbyists and dealers who meet at worldwide festivals, often on beaches. "The wind comes straight in from the ocean," says Susan Gomberg of Gomberg Kite Productions.

With such experts around, novices get good advice. "You shouldn't have to run [to launch] a kite," coaches 25-year veteran Scott Skinner. "The kite should just fly."

Easy for him to say.

For more suggestions, visit "How to Fly" at gombergkites.com and "Kite Flying Tips" on raybethell.com.

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